WITHIN his character portrayals, actor Hugo Weaving twists between sexually frustrated and cantankerous blind men in Proof, the schmalzy glitter, flamboyance and heartache of Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert, and a lonely and self-destructive Nick Cave-esque figure in his latest picture, the Stavros Andonis Efthymiou directed True Love and Chaos. Each, in some way appeals to his sense of the dramatic and archaic and amid the soul searching there is always the hint of the outsider, the alienated and the abandoned man who claims that everyone in life is alone.
Weaving is an extraordinary pastiche of fragility, strength and complex depths. He is the quiet charmer of Australian cinema, a Nigerian-born chameleon of aggregated moods, colours, perplexity and disguises who is currently gliding through the Gothic atmosphere of Melbourne and his next film The Interview. But for the nomadic Thespian and son of a seismologist father his character portrayal of Morris in the road movie True Love & Chaos spoke to him in many tongues.
Whilst the looming sense of self-destruction and reliance on booze and dark songs rippled through his soul so too did the self-doubt that he displays with a craggy and painful honesty. "I relate to that self doubt which I think is a good thing," he explains. "I think I’m much less self confident today. I actually went through a quite painful period because of that thinking that I was completely hopeless. But I think that’s something that we all go through at various times of our lives and it was quite a sustained thing with me.
"I’ve always been a very confident person and it really started to fall apart for me and I realised that I’d kind of being living on a confidence that wasn’t really based on reality, it was based on some sort of fantasy world. It certainly propelled me into all sorts of areas that were fantastic. But I think I’m a bit of a dreamer. I don’t like the reality of life to impinge much on my life. I think what’s happened to me over the years is that it has impinged and made my world change for the better because I’m being forced to kind of enter the same world that other people inhabit," he pauses. "So I’m probably much more self doubting. I’m probably more philosophical and more open in a way."
There’s very little self-aggrandisement and ego within Weaving particularly as Morris, or for that matter very few of the fictional skins that he’s eased his way into. All of them grapple with their consciences, seem ready to leap into the precipice of oblivion but always achieve redemption by the end, Morris included. Basing himself on a volatile brew of Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and particularly the Lizard King Jim Morrison, Weaving was attracted to the role partly due to his close friendship with the dynamic writer and director Efthymiou and because of the regeneration process.
"We’re all outsiders in a way. We’re all alone and can become very lonely. But the thing I liked about Morris was that he was sort of destructive and there was something liberating about that, y’know, playing a character who was ultimately meandering away towards some kind of construction. A part of his being was taking him back to Perth, even though he doesn’t want to consciously talk about it or think about it. He’s going back there for a reason, to see this woman who he abandoned many years before, so there’s a part of him that’s actually trying to rebuild himself and he’s shedding all along the way, shedding all of the bullshit."
In fact I find all of the characters in True Love & Chaos very, very human and the way in which they are dealt with and portrayed. There’s a great failing in all of them and they kind of hit and miss, bump up against each other and you don’t always know what’s happening all the time. I think there’s a great warmth to the film actually because of that. There’s a humanity to it."
While some press have seen fit to declare Efthymiou and his director girlfriend Emma-Kate Crogan the "new golden couple of the movie world," for Weaving the decision to commit himself to the role was two-fold. A close friend of Efthymiou who had written the character of Morris with Weaving in mind and the opportunity to strip himself naked and then embark on a journey of re-discovery clinched the deal.
Weaving frowns with a tinge of sobriety: "Morris always appealed to me. He loses everything, but he does gain a little part of the jigsaw of his life by the end of the film. He’s a major loser in one way, but on the other hand he somehow sustains himself by his charm I suppose, or the fact that he’s had an experience and the unashamed way in which he places himself, tongue in cheek, and at the centre of everything.
"He’s quite larger than life," he concedes, "but the fact that he gets stripped of all of those things, he loses his band, his girl, his car, his beard, his belongings, his brain, but, he finally finds something … So that journey to me was always a strong one."
It would be laborious to imagine Weaving taking on a role that did not delve into the depths of the human psyche or to travel down an arduous and superficial path that depended on looks, retro or hipness. He is of a different school of thought and experience and each time he disappears into the skein of painful human emotion he thus feeds his own desires.
A peripatetic and nomadic existence that brought him to Australian shores as a child left him with the wanderlust bug. He confesses that he belongs nowhere and that his courtship with acting was always a foregone conclusion. As a child he loved the colour and vibrancy of the cinema and theatres that his parents would accompany him to, and whilst these larger than life artisans offered escape and fantasy to Weaving there was also something else that tugged at the heart of his soul.
"To me acting originally became an extension of game playing. Childhood games, and that kinda grew into something else," he remembers. "As I’ve got older it’s changed and it’s moved more towards self-understanding about how other people escape into other worlds. It’s become me trying to open doors into other people.
"But I don’t think I’ll ever escape the fact that I don’t belong anywhere in particular. I’ve often dreamed about going back to Nigeria, but that’s a very romantic notion. It’s a hideous country to go to in reality."
Upon his graduation from NIDA the assured young actor took up a two-year, eight-play contract with the Sydney Theatre Company in which he immersed himself in a medley of roles. But it wasn’t until he was signed up by the Kennedy-Miller team to play the ruthless English cricketer Jardine in the mini-series Bodyline that this newcomer made his entrance into the collective populace.
Stealing the Australian Film Institute’s Best Actor Award for his anguished portrayal of the blind photographer in Proof and his luminary appearances in Reckless Kelly, The Adventures Of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert and Frauds, Weaving became synonymous with the battler. But, unlike some of his contemporaries his personal life has remained fairly low key and has a tendency to weave towards the intensely private, and yet, were you to ponder the question of which of the characters he has portrayed hasn’t he felt the greatest empathy for, he takes a few moments to trek back through his memory.
"I generally find an affinity with a lot of the people I play and I suppose if I didn’t feel an affinity for them then they wouldn’t be particularly good performances. I’m often asked to play characters who are quite different, well, Morris certainly is. I had a great affinity for the character in Proof at that particular time in my life and Priscilla was a complete liberation because I think that’s probably the side of me that doesn’t get full reign, and some are more painful to play.
"As long as the role is somehow feeding you you’re likely to enjoy it and keep hold of it," he continues, "and sometimes I work on individuals in such a way that it hasn’t been feeding my own life. I think if you’re not feeding yourself while trying to get inside someone else then what your actually doing is closing the doors on your own imagination.
"It’s always difficult to talk about these kinds of things because it’s very organic and certainly sometimes people that you try and understand are bottomless wells and you can’t get there, and in a way those kinds of characters are fascinating to play and often in a very painful space, a very screwed up world and you naturally do find that place. But I do agree that you sometimes by necessity suffer.
As he cavorts through True Love & Chaos and the moody ambience of The Interview there’s sure to be the resonance of self doubt snapping at his heels. But that’s the uniqueness and charm of Hugo Weaving. That’s what makes him so visceral with his ability to expose the human flaws and strengths that make us who we are and what we are. What more proof could you need than that?