Fame, as avid readers of trashy mags know, is like a drug. Users enjoy a brief euphoric high of public adulation before crashing back to earth amid sordid paparazzi shots, harsh headlines and backstabbing from friends quoted as "anonymous sources".
Hugo Weaving says his character John in Andrew Upton’s play Riflemind understands fame "and how damaging it has been. But at the same time it’s like a drug – something you want to hang on to even as a memory.
"I think it can make people incredibly insecure," he adds. "They build an armour around themselves and stop being human and, you know, stop doing things for themselves."
In the play, which opens at Wharf 1 next month, fame is just one of the addictions John suffers from. His character is the former lead singer of one of the most successful bands in the world, Riflemind. They are about to begin a comeback tour, which thrusts him and the other band members back among the ghosts of the past.
Weaving says he was still deciphering his character during rehearsals – a process that was sometimes frustrating but also a "great joy".
"He’s an incredibly complicated man," Weaving says. "I sort of feel like I’m wading through mud a lot of the time."
Upton’s play reunites the band members, played by Marton Csokas and Steve Rodgers, in John’s walled mansion, ostensibly to relive past glories and thrash out the new tour. Wives, partners, hangers-on and a young musician, Lee, played by Ewen Leslie, show up to jam or party with the boys.
However, Weaving says his vocal abilities are kept in check: "We’re really seeing them at a weekend country house fighting each other and trying to move ahead. Any singing or music is fairly incidental."
Despite a career of stage and cinematic successes, including The Lord Of The Rings and The Matrix trilogies, Weaving has managed to avoid the worst aspects of fame.
Actors can be insecure but he says they "don’t have particularly oversized egos".
This might explain why Upton turned to the music industry for inspiration. Australian musos such as Michael Hutchence, Phil Jamieson and Tim Rogers provided plenty of offstage melodrama to complement their talent in recent years. Toss in the antics of overseas acts such as the Rolling Stones or Courtney Love and it’s easy to imagine a stage of smashed guitars, drunk groupies and suspicious white powders.
But Weaving says Riflemind is not based on any particular band. The cast was still trying to figure out with director Philip Seymour Hoffman whether Upton’s fictional band played INXS’s pop, Grinspoon’s alternative rock or You Am I’s guitar rock in their heyday.
It is the first time Weaving has worked with Seymour Hoffman, the winner of the 2006 Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote in Capote. He described him as "a very warm man" with a calm and inquiring mind.
Riflemind is the second time that Weaving has worked with Upton, who will take over the reins of the Sydney Theatre Company with his wife Cate Blanchett at the end of the year when Robyn Nevin steps down.
Three years ago he shared the stage with Blanchett in STC’s critically acclaimed production of Hedda Gabler, which Upton adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s play.
"I just really love the way Andrew writes," Weaving says. "After working on Hedda with him, I was very attracted to the way his characters, even in an adaptation, censor themselves and don’t say what they mean."
Riflemind is at Wharf 1 in Walsh Bay from October 5 to December 8. Tickets $54-$73. Phone (02) 9250 1777 or see www.sydneytheatre.com.au.