by Graham Reilly
May 23, 1993
Hugo Weaving’s eyebrows have landed him many a villainous role. He spoke to GRAHAM REILLY about playing a different part.
IN his early teens, Hugo Weaving attended a boarding school near Bristol, England, built around 1600. Its pupils were required to wear as a uniform an anachronistic but nonetheless fetching little ensemble.
While strolling around the quadrangle the young Hugo could be found garbed in knee-length yellow stockings, breeches decorated with a pert little buckle and a chemise enveloped by a voluminous black gown.
It was all very theatrical and it is perhaps no coincidence that Hugo Weaving took to the stage and is now one of Australia’s most talented and recognisable actors.
You would have seen him on television, as Jardine in `Bodyline‘, in the `Lust‘ episode of the ABC’s `Seven Deadly Sins‘, and in a number of Kennedy Miller television series including `Dirtwater Dynasty‘ and `Bangkok Hilton‘. His most notable films include Jocelyn Moorhouse’s award-winning `Proof‘, Yahoo Serious’s `Reckless Kelly‘ and the yet to be released black comedy `Frauds‘, with Phil Collins.
He is also passionate about theatre and since he graduated from NIDA in 1981 he has done more plays than seems possible to fit in. He has been in works by Noel Coward and David Williamson and played the Comte de Valmont in the Nimrod Theatre’s production of `Les Liaisons Dangereuses‘. He will be appearing soon in the MTC’s production of `Much Ado About Nothing‘.
He wanders into a small cafe in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay, not far from his Darlinghurst home. He is unshaven and casually dressed. His voice is richly timbred, almost transatlantic, a product perhaps of his peripatetic childhood. He was born in West Africa and has lived in England and South Africa.
He has illustrious eyebrows. Strong but malleable, not-to-be-messed- with slithers of hair that have landed him many a villainous role.
"People often think I play baddies a lot and I guess it’s true in a way. Perhaps one of the reasons why I may have done or like to, is partly because I have heavy eyebrows. On the other hand one of the reasons why I like to play roles which are darker is because they are offered to me and because I like trying to find out what’s behind and what’s beneath that character."
Weaving made his popular debut as a villain in the 1984 television series ‘Bodyline‘ about England’s infamous 1932-3 cricket tour of Australia. He played Douglas Jardine, the English team’s captain. It was a big break for him.
Jardine evoked a powerful and lasting response from the public and the cold, patrician and haughty Englishness of the character dwelled in the minds of casting agents for sometime.
"Certainly I thought people thought I was very cold and aloof and therefore would play this sort of character best and not anything else. The sort of offers I got were very much in that mould and if there was any English role going it was sent to me, particularly if they were upper-class and existed in their head.
Some people actually held Weaving personally responsible for the physical battering Don Bradman took all those years ago. "I’d go into country towns and people in pubs would say come outside and I’ll kick your fucking head in, in a semi-joking way".
Jocelyn Moorhouse’s ‘Proof‘ arguably changed the way in which Weaving was perceived by the public and within the film industry. "Yes, I think that’s true. I think also because I have done a few different things and that’s partly why I did `Reckless Kelly‘ and `Frauds‘ because they were very different.
"I was very aware of the way people were seeing me and I didn’t feel like that. I felt I had a much broader range.
In ‘Proof‘ he played Martin, a blind photographer who trusts no one.
Initially sullen and solitary the character becomes more humorous and endearing as the film goes on. The role won Weaving an AFI award for best actor and he regards the film as a major achievement.
"In every way really it is one of the few things that I’ve done which I’ve been really happy with. The film as a whole really worked and it somehow seemed to express what I was feeling and what I was thinking about myself and my career.
Hugo Weaving seems very little like the many villains he has played.
He is the father of two young children. He is thoughtful, funny and happy to laugh at himself. And he has the ability to make other people laugh as is evident in the two comedies, `Reckless Kelly‘ and `Frauds‘.
Both films are likely to give him a higher profile overseas, particularly in the United States where half of `Reckless Kelly‘ was filmed. But he is not desperate to work there.
"I actually want to work in Australia. I want to work on films in this country. I think it’s good to go overseas, but on the other hand I think the industry here is very healthy in one way. It does feel small but there is a good feeling, the quality is better, the breadth.
"But it is so small that there isn’t a lot of work and that is the problem, not having continuity of work, not being able to do films back-to-back very often, not really being able to do more than a couple of films a year _ one if you’re lucky.
And indeed, it has been a relatively quiet year. There has been no film work but he has done some narrating for documentaries. "That’s great because I’ve always wanted to do narration. I like documentaries. I’d love to be a documentary film-maker you know.
There’s something real, something very important about documentaries.
Not having had a busy year so far doesn’t concern him too much. It’s not something that he frets about. "One of the good things about it is that I’ve got children now and we just had a little girl in December. So it’s been fantastic. I’ve been able to spend time with both of them, with my little boy who is four and my little girl.
"But financially, yeh, it sometimes gets difficult. That is a problem. But if I’m not working I don’t mind because there’s me and my life outside film and there’s a lot of reading, writing, talking and living to do.
Hugo Weaving finishes his coffee and heads out into the Sydney sunshine. He is, he laughs, just going off to borrow some money from his agent.