October 30, 2015
Veteran actor Hugo Weaving plays a small town police sergeant with a secret in his latest film, set in a fictional outback Australian town.
In a tiny dusty outback town in the 1950s, everyone harbours a secret – even the police sergeant, played by Hugo Weaving, who likes to cross-dress.
The town of Dungatar in new Australian film The Dressmaker is filled with eccentrics, gossips and nasty characters. It may be fictional and over the top, but Weaving says the small town experience is universal.
“I think everyone understands the classic small town mentality,” Weaving told AAP.
“We head up to Dungog, which is three hours north of Sydney. We’ve got a place up there, just outside town.
“Dungog’s not a very big town and you get a strong sense of community there, and people help out and help each other. But also everyone knows what everyone’s doing.
“You get that small-mindedness as well in those sort of communities.”
Weaving, best known for playing Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy and Elrond in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, reunites for this film with director Jocelyn Moorhouse, who he worked with on his breakthrough movie, Proof.
He says he is drawn to Moorhouse’s quirky humour and the dark quality in her writing and characters.
“They’re not sweetness and light; there’s something else in there as well which she hints at.”
The Dressmaker, based on Rosalie Ham’s novel, has won 12 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts nominations, including Best Lead Actress (Kate Winslet) and Best Direction.
The film follows Tilly (Winslet), who returns to Dungatar after being sent away as a 10-year-old, when she was blamed for a boy’s death. Armed with the transformative power of a sewing machine, she is bent on getting revenge for past wrongs.
As Sergeant Farrat, Weaving plays a good, kind man who feels guilty about sending Tilly away. He also secretly loves to cross-dress.
“He’s a man who doesn’t judge too harshly, he understands that everyone has failings and foibles,” Weaving said.
“He feels guilty about what he did to Tilly when she was younger and so he has to kind of atone for what he’s done.”
Over a three-decade career, Weaving has built great skills – the thrilling but hairy experience of driving a massive coach pulled by 12 horses among them.
But it was playing has-been rugby star Lionel in Australian film Little Fish, a heroin addict and gay man living off his fame that he relished most.
“The character was a huge challenge for me – a very sad, wasted tragic figure, but it was a great role to play.”
When choosing roles, Weaving says he looks for complexity and contradiction.
“Life is complex and a mixture of dark and light. I don’t necessarily favour darkness over light, but I get much more interested in pieces that reflect something of the more difficult aspects of our lives as well as the hopeful and more sunnier aspects of our lives.”
It was the art-house films the actor began watching at about 12 years old that introduced him to an adult world he had not been privy to before, and Lindsay Anderson’s seminal 1968 film, If, struck a chord.
“It’s a revolutionary film set in a boy’s school. It’s about these three boys who end up in quite a surreal way sort of having a bloody revolution with their school,” he said. “It had a huge effect on me because I was at a school like that.”