One of Australia’s top leading film and TV actors, Hugo Weaving is not a name you forget. With so much versatility and strength in every role he takes on, it’s hardly surprising he is a household name throughout the world. From his 1994 role as Tick (or Mitzi if you prefer) in Priscilla Queen of The Desert to his global break-out in The Wachowski’s The Matrix Trilogy, V for Vendetta, The Lord of The Rings, Captain America The First Avenger and the list goes on, he’s been involved in his fair share of big screen blockbusters. But now, Weaving has returned to doing what he loves: small-scale Australian roles that are absolutely huge on character, development and big on heart with ABC’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, based on the book by Elliot Perlman.
I caught up with Hugo to talk about the new series and about his life in general, from his Nigerian birth all the way back to his favourite role among his many great films.
First, I want to highlight your art of acting. I’m now 33, I hope I don’t make you feel too young when I say half my life has been seeing you on screen. A highlight being Priscilla Queen of The Desert in 1994, I would have been 12, since then film and TV has been a huge passion in my life and it’s all down to artists like yourself. Your amazing versatility as an actor and all the hard work you bring to your roles on the stage, small and big screen, is an inspiration. What inspires you and what makes you smile the most after all these years?
Thank you so much, what makes me smile the most? Sometimes it’s just the quirky little things that people do or that animals do, the funny little things in nature that are particularly idiosyncratic and wonky, things that are out of the ordinary and unexpected.
All those cat videos on YouTube?
Actually no, I am not a big YouTube fan, it’s more things in the natural world actually and interactions between people. Not being a fan of YouTube I do miss out on a lot of that culture. I do read a lot and I know in the older days people would yell ‘Get your head out of that book’ and now people are saying ‘Get your head out of that cat video’. But yes, the natural world is what makes me smile more than anything else.
Talking about books, you now star in a brand-new ABC series Seven Types of Ambiguity where you play Alex Klima, a Psychiatrist who looks after the character of Simon Heywood (Xavier Samuel) and his mild obsessions, did you get the pleasure of reading the Elliot Perlman novel before taking on the role?
Yes, absolutely, I read episode one and two (script) and I was very keen to be involved, I asked if I could I read some more scripts, they told me (at the time) they hadn’t quite got them ready yet, so I immediately jumped into the book and started reading that, which is significantly different but it’s also essentially the same characters, situation and incident, but a significantly different complexity.
It was great to read that book. I’m sure it was great for all the characters, but it was for me, to get a broader sense of who Alex might be. There are a lot of things he couldn’t be, in the book he is a Czech man and a lot of other things he is not in the screenplay. You have got to be careful not to assume that things in the book are just included in the screenplay, they’re not, they are very different beasts.
I was able to watch Seven Types of Ambiguity and I must congratulate you on another role well done, what I saw and what the critics are saying is that it has definitely hit all the right notes.
Yes, it has been very well received and reviewed, which is very heartening and exciting because it was great to work on. It is a fantastic material and it is complex, the characters are complex beasts and it does explore all their contradictions and ambiguity’s and that makes it an interesting viewing, compelling viewing. The production value is really high, three terrific directors are all film artists as well as previously working in TV they understand film. Great art department, fabulous music I think and really strong actors. So yeah, I am really pleased to have been part of this and also great to have met Elliot Perlman as well. Elliot actually wrote one of the episodes as well and was there when we were having a read through.
Is it true you were born in Nigeria in 1960, travelled a lot with your parents and moved permanently to Australia when you were around 16 years of age?
Yes, travelled all over the world, born in Nigeria, moved to England then to Melbourne, Sydney and then back to England and then South Africa, England again and back to Sydney when I was 16, so yeah, moved all over the place and great holidays as well travelling from one place to another.
Do you still have any family in Nigeria?
No, none of them, my Dad was a Seismologist working for a French seismological company and the company was employed by BP (Oil company, formerly British Petroleum) and Esso (Oil company Exxon Mobil) in Nigeria when they were looking for oil. He had been working in the French Cameroon for this company and then that company was employed in Nigeria and that is why I was born there. He then later moved into the computer game (Computer market) and went from being a small computer company, growing rapidly as these companies did with the great computer burgeon and in that job he was offered work every couple of years somewhere else in the world, so that’s what took us around the world as kids.
As a science fiction and fantasy fan, I have been waiting all these years to simply say You kicked Keanu Reeve’s ass as Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy, your probably glad you kicked him before he became John Wick?
I haven’t seen John Wick actually, the weird thing is Chad Stahelski the Director of John Wick and Dave (Director Dave Leitch), Dave was my stuntman and Chad was Keanu’s stuntman (in The Matrix) so it’s really funny that Chad is directing that, I think it’s a great story because those two stunties were just ordinary stunties that ended up doing a lot of work beyond their brief on The Matrix and slowly rose through The Matrix ranks and people thought ‘Hey, these guys are great, we can use them to film all our fights and then try stuff out’. They became an essential tool for the Wachowski’s (The Matrix Directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski), then Chad and Dave went from being stunties to Stunt co-ordinators, to fight co-ordinators, fight directors and now directors. It is a good journey and Keanu stuck with them.
I have to say what everyone is thinking, you absolutely nailed V in V for Vendetta!
Thank you, one of my favourite films I have ever done actually. I loved being in Berlin it was a real treat to work there and it was great to work with the Wachowski’s again, it was great to work with that cast, god there was some fantastic actors in that film! Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, some wonderful, wonderful actors and Natalie Portman of course. That is a film that will keep on keeping on too I believe, futuristic but retro style films that are about essential political themes that seem to keep repeating themselves throughout history.
You managed to scare the crap out of me and my kids as the voice of Megatron in the multiple Transformers films and put up with a dreadful amount of make-up to terrific effect for Red Skull in Captain America which I heard you weren’t a huge fan of. Can I ask, are you just happy sticking to the smaller screen and stage, which I know you adore, or have you now grown an addiction to becoming such major big screen icons?
No, not really, I mean if you put all my work together then you would see most of my work is from here and Australian, culturally Australian small budget film work. Most of my TV work, there is not a lot of it and most if it would be Australian. Most of my theatre work comes out of The Sydney Theatre Company and they have travelled overseas and gone to Washington, New York and London, then there would be the other Matrix, Lord of The Rings, V for Vendetta and the Marvel sort of larger blockbuster films so that would still be a minority of my work. Also, the Wachowski’s I don’t think they are in the same boat as some of those other studios. Yes, The Matrix was a studio film but it had a certainly intriguing independent couple of brains as creative instigators of that project. Every time I have worked with Lana and Lilly either on V for Vendetta, The Matrix or Cloud Atlas, those big budget films always felt entirely independent and creatively exciting which necessarily wasn’t the way I felt about working with Marvel!
Your smaller role of Tom Doss in the recent film Hacksaw Ridge was a major highlight for me, it was so heartbreaking seeing a man that was so broken after conflict but brave enough to put himself back together to help his son.
Yes, we are introduced to the effects of the war through Tom before we get to the war ourselves and so by the time you’re in the war with Desmond (Desmond Doss played by Andrew Garfield) you then realize that those percussive effects of combat you can understand, to what extent the father Tom Doss has been destroyed by. It was an interesting structural way of looking at war I think.
Is there one role that has stood out for you over all your diverse roles through the years?
Yeah, I would have to say Lionel in Little Fish, Lionel my character, the previously heroine addicted ex drug addict rugby league playing gay man. Yeah, the junkie Lionel ‘Laughs’. Great role, great challenge, huge challenge and a fabulous Director (Rowan Woods). A film that is probably underrated in many ways with a wonderful cast Cate Blanchett, Noni Hazlehurst and Sam Neil, a really good cast. I absolutely loved that film and that’s the character I think of the most.
Cannot wait to see what you do next, thanks so much for your time Hugo Weaving!
Seven Types of Ambiguity will be available to own on DVD and Blu-Ray on 14th June 2017