LAST RIDE interview: Hugo Weaving

July 9, 2009

Yes, that headline is boooooring. But I have too much regard for you to subject you to a shitty pun like ‘The Tangled Web of Weaving’, ‘Weaving’s Tapestry’ or even ‘Hugo-a-Go-Go’ (which was the frontrunner there for a while). Anyway, I had an illuminating chat with this ultra-talented actor, and here’s what went down:

He has portrayed both rulers of fantastic realms and average blokes wrestling with what life throws at them, given voice to malevolent mechanical villains and embodied small-time crims from the wrong side of the tracks. With such a diverse gallery of characters to his credit, one might imagine that Hugo Weaving’s criteria for choosing projects would be equally varied. It really comes down to one thing, however: instant attraction.

hugo in real life

“I always go on my gut reaction to a script,” says Weaving. “If I’m sitting there going ‘Hmmm, yeah, I dunno, it could be good…’ forget about it. It has to be something that’s amazing, something I really want to do. I have to be able to react to something.”

 And his reaction to Last Ride, the first feature by Australian director Glendyn Ivin (whose short film Cracker Bag won the Golden Palm at the2003 Cannes Film Festival), was immediate. “As soon as I saw Glendyn’s name on the cover sheet of the script I was intrigued,” he says. “I enjoyed Cracker Bag and thought it’d be really interesting to work with him. He was a key ingredient.”

Adapted from Denise Young’s novel The Last Ride by veteran Australian screenwriter Mac Gudgeon, Last Ride is a moody, powerful piece that follows Weaving’s damaged, violent ex-convict Kev as he embarks on a cross-country journey with his young son Chook (newcomer Tom Russell), running from the events of the past and searching for a possible future.

 hugo as kev

It’s a low-budget piece that endured the usual trials and tribulations such productions go through, with Weaving first reading the script in 2007 and waiting while financing was set up only to fall through and locations and shooting dates shifted. But according to the actor, “the budget of a film and who is doing it is always secondary to the script”, and the character of Kev, his complex relationship with his son and the journey the two undertake was worth the wait.

 “At first, you think you have the guy pegged,” says Weaving of Kev, who’s capable of sweeping an old flame off her feet in one scene, picking a fight in a pub for the most insignificant of reasons the next. “You think he’s one sort of guy. But then, after a few incidents, we get to see other aspects of the man. He’s a very complex man, a very conflicted person.”

 You’d think that it’d be easy to pin down the characters played by someone as distinctive as Weaving, with his aristocratic bearing and mellifluous voice, but it’s testament to his talent that he’s gotten under the skin of a wide range of people and made each an individual. The man who created Matrix villain Agent Smith is the same man who played a gay, heroin-addicted ex-sportsman in Little Fish, breathing life into both.

 As such, any insight into Weaving’s process is fascinating. But the unaffected actor takes a down-to-earth approach in explaining it that proves demystifying. “I think Kev is very different to me,” he says. “There’s probably not a lot of me in there. But I suppose I tried to get into his skin rather than the other way round. There are things in there that I can relate to, like being a dad, for instance. You understand the nature of parental love, and how you want to protect your child and look after them. Having said that, Kev’s journey through life is very different to mine so I had to get to know him by understanding what likely happened to him as a child, and what other events might’ve shaped the man he became”.

 And one of the more powerful aspects of Last Ride is how Weaving and Ivin don’t feel the need to explain those events, preferring instead to use allusion and understatement. “Glendyn doesn’t bang you over the head with something,” says Weaving. “He lets it sit there. I think that’s the real strength of the film.”

Around the same time that Last Ride is being showcased in a handful of cinemas, Weaving is also making his presence in the multiplexes, reprising his voice role as the evil robot-in-disguise Megatron in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Michael Bay’s follow-up to the 2007 mega-hit Transformers. (Interestingly, he’s never actually met Bay in person, contributing his part to the action blockbusters from a Sydney recording studio while the director is in Los Angeles.)




And he has a couple of other high-profile pictures in the works, with an update of the classic monster movie The Wolf Man due for release towards the end of the year. The production had its share of strife, with original director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) departing early in the shoot and replaced by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III).

 Weaving is a fan of the new director, and of the cast assembled for the film, which includes Anthony Hopkins, The Devil Wears Prada’s Emily Blunt and Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro in the title role. Calling his own character “the voice of reason, the circumspect detective”, he plays Detective Aberline (based on a real-life police officer who led the hunt for Jack the Ripper) who “takes the audience through this impossible case where people have been killed and he believes some person has done it before eventually realising ‘Okay, there is a werewolf’.”

 And while it was assumed by all and sundry that Weaving had already signed on to reprise his Lord of the Rings role as elf lord Elrond in Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming Tolkien prequel The Hobbit, no signatures were actually on paper at the time of this interview a week or so ago.

 “I knew that if and when it happened I’d get a call and we’d chat about it, but I haven’t spoken to anyone about it,” smiles Weaving. “Someone said to me ‘I hear you’re doing the Hobbit’, and I said ‘Well, uh, probably’. To which they said “No, no, you’ve signed on’! I haven’t actually talked to anyone about it. That doesn’t mean I won’t be doing it…I’m just not on board yet.”

 Following his scene-stealing appearances in the Matrix trilogy, the actor has become able to balance smaller projects like The Interview, Peaches, Little Fish and Last Ride with big-budget international productions like V for Vendetta and Happy Feet. Then there’s his continuing commitment to the stage – later this year, Weaving will appear alongside Pamela Rabe in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of acclaimed playwright’s Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage.  

 “One process illuminates another, and it’s great”, says Weaving. “Doing theatre, for instance, weirdly illuminates the different processes in film. Theoretically in life you want to get better at your job, and if you ever get to the stage where you come to the conclusion that there’s nothing more to learn, well, then that’s it. And I guess if you’re doing the same thing every day, and it becomes repetitive, then it loses its appeal after a while. So even though you’re working really hard doing a film like Last Ride – where you’re working six days a week, and sometimes very early in the morning or very late at night – it’s more exciting, fulfilling, invigorating and rewarding in so many ways.”

Last Ride is in selected cinemas now.