INT: Hugo Weaving
One of the bigger brouhahas that came along with V FOR VENDETTA -- other than the fact that it was moved from its original November 11th, 2005 release date to March 17, 2006 most likely due to the real London underground bombings...although everyone related to the feature denies this to be the reason -- was how they switched lead actors about halfway through production, with Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith from the MATRIX movies) taking over the part of "V" from actor James Purefoy for reasons still not entirely clear -- although everyone agrees that Purefoy is a great actor, class act, etc... (i.e. political correctness abounds!)
So by the time we got to interview the actors from the movie, it was Mr. Weaving who casually slid up to our table and answered our many questions about the lead character in the film. Weaving seemed very comfortable discussing the film with us, despite admitting that he was pretty much just "thrown into" it at some point. The only question that kept running through my mind as I watched him answer all of our queries was: is it me or does this guy look an awful lot like actor Sam Neill? It was uncanny, I tell you.
Note: This interview took place in June of 2005.
So start out by talking about the challenges of working within a mask, the entire film? Was the mask ever off V?
Yeah, actually funnily enough V impersonates a couple of other characters as well in the story and so the first three days shooting I was not in a mask which was actually a good introduction to everyone on set and also working as V playing another character. But the challenges of working in a mask, its a very fixed mask, so its a completely fixed expression which you can change by certain angles of the head and by movement and also by lighting, so its not actually an actors challenge so its actually a challenge that is faced by the art dept. who created the mask, the actor himself, the director in the choice of how its going to cover the mask, and also the DOP in the way its going to be lit for a particular scene, so its a collaborative challenge.
So the main challenge for me is he is very fixed, and yet he talks a lot and hes on film, so in the book you can read him, but youre not looking at his face and so you can take that character in on the page, but on screen, (mumbles) thats the challenge.
He doesnt have a name, he doesnt have much of a back-story beyond his experience in the can, if you wanted to build the performance from the inside out, its like theres nothing on the inside.
Particularly if youre asked to do something within a few days and then you fly half-way around the world, you dont have the time to really get into the skin of the character, but Ive decided very early on for me, that its a technical exercise but I wasnt going to get engaged with the problems of the mask at all I was just going to try and solve them. and help to sort of make that mask work. Yeah, the other thing is hes an idea anyway, yes, yes, hes a human being but you never find out who he is. The writers of the piece have never really expressed exactly who he is, so I certainly cannot go there either.
Do you Macellan it? Or do you avoid Macellaning it? I mean is there a vocal trip?
You mean Serian? (ha-haha)
Do you chew up the inside of the mask?
He loves language certainly, I mean Ian loves language and I think V does, but hes got a very strong sense of purpose and direction, and hes a tortured character as well, so thats his human side I suppose , he has been physically tortured, so if youre looking for the real human thing underneath the mask, well theres someone whos been mightily, mentally and physically abused by the State and whos seeking to take some sort of personal revenge against those people whove abused him. Then theres the heroic side of him, if you like, which is the liberator, so hes both an avenging angel and a liberating hopeful idea, and if you push that idea strong enough, maybe things can change.
Since your primary tool as an actor in that situation is your voice, although you do have to deal with the lighting and everything else, its very technical .
so do you avoid making it too much a voice performance?
Well, what weve had to do vocally as well as on the day-captured performance as much as we can by "miking" the mask but that still sounds muffled & so the whole performance has already been started worked on in post-production, re-creating that performance we try to get on the day, so its important you find that performance on the day so that it can be re-created. But down the track, even after its cut, there are certain things we can inject or change so there are sort of positive sides to it as well.
Do you see a phonetic (dramatic) link between The Matrix and the movie V?
I havent thought about it to be honest.
No, I really havent thought about it, but Im sure the writers, or the adaptors have won the right of the other so I guess their interests, there are certain interests and there are certain things to do with the individual and individual responsibility and State control which are thematically similar in both a large controlling body and imprisoned individuals which are very similar in both.
Youve had a relationship with James [McTeigue) with The Matrix
And Ben before that, actually. Yeah.
Hows it working with him now?
Wonderful, we get on extremely well. We also have had a social relationship as well, prior to and after working on The Matrix, it actually went on so long but he was involved with a very good friend of ours, and as my partner and I , so the four of us would go out together, and so I regard him as a good friend.
Would you have jumped in this project so last minute if it hadnt been the Wachowksi kind of family, fan ?
Yeah, yeah, I think so, when I did get to Berlin, they were there, I mean I knew them all, everyone, the designer to the stunt guys when I went to Berlin, so that made it very easy. But if someone else who I didnt know had rung me and said How quickly can you get to Berlin, and theres a script arriving at your door in ten minutes, and will you read it and give me an answer like tomorrow?, I would have said yes.
I mentioned to Natalie in regards to Terrence Stamp who has played two comic book roles, in Superman and Elektra, what he specifically tried to do is figure out how the character moves in between the panels, did you do anything like that, or take any movements from V?
No, no time, really no time. V in the book, he has a great stillness about him, I think, I mean yes he moves and you see him flitting up across the rooftops and all, but he has a great, a great stillness about him. The thing is making this mask work, thats the hard thing, I just had to trust my intuition about any physical movements, whether theyre head movements or body movements, I hadnt really had time to think or plan, and just had to get into the skin of the character and moved around, you know, based on my limited knowledge of what the story was about at the time and so thats why for me its a technical thing, I couldnt get involved in it, and so I just literally didnt have the time to go into all that, and so I said to them straight-away, Look, Im here, Im going to help, Im going to try and make it work but if it ain't working, just tell me and well change it.
Do you watch dailies?
So is there a moment where you, after being here for 4-5 days on the set, that you say to yourself, Okay, youve figured it out.
Well, they seemed quite pleased from the first day, there were elements there which were working well, they werent pulling their hair out or anything, so I was getting positive feedback so that was good.
How quick was it that you got the call and then you were here?
I think I was here, it was within six days, so really having my passport up to date. And then I had about four days there in Berlin before I started, so that was good to get to know what was going on, have costume fittings and things changed for me.
You just mentioned the stillness of the character. Is there anything else that youre trying to do in the physicality of the character?
No, actually not really trying to. I mean he is still, but you can only use that, to a certain extent, on film, I mean he stands still in that mask and that close-up, its just intensely boring, very quickly, particularly if youre talking a lot, its just like Whoa, hey, Im not going to go and see that movie.
In the book it seems like in the art they underscore that hes more of an idea than a person by showing the costume as if its very empty, like when he moves, it seems like hes leading with the mask, and the cape just sort of flows, do you know if anything like that .?
Um, maybe, youd have to ask James about that. I havent even thought about that at all. For me, yes he is a human being underneath the mask but you never see his face and you dont ever find out exactly who he is and thats important too so hes both those things. He is the idea, and yet you need to feel that he is a human being, and yet not ask too many questions because if you ask too many questions about it, How the Hell did he do all these things? Its like impossible. So you cant go too far down that track either.
Its such a heavy movie, are you able to have fun? Like Natalie was saying, It can be fun.
Oh yeah, when you take up something like a challenge, it sounds really difficult, but I find that fun as well. And not taking too much time to think about things too much beforehand, thats exactly quite liberating. Its much more exciting and much more fun when you just sort of jump in, and so thats how Im sort of looking at this.
How are those six movies that youve done, how does that make people see you? And in this, your first big lead role in a film, your face isnt being seen do you like it that way?
(Laughs) Its quite cool. (Laughs again.) Yeah.
And now you have the chance, obviously, to do really big movies now, do you see still flitting back to --
The size of a film has never been important to me, and if the script is interesting and I like the director, then thats what keys me into it really. Actually to be perfectly honest, if its choosing between a big film or a small film, I have tended to choose the smaller films. But thats because theyre probably better at orini? scripts, so thats what important to me.
Does the size of a production like this film this change how you work a lot?
Not really how I work, but
Was it kind of fun? I mean it sounds like you were actually kind of freed by a last minute thing.
Yeah, absolutely, and sometimes its great to have that kind of excitement, kind of like youre flying a bit. Its fun, thats kind of how life should be, probably a little bit more.
With such a quick turn-around from the moment youre asked to play the part and the moment you have to actually film it, did you actually have a chance to read the graphic novel?
No, I didnt. I got to Berlin and then I saw Ram Patterson and wanted to look at the mask and I said Did we have the novel and he gave me a copy of it. I didnt read the whole thing, but looked at it fairly intensively. But then realized structurally how different it was from the film and so decided to spend my time on the film, because there was so much to work on in the film, and if there were questions which were not answered for me in particular scenes, I would then go back and refer to scenes in the graphic novel which I did do, on occasion and that was interesting actually, and they were of use to me.
Do you remember what scenes they might have been?
Yes, the scene that I thought was the most difficult and potentially incredible was the scene when Edie comes out of the interrogation and comes back into the shadow gallery because suddenly youre realize that V is the one whos been torturing her and for someone whos never read the graphic novel and watching the film for the first time, which is what were doing, were making the film, so for those people that scene was the one for me, the most difficult one. Thats when I went back to the book, and sort of
What about holding her head under water? Did you do that?
Yes, but I didnt shave the head, they wouldnt let me do that.
How many takes did you have to do dunking? (laughing)
Quite a lot, we had a camera underneath, theres a glass bottom bucket, and then also from the side. So quite a lot underneath, and also quite a lot from above too.
What about working within inside the shadow gallery? I mean its a very impressive set. Did that help bring you alive as well?
Yes, it was wonderful to walk into there, James and I were talking about the shadow gallery and walking around there , it was great to be in there and I became kind of excited about it.
Are you a comic book fan at all?
Not really, but a little bit. I wouldnt say Im a huge fan, but yeah Ive picked up the odd comic and graphic novel and enjoyed them. I bought a couple for my kids yesterday.
In the Wachowskis past, when you guys were working together, and its hard to not be around them
It is, it is, but no, I didnt get any gifts from them like that, they just took me out to dinner, and nice wine.
Have you ever felt like you were playing a super hero? I mean hes sort of a Batman.
He is actually, he is, isnt he? Funnily enough Larry and I both read the gunpowder plot whilst making the Matrix, I think the whole gun powder plot is great story. Yes, hes a hero but Im not big on heroes, hes a lot of other things.
Which graphic novel did you get for your kids?
Ones called Monkey and Spoon, do you know it? Its absolutely beautiful, and another one about a couple of soldiers on a wall, its like Hadriens Wall or something and its just the conversation that theyre having.
How old are your kids?
Sixteen and twelve.
What did they think about the character that youre playing?
Theyve seen the mask, you know, and we had intended to go onto set but it hasnt worked out so they know less about it than I do, and you know, I dont know much. (laughs)
So Vs quest for freedom and revenge tends to take the form of artistic expression, I mean that seems to be what represents freedom to him because he has all the movies, all the books, Shakespeare .
Yes, well also hes maintaining them, hes keeping them, I mean hes a guardian of all those things as well, and there are a number of characters, like the character that Stephen Fried plays who also has his own little horde, his illegal horde of Korans, and things which the State no longer allows people to keep.
In one way hes amassed all these treasures together in order to maintain, keep them there, so thats one side of his character and the other one is the dark, avenging angel who wants to do the people in who tortured him, he has a vendetta, hes out to get them. And then theres the other side which is to do with prodding people to take responsibility to run their own lives rather than the State running their lives. Its quite different sides of his character.
How does the fact that the original writer of V [Alan Moore] is not super happy with this movie being made? How does that affect you? Do you think about it at all?
I dont know exactly, I personally dont think about it a great deal, I am not sure, I dont know why hes unhappy about it but thats neither here nor there. My take on it is that Larry and Andy are both great graphic novel, cartoon buffs and theyre also great, cutting edge filmmakers so if anyones going to take a novel like this and adapt it to the screen, theyre probably the best people to do it. They understand both mediums quite well, those two guys to write that and then for James to direct it.
Youve spent a lot of time in genre films in the past couple of years, such as The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and now this. In your next project, do you want to get away from that now? Do something smaller, more mainstream maybe?
I dont know, I guess I tend to go back to Sydney and to work in generally smaller budget, Australian films and I think thats where I would always love to work more often that not, but for me these films are anomalies, but things that I love doing that sort of take me out of it.
Youre one of the best known actors in the world who doesnt ever have to go to Hollywood.
Thats cool, isnt it?
Have you made any Hollywood movies in the last several years?
No, I havent. I have never worked there.
Do you want to? Or are you happy to be free of it?
No, Ive loved working with Larry and Andy and working with James on this, and I loved working with Peter Jackson in New Zealand, but again that was, New Zealand, Europe, and mostly Australia and a little bit in San Francisco which was great, but San Francisco aint Hollywood.
Is it a different world of movies than you expected when you got into it? The Holy Grail has always been Hollywood and somehow it seems to be .
Yes, it certainly hasnt for me, I dont know why that is, but I suppose I had a European bent really coming from England and then moving to Australia. The films I loved watching when I was fifteen, sixteen, were actually European films, and thats kind of where I got my excitement from, was watching films from here, I suppose thats just where my interests lie. The Australian film industry sort of sits in a half-way, but has its own very strong cultural identity and as thats where I live now, thats the sort of film I love being a part of, because thats where I live and thats who I feel I am.
Thank you very much.
Okay, pleasure, pleasure.
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