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, itís a very fixed mask, so itís a completely fixed expression which you can change by certain angles of the head and by movement and also by lighting, so itís not actually an actorís challenge so itís actually a challenge that is faced by the art dept. who created the mask, the actor himself, the director in the choice of how itís going to cover the mask, and also the DOP in the way itís going to be lit for a particular scene, so itís a collaborative challenge.
So the main challenge for me is he is very fixed, and yet he talks a lot Öand heís on film, so in the book you can read him, but youíre not looking at his face and so you can take that character in on the page, but on screen, (mumbles) thatís the challenge.
He doesnít have a name, he doesnít have much of a back-story beyond his experience in the can, if you wanted to build the performance from the inside out, itís like thereís nothing on the inside.
Particularly if youíre asked to do something within a few days and then you fly half-way around the world, you donít have the time to really get into the skin of the character, but Iíve decided very early on for me, that itís a technical exercise but I wasnít 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 heís an idea anyway, yes, yes, heís 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 heís got a very strong sense of purpose and direction, and heís a tortured character as well, so thatís his human side I suppose , he has been physically tortured, so if youíre looking for the real human thing underneath the mask, well thereís someone whoís been mightily, mentally and physically abused by the State and whoís seeking to take some sort of personal revenge against those people whoíve abused him. Then thereís the heroic side of him, if you like, which is the liberator, so heís 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, itís very technicalÖ.
Öso do you avoid making it too much a voice performance?
Well, what weíve 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 itís important you find that performance on the day so that it can be re-created. But down the track, even after itís 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 havenít thought about it to be honest.
No, I really havenít thought about it, but Iím 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 bothÖ a large controlling body and imprisoned individuals which are very similar in both.
Youíve had a relationship with James [McTeigue) with The MatrixÖ
And Ben before that, actually. Yeah.
Howís 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 IÖ, 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 hadnít 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 didnít know had rung me and said ďHow quickly can you get to Berlin, and thereís a script arriving at your door in ten minutes, and will you read it and give me an answer like tomorrow?Ē, 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, thatís the hard thing, I just had to trust my intuition about any physical movements, whether theyíre head movements or body movements, I hadnít 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 thatís why for me itís a technical thing, I couldnít get involved in it, and so I just literally didnít have the time to go into all that, and so I said to them straight-away, ď Look, Iím here, Iím going to help, Iím going to try and make it work but if it ain't working, just tell me and weíll 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, ďOkay, youíve figured it out.Ē
Well, they seemed quite pleased from the first day, there were elements there which were working well, they werenít 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 youíre 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, itís just intensely boring, very quickly, particularly if youíre talking a lot, itís just like ďWhoa, hey, Iím not going to go and see that movie.Ē
In the book it seems like in the art they underscore that heís more of an idea than a person by showing the costume as if itís very empty, like when he moves, it seems like heís leading with the mask, and the cape just sort of flows, do you know if anything like thatÖ.?
Um, maybe, youíd have to ask James about that. I havenít 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 donít ever find out exactly who he is and thatís important too so heís 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, ďHow the Hell did he do all these things? Itís like impossible.Ē So you canít go too far down that track either.
Itís such a heavy movie, are you able to have fun? Like Natalie was saying, ďIt can be fun.Ē
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, thatís exactly quite liberating. Itís much more exciting and much more fun when you just sort of jump in, and so thatís how Iím sort of looking at this.
How are those six movies that youíve done, how does that make people see you? And in this, your first big lead role in a film, your face isnít being seenÖ do you like it that way?
(Laughs) Itís 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 thatís what keys me into it really. Actually to be perfectly honest, if itís choosing between a big film or a small film, I have tended to choose the smaller films. But thatís because theyíre probably better at orini? scripts, so thatís 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, butÖ
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 itís great to have that kind of excitement, kind of like youíre flying a bit. Itís fun, thatís kind of how life should be, probably a little bit more.
With such a quick turn-around from the moment youíre 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 didnít. 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 didnít 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 youíre realize that V is the one whoís been torturing her and for someone whoís never read the graphic novel and watching the film for the first time, which is what weíre doing, weíre making the film, so for those people that scene was the one for me, the most difficult one. Thatís when I went back to the book, and sort ofÖ
What about holding her head under water? Did you do that?
Yes, but I didnít shave the head, they wouldnít let me do that.
How many takes did you have to do dunking? (laughing)
Quite a lot, we had a camera underneath, thereís 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 itís 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 wouldnít say Iím a huge fan, but yeah Iíve picked up the odd comic and graphic novel and enjoyed them. I bought a couple for my kids yesterday.
In the Wachowskiís past, when you guys were working together, and itís hard to not be around themÖ
It is, it is, but no, I didnít 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 heís sort of a Batman.
He is actually, he is, isnít 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, heís a hero but Iím not big on heroes, heís a lot of other things.
Which graphic novel did you get for your kids?
Oneís called Monkey and Spoon, do you know it? Itís absolutely beautiful, and another one about a couple of soldiers on a wall, itís like Hadrienís Wall or something and itís just the conversation that theyíre having.
How old are your kids?
Sixteen and twelve.
What did they think about the character that youíre playing?
Theyíve seen the mask, you know, and we had intended to go onto set but it hasnít worked out so they know less about it than I do, and you know, I donít know much. (laughs)
So Vís 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, ShakespeareÖ.
Yes, well also heís maintaining them, heís keeping them, I mean heís 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 heís amassed all these treasures together in order to maintain, keep them there, so thatís 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, heís out to get them. And then thereís 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. Itís 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 donít know exactly, I personally donít think about it a great deal, I am not sure, I donít know why heís unhappy about it but thatís neither here nor there. My take on it is that Larry and Andy are both great graphic novel, cartoon buffs and theyíre also great, cutting edge filmmakers so if anyoneís going to take a novel like this and adapt it to the screen, theyíre 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.
Youíve 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 donít know, I guess I tend to go back to Sydney and to work in generally smaller budget, Australian films and I think thatís 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.
Youíre one of the best known actors in the world who doesnít ever have to go to Hollywood.
Thatís cool, isnít it?
Have you made any Hollywood movies in the last several years?†
No, I havenít. I have never worked there.
Do you want to? Or are you happy to be free of it?
No, Iíve 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 ainít 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 beÖ.
Yes, it certainly hasnít for me, I donít 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 thatís kind of where I got my excitement from, was watching films from here, I suppose thatís 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 thatís where I live now, thatís the sort of film I love being a part of, because thatís where I live and thatís who I feel I am.
Thank you very much.
Okay, pleasure, pleasure.
FOR VENDETTA opens wide on March 17th
Check out its OFFICIAL SITE HERE!!