INT: Hugo Weaving

Read Part 1 of our set visit here

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.

Hugo Weaving

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, it’s a very fixed mask, so it’s a completely fixed expression which you can change by certain angles of the head and by movement and also by lighting, so it’s not actually an actor’s challenge so it’s actually a challenge that is faced by the art dept. who created the mask, the actor himself, the director in the choice of how it’s going to cover the mask, and also the DOP in the way it’s going to be lit for a particular scene, so it’s a collaborative challenge.

So the main challenge for me is he is very fixed, and yet he talks a lot …and he’s on film, so in the book you can read him, but you’re not looking at his face and so you can take that character in on the page, but on screen, (mumbles) that’s the challenge.

He doesn’t have a name, he doesn’t have much of a back-story beyond his experience in the can, if you wanted to build the performance from the inside out, it’s like there’s nothing on the inside.

Particularly if you’re asked to do something within a few days and then you fly half-way around the world, you don’t have the time to really get into the skin of the character, but I’ve decided very early on for me, that it’s a technical exercise but I wasn’t 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 he’s an idea anyway, yes, yes, he’s 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 he’s got a very strong sense of purpose and direction, and he’s a tortured character as well, so that’s his human side I suppose , he has been physically tortured, so if you’re looking for the real human thing underneath the mask, well there’s someone who’s been mightily, mentally and physically abused by the State and who’s seeking to take some sort of personal revenge against those people who’ve abused him. Then there’s the heroic side of him, if you like, which is the liberator, so he’s 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, it’s very technical….


…so do you avoid making it too much a voice performance?

Well, what we’ve 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 it’s important you find that performance on the day so that it can be re-created. But down the track, even after it’s 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 haven’t thought about it to be honest.


No, I really haven’t thought about it, but I’m 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.

You’ve had a relationship with James [McTeigue) with The Matrix…

And Ben before that, actually. Yeah.

How’s 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t know had rung me and said “How quickly can you get to Berlin, and there’s 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, that’s the hard thing, I just had to trust my intuition about any physical movements, whether they’re head movements or body movements, I hadn’t 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 that’s why for me it’s a technical thing, I couldn’t get involved in it, and so I just literally didn’t have the time to go into all that, and so I said to them straight-away, “ Look, I’m here, I’m going to help, I’m going to try and make it work but if it ain't working, just tell me and we’ll 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, you’ve figured it out.”

Well, they seemed quite pleased from the first day, there were elements there which were working well, they weren’t 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 you’re 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, it’s just intensely boring, very quickly, particularly if you’re talking a lot, it’s just like “Whoa, hey, I’m not going to go and see that movie.”

In the book it seems like in the art they underscore that he’s more of an idea than a person by showing the costume as if it’s very empty, like when he moves, it seems like he’s leading with the mask, and the cape just sort of flows, do you know if anything like that….?

Um, maybe, you’d have to ask James about that. I haven’t 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 don’t ever find out exactly who he is and that’s important too so he’s 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? It’s like impossible.” So you can’t go too far down that track either.

It’s 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, that’s exactly quite liberating. It’s much more exciting and much more fun when you just sort of jump in, and so that’s how I’m sort of looking at this.

How are those six movies that you’ve done, how does that make people see you? And in this, your first big lead role in a film, your face isn’t being seen… do you like it that way?

(Laughs) It’s 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 that’s what keys me into it really. Actually to be perfectly honest, if it’s choosing between a big film or a small film, I have tended to choose the smaller films. But that’s because they’re probably better at orini? scripts, so that’s 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 it’s great to have that kind of excitement, kind of like you’re flying a bit. It’s fun, that’s kind of how life should be, probably a little bit more.

With such a quick turn-around from the moment you’re 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 didn’t. 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 didn’t 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 you’re realize that V is the one who’s been torturing her and for someone who’s never read the graphic novel and watching the film for the first time, which is what we’re doing, we’re making the film, so for those people that scene was the one for me, the most difficult one. That’s when I went back to the book, and sort of…

What about holding her head under water? Did you do that?

Yes, but I didn’t shave the head, they wouldn’t let me do that.

How many takes did you have to do dunking? (laughing)

Quite a lot, we had a camera underneath, there’s 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 it’s 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 wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan, but yeah I’ve picked up the odd comic and graphic novel and enjoyed them. I bought a couple for my kids yesterday.

In the Wachowski’s past, when you guys were working together, and it’s hard to not be around them…

It is, it is, but no, I didn’t 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 he’s sort of a Batman.

He is actually, he is, isn’t 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, he’s a hero but I’m not big on heroes, he’s a lot of other things.

Which graphic novel did you get for your kids?

One’s called Monkey and Spoon, do you know it? It’s absolutely beautiful, and another one about a couple of soldiers on a wall, it’s like Hadrien’s Wall or something and it’s just the conversation that they’re having.

How old are your kids?

Sixteen and twelve.

What did they think about the character that you’re playing?

They’ve seen the mask, you know, and we had intended to go onto set but it hasn’t worked out so they know less about it than I do, and you know, I don’t know much. (laughs)

So V’s 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 he’s maintaining them, he’s keeping them, I mean he’s 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 he’s amassed all these treasures together in order to maintain, keep them there, so that’s 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, he’s out to get them. And then there’s 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. It’s 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 don’t know exactly, I personally don’t think about it a great deal, I am not sure, I don’t know why he’s unhappy about it but that’s neither here nor there. My take on it is that Larry and Andy are both great graphic novel, cartoon buffs and they’re also great, cutting edge filmmakers so if anyone’s going to take a novel like this and adapt it to the screen, they’re 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.

You’ve 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 don’t know, I guess I tend to go back to Sydney and to work in generally smaller budget, Australian films and I think that’s 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.

You’re one of the best known actors in the world who doesn’t ever have to go to Hollywood.

That’s cool, isn’t it?

Have you made any Hollywood movies in the last several years? 

No, I haven’t. I have never worked there.

Do you want to? Or are you happy to be free of it?

No, I’ve 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 ain’t 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 hasn’t for me, I don’t 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 that’s kind of where I got my excitement from, was watching films from here, I suppose that’s 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 that’s where I live now, that’s the sort of film I love being a part of, because that’s where I live and that’s who I feel I am.

Thank you very much.

Okay, pleasure, pleasure.

V FOR VENDETTA opens wide on March 17th
Check out its OFFICIAL SITE HERE!!

Source: JoBlo.com



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