IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Hugo Weaving Talks 'Cloud Atlas'

Wednesday, 24 October 2012 13:56 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Hugo Weaving Talks 'Cloud Atlas'

Veteran actor Hugo Weaving has had a long and illustrious career appearing in several groundbreaking genre classics such as The Matrix trilogy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the upcoming The Hobbit trilogy, as well as V for Vendetta, and Captain America: The First Avenger. But the actor can now add a new genre classic to his resume with Cloud Atlas, which features Weaving in not one but six different roles and opens in theaters on October 26th.

Cloud Atlas reteams Weaving with his Matrix and Vendetta directors Andy and Lana Wachowski, and was also co-helmed by Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer. The film is based on author David Mitchell’s extremely popular book of the same name and in addition to Weaving, features several actors in numerous roles including Oscar winners Tom Hanks (Larry Crowne), Halle Berry (X-Men), Jim Broadbent (Arthur Christmas), and Susan Sarandon (Jeff, Who Lives at Home), as well as Jim Sturgess (21), Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), James D’Arcy (Hitchcock), Doona Bae (The Host), Keith David (They Live), and Hugh Grant (About a Boy). The film's story spans centuries and has been described as an exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Hugo Weaving to talk about his work on Cloud Atlas. The acclaimed actor discussed the new film, its intricate plot, playing six different parts in the same movie, how they all connect, why he doesn’t think of his characters as villains, working with Tom Hanks, reuniting with the Wachowskis, and what the new dynamic was like on set between them and co-director Tom Tykwer.

Here is what the talented actor had to say:

IAR: To begin with, I assume that as an actor part of the fun of doing a project like this is that you will get to play a variety of different characters in one film. But after you were initially cast in the first of your six roles, did you have any say over which of the less prominent characters that you wanted to play?

Hugo Weaving: No. I read the book about six years ago actually when we were doing the movie V for Vendetta. I was talking to Lana about it then, but I didn't know it was going to be a film then and I didn’t know that they were interested in it. So when the screenplay was finally written and financing was happening, Andy rang me and said, “Mr. Weaving” (in the same way Agent Smith would say, “Mr. Anderson” in The Matrix). He said, “The script's arriving tomorrow and these are the roles we want you to play.” He also said, “Look, because this is a film we're telling this more like a mosaic. Author David Mitchell describes the book as a series of Russian dolls, like opening them up and you then read half of each of them. But this is more like a mosaic and these are the characters we want you to play.” So I knew what all of those characters were. He listed the six characters then and said, “The uber-soul if you like, the soul connecting all those characters as we call it is the antagonist so that's it, that's the package.” And I said, Georgie and Nurse Noakes? You want me to play Nurse Noakes and Boardman Mephi? I said, okay, great. So it's really thrilling. On set people were saying, “You're playing six characters? I'm only playing three!” Then they were sort of going up to the directors and asking for more parts. Some of those choices they made were brilliant. I’m talking about in particular a scene where Jim Sturgess’ character is coming down the stairs at same time when Ben Winshaw’s character Frobisher is coming back to the hotel and Tom Hanks the hotel manager is there. Ben has checked in as Ewing, because he's been reading the Pacific Diary of Adam Ewing and so he's checked in under the Ewing name. One of the great ideas is that Jim thought maybe he should come down the stairs then because he played Adam Ewing. So when Tom Hanks says the line, "Oh Mr. Ewing!" to Frobisher, Jim walks past. It's a beautiful, and great idea. So the actors were really fantastic. They were always like, "Maybe I could be..." So all that was going on but I missed out on all of that because I already had six characters anyway. 

You mentioned that your roles are really the antagonists of this film; do you ever get tired of playing the villain? While your characters in V for Vendetta and The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit trilogies are not necessarily bad guys, you certainly have played your fair share between The Matrix trilogy and Captain America: The First Avenger, so does it ever grow old for you?

Weaving: Not at all really because if you look at everything I've done I've played so many different parts really. I mean even with Lana and Andy, but Lana did say the other day, “I think maybe we should next time give you a role that's a little more sympathetic.” I mean even V in V for Vendetta, he wouldn't be out of place in this film as one of the common characters really because he's very much a revolutionary spirit. Someone who's forced to act because of the regime he finds himself in, a very futuristic dystopia that he finds himself in and he's compelled because of his disfiguration to wear this mask. He's compelled to embody the spirit of Guy Fawkes and to bring about a change. So he's very much a revolutionary figure, probably more proactive than some of the revolutionaries in Cloud Atlas because they’re people who have do something small because they have to and that has massive repercussions for other people. But no I don't tire of playing these roles and I don't see them as villains, except maybe Red Skull and Captain America. He's an absolute cartoon villain and the job description for that is just to enjoy it. 

I’ve heard actors say in the past that it is always more fun to play the villain than hero, do you find that to be true as well?

Weaving: It's certainly more fun. I generally don't describe the characters as villains unless it's something like Red Skull, but all my characters in this, if you line them up chronologically they start with a businessman (Haskell Moore) who's an upstanding member of the community and he's a philosopher. He believes in the ladder of civilization and that each race has its own rung and you can progress through that, but generally there are lower races and higher ones and gods at the top and this is how it shall be. But he's a father, he's a charming man, and he's an educated man. Then you progress through him to someone like Tadeusz Kesselring who's a conductor, an artistic soul actually. He's got this wonderful artistic capability, but he's compromised himself by choosing to stay in Nazi Germany and not standing up. He's like a Mephisto character. He's like the classic Marlon Brando character that’s got all these gifts, but he hasn't done the right thing. So you get the compromise that involves that and there's this sort of idea in the film that his Jewish lover, who Halle Berry plays, that he didn't stand up for her. She had to flee and he didn't go with her. He looked after himself. Then there is a character like Bill Smoke who's an agent, he's an assassin, but he's doing the bidding of someone else. I think David Mitchell says (in the book), “Don't blame the man, don't blame the gun, blame the other guy.” Then Boardman Mephi who absolutely believes that repression is necessary to maintain the system and if that means killing you because you're making waves, that's how it has to be. Then on the other end of the spectrum you've got Georgie, who is not even a character. He's not even a person. He's not a human being. He is just the voice in your head. He is the voice that says, “You must do this, and don't do that. Don't free your mind, and stay trapped.” He's the voice so that the agent of order and oppression is linked. That idea is linked through all those characters. 

You mentioned in an earlier conversation that since Georgie is actually inside Zachry’s (Tom Hanks) head, you wanted them to interact in a particular way, with Georgie always appearing to Zachry at angles or from behind. Directors Tom Tykwer and Lana Wachowski have stated that they actually took inspiration from that and wanted to shoot your ‘1970s era character Bill Smoke in a similar way during the assignation scene that takes place towards the end of the film. Had you spoken about that with them and were you aware that they were filming the scene in that way when you were shooting it?

Weaving: Yeah. There were certain threads that were actually because of certain things we were doing that were picked up along the way and that was great. The script was edited and that's why it was actually great. If you knew the story, that was why it was great to read and when we all read it aloud it was great to hear all those voices. So all those edits were there. You got a character leaving one frame and coming in another as a different character, but it's always the same actor. That was all in there. But those other things kind of fortuitously happened by the doing of the process. All the things that I was always saying to the directors before like, there are going to be these things which pop up no matter how much planning you do. There are going to be things that present themselves that are better, and of course that's why they're great, because they're totally open to, and they do all their homework. They do all their planning and then they remain open to possibilities. There are echoes of characters like in the book and in the script, it's not so clear in the film actually although it was on the page, but they have to do with the edits. So there are people who fall, that are falling and jumping and falling through space. Frobisher jumping out of the window ended up not being cut, but he climbs down a pipe and there was a thing in the book where he jumps and then there's Bill Smoke jumping off something onto the van to shoot the guy in the head, then Georgie at one stage jumped down. So there's these reverberations through character throughout, but there's so many of them, and that will be the draw of going back to see the film again because there's so many visual kinetic links. I love the fact that Cavendish’s (Jim Broadbent) prison that is the nursing home is the same house that Ayrs (again, Broadbent) lives in. It's not just the same set it's actually the same house in the same place sometime later. So you're seeing the same buildings. The nursing home’s central dining area is the same room in Ayrs’ house where Frobisher plays the piano. That is the same room, it was the same set, but it was the same room in the same house. So it's just been redecorated because time's gone by and the old mansion couldn't be kept up, so it's turned into a nursing home. Then because it's a nursing home they painted it all hideous green colors and put carpet. I love that in the film, I really love that. 

Finally, you’ve worked with the Washowskis several times before, how did that dynamic change with Tom Tykwer being added to the mix? What was it like working with the three of them as directors on this project?

Weaving: Wonderful. I first met Tom while I was Skyping Lana and Andy from Washington, where I was doing a play. I was about to go to Berlin and I hadn't met Tom. I’d emailed Tom, we emailed each other talking about something, which was great, but I hadn't met him visually. I certainly hadn't met him in the flesh, but Lana and Andy were there. The Skype "boom boom" went on and there they were. They said, "Hugie!" Lana and Andy were there and suddenly this figure bounded in behind them and that was Tom. I'll never forget the image of these three going, "Hi!" I thought these guys were unified, spiritually unified. They're so unified in spirit and Lana and Andy were always a great mirror for each other. You hold up the mirror to nature and you're able to see things, but if someone holds up the mirror to you they’re able to reflect who you are better. They've always been great like that. They protect each other as well, but also reflect each other back to themselves. I think Tom's added another mirror to that dynamic. They all have wonderfully inquiring minds, they're just great fun to be with and genuinely warm people. They have this thirst for knowledge, a thirst for engagement and a love of film, so I think he's just I like to say he's our third sibling. I think he's given them an enormous amount. For example, the first day when we sat down and had the reading, we heard that music, that beautiful music, which was there on that day before the film started shooting. The score for the “Cloud Atlas Sextet,” that was played. It was already scored, written, recorded, and everything. Tom had done all that before, so it really underpinned the whole piece in a kind of great way. If you can work with more than yourself, you know with two people, theoretically it's great. Although the more people you have the harder it is because you need to maintain a sense of self, but also be open to the other, but you can do it. To have a successful triumph like that is pretty remarkable, but it came out of the right place and it was brought about in the right way. It's not like some of the most disastrous moments in history. It's not like the Roman Empire, where you’ve got Mark Antony and Octavian, and civil war erupts. The idea is great, but if it comes together in the wrong way it could be disastrous. But in this instance they met and they got on well. They got on so well that they thought said, “Maybe we can do something together? Maybe we can all direct together? How would we do that? What would that be? Let's find the right project but it's got be this, this and this. It's got to be good. How about Cloud Atlas? Maybe this?” So that's the right progress for something like that over time, but if you have an idea as a studio and they say, “Hey, why don't we get these three guys, throw them in a room and give them this project!” That may work, but it might not, so I think the way in which they've gone about it has being really great. That means that all of us have come on board for this in the same way. We've all become attracted to this material because of them and because of the material itself. No one would've been involved in this film otherwise because Lana and Andy have been burnt before with working with people, and so has Tom. It's difficult. You don't know people, and you think, oh, I think it will be good. Then you meet them and maybe it's okay, but you've got to have the right spirit I think to really successfully work with other people. To work on material that is challenging in the way that this is, structurally challenging and challenging to our perception of what things should be. Then you need people who have a similar spirit.

To read our exclusive interview with Hugo Weaving about not portraying Red Skull in future Marvel movies, and his role in The Hobbit trilogy, please click here

To read our press conference coverage of Cloud Atlas, please click here.

Cloud Atlas opens in theaters on October 26th.

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