From acclaimed filmmakers Andy & Lana Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy, Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) comes the stunning, epic and powerful Cloud Atlas, based on the best-selling novel by David Mitchell. Through various genres and time periods, spanning 500 years, and with the actors playing a variety of characters that cross genders and races, the story contains drama, mystery, action and love, interwoven in such a way that illustrates how everything is connected and that the actions and choices in one era can have consequences in another. The film stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Wishaw and James D’Arcy.
At the film’s press day, actor Hugo Weaving spoke to Collider, in both a roundtable and 1-on-1 interview, about what it was like to finally get to see the film all put together, how he hopes people will be willing to get it a chance , his impression of the book when he first read it back while shooting V for Vendetta, what made this such a special and unique experience, which character he was most excited to embody, and the roles that fans approach him about most often. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
HUGO WEAVING: It’s actually impossible, the idea of sitting through this and pretending I don’t know anything about it. When I first saw this film, I couldn’t see it with [the audiences’] eyes, as if I didn’t know anything about it, and I’d love to, but I never will be able to [do that]. I thought, “If I didn’t know anything about this, you’ve got an establishment of six different threads, six different stars, six different world and six different geographies, and there’s a fantastic scope and a great spread to it and these vistas. There’s a lot of information traveling.” That’s probably what I would be feeling. And then, connecting with each story, I didn’t think it was too hard. As soon as you see Halle [Berry] or Tom [Hanks] or Jim [Sturgess] again, you’re like, “Okay, I’m in that story.” Those stories, individually, are not particularly complex, but most of them are really quite simple in their structure. And then, as you watch it, the parallel nature of those stories do increasingly become one, and that draws you toward the end of the film. So, I guess that’s what I might feel, but I don’t know. It’s hard.
Do you think audiences will be able to give in and give it a chance, and just go on the ride with it?
WEAVING: Well, a lot of people have a fear of Shakespeare, for example. Even actors do. People are like, “Oh, I won’t go and see Shakespeare because the language is so hard,” but it is. When you read it on the page, you go, “What?! What does that mean?!” If you go to a Shakespeare play and you’ve never been, you sit there and go, “I’m an idiot! I don’t get it!” I took my daughter to Romeo & Juliet when she was about 13. I had taken her to a few pieces of theater before, and I said, “The language is really different, but just allow it to be what it is and trust that it’s okay.” A couple of times, she leaned over and said, “Dad, I don’t understand.” But, by the end of the play, she was telling me, “Oh, when this person did this and when they said that . . .” She was using her own language, but talking about what had been said. It’s a very, very simple love story about two families in conflict and the two young people within each family who love each other. It’s a tragedy, and it’s very simple, really. This film is the same. It has great ideas and themes, and it seems to incorporate the breadth of humanity and the cyclical nature of life. There are all those ideas, and yet each story is really quite simple and elemental. The really simple thing in this film is that it’s evident and it becomes evident, if you allow it to become evident. I hope that people seeing this film don’t reject it because it’s different. I hope they don’t go, “I haven’t seen this film. What genre is this film? It’s a mess. What is this film? I give up! It’s terrible!” I hope that doesn’t happen because it deserves a lot more than that.
Had you read this book, prior to signing on for the film?
WEAVING: Yeah, absolutely! I read the book some years before the film. I’d been doing V for Vendetta with Lana and Andy [Wachowski] in Berlin, and Natalie Portman was reading it and absolutely raving about it, so we all jumped on and read it. Quite quickly, it became one of the top 10 books I’ve ever read, in my entire life, right from the first sentence with that language. I really loved his love of language and his love of words, and his stylistic brilliance. It forced me to try to find those links, and there are little things there. You had to think about, “What are the actual links? What are the ideas and themes that are being repeated?,” and that was a thrill. So, when I knew that they were doing the screenplay, I was just fascinated to see how they were going to restructure it and what they were going to do. The first thing that Andy said was, “Well, this is told more than a mosaic,” rather than how David describes it as a whole lot of Russian dolls. All of the stories are tied up into one and they parallel each other, and I think that was a great way of making the film.
Did your history with the Wachowskis help reassure you that they could pull off something this epic?
WEAVING: Yeah, for sure. Also, the idea of the three of them doing it was genius. Having a like-minded triumvirate of three people who so admire each other and are open to each other’s there, and gathering a cast together that was open to the excitement of doing something different and new, was really important.
With this clearly being the kind of film experience you’ll never have again, were you able to enjoy that fact while you were actually shooting, or does it take finishing the project and looking back on it to fully appreciate it?
WEAVING: All along the line, every time I come into contact with this material, I feel that way. I read the book and thought, “I have never read anything like this before.” When the first chapter just stops mid-sentence, suddenly you’re not in the South Pacific, you’re in Belgium. With that book, I thought, “That’s the most extraordinary piece of work.” And then, the script came and I was like, “This is the most wonderful adaptation of that work, and how is this going to work as a film?” But, it was clear from the way in which it had been edited on the page that it was absolutely possible. And then, we got together with everyone and saw the images on the wall, at the first read-through, of the beginning of the film to the end, with characters, actors, scenes and art department stuff, and just walked through that with Lana, and heard Tom’s music, knowing that was going to wrap it all together. So, every step of the way at that first read-through, I knew this was a project that was something really radically different. We could feel it in the air. Actors weren’t reading one role. You were hearing everyone’s voice shift. The writer of the book was there, reading a small role, and the directors were all reading small roles. You knew that everyone there was doing something that hadn’t been done before. Every step of the way, that was in evidence. I was always aware that it was quite radical in its conception, and very unconventional, in its structure, and really joyously unconventional in the way we had to deal with it, from day to day, as actors. And then, seeing the film for the first time, you went, “This has a visual beauty, scope and sweep like Lawrence of Arabia had, but there’s six of them. It’s like Lawrence of Arabia and 2001. It’s got all of these ideas, images and geographies involved.” Coming back together with this people and having such a good, strong connection with them is unusual, to that extent.
Was there a character that you most excited about taking on and exploring?
WEAVING: I think I was most looking forward to exploring Georgie, for a lot of reasons. He’s a voice inside something else’s head. Playing a character who’s not necessarily human, but is an idea and a concept and the rod inside your own head that stops you from liberating yourself is fascinating. We all get to this conflicted place where we argue with ourselves, internally, but I got to play one of those voices, and yet he’s on the screen. The interesting thing about that character was how we were going to film that. If you see him as a human, then he becomes a human, and he’s not. If you see him come into the frame, it means he’s walking from somewhere. Where did he walk from? He doesn’t walk ‘cause he’s inside Zachary’s head. So, when you see something happening to Zachry, then you can see Georgie. When Zachry hears Georgie, he turns and Georgie is there ‘cause he can see him. And then, he’s taken back to the world. And then, he fears something else and Georgie can be there again. That, to me, was really fascinating. I talked to Lana and Andy about how to reveal Georgie and the insistent vocal nature of Georgie. In the book, everything Georgie says is in italics. His voice, his message and his drive is the important thing. That was great. And I just loved the language. I love David Mitchell’s language, and I love the language [of that world]. That language is the most rich, muscular and vital language, of all the languages in the piece, because that world has been the most stripped back and destroyed. The language in the book that is the most minimal are the voices in Neo Seoul, where language is cheapened and dying. One of the great things is that, in the rebirth in the last story, that language is actually at its richest.
You’ve played a number of physically transformative characters, in the past, but did this set of characters challenge you in new ways?
WEAVING: The biggest challenge for me, as an actor, is to be informed, prepared and focused, at the same time. I had to just keep on working, prepping, reading and imagining, all the way through, but on the day, the biggest challenge is always to let go of all that and just be open to others. That’s what we do, as actor. We play with each other and we stimulate each other, and we have to be prepared to be stimulated by the other. That’s always my big challenge. I’m always trepidatious and excited about what I do. I wouldn’t choose to do it, unless I was really excited about it, in some way. The most difficult thing for me was Nurse Noakes, not because it was a gender shift, but more to do with the time I didn’t have to get used to the massive prosthetic and fat suit. We didn’t actually have time to really test that. It wasn’t a nasty problem. That was just a fact. So, I had to jump in and trust that I could do it and it would be okay. There are always those sorts of technical challenges that you need to overcome.
WEAVING: One of the reasons I wanted to do V was because of that. He’s a masked man. That’s his character, and that’s what he does. That was very liberating. I had always loved doing mask work at drama school, so the opportunity to express from behind a mask and through a mask, when that mask is totally fixed, was a huge challenge. It’s a character who’s talking his head off, but you’re looking at a totally unchanging face. But with Noakes, the challenge was that, when you’ve got that amount of prosthetic on your face, how does your face move? Those are technical challenges you want to try to overcome before you’re on camera, but sometimes the window of working that gets quite small. That’s when it’s wonderful to be in a group of actors who are all in the same boat. We were all doing the same thing. That spirit of bravery and jumping in was so palpable. That’s what we all did, and that was fun.
Throughout your career, you’ve balanced doing memorable roles in bigger movies with smaller character-based projects. What do fans approach you about, most often?
WEAVING: It depends on the person, really, and their experience of me. If you were living in Sydney and you went to the theater a lot, you’d just see me as a theater actor who works at the STC. And if you were someone interested in Australian film, not that there are many people like that in Australia, you would definitely know me as someone who does a lot of low-budget Australian films, playing pretty conflicted characters in contemporary urban or outback dramas. I tend to play flawed men with all sorts of weird weakness and aggressions. But then, the majority of people outside of Australia would definitely know me from The Matrix or The Lord of the Rings because they’re the films that have reached the largest audience. If people have seen V for Vendetta, they may not know it’s me, anyway, because I’m in a mask. So, it depends on your experience with me, but certainly the character that most people would mention would be Agent Smith, I would say.
We also talked to Weaving about Transformers, Red Skull, and The Hobbit. Click here for what he had to say.
Cloud Atlas opens in theaters on October 26th.