From director Paul Ireland, the indie drama Measure for Measure is a contemporary retelling of the work of William Shakespeare, as an unlikely romance between Jaiwara (Megan Hajjar), a modern Muslim girl, and Claudio (Harrison Gilbertson), a local musician, finds itself at the center of a world of crime, drugs and racial tension. At the same time, local crime boss Duke (Hugo Weaving) is grooming his lieutenant Angelo (Mark Leonard Winter) to take over the business, but it finding it challenging to keep him in line.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Hugo Weaving talked about why he wanted to sign on for this film, exploring the Duke-Angelo dynamic, working with his canine co-stars, and how he felt about the ending. He also talked about what gets him interested in a project, why the upcoming sci-fi flick Loveland appealed to him, how close he came to being in The Matrix 4, what he enjoys about working with the Wachowskis, and whether he’d consider being a part of the upcoming The Lord of the Rings TV series.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Measure for Measure.]
Collider: When this project came your way, what was it that got you interested in it? Was it the script itself?
HUGO WEAVING: Actually, the reason I was interested in this was because I met Paul Ireland and Damian Hill, who were the two writers, producers and sort of directors of this piece, two years before, at a film festival in West Australia where they were screening a film of theirs called Pawno, that I thought was really great. I thought it was a wonderful slice of contemporary Melbourne life. It was a critically well-received film, but most Australian films don’t get the exhibition that they deserve. I really loved that, and talked to them about maybe working together. Measure for Measure was the thing that they were thinking about next. It was one of two projects. It was really a commitment to them, actually, and to where they were going. It was about wanting to work with them. Damian loved Measure for Measure, the play, having been in it as an actor at the Melbourne Theatre Company. So, they talked to me about their ideas, and then the script came through and, over about a year, we talked about that, and shifting and changing it. And then, the project was a go. It was very low-budget, but had a lot of good energy and good people. We did a week’s rehearsal, and then Damian died literally the day before we were gonna start shooting, so it was then thrown into turmoil and poor Paul was bereft. Everyone was really upset, but it was his best friend and collaborator. So then, we were in a place of, “What do we do?” We pushed back a week, in order to try to maintain some sense of what Damian had wanted. Everyone felt that he would have loved us to keep going, so we did. We pulled together and tried to work our way through it. That was the major sadness of the whole affair.
How did it then feel to make and finish the film? Did it feel like there was an extra weight and responsibility to do justice to what he would have wanted?
WEAVING: Yes and no. He was also playing the lead, Angelo, so there was some major recasting. We really had to shift when Mark Winter came on. He was already in the cast, so he just shifted to another role and was actually very well suited to it. There was a whole shift of energy, trying to make things okay for Mark, as well as trying to get the film shot. In many ways, everyone pulled together very well, but it certainly wasn’t an ideal situation, recasting the lead role with a week, but Mark is a dear friend of mine. There was a great sadness for the whole shoot.
What did you like about exploring the dynamic between Duke and Angelo?
WEAVING: Duke is a godlike figure, in a way. He’s the ruler, but he’s also releasing power and getting off the throne. There’s the sense of passing on this world and what he knows to someone who’s almost like blood to him, but at the same time, this the sense that he can’t quite trust him because he’s moving into a world that is more extreme than the world in which he has operated in. He’s someone wanting to step away from the world, but also wants to make sure the world continues in the right way, even though he’s a crime boss. This character, Duke, is based on a real figure in Vienna, back in the 1500s, who did exactly that, but at the same time, was needed to check in on and keep his eyes on his successor, who is doing things that are not moderate. The whole thing with this piece and with the play is that moderation wins out over extremism. There are extreme forces and moderate forces, wrestling the world back to where it should be.
What was it like to have these sweet moments in the film, with both the older dog and with the puppy?
WEAVING: It was fine. They were lovely dogs. He’s a man who’s lost his wife and child, and a man who’s dying, as well. He knows that he’s leaving the world. It’s like a godlike figure departing the earth, and at a time where there’s gonna be a much more chaotic future. I suppose every generation feels like that, that the things they know and the way in which they live is always changing and there’s a whole new way of doing things. The sides of his character that come out of that, he’s weary and he’s tired, and he’s prone to melancholia, depression and sentimentality. He’s missing his wife and his child, who were killed in a car crash. He’s also full of guilt for certain things that he’s done in his life. He’s trying to do the right thing by Jaiwara, he’s trying to do the right thing by Angelo, and he’s trying to relinquish power. The gentle scenes, with his dying dog and with the puppy, help to humanize him. Yes, he’s a godlike figure, but he’s a man who understands human frailty and loss, and there’s a sensitivity to him and a desire for peace within him.
How did you feel about the ending of this?
WEAVING: We talked about all sorts of different endings. I thought we should leave it with someone in the shadows, just coming up to Duke. You see Duke playing with the puppy and this guy coming up, and then you’re done. Leave it there, not knowing what happens next. But that was Paul’s call. They went with the more final ending.
At this point in your life and career, what is it that you look for in projects and characters? What gets you excited about the work? Is it pursuing filmmakers you want to work with, or is it just reading a script that you feel drawn to?
WEAVING: Both, really. With this project, it was pretty much the former. I had been wanting to work with Damian and Paul, and the script felt like it was something that we were still working towards, to some extent. It’s quite a massive undertaking, shifting and adapting Measure for Measure to a contemporary setting. There were a whole lot of things which I thought were in place, and other things which weren’t quite there yet but we were gonna work through during the shoot. We then had to refocus on what we had and what we didn’t have, and there were a whole lot of different circumstances, which came into play because of Damian’s death. The idea of adapting Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure to contemporary Melbourne, I thought, was a really interesting one, with the idea of the two towers and the two opposing lions in the towers fighting over their patch. So, it was the script, but primarily, it was wanting to work with two filmmakers who’d made a film that I thought was really interesting, and this was gonna be their second one together.
What drew you to Loveland?
WEAVING: [Writer/director] Ivan Sen is someone I’ve worked with before, and I absolutely love him. I think he’s a great filmmaker. Mystery Road, the film which came before the TV series of the same name that he directed, was great. I’ve been watching his work for a number of years, and we reached out to each other at the same time, and I was really keen to work with him. During that and since then, we’ve been talking about a number of other projects, and one of them was Loveland. So, it was wanting to work with Ivan. He’s an amazing filmmaker who writes, direct, edits, and does the music. He basically does everything. He’s a loner, but he’s incredibly warm and self-sufficient. He’s also very generous-hearted. I just loved the idea of this love story set in a near future city. It’s basically about the loneliness that comes from being split up in a mechanized world, and the impossibility of love in a world where people are split apart and dependent on the machine. He’s a great filmmaker and it’s a lovely idea. The greatest thing about sci-fi is that you can shine a light on the world in which you live now, even though it’s actually set somewhere in the future. So, it was a great pleasure to work with Ivan.
What are your thoughts on The Matrix 4 and the fact that Lana Wachowski has returned to that world? Had you been asked to do anything in it or be involved in any way?
WEAVING: Yes, absolutely. Lana was very keen for me to be a part of that. I really wanted to ‘cause I’m very, very fond of all of them. I had some initial reticence about the idea of going back to revisit The Matrix, after having already done three films, but then I read the script and got an offer to my agent. I immediately responded yes to that, and then we went into negotiation. I was doing a play at the time, but we were working out dates and things so that I could do both. And then, Lana decided that she didn’t wanna change her dates, so I couldn’t do it. In a nutshell, that’s what happened
When it comes to making The Matrix trilogy, what do you remember most about that experience?
WEAVING: I’m sitting here now at Fox Studios in Sydney, which is where we first all started working. Every time I come here, there are a million things. It was a very happy, exciting time, which went over a long period of time, so we were very much like a family. We traveled the world together many times, and worked in San Fran and L.A., but mostly in Sydney. The three films were mostly shot at Fox Studios in Sydney. I’m very, very fond of all of them.
The Wachowskis are filmmakers that you’ve worked with a number of times now, and they’re quite interesting storytellers.
WEAVING: Absolutely. Out of The Matrix came V for Vendetta, which was an absolute joy to make in Berlin. And then from that, we did Cloud Atlas, again in Berlin. And they’re presently in Berlin with the next Matrix installation. Lilly is not there, so it’s just Lana, but Keanu [Reeves] and Carrie-Anne Moss and some of the original Australian art department went over to Berlin with them as well. So, there are a lot of people on that set that I would love to see again. It’s such a shame that I’m not doing it, but I’m not, and that’s fine.
Have you been made aware at all, or have you been approached about doing the Lord of the Rings TV show?
WEAVING: I wouldn’t be interested in being involved in that.
Measure for Measure is available on-demand.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.