David Hennessy talks to Hugo Weaving, the actor well known for film roles that include The Matrix and Lord of the Rings, just before he stars in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at The Barbican in London.
After a successful run down under in 2013, Hugo Weaving is coming to London with the Sydney Theatre Company and the Beckett classic, Waiting for Godot. So positively received was Waiting for Godot, starring Hugo, in it’s previous run that one reviewer gushed that the playwright himself Samuel Beckett, known for being hard to please, would applaud if he had been there to see it.
“Well, that’s lovely,” Hugo tells the Irish World in response. “I don’t know who said that or whether they knew Beckett personally because they would have had to have known him to know whether or not he would have been applauding.
“Look, I would have loved to have met Sam Beckett, just an extraordinary man, extraordinary writer and I’m sure even if he did (applaud), I’m sure he would have lots of notes as well. I’m sure he would have lots of criticism. I don’t necessarily accept that but look, that’s lovely if someone thinks that but, from my understanding, he was a hard taskmaster.
“I think the thing he loved probably about being in theatre was taking himself out of himself and being engaged in a more communal, creative enterprise but having said that, he also was quite firm about the way certain things should be so I’m sure there would be a lot of stuff we’re doing that he would not necessarily agree with.
“I think the spirit of Beckett is the most important thing to try and understand. The specifics of it, the particularities of it are probably going to change with every different actor. Wherever you are in the world, whoever’s playing Estragon, whoever’s playing Vladimir, whoever’s playing Pozzo, it’s going to be a different play and Beckett would have understood that.
“The more I’ve read of his work, the more I appreciate the way in which he was trying to explore all of these unfathomable, unknowing parts of our existence so if we can in any way capture that spirit..that’s what we’re aiming for anyway. It always feels like it’s a work in progress.”
Waiting for Godot sees Vladimir, played by Weaving, and Estragon, played by another Australian Hollywood star Richard Roxburgh, waiting in vain for the arrival of someone called Godot.
Just this year, Hugo performed in Endgame, again with the Sydney Theatre Company. Prior to Waiting for Godot, to perform Beckett had been a long term ambition of his. He has felt the need to seek out some of his other work: “We decided we would do Waiting for Godot and I thought, ‘I’ve got to learn more about this writer, I thought I’ve got to read him chronologically’ so I started reading More Pricks than Kicks. I started reading and slowly worked my way through his work and then by the time I got to Godot, I sort of had a better understanding of who he was as a writer anyway.
“His work, I absolutely love it and I would rate Watt and Molloy as my two favourites, absolutely love those. I think they’re transformative for the reader and I don’t think many writers affect you that way, I don’t think many writers turn your view of the world on it’s head and force you to read something through a completely different set of binoculars. It’s great and he’s so funny too. I was reading Watt and laughing my head off. It’s not easy to read so you gotta keep going back over things and you slowly start to dig him.”
Hugo was unforgettable in his chilling role of Agent Smith in The Matrix. Other well known roles include The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and V for Vendetta.
However, he has such a huge body of work. He has won three Australian Film Institute Awards, all for Best Actor in a Lead Role for the Australian films Proof (1991), the Interview (1998) and Little Fish (2005). Other awards include a Sydney Theatre Award for his work in V for Vendetta.
Is it frustrating or unsettling to be well known for The Matrix and Lord of the Rings when he has been so productive on other things for more than three decades now? “Not really, it’s just the way of the world, isn’t it?
“I’ve done many many films mostly in Australia, mostly low budget. A lot of the work I’ve done that I’m proudest of has probably not been seen by so many people but I really think there’s some great little films. I always think it’s a shame that those films aren’t seen by a wider audience not because they highlight something that I’ve done but because I think they’re really interesting films but that’s kind of the way of the world.
“Then of course on the other scale you’ve got the larger studio films that I have been involved with that everyone’s seen and decided that’s what I’ve done and in a funny way, they’re a bit anonymous. The majority of my work has been in low budget Australian films and in theatre but every now and then, I’ve jumped into a big studio picture and I’ve been very happy to do that although I would be wary to do that (again), depending on what it is, of course.
“I do look to try to do Australian work which is necessarily lower budget I suppose. I don’t look to do lower budget film but I do look to do look to do Australian film projects and most of them are independent and therefore pretty low budget compared to working on something like The Matrix or like V for Vendetta or Lord of the Rings.”
The Matrix depicted a future where humans were farmed by machines and kept in a realistic but false computer world that kept the entire population distracted. Is it not a film that has a new relevance now with so many people living their lives online? “Yeah,” says Hugo who you would not catch tweeting what he had for breakfast. “I’m such a luddite really. Well, I’m not a luddite but I’d sooner plant a tree than go and make a tweet. I don’t have a Twitter account so my comprehension of that world is pretty limited as well. I have nothing great to add to the debate but certainly people are online a lot and I can only say: Get out and have a walk, enjoy nature, plant a tree and grow some vegetables, look at the sunset, look at the stars and chat to some friends face to face. I love all that.”
Has Hugo spent much time in Ireland? “Yeah, my dad took us, I think I must have been fifteen. I had a fantastic time there but apart from that, my trips to Ireland have been a refuel in Shannon coming from New York en route to the Cannes Film Festival and that’s about it.
“My son has just travelled around Ireland with his girlfriend in a camper van and that’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, go to Ireland and spend time there.
“I think Australians have a great affinity with the Irish. There’s a lot of Irish culture and humour in Australian humour and culture. There’s a big link between Ireland and Australia. I love nature and I love greenery and wild windswept places but I also really dig funky cities and I would love to go to Dublin. I think the Irish people that I have met and known here, there’s just something really lovely about them. I’m generalising of course but I very much like to spend time there. It’s a place I will definitely come to sooner rather than later and spend quite a bit of time there. I feel very Celtic actually.”
For the full interview, see the June 6 Irish World.
Waiting for Godot, presented by Sydney Theatre Company, is at the Barbican from Thursday June 4 to Saturday June 13. It is part of the International Beckett season there that runs from June 2-21. For more information, go to https://www.barbican.org.uk/.