We Want Answers: Hugo Weaving
He's worn drag in the outback, laid some serious beat-downs on Keanu Reeves, and dispensed words of elfin wisdom. "The Go-To Guy" has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
by John Walsh
You've been involved in so many trilogies lately, couldn't you have snagged a role in Star Wars or something?
It was wonderful to be involved in both Lord of the Rings and The Matrix, for very different reasons. They tend to last a long time. I'm actually not quite done with Rings. With that it's more like I keep going back to revisit old family friends when we go back to do these reshoots. But The Matrix was more of a continued matter over two years with the training. They're both time-consuming. I was pleased to go back to Sydney to work on a more modest project, a play, after that.
So you're tight with the hobbit crew?
The wonderful thing about it was the sense of family, the sense that everyone was working on this project and they really wanted it and they were very much committed to it. I felt a little bit on the outside, because Elrond isn't really a part of the core group. He's not along on the quest. I was popping in for three weeks and then going away for two weeks.
Did your Spock ears ever fall off?
If we were in an incredibly hot studio all day, by the end of the day they started to droop a little. They'd store them in the fridge. There'd always be about three or four Elrond ears in the fridge and someone else's feet in there.
Do you get to travel a lot?
I'm lucky to be in the industry I'm in, and I get flown around. I think it's great for my kids to have that chance. I was born in Nigeria and came to Australia when I was a kid. My dad was a seismologist and later got into the computer industry, and he got jobs all over the world. He would say, "I got a job here. What do you all think?" and we'd all go, "Oh, no-o-o...OK!" But I got to see the world, and it was wonderful.
When did you start acting?
At 14 or 15 I started liking the idea of acting. I was in boarding school, and I had an English teacher who got a number of us to perform bizarre pieces in front of the class, like "I Am the Walrus."
Did prepping for The Matrix require six months of nonstop fighting?
For the first one we did about four months of training. For the second and third it ended up being another five months before we even started shooting anything.
So we hear that you Australian men are all supposed to be tough. Are you a tough guy?
No, I'm not. [whispers] Don't tell anyone.
No martial arts background?
Not at all. My background for the last 20 years has been that I'm an actor, prepared to jump in and do whatever is necessary for the role, whether that means bulking up or getting frail or getting really fat or whatever.
Any workplace injuries?
We all had our knocks and bruises, but certainly there were a few more serious injuries too. When you get up to take 17 doing the same movement that involves, like, kicking in the ribs, you know, you're all black and blue. There were times I wanted to go home.
Did you ever "forget" to pull a punch and actually bean Keanu?
Yeah, I hit him in the face every now and then, but he did the same to me. So first there's a little suspicion and then an apology. Keanu Reeves is a gentleman. By the time we got on set, we were pretty careful not to whack each other around too much.
Did you have any idea that The Matrix would explode the way it has?
No one really knew for sure. The more we worked on the first one, the more I felt the Wachowski brothers are wonderful people. They are really intelligent and interesting, funny guys. They conceived it in such detail. The more we worked on it, the more we realized it was pretty extraordinary.
How did you come up with the Agent Smith voice?
It wasn't a particular part of the script or anything. I wanted to create something that was neither particularly robotic nor particularly human. The more I was training, the more I was hanging out with Larry and Andy Wachowski. They're Chicago boys, they both talk pretty slowly, and they have an incredibly deep timbre to their voices. There's something methodical about the way they speak. So that was part of the voice I suppose I took on. I was watching a newscaster on TV one day, and I thought Yeah, that's exactly it. There's just something odd about it.
Do you get any bizarre fan mail?
Most of them are just excited people who loved the films. But some of them are a bit sad. Some of them really want me to help with their lives. It's tragic. I was advised not to get involved. I actually wanted to fly to them and knock on their doors.
Wait, these were people in personal crises who thought Agent Smith could help them?
Was dressing like an elf like going in drag in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert?
Not a lot. With high heels and a wig and fishnets and the makeup, you start to walk in a certain way. There's a sort of liberation in a way. Elrond's gear is a long, flowing cloak. He's a wise old elf. So there wasn't a lot of running around to do.
Do you feel like Elrond misses out on all the good LOTR action?
In the first film Elrond has a sword, and he's involved in a bit of action. After that, though, he's full of wise words, but there isn't much more than that. I have to say I much preferred the action.
Did you read the Lord of the Rings books?
When the project came up, I did. I read them, and I loved them.
Did you read them like an actor, as in: "Bullshit...my part...bullshit..."
Of course! No, no...I actually read the whole thing. So, apparently, this whole world revolves around this wise elf. [laughs]
Who's got the cooler action figure: Agent Smith or Elrond?
Well, when you squeeze Elrond's legs together, his arm comes down with a sword, so I'd have to say Elrond. But Smith has got a gun. But Elrond's immortal. So it's a hard one. Smith can multiply himself. Elrond would