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Hugo Weaving: Australia's cultural cringe is 'pathetically immature'

Television

Actor Hugo Weaving speaks to Ben Neutze about returning to TV for ABC’s Seven Types of Ambiguity and why it gives him 'the shits' that Australians look down their noses at our own own arts and culture.

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It seems Hugo Weaving suffers from the affliction that affects most of us in 2017 — the extreme time-poverty which stops us from watching the ever-increasing list of high-quality TV content churned out around the world.

“I just can’t keep up anymore,” he says. “I try to go see films, I try to read as many books as I can, and try to see my friends and family and work as hard as I can. I don’t know how anyone can possibly watch every good boxset that’s made on top of all of that. I’m very behind.”

Weaving says he’s loved much of what he’s seen recently — pointing to Wolf Hall and Mad Men — although he still has a list of shows to catch up on, including Breaking Bad and The Wire.

But like many high-profile actors, Weaving has recently been drawn back to TV as the so-called “Golden Age” continues and leading writers and directors explore the medium with greater curiosity.

It’s been 33 years since Weaving appeared as a fresh-faced 24-year-old newcomer, playing English cricketer Douglas Jardine in the popular Australian mini-series Bodyline. He’d already been building a successful stage career, but it was that initial TV appearance in 1984 which thrust him into the public eye.

Since then, Weaving has made his career largely on film and on stage, but returned to TV last week with ABC’s new six-part drama, Seven Types of Ambiguity

The series, produced by Matchbox Pictures (the team behind The Slap), is based on Elliot Perlman’s psychological thriller of the same name.

“I was immediately interested in working with the ABC,” Weaving says. “I’d been talking to [producer] Tony Ayres over the years about doing something with him. When I read the script I was really keen because I immediately loved the character.”

Weaving plays psychiatrist Alex Klima, whose client Simon has been accused of kidnapping a child. Alex has great sympathy for his client and wants to prove his innocence, but is undergoing his own personal heartbreak.

In one particular scene, Alex is confronted with a devastating reality, and breaks down entirely. It’s an intense and finely wrought performance, but it does pose a question: what kind of toll does that take on an actor?

“In one way, you are psychically torturing yourself,” Weaving says.

“Me, Hugo, is upset and crying, in every way responding as Alex might — hopefully that’s where you get to. And yet, someone says ‘cut’ and you don’t have to deal with all the responsibilities that Alex would have had to deal with at that time.

“There are releases for you as an actor — you’re not locked into the same dark place as the character, except during ‘action’ and ‘cut’. You can press the ejector button and get out of the aeroplane that’s crashing into the sea.”

Weaving says the experience of working with a great team is incredibly uplifting, and the production team behind Seven Types of Ambiguity was a big part of what drew him to the project. The three directors behind the six episodes (Glendyn Ivin, Ana Kokkinos and Matthew Saville) all have a wealth of experience in TV directing and significant feature films to their names.

“I would love to do more TV,” Weaving says. “Certainly with a piece like this, the writing is very strong, and the directors are very strong, and you have time to explore characters with considerably more depth than you might in film.”

It feels like we’re that immature teenager at the party who thinks they’re not very important.

While Weaving is best known for his appearances in international blockbusters such as The Matrix and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the majority of his appearances are in Australian projects.

He’s long been a champion of Australian work, but says the way we tend to look down our noses at our own art and culture gives him “the shits”.

“I have no idea why we’re so pathetically immature about our own culture.

“We just don’t seem to be brave enough to embrace it in any way, and I think it’s getting worse. It feels like we’re that immature teenager at the party who thinks they’re not very important and that some other people are more important because they’re bigger, making more noise and wearing more colourful shirts.

“I thought somewhere around the mid-70s, we were starting to get over that, and then around the year 2000, we were starting to get over it again. Something about Gough Whitlam in the ’70s brought in an era of being okay with who we were, and then a similar thing happened around the Olympics — I think both those events were quite significant in our cultural development.”

But Weaving’s ongoing advocacy for Australian arts and culture doesn’t mean we should expect to see him in an official leadership role anytime soon.

Rumours were circulating several years ago that he had been approached to apply for the role of artistic director at Sydney Theatre Company. He’d worked extensively with the company under Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett’s artistic directorship, and says that work has continued over the last few years even if he hasn’t appeared on stage since 2015’s Endgame.

“I don’t think [the artistic director role] is something I’d do particularly well,” he says. “But it’s a wonderful family — a good group of people and a great place to work.

“My desire to maintain a relationship with Sydney Theatre Company is absolutely still there, and I’m certainly interested in being part of a broader, less-defined group of people who might be prosecuting the company and moving it forward in a really creative and exciting way.”

He’s also full of praise for the company’s new artistic director, Kip Williams, who directed Weaving in a 2014 production of Macbeth.

“I’m a big fan of Kip’s for lots of reasons, so it’s really exciting to me that he’s in the position — he’s including people in the company and moving forward with the support of the board.”

As for when audiences might see Weaving on stage again, he says he’s deliberately taken time off from theatre to focus on film, but that he’ll return at some point.

“Maybe next year,” he teases.

Seven Types of Ambiguity is on ABC Thursdays at 8.30pm. The full series is available to binge on iView.

This article was first published on The Daily Review.

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