“The heart of the film is very much the reason why I was interested,” Hugo Weaving tells FilmInk at The Toronto International Film Festival. The film is, appropriately enough, Hearts And Bones, and its heart is a big, ragged, loudly beating one. The first fictional feature film from director, Ben Lawrence (who made waves with his 2018 documentary, Ghosthunter), this pungent drama casts Weaving as Daniel Fisher, a veteran photo-journalist preparing an exhibition of his work in Sydney. Weary and hard-bitten from covering the world’s hot zones, Fisher is a compelling figure, and the film crackles with social commentary, deftly asking questions about journalistic responsibility, the role of government, and the horrors of humankind’s ability to exact next-level acts of violence upon our neighbours.
Though best known for his roles in epic franchises like Lord Of The Rings, The Matrix, The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Transformers, Weaving’s most powerful work has been on the stage and in smaller, more nuanced films like Last Ride, Little Fish, Healing, The Interview, Black ‘47, Mystery Road and The Mule. Hearts And Bones definitely clicks in with the latter films, and also cuts close to home for Weaving on a personal level. Like his character, Daniel Fisher, Weaving is no stranger to carving his way across the world. Born in 1960 in Nigeria to English parents Anne Lennard, a tour guide and teacher, and Wallace Weaving, a seismologist, Weaving moved to England when he was just one-year-old, and then back to South Africa later in his childhood.
“I was politicised, as a 7, 8, 9-year-old boy before I left,” Weaving tells FilmInk. “It was the heart of apartheid, so my political education really started in Johannesburg in ‘68, ‘69. I just didn’t understand what that society was doing and why they were doing it. At that age, you don’t. You can see it all around you. The censorship in my father’s Sunday Times, which arrived from England, was shocking. There were whole streams of stuff blacked out, literally by hand, by the government. I understood all sorts of things about censorship at that age. I learned a lot from traveling around the world. Realising that we’re all essentially the same. We live but we have different opportunities depending on who we are. I think that traveling is the great educator.”
As well as being a weary traveller, Weaving’s Daniel Fisher is also plagued and haunted by what he has seen and been involved in as a photo-journalist, framing the pain as people’s lives are literally destroyed around him. Along with director, Ben Lawrence, Weaving did a little digging into the subject of post-traumatic stress disorder. “There is such a wealth of material out there,” Weaving says. “Even just with photojournalists, you start looking into photojournalists’ stories and realise that PTSD is a serious issue with a lot of war photographers. There’s a wealth of stuff, particularly in interviews with people who have been on the frontline over many, many years. For anyone who is in a war zone, there is a trauma that sticks to them over many, many years. I’ve also played other characters who really had PTSD, for other reasons. Research that you do in the past [can inform other roles]. It’s a funny thing being an actor because often the experience of playing a character kind of becomes part of who you are. You’re literally following the shapes of someone’s life and saying the words that someone is saying in a way that it needs to feel truthful and it does to you. I’m not saying that I have PTSD, but I have a sense of it in a kind of organic way through working in it and thinking about it and being an actor.”
Weaving indeed has difficulties in his own past that inform his life today, with the actor suffering from epilepsy at a younger age. “I never learned how to drive,” he explains. “I couldn’t. With the massive seizures that I used to have, the last thought I had was always, ‘I am dying.’ The feeling was so strong that I felt that was the end of my life. Then I would black out. That was always the last desperate ten seconds. I experienced that a lot. It was quite traumatic. I’ve grown out of it now though. It came with puberty, between the age of 13 and I think about 35 or 36. I was realising that I’d grown out of it. I was on medication for many, many years, all the way through my childhood. It was pretty well controlled. I was roughly having maybe one seizure a year. I wasn’t seizing every day like some epileptics. It was pretty controlled and I didn’t have a stigma about it. When it happened, it was always profoundly disturbing and shocking. Coming out of it, waking up, with someone saying to me, and I would be lying down now, ‘It’s okay, you’ve just had a seizure.’ And I’d go, ‘Agghh.’ You’re in a massively depressed space for a day afterwards. It’s like there’s an electrical energy running through you, and then there’s nothing left in you at all. It’s like your whole body has been traumatized…there’s such energy pounding through your body. The physical effects of that in your body are massive. I’m sure that’s a form of trauma. It’s nothing like being in a war zone, and nothing like experiencing the death of many people again and again and again. It’s not percussive in that way, but we all have traumatic events in our life. So to some degree, we all know what that thing is, to a lesser or greater extent.”
While Weaving has strong emotional ties to Hearts And Bones, his other film currently doing the rounds is a far different kind of affair. In this strikingly contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure – which is set in the hard-scrabble world of Melbourne’s inner city Housing Commission flats – Weaving plays the patriarchal figure of Duke, who pulls the strings from on high to the beat of his own complex form of morality. From the team that created 2015’s critically acclaimed drama, Pawno – late writer/actor, Damian Hill and director, Paul Ireland – Measure For Measure is deliciously layered and original. “This film is about judging people in a moral way rather than in a severe way,” Weaving said at the film’s premiere at The Melbourne International Film Festival. “We judge others severely because we don’t know them, or whatever law we adhere to…that’s how we judge. But actually there’s another form of judgment, which is about doing what’s morally right. And Duke, ultimately, does what’s morally right.”
Gritty, low budget and against-the-grain, it’s a typical detour out of the mainstream for Weaving, who has never let the size of a project discourage his involvement. In terms of acting careers, his is a truly committed and authentic one, and it looks like some younger members of his family might be following in his footsteps. Weaving’s niece, Samara Weaving (the daughter of his younger brother, Simon), is a rising actress with roles in Bad Girl, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Read or Not and the upcoming Bill & Ted Face the Music to her credit. Weaving’s son, Harry Greenwood, is also an actor, with credits including Hacksaw Ridge, The Nightingale and the upcoming True History Of The Kelly Gang.
Why the different name? Interestingly, his son has taken the name of Weaving’s longtime partner, Katrina Greenwood. “A lot of people think that Sam’s my daughter because she has the same name as me,” Weaving explains. “Katrina and I are not married, but we’ve been together for 36 years. We have two children. She doesn’t change her name. Her name is Greenwood. It’s a beautiful name, Greenwood. We didn’t feel that we had to call the children Weaving, so they have Weaving as their middle name. It’s not hyphenated. So they’re Greenwood. We just never wanted to get married. That wasn’t the important thing for me, or for Kat. But we wanted to have kids. That was our marriage, really, the knowledge that we wanted to have children together. There’s another aspect to it. Weirdly, for an actor, I hate being the centre of attention. I don’t like the idea of getting up and making a speech in front of a crowd. I love people and socializing, but I was also painfully shy and awkward as child. The idea of being at my own wedding was kind of horrifying. Kat had a similar sort of idea. The construct wasn’t important to us. The idea, the reasoning behind it – two people sharing their lives and learning from each other – was more important. Helping each other through life and having a family together…that’s what it is for us. We’re still together, so we’ve done all right.”
It might be difficult to believe that Hugo Weaving would be scared to speak at his own wedding, but this kind of anxiety is not uncommon amongst actors. “There are so many massively insecure actors,” he smiles. “People say, ‘Hey, you’re an actor! Can you come and open this, or be the M.C. at this thing?’ You don’t want me! I run a mile from that sort of thing. I occasionally will bite the bullet and go, ‘Well, this is a very dear friend and they want me to make a speech at their gallery opening or whatever.’ I’ve always found that I’ve had to fight that and deal with that. Whether it’s shyness or insecurity, it’s a natural human thing. We are all concerned about our place in the world. It probably is more manifested in a lot of actors but I think it’s a good quality. It’s a useful quality to have. It might be painful to live with massive anxiety every day but it opens you to a whole other thing. If you are full of self-doubt, I think that the character you play is going to be much more complex. You can still do that if you’re a purely confident individual, but I think it just adds to your complexity. That’s the benefit of it.”
It’s certainly been working for Hugo Weaving…