For those who hold the talents of actor Hugo Weaving — of the Lord of the Rings and Matrix trilogies, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cloud Atlas, V For Vendetta, Transformers and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — in as high regard as we do, it should come as no surprise to learn that even the briefest of encounters with the man are most excellent. Weaving has been making select promotional rounds in support of his new movie The Mule, an indie crime thriller out of Australia, which was well-received at SXSW last year and hit’s VOD today, Nov 21.
Over the course of a roughly sixteen minute phone conversation which transcended intriguing subject matter, time and space — Mr. Weaving called in from his home in Australia, i.e. the future in that it was Thursday morning for Weaving and Wednesday afternoon for us in Los Angeles — we discussed the good, bad and ugly of blockbuster filmmaking, what makes good prop poop and why Weaving was once very afraid of Disney’s Big Bad Wolf, all the while resisting the urge to ask him to call us “Mr. Anderson.”
I read some interviews with you and Mule writer-director-actor Angus Sampson talking about the cops and robbers element of the film and how the subject has a different meaning for Australians, can you explain how this is a different type of cops and robbers film?
I think one of the things is embedded in Australian culture, ever since the Europeans settled in Australia, is this sense of some people being incarcerated and others being the guardians, we’ve always had this sense of cops and robbers or initially convicts and Marines — some people being underdogs and some people being of another class. So I think that has become very much a part of who we are as Australians. Australia was set up as a penal colony so, in terms of our film and literature, there is a broad range of stories that investigate that in one way or another. This is in that tradition, if you like, where you’ve got Ray [Sampson], a hapless drug mule who doesn’t really want to get involved but does so without thinking about the consequences. He’s then picked up by a couple of cops who know he’s harboring condoms full of heroin, they’re waiting for him to produce the evidence and that’s the setup for the film.
I think the difference in this one is the tone of it. What excited me about the script, was I thought it was very funny, but while I was laughing I was also feeling a lot of different things. For instance: When you see the film, in the climactic scene where the “evidence” is produced, Ray has to re-swallow those condoms. It’s so gag-making it elicits an audible response from an audience. But at the same time as you’re literally gagging — because it does produce a gag reflex — Ray’s hit upon his big idea. It’s a stroke of genius. You’re cheering him on and gagging at the same time.
Was there a discussion with the prop master, where he told you guys what the “evidence” — fake excrement — was made of?
[Laughs] Yeah. At the time, Angus didn’t want to know what it was, I think he wanted to try all sorts of things, whatever looked good and didn’t poison him. I asked him the other day, “You wouldn’t have wanted it to taste really lovely, you’d probably want something in there to make you gag a little bit?” I’m not sure, I think there were a number of things in there from lentils to chocolate.
You’ve been in giant movies and tiny ones — which do you prefer?
I think with a small budget or an independent film the communication is generally better, there are fewer people and you’re just a little more involved, to be honest, and everyone is cooperating in a better way. That’s been my experience; it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that and I have been smaller films with small budgets, crew and cast where that hasn’t been the case, and I’ve also been on massive budget films where the communication has been pretty good. But by and large, with a smaller budget you really have to be organized and you really have to communicate well and use your imaginations. It feels like a much more creative, enjoyable exercise because everyone is engaged with that in mind and you have have to collaborate. I think when you have more money and more people and there is a sense: “We can get this made, we’ve got this big budget.” I think they’re dreadful wastes. It sort of becomes a bit bloated and impersonal and sometimes frankly just a hideous experience. I don’t want to be involved in things where I’m not involved, you know?
What was your first encounter with Playboy magazine?
It was probably as a 14 year old boy at school in England and I think I was probably thrilled, shocked and horrified and in absolute wonder at actually coming across it. I would put it around 1974. A completely transgressive, extraordinary experience. “Oh my god is that really a copy of Playboy?”
What movie stared you the most as a child?
As a little kid, I had terrible nightmares about wolves and things as a very young boy, I think the slobbering Disney wolf, the slobbering cartoon wolf was enough to scare me back when I was three or four. The teeth and the saliva of a cartoon wolf would’ve had me scared for years.
What’s your pop-culture blind spot?
I have many pop culture blind spots, I’m a pop culture idiot. I’m a sort of euro art house dude, you know? My dad banned television from our house. In the early ’60s in Australia, he’d come home and we’d tell him what we’d just seen on TV, it was always to do with the latest Three Stooges episode. He couldn’t bear it and thought we were turning into idiots and said, “That’s it!” So on our next move we didn’t have a television. Luckily we were in South Africa and they didn’t have television anyway so we just sort of abandoned TV until many years later in England when I was 16. My mother slipped a disc, she was on her back and decided to get a TV so she could watch Wimbledon. But we basically didn’t have a television so I didn’t know what they were talking about at school. I had a couple of parents who were into high culture shall we say, the ballet, concerts and I also got very interested in European film from watching BBC2 when I was staying with my grandmother around the same time it saw my first copy of Playboy [laughs]. Around the age of 14 or 15 I went to a school in England where the headmaster showed really interesting films. For instance Lindsay Anderson’s if…, which is a great, great film — and to show that to a group of schoolboys where the last frame is the schoolboys murdering their own headmaster was pretty cool. So, yeah, I was on a different path and it wasn’t to do with pop culture really so I have a massive blind spot. I’m completely blind.
Heaven forbid, you’re on death row — what’s your last meal?
Well it would certainly involve a glass of champagne or three. There would be some beautiful vegetables and fruit and fish.
What was your first car?
I don’t drive. However, I was presented for a birthday present with a very old Land Rover not long ago because I do like cars visually, I just don’t drive them. I have driven this one up in the country on our property so I guess I would have to say a very old, beat-up Land Rover.
What’s the first song you knew all the words to?
Probably be some childhood thing, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or a bit of Mozart or an English hymn from school. We used to sing hymns every morning at the beginning of the school day.
What’s your favorite mistake?
My favorite mistake? Life’s full of them. Just meeting people who change your life, meeting great people through synchronicity and happenstance. My whole childhood was full of extraordinary things that happened to me because my dad was offered jobs around the world. I traveled all over the place and had the most amazing childhood, which probably a lot of other kids wouldn’t have chosen because I was being uprooted every two years. But it was a great, great thing. They were all last minute, completely chaotic in one respect but life affirming in another, so every mistake is a good thing, you learn from it.