'Matrix,' 'Hobbit' Star Hugo Weaving on Playing a 'Repellent', 'Violent' Character in 'Last Ride'

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After portraying villains in films like "Transformers" and "Captain America," Weaving tells THR about the process of finding the humanity in a character with a criminal past.

If you’ve seen a big-budget genre movie in the last 10 years or so, there’s a good chance that Hugo Weaving played the bad guy; after squaring off against Keanu Reeves in the Matrix trilogy, he quickly became the go-to actor for cinematic villainy in films including Legend of the Guardians, Transformers and Captain America. But Weaving, predictably, isn’t content just to repeatedly twirl his moustache, which is why in the new Australian import Last Ride, the actor makes a concerted effort to humanize a character he rightfully describes as “repellent” and violent.”

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Weaving spoke to The Hollywood Reporter last week via telephone to talk about Last Ride, where he plays a troubled father named Kev who absconds with his son and takes a dangerous trek across the Australian Outback. In addition to discussing his initial interest in the role, Weaving talks about his collaboration with newcomer Tom Russell, who plays his onscreen son, and examines the appeal of films that tackle complex and sometimes difficult-to-watch subject matter.

The Hollywood Reporter: When you look at all of the work you’re going to have to do in a movie like this, what’s your initial reaction – excitement or trepidation?

Hugo Weaving: That’s an interesting question because in a way it doesn’t feel like an effort, but the thing that appealed to me about that character was that he was very compromised. He had an appalling childhood himself, his background, and I’d read the book and I just wanted to work on a small-budget film and with a really talented film director whose short film I’d seen that won an award at Cannes. I really wanted to work with Glendyn [Ivin], and the script moved me and I could see there was a massive contrast between the subject of the story, which was a relationship between a father and a son, and the brutality of the landscape and the interaction of the father and son and some of the other characters in the film. And so it was all of those complexities together that excited me – the more compromised the character is, the more complexities the story has, I’ll jump in and say “yes” to it immediately. Then I think, “Oh my God – I’ve got a lot of work to do.” But that tends to excite me rather than daunt me – and then it’s just trying to spend whatever time you’ve got between first reading the script and production and trying to bring about some kind of internal combination and create a character. And that was an exciting process – it was a real joy to do, actually.

THR: Because I imagine you get a lot of offers to play villainous characters, how much do you think about what roles you’ve played in the past – or even just recently – when choosing to take on a new one that might be perceived as similar?

Weaving: I try and sort of vary what I do as much as possible, but it’s a little bit dependent on what’s out there and what’s offered – and I don’t say yes to everything. But I try to get back to the theatre every year, and to work on small-budget film like Last Ride, that would be my first choice, to do something like that, and then do some theatre, and then if possible, do something completely different like Cloud Atlas which is coming out at the end of the year, which is a huge-budget science fiction film we shot in Germany. 

THR: How difficult was it to fall into the rhythm of a relationship with the young actor who plays your son in the film, especially since you relate to one another in some dramatic ways?

Weaving: We met up in Sydney. Glendyn, Tom [Russell] and I came up and we spent two or three days up in a room, the three of us just talking and having fun and eating and just getting to know each other, and filming little bits and rehearsing. And it was just a matter of getting to know each other, and making Tom feel like he was safe, that I wasn’t actually like Kev and I wouldn’t actually beat and bash him. But he was a young kid who was just very present, and whenever the camera’s on him, whatever he’s doing is interesting, and the thing with him at that age was just keeping him interested and keeping his mind focused. And it’s quite hard to do that through a long shooting day, but Glendyn had a great relationship with Tom and I did too, so he was supported by the whole crew and his parents were on board most of the time. So they were with us on the journey through the Outback, and he’s a remarkable boy and I think he did a great job. But no, Glendyn’s skill at dealing with him in a relaxed way I think was the key to the performance, really.

THR: Actors seem to have different opinions on how best to play characters that are difficult to sympathize with. How tough is it to tap into the humanity in a character like Kev that will help you and/or the audience identify with him even if they don’t like him?

Weaving: I’ve always found that people, even if they’re quite bleak or unlikeable characters and it’s hard to sympathize with them, if you give some sense that they’ve been damaged as a child or why they are the way that they are, to think about that even for a few seconds, that’s enough for me to reserve judgment about them rather than saying, “I didn’t like that film because that character was so awful.” But there’s something, not an explanation but something to hinge that character on, who’s doing things as best they can given their background and their upbringing and the things they’re battling against. And I think that’s what’s interesting in the film, really, that it is about love and it is about the secure relationship between father and son, and yet, you know that he’s violent and you know that he’s making all of the wrong decisions and you know he’s compounding the problem rather than alleviating it. But there’s something compelling about all of that, I think – that’s certainly what interested me in doing the film in the first place. The book’s a little different – he’s a little more of a loser in the book, and the ending’s a little different.

THR: How do you ultimately look at a film project like this one – is it a purely visceral experience, a meditative one, a metaphorical one? It offers a pretty unflinching portrait of a complex relationship.

Weaving: I think people will have their own reaction to it, but to me it was about, despite everything else, a story about love, actually, and I find that incredibly moving – that Kev loves Chuck and vice versa but they don’t necessarily express that in a way that someone we might expect that somebody would. But in many ways, Kev is a very repellent character, and violent, and you want Chuck to get away from him. But by the end of the film, it’s very clear that he’s his father and he wants to help him and he doesn’t want certain things to happen – but at the same time you’re aware that this isn’t going to end well. And I think that ending is quite bleak and harsh and sudden; you shouldn’t be in any doubt that there’s a strong love there, but it’s quite tragic, really. But everyone deals with this film in a different way, and the reception to the film in Australia was quite mixed – critically acclaimed by some people and utterly damned by other because they found it so bleak, saying we shouldn’t make films like this any more. So it depends on how you’re feeling, and what sort of film you’re into, your reaction will be quite different. But ultimately it’s a story of love and a particular relationship at a particular time and a particular place, despite all of the odds. And that’s what make it compelling to me.

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