Australian actor Hugo Weaving has starred in two of the biggest trilogies every produced – The Matrix and Lord of the Rings. He is currently starring in another genre movie, The Wolfman, which could also turn into a franchise.
Set in Victorian London, Weaving portrays Inspector Aberline, a Scotland Yard detective who has been brought in to investigate a series of brutal murders, only to discover they have been perpetrated by a beast.
How much input did you have into the look of your character?
Aberline is based pretty loosely on Detective Inspector Aberline, who was heading up the Whitechapel murders of 1889, which became known as the Jack the Ripper murders. So I thought I’d better do a little research into the real man to see if there was anything pertinent about him that could be used in the film. There was a little bit, but not a great deal.
The most important thing about using Aberline in this film immediately in the viewers’ mind you start thinking about London streets and that whole horror that was Jack the Ripper. So it adds a great bit of flavor. But the one thing I did take from the real Inspector Aberline was the mutt-chop whiskers what was based on a sketch that I’d seen of him, so that was my input into the visual aspect of the character.
The Scotland Yard character you play is one we’ve seen in many Horror films over the years, how did you try to make him distinct?
I wasn’t really thinking of making him distinct, but certainly he is a distinctive type, and that’ something you can enjoy I think. For instance, the scene where Aberline walks into the tavern – that for me was a very funny scene on the page. You’re surrounded by suspicious villagers who believe in werewolves, and you’re a very circumspect man of rational thought and a detective, so for me that’s an enjoyable thing to savor.
For Universal this is a legacy film. I think The Wolf Man was one of the first major films that they ever released. How does it feel to be a part of the legacy?
I never really thought about that to be honest. I didn’t grow up, unlike Benicio Del Toro [who stars in the movie], having seen all of these films. I think I would have seen them in my childhood, but they didn’t have the impact on me, because I probably didn’t see them all at that particular time. So in terms of being a part of a legacy, it’s something that I’m probably not as aware of as Benicio, and possibly a lot of other people.
But I think retelling this story and setting it in Victorian London was a really great idea. I think it’s a master stroke, it’s a much more evocative period than the original film, and probably the original film now, from my perspective, is a funny crusty old movie that I can’t really take seriously. So I think it was ripe to be revisited in a classic way.
With a film like this as a audience our loyalties are divided because Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) is the guy that we’re following, and although you’re the force of good, you’re also the guy we don’t want to win, does that affect the way you approach the role?
I don’t think about things [like that]. Unless you’re playing a villain, who is obviously the villain and that’s part of your job description, I tend not to see characters in terms of being good or evil, I just think, ‘What is it that they’re trying to do.’
If you look at Sir Lawrence Talbot and Frederick Aberline, Talbot is fighting himself, and so is Aberline, so they’re both fighting the same thing actually, they just don’t know it. Talbot’s struggle is an internal one with his own demons, his own passions and his own desires, and Aberline’s is a much more rational one, ‘Who perpetrated these murders and how are we going to catch the murderer?’
I never saw it in terms of them being on opposite sides really. It’s set up in the initial meeting that Aberline probably being a detective is going to suspect the brother of the murdered heir to the family estate of course, because he’s the most likely suspect.
What do you like about genre movies?
I think the interesting thing about the genre is that a man is in opposition to himself and that’s what makes Benicio’s character interesting, painful and tragic, is that it’s an internal struggle. To what extent are we civilized and to what extent are we animals? Well, we’re animals who have become civilized and so there is a interesting battle going on in all of us because we are civilized, but because we are also animals.
Would you say The Matrix transformed your career?
In many ways the first Matrix film was a departure in terms of the choice of films that I had been making. I still by and large make low-budget Australian films and so these bigger-budget, mostly American backed films, for me are a lot of fun to do and it enables me to work on a completely different scale. But, yeah, The Matrix was certainly the first film that I’d done that had that sort of exposure.
Are you looking forward to coming back if there is a sequel to The Wolfman?
I don’t know if there is going to be a sequel. And I would only choose to do something based on a script and the people involved with that script. So for me the first point of departure as an actor is responding to a script, so if that script hasn’t been written yet, I can’t answer the question any more than that.