"I might scare some people who’ve seen the film and think I am a martial arts
expert," says Hugo Weaving in his nice guy mode, "but if it came to the crunch I
don’t think I’d be able to actually win a kung fu fight…" OK, but
who’s gonna be game enough to try him on? Weaving is tall and fit: he spent five
months just training, 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, before filming even began. Then there was
the six month shoot…
"it was very tough and tiring"
"I hated that training," he says. "It was gruelling. The filming
wasn’t much easier…it was very tough and tiring. That fight in the subway, that
sequence took 12 days to shoot."
The scene is near the end of the film, when Agent Smith (Weaving) confronts Neo (Keanu
Reeves). But as Weaving says, the joy of his character was that it was a baddie with a
difference. "I became fascinated by the character, because normally the villain is
either brain or brawn, but Smith is both. And he’s very funny."
Of course, Agent Smith is not your average villain, being a human in looks only, but
manufactured by the ruling all powerful artificial intelligence that ‘runs things
around here’ – and powered by more than chips.
"it didn’t seem like my kind of film.."
When Weaving first read the script (in London, where he was shooting Bedrooms and
Hallways, playing a gay real estate agent [the film opens in May in Australia]) he was not
attracted to it at all. "I started reading it and I thought it didn’t seem like
my kind of film and I was very half hearted about it." The directors, Andy and Larry
Wachowski, had seen Weaving in Proof and Priscilla and wanted to audition him. Ironically,
they were already in Sydney. Weaving’s agent kept urging him to go and do the screen
test, which he did. "I did the interrogation scene … I already had an idea that
Smith, having enormous power and not caring, should take his time about things…"
and that’s when Weaving began to develop the accent and the voice that ends up
working so well as a distinctive device in creating the Agent Smith on screen we now know.
The Wachowskis went back to Los Angeles, while Weaving flew back home to Sydney. The
screen test went to the Wachowskis, and they promptly flew Weaving to LA, where he met the
Wachowski brothers for the first time and found them to be "real characters".
They made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. "And then they said, you know
you’ll be doing your own stunts? And I shrugged, yeah, OK. You sure? they asked.
Yeah, sure…I had no idea!"
Weaving enjoyed the trip to LA for the world premiere, partying with the real Smith
(Will) and his fellow actors from The Matrix, with whom he has formed a bond – as
with the Wachowskis, "who are very intelligent and warm people. I had a good time
– nice to see everyone again, and it was great to be staying in a nice place for a
few days with just Kirsty without the kids…a real break."
"love to make an Australian film"
With the Australian premiere of The Matrix out of the way, Weaving has no fixed plans
but would dearly love to make an Australian film. Not that the big budget work is
unpleasant: "It’s most noticeable in that you’ve got so much more
time…" As for working with two directors on the one film, Weaving says it could
have been really difficult, "but they don’t split functions, like one doing the
actors or something. They just say what they’re thinking and they are enormously well
prepared. They are very cohesive with a single vision and I never saw problems between
them. It was a joy to work with them."