Q&A with ‘Cloud Atlas’ star Hugo Weaving

Hugo Weaving as Bill Smoke in "Cloud Atlas."

Australian actor Hugo Weaving is probably best known as one of pop culture’s most dastardly villains, thanks to “The Matrix.” Despite being a perfectly nice guy in real life, he’s re-teaming with directors the Wachowskis — along with co-director Tom Tykwer — in “Cloud Atlas” to double-down on his bad-guy image, playing not one but six antagonists. We quizzed the Australian actor on taking jobs away from other actors, why the Wachowskis think he’s so good at being bad and what it’s like becoming the face of Anonymous.

What was your reaction to the repertory nature of the production, taking on six different characters yourself?

Very excited, I think. I thought it was a great idea. Because in the book there’s this sense of certain characters having this common birthmark and this idea that souls may be reborn through time, so that’s sort of odd. I mean, now it might seem obvious. “Well, obviously then we can cast actors in each one of the stories.” But actually it’s kind of brilliant piece of thought of a way of expanding the themes without knocking them on the head too much.


But do you feel at least a little bad about taking up so many roles in one movie? There are a lot of out-of-work actors, after all.

This does happen. I remember when I was doing, as a kind of experiment, a production of “Hamlet” as the Elizabethans would’ve done it. The only problem with this idea was that it actually robbed all women of the roles, so it was kind of like this. You think, well these are six characters here and I’m playing all of them. Ah! There’s five actors out of work. It was like, yeah, just because Elizabethan theater didn’t have women onstage, it meant that I was playing Queen Gertrude in a production of “Hamlet,” and it’s a fantastic role for a woman but they didn’t get the gig. So it’s happened to me before. (laughs)

Between the “The Matrix” trilogy and the six villains you play in “Cloud Atlas,” do you worry about what the Wachowskis really think of you?

Yeah, but then there’s the other character I played for them, V in “V for Vendetta.” I mean, he would exist very comfortably alongside a lot of [the protagonists] in this film. No, but ever since I first met Lana and Andy, we’ve laughed a lot and enjoyed each other’s company enormously. So I know what they think of me (laughs), and I’m not concerned that they think I’m like these characters. I mean, Lana did say to me the other night, “Maybe we should find you a more sympathetic character to play next time.”

What’s your opinion on Anonymous appropriating the Guy Fawkes mask from “V for Vendetta”?

Yeah, that’s extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary to see that film have an effect with a certain generation of people. In the film, all the people wearing masks — the “We are Spartacus” bit, that one — It’s that sort of idea. Who’s Spartacus? I’m Spartacus. We’re all Spartacus. It’s the same sort of idea, and it’s similarly linked to the ideas in this film. What is an ocean but a multitude of drops? You can see yourself as an insignificant drop in an ocean, but if you’re with like-minded people, then that drop becomes an ocean and swells and becomes a tsunami for change. And I think that was embodied in “V for Vendetta,” that use of the masks. That Guy Fawkes figure has become a mask, and that mask — and it’s absolutely straight out of the film “V for Vendetta” — that mask has become a uniting symbol for people who would desire change in society, and I think it’s pretty extraordinary.


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