Note: This is an archived entry that’s several years old. While I have ensured that all photos are restored, some links may no longer work. If you encounter any dead links, let me know and I’ll try to find a copy of the material. Some entries may not be up to my current standards as far as photo source and other credits are concerned; if you are a photographer or writer of a piece that lacks appropriate acknowledgement, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add source info.
Oranges and Sunshine opened in Australia on June 9 to largely rapturous reviews. Press coverage continues, so I’ll add links to everything that’s been posted online since my last update. Of particular note is a new, in-depth Hugo Weaving interview posted by Map Street Editors (in which he discusses not only his current role in Oranges and Sunshine, but his growth as an actor and hopes for the future.) Also, Oranges and Sunshine finally has its own website, which includes a new Australian trailer and lots of great film stills and historical information. (Hugo and his fellow castmates provide comments as well.)
Perhaps the most interesting of the new batch of reviews can be seen on ABC-TV’s website for At The Movies: not because the loved the film (they did, though) 😉 but because they posted footage of several complete scenes from Oranges and Sunshine, and the new Australian trailer, along with the reviews. Other reviews can be read at The Herald Sun, M/C Reviews, Cinema Autopsy, Movie Ramble, The Catholic Church of Australia (they liked it!), Greg King’s Film Reviews, The Reel Bits and, my favorite website name of the month… Web Wombat! 😉
Other Australian coverage of the film includes an Emily Watson interview in The Herald Sun, a David Wenham interview in the Courier Mail (“Hugo is certainly one of our greats. He’s always been a great actor but his work, he keeps surprising. I always look forward to the next thing Hugo does because he’s someone who is always wanting to push the edge of the envelope. I have the greatest respect for him.”– Wenham also discusses his own career, heh heh), a brief preview in Inside Film which quotes Hugo (more is promised in next month’s print issue), and interviews with Emily Watson and director Jim Loach at Urban Cinefile .
I’ll add the full text of the Map Street Editiors piece below the cut because it’s a particularly worthwhile read.
Posted by map magazine on June 2, 2011
The offer of oranges and sunshine – like peaches and cream – holds a promise of simple, wholesome goodness. This was one of the pictures painted for the 130,000 young working-class British children deported to Australia as supposed orphans in the 1940s and ‘50s. While the children may have arrived in a land rich with fruit and bathed in the sun’s golden glow, their fate was hardly all oranges and sunshine. In one of his latest roles, Hugo Weaving put himself in the shoes of a man who lived the nightmare of abuse that was a reality for a stolen generation of children. Starring as Jack in Oranges and Sunshine, due for release in Australia in June, Hugo expertly shares a story that will no doubt trigger tears, raise eyebrows and spark heated community debate.
Hugo Weaving may be one of Australia’s most renowned veteran actors and have starred in blockbuster series like The Matrix, Lord of the Rings and Transformers, but there is no hint of blockbuster bravado about him. Rather, he makes no secret of the fact he prefers working on smaller Australian films rather than big budget international flicks where, he jokes: “… I don’t know what’s going on”.
Ever the actor’s chameleon, Hugo is of a rare breed that can leap between themes and genres, epics and indies, without losing his audience or his integrity. Hugo plays a lost soul in Oranges and Sunshine, inspired by the best-selling book, Empty Cradles, by Margaret Humphreys.
The film is due for release in Australia in June and Hugo is interested to see how it will be greeted by the community and by the people upon who it is based – most are in their 60s and 70s and many still live in Australia. The issue of child migrants has already prompted formal apologies from both the Australian and British governments in 2009 and 2010 respectively, so there’s little chance the film will slide by unnoticed.
“It certainly feels like a story that has to be told and should be talked about,” Hugo starts. “And it feels like it highlights the fact that these things just keep happening in world history – these terrible injustices that happen to the most vulnerable and innocent people, in the case little children, in the name of progress, or whatever, by institutions and governments.”
Professionally, Hugo cherished working with British actress Emily Watson and first-time feature director Jim Loach – son of veteran filmmaker and activist Ken Loach – who was quoted as saying: “We all loved Hugo Weaving’s work: his capacity for gentleness, compassion and vulnerability.”
While Hugo can empathise with the children of this story, his childhood was quite the opposite; his family unit was tight although their sense of home was fluid. Born in Nigeria in 1960, Hugo and his family moved every two years or so between England, South Africa and Australia until they settled in Sydney when Hugo was 16.
“My childhood changed so much; the constant was the family,” he explains. “We were always moving to a different country, a different school, a different house … And I feel very lucky to have had the childhood I had because it was very exciting. The thing I learnt was that, wherever you go in the world, people are fundamentally the same even though they might speak a different language and have a different culture. Fundamentally, we’re all very similar and I guess that’s a good lesson for anyone really, but certainly for an actor.”
Hugo’s childhood dreams fluttered from being a fireman to a sailor and in his early teens he wanted to be a writer. Asked if he still has any of those early scribbles, he laughs. “Yes,” he says. “I’m sure they are stashed somewhere but you’re not getting your hands on them!”
By the time he was 16 he was emotionally involved with the idea of acting. His parents had exposed him to music, art and theatre from a young age and he recalls some standout creative influences while living in South Africa from six to nine years of age.
“My parents took me to a ballet of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and I was really amazed by that. I loved the music, and was interested in the story. Mum said it was based on a play by Shakespeare, so I wanted to read it. I can remember as an eight-year-old trying to read Romeo and Juliet,” Hugo laughs at his innocence. “Because I knew the story, I kind of got captivated by the language in it in a weird way and wanted to act out those stories.”
Hugo listened to his intuitive desire to act and went straight from high school into auditions for the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). He was accepted after three callbacks and graduated in 1981.
One of his first major hits was Bangkok Hilton opposite Nicole Kidman in 1989 and he won his first industry award, a Best Actor Australian Film Institute Award, for the low-budget Proof in 1991. Many gems have followed, but the Australian films Hugo counts as achievements are Little Fish (2005), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), and Last Ride (2009). Hugo also loved working with the Wachowski Brothers on The Matrix.
Though he is loath to give advice to young actors, Hugo shares some wise words his first agent told him when he was 22. “He said, ‘You gotta learn to say no to jobs’,” Hugo says, noting that is the constant dilemma for actors – whether to accept every job that’s offered or to be more discerning. They were wise words at the time. And I instinctively felt they were true anyway.”
His biggest career challenge has been self-doubt, but he’s found it can be a positive. “Sometimes these doubts – as you think, ‘I don’t know if this is what I want to do anymore’ – for whatever reason, sometimes those things actually spur you into reappraising everything and starting afresh with a much more invigorated outlook. Sometimes those challenges have actually ended up being great spurs.”
He acknowledges that acting is a tough gig – there’s the waiting around, the auditioning, the suspense of the offer, the knockbacks. “It’s not the loveliest profession,” he laughs at the understatement. “I know so many people who went through NIDA with me who I thought the world of, who within four years of leaving NIDA weren’t working anymore. It’s not fair. The world’s not fair and the industry’s not particularly fair … but that hasn’t stopped me. I just keep on trying to maintain an interest in it all.”
Asked what he still wants to achieve with his work, Hugo notes he and his partner Katrina Greenwood are at a new phase of their lives. “Both our kids have just left school, so it’s probably a natural question mark in the sky of where I’m at at the moment. We’re just reappraising what we’re up to as a family, and what Katrina, my partner, and I are up to.”
One thing Hugo is sure of is that he wants to keep working as an actor for many years to come. “I’ve just worked with Ian McKellan – he’s in his seventies. He’s such a lively mind and such a relaxed physical creature so I would hope that I would be as enquiring and youthful as Ian in another 20 years. And still working in theatre and film but probably increasingly refocus again on Australian film – the sort of film that’s always interested me.
Interview by Frances Frangenheim
But wait! There’s More! Here’s another, more Oranges and Sunshine-focused Hugo interview, courtesy Junior:
ORANGES & SUNSHINE INTERVIEW
The highly anticipated Oranges And Sunshine tells the story of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham who uncovered one of the most significant social scandals of recent times: the deportation of thousands of children from the United Kingdom to Australia.
Against overwhelming odds and with little regard for her own well-being, Margaret reunited thousands of families, brought authorities to account and drew worldwide attention to an extraordinary miscarriage of justice. Children as young as four had been told their parents were dead, and been sent to children’s homes on the other side of the world. Many were subjected to appalling abuse.
They were promised oranges and sunshine; they got hard labour and life in institutions.
Legendary Aussie actor Hugo Weaving plays Jack, one of the children victimised by the program who must now come to grips with the fact his mother might be alive.
What attracted you to the project?
I got the script with a covering letter saying that Emily (Watson) was involved and that Jim Loach was directing. The material’s just so moving and beautifully written, so it was something I was instantly grabbed by. Once I’d met Jim I was even more interested; I just thought he was a delightful person, very warm and kind of quiet, but intelligent. I was very excited about the idea of working with Emily, and I also knew that David Wenham was involved, so it was the whole package.
Who is Jack?
Jack just seemed to me to be a man crying out to be accepted and to have his story recognised. He’s a very gentle soul, a lost soul, quietly working to find something in an undemonstrative way. When we meet him he’s still going through a great deal of issues and a lot of pain. He is estranged from his family as well as from his mother and father – he assumes they’re dead. But he’s just linked up with his sister again.
What is his story as shown in the film?
Nicky, Jack’s sister, is part of Margaret’s group in Nottingham and she tells them a story about having found her brother again and shows them a photo of Jack. Quite soon after that Nicky’s persuaded by Margaret to go and see Jack again. They’ve obviously met up before a couple of times and so we first meet Jack at Melbourne Airport, when Nicky and Margaret arrive.
Initially he’s very mistrustful of Margaret. Even though he can see that her intentions are probably good, I think he has a great mistrust of social workers, psychiatrists, anyone in bureaucracy, in positions of power or administration. He basically says to Margaret, ‘I was told as a child that my mother was dead; now you’re telling me she might be alive, but I don’t really know what to do with that information’. I think he feels at that stage that he doesn’t know whether he would have the strength to meet his mother. But the journey is embarked upon to try and find her.
Did you know about the story before you read the script?
I was pretty ignorant of the story really, although I’d seen The Leaving Of Liverpool [an Australian television drama about the child migrants] many years before so I suppose I did know something about it. Just not the extent of it – that so many young kids had been sent out.
The next step after talking to Jim and committing to doing it was reading Margaret’s book, and then I wanted desperately to meet the man on whom Jack is partially based – someone who’d actually come out and had that experience themselves. I was doing a play in Melbourne and I got to meet this wonderful man who’d been sent out as a child from England at the age of ten. He was incredibly forthcoming and generous with his time and we sat and talked for about three hours. That was a wonderful thing to do.
What did you discuss?
The school he’d been to, his early life, his marriage, his kids and then his descent into depression; his attempted suicide and his finding his way out of that. Then he tried to contact his mother and get in touch with his sister and then he met Margaret. It was an invaluable experience talking to him and that was my primary research.
What was the impact of the government apologies while you were filming?
The day I left for the shoot in England Kevin Rudd apologised, and so by the time I landed all the English papers were full of it – which is extraordinary really after such a long time. I was driving along in the afternoon listening to the PM crying; it was incredibly moving and just so tragic.
All these people have probably tried to tell their stories many times but no one’s really listened. So for it to suddenly break in that way must have been an incredible vindication of who they were and where they’d been and what happened to them. But at the same time it seemed extraordinary that it should have taken so many years.
What are the challenges for an actor playing a real-life character?
With any character the challenge is to do as much research and psychological investigative work as possible, in order to try to understand their motivations and complex psychology. Then you have to let go of all of that and just try to exist on the day in the moment. In a way these characters come with added pressure – you’re trying to be faithful to them and their experience and so maybe there’s an added sense of… I don’t know that ‘duty’ is the right word, but trying to do the right thing by a person or by a group of people.
What’s it been like working with Emily Watson?
Really delightful. She’s such an intelligent and sensitive and very present human being. I suppose I don’t really know her very well, but I’ve always loved her work from Breaking The Waves through to Synecdoche and everything in between, so I was really thrilled with the idea of working with her.
How is Jim Loach as a director?
He’s a lovely, calm, sweet man and he’s obviously intelligent and knows what he wants. We sometimes didn’t know whether it was a take or a rehearsal, which is always a good thing because it means it’s seamless. It all seems to have the same uncomplicated energy to it. He has a great empathy for the characters.
What does ‘oranges and sunshine’ mean?
Well, it’s interesting that the title Oranges And Sunshine is something that Jack says. He was asked as a child whether he wanted to go to Australia where he could live in a white house, ride a horse to school and be able to pick oranges off the trees for his breakfast and where the sun shines every day. That was the sort of golden promise that these children were sold and then in the same breath someone said to him, ‘Well you might as well go because your mum’s dead.’
So it was sold as a wonderful world they were going to, a wonderful new life for them and yet at the same time they were told their parents had died. ‘Oranges and Sunshine’? It’s the great promise and the great lie, the great untruth that was told to these innocent children who were damaged for so many, many years and probably irrevocably. And it’s the journey that Margaret takes to try to heal that and give them some sense of who they are and what has happened to them, gain them some sort of recognition.
So to me it’s really about abandonment and lies and then being accepted again.
AND THIS JUST IN: FilmInk has posted an excerpt from their magazine interview with Hugo online here. I’ll have the full-length version soon. Also: new reviews of Oranges and Sunshine at Movietime (“I do not know how Weaving does it, but this chameleon of an actor has once again immersed himself in the psyche of another flawed fictional human being and made you believe and ache for him.”), Disassociated, and ABC South Queensland