Daily Archives: July 30, 2012

Uncle Vanya’s Final Night (w/video interviews, autograph story), Hobbit Trilogy

Note: This is an archived entry that’s over two 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.

Once again I’m faced with such a massive pile of Hugo Weaving news/stories to share that I don’t know where to start. So I’ll lead with a few Breaking News items then go ahead with a massive Vanya-themed entry. I was lucky enough to see the production at City Center again, though my seats were further back (not complaining a bit… sometimes the conversations are better in the cheap(er) seats.) 😉 Also got a nice souvenir from Hugo, which I’ll discuss soon.

But the Hugo-related story that the internet is buzzing about most right now is the confirmation direct from Peter Jackson that The Hobbit will, indeed, become a trilogy:

“It is only at the end of a shoot that you finally get the chance to sit down and have a look at the film you have made. Recently Fran, Phil and I did just this when we watched for the first time an early cut of the first movie – and a large chunk of the second. We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life. All of which gave rise to a simple question: do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’…We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance. The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth….So, without further ado and on behalf of New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wingnut Films, and the entire cast and crew of “The Hobbit” films, I’d like to announce that two films will become three.”

Warner Bros. also issued a full press release about added filming (which can be read in its entirety at Comingsoon.net). The third film will be released in summer 2014. The second and third films are now being referenced without names, so PJ may opt to move the subtitle “There and Back Again” to the final installment, but nothing is official yet on that front. (I suppose they could call the second one The Hobbit: Are We There Yet?) 😉 Also no word yet on whether Hugo will appear in all three films. Since chunks of would would have been the second film are probably going to be moved to the third for structural/dramatic reasons, anything is possible. Hugo is mentioned in the press release cast, but there’s no breakdown of which actors will appear in which films. When Hugo last spoke about The Hobbit (with the New York Post) he didn’t specifically address the issue of the third film, so we’ll have to wait for further details. TheOneRing.net remains the most reliable source for any breaking news on this project.  There’s also an interesting look at Andy Serkis getting into character as Gollum (from a forthcoming issue of Empire) on E!Online.

There are a couple of new stories about the ongoing filming of Mystery Road (nothing specific about Hugo’s role) at Deadline and The Reel Bits. (Note: LJ STILL won’t let me post direct links to Deadline for some reason, so here it is in raw form: http://www.deadline [dot] com/2012/07/greenlight-releasing-is-a-go-in-australia/. And I’m sorry this continues to be a technical issue.)

There’s another eloquent review of Last Ride’s American release at Keeping It Reel.

Now to Uncle Vanya… (takes a deep breath)… Sydney Theatre Company’s increasingly-legendary production closed in New York Saturday night amid a final flurry of press coverage, new interviews and rave reviews. First I’ll post all the official stuff, then I’ll tell my long and probably rambling story of attending that final performance.

Two shiny new videos have surfaced: one is an Weekend Sunrise interview that entertainment reporter held with Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh and Jacki Weaver earlier in the week, which aired Sunday in Australia. The second is coverage of Gotham Magazine’s party and features interviews with Cate and Richard… unfortunately, we don’t hear much from Hugo in either clip, though we see him. He’s been much quieter on this tour than he has on some, letting Blanchett and Roxburgh handle most of the press. (He’s also avoided the Stage Door most nights, though he was still polite to fans who did manage to approach him.)

IN THE MIXX Show: Interview with Cate Blanchett from Beto Vargas on Vimeo.

I suspect Hugo was probably interviewed at lest briefly for the Nelson Aspen piece, but his comments were edited out for brevity (Cate, Richard and especially Jacki Weaver are better at piquant soundbites than he is.)

There’s also a new ABC Radio podcast (Books and Arts Daily) featuring an extensive interview with New York Times’ critic Ben Brantley, who’s given this production over-the-moon raves in both Washington DC and New York, and enthuses a bit more here. (As a regular Times reader, I know this level of enthusiasm is rare for him.) Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh also add comments. There are lot of interesting insights about Chekhov and the challenge of staging his plays– and keeping them fresh– for modern audiences.

I told myself back in March, when tickets first went on sale, that I’d plan ahead and put all the money I’d saved to see the play for the best possible seats I could afford for one performance. I’d already seen it three times last summer in Washington DC, and had one of the most memorable months of my life in the process, including the sort of chat with Hugo a fan dreams of. Since there were only eleven performances in New York the prices would be higher and demand greater, so I staked everything on one set of tickets and got incredible fourth row Orchestra seats for July 24. I’ve already told you about that experience. It was astonishing. The actors and play continue to provoke and inspire me in ways few artistic endeavours do, particularly over multiple viewings. But was it enough? Of course not! 😉

I was lucky enough to scrape together funds for a couple of seats at the final performance on July 28. A fan with one decent seat in the Grand Tier/front Mezzanine section who was unable to go at the last minute sold me her seat, and I got another further back directly fro the City Center site. Then came the logistics of taking more time off, etc. Somehow it all worked out.

[Once I have this written up and posted, I’ll add in any new photos taken of the cast in New York that I haven’t shared previously… Roxburgh fan Andy4Ita tipped me to more Gotham Party photos online. So you should consider early versions of this post a “rough draft”.] 😉

Hugo at the Uncle Vanya opening night cast party, 21 July 2012; Photo: Carolyn Contino/BEImages

I wasn’t able to bring my boyfriend John this time– I did invite him, but he has too much to do. So I don’t have any new photos of my own.   Also, the omnipresence of paparazzi and professional autograph hounds really put a damper on Stage Door activity… the actors were less likely to linger and chat with fans because “professionals” were always on hand sticking their cameras in the actors’ faces and asking them to sign a sheaf of glossy movie photos to be sold on eBay later. Under the circumstances I really can’t blame Hugo and Cate for avoiding the Stage Door and being increasingly creative in getting into and out of the theater each night. In Washington DC, Hugo and Richard Roxburgh lingered an chatted with fans at the stage door (at Kennedy Center) nearly every night. There was a relaxed atmosphere and conviviality that led to a lot of special moments for fans. There were no paparazzi there, and I only saw professional autograph hawkers once (Hugo and Richard were polite with them, but you could see their expressions darken.)

That conviviality was an impossibility in New York, where paparazzi staked out the Stage Door before and after every performance and often followed Cate Blanchett every time she left her hotel.  Cate did stop to sign for fans a few times, and I understand why she avoids doing so most of the time– she was here with three young children, and wants them to lead as normal a life as possible. Hugo and Richard found an alternate door out of the theater, and used this most nights. But they did kindly stop and sign for anyone who approached them, fan or “professional”. In general, Hugo seemed quieter and more contained on this visit than he has in the past. No fans who did get autographs reported him saying much, and he seems to have given only one brief interview. (Contrast this with the abundance of lengthy interviews he gave promoting Last Ride.) I can’t say this is because of the sometimes-oppressive paparazzi or because he has an incredible number of projects on his plate right now and is trying to juggle those, media coverage and a physically demanding three-hour role every night.  At any rate, he certainly deserves some time to decompress right now and be left alone, and I hope he’s able to find that. I constantly struggle with the notion of how to be a “good fan”, and not be part of the problem. Hugo is usually lovely to fans and generous in letting us approach and share a few minutes with him. I hope he never feels intruded on or oppressed by fan attention, and that under most circumstances, the paparazzi leave him alone. I wouldn’t want moments like those in Washington to become a thing of the past.

Hugo attends Gotham Magazine Cover party July 25: Photo: Andres Otero/Everett Collection

Anyhow, we arrived in New York at around 4.30pm in a torrential downpour. After parking, I collected the tickets at the box office and we looked for a place to sit and relax until the theater opened. The family member who came along ensconced herself in the Au Ban Pain near the City Center’s front door after an initial stroll around the block, and announced she’d be staying there until the doors opened. I quickly started feeling the rush of nervous energy I’d felt back on Tuesday, and couldn’t sit still.

Fortunately the rain cleared up quickly. I was still pondering whether or not to have a try at the Stage Door, and if so, when. This would be the final day of performances, and there was a matinee as well as the nightly 7.30 show. I suspected there might be some sort of cast party after the evening performance, or that the cast would be greeted by celebrity fans backstage, as tends to happen on opening and closing nights. (This is documented in the In The Company of Actors doc, about the 2006 BAM production of Hedda Gabler.) There might be more paparazzi around than usual for this reason. I wanted to avoid them, and avoid being part of an insurmountable throng that might be waiting after the final performance, so I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to try and get Hugo’s autograph as he went into the theater rather than afterward, when he’s been through two exhausting performances and would have VIP guests and possibly a cast party… also, the weather still looked ominous and I didn’t want to chance being caught in the rain later.

Since there had been absolutely no one around the first time I’d checked the Stage Door, I returned to the area at 6pm. This time there were a couple of Cate Blanchett fans who were hoping to pass her something in a manila envelope (I never found out what.) and maybe get signed. None of the actors had yet gone into the theater. I immediately became aware of one major flaw in my strategy: if any of the other actors did stop to sign for fans, I didn’t have anything for them to sign– I couldn’t go inside the theater to get a program yet (and hadn’t brought the one I’d obtained on Tuesday.) But… I was there for Hugo, and had gotten some of the other cast members to sign for me last August, so I decided just watching the others go into the theater would be enough. (And it was, despite the complication I’m about to get to.)

Hugo at the Vanya Opening Night Party 21 July Photo: Joseph Marzullo/WENN

It quickly became apparent that we fans weren’t alone… there were a pair of paparazzi photographers lurking in the shadows under the eves nearby, talking strategy. My first impulse was to flee, but I guessed they’d probably be on hand later too, and there might be other complications later. I wasn’t sure then and remain unsure now if I did the right thing. At least at this point there weren’t any other autograph seekers waiting, and it was calm and peaceful. The Cate fans chatted with the paparazzi, asking if they could be included in any photographs taken. I avoided the conversation. I hoped Cate was their only target, and they’d leave after she went in. I didn’t want to be photographed, nor for any moment I might share with him to be intruded on that way. (When my boyfriend took pictures of Hugo last summer, he asked first, and promised none of the images would be used for personal profit.)

Over the next half hour, Sandy Gore went in and left the theater. Then I saw Hugo walking down the opposite side of the street toward the cast’s hotel. I kept this to myself, and no one else noticed. Then, at around 6.30, Cate Blanchett appeared, without any guards or “personnel” and crossed the street, striding quickly toward the Stage Door entrance. She was unmistakable and radiant even in the distance, and it was impossible not to be a bit star-struck. She was wearing a striking beige, black and orange-patterned dress and sunglasses. She noticed us but didn’t stop and mounted the stairs with a calm sense of purpose. One of the fans walked over and started talking and handing Cate the manila envelope at the same time. Cate took it, smiled beautifully and said, “I’m sorry, I really have to go now!”… and was gone. As this happened, one of the photographers whipped their massive lens right over my shoulder and started clicking away. I was a bit appalled, but also in awe of Cate, so I just froze.

After she was gone, the photographers were celebrating their luck, one telling the fan: “She took something! She usually never stops at all! You got her to smile!” So apparently he got his money shot. The Cate fans chatted with the photographers awhile longer, asked for contact details in case they were in any photos and then left, still basking in the glow of their experience. I don’t want to sound angry at them… I know we were all in a morally grey area by just being there, and it’s a normal human impulse to have moments like that documented. I have my own opinions about who should do the documenting, and think permission should be gained first. I know there wouldn’t be paparazzi in the first place if there was no market hungry for those kinds of photos. I was now waiting alone, though the photographers debated whether to stay and “get Hugo again” or not. My feet were starting to hurt (I was wearing dress shoes for the first time in ages, and these were a very old pair that looked great with my dress, but cut into my feet.) I was having very mixed feelings about being there but decided to stay the course, thinking it might be my best chance… though I made myself promise I’d never do it this way again.

Just when I was in the middle of my moral quandary, I noticed a figure approaching, a man walking his dog down the sidewalk. I was startled to recognize that it was Michael Emerson, one of my favorite actors. One of my other favorite actors. He was casually dressed in a white shirt and grey slacks, walking a tiny, inquisitive grey terrier. I tried not to stare but probably couldn’t help myself. I moved further to the side as he passed. I smiled at him a little and he smiled back. I thought it best not to ruin the moment by saying anything. The dog scurried over and sniffed my shoes. I thought seriously about taking off the shoes and offering them to the dog for chewing, piddling on, or any other sort of doggy enjoyment he could get out of them, but of course didn’t say any of those things aloud. The photographers snapped a few pictures as he passed. He seemed familiar with this bunch and made a few friendly but sharp-edged comments to them (I wish I could remember precisely what) before continuing on his way.

At first I thought he might be going to the evening performance, but then I realized, no, no one would bring their dog along to the theater… unless it was a service dog (I did see a pair at the Tuesday performance.) This probably wasn’t a service dog, and Emerson lives in New York, and seemed to be in that care-free zen state dog walkers get into. No, I’d just coincidentally seen my second favorite character actor on earth happen to walk down the street as I happened to be waiting for an opportunity to see my first. My first thought was that sometimes the universe laughs with us instead of at us. 😉 My second thought was of how many dogs I’d walked (one of my three part time jobs) to finance this trip. Then the paranoid part of my brain– the Old Georgie part– wondered if maybe Hugo hadn’t arranged the whole thing so he could sneak in unnoticed as Michael Emerson distracted me. But on the whole I felt a bit more at peace.

But no, no one had entered in those couple of minutes. Soon, Sandy Gore, Anthony Phelan, Andrew Tighe and Jacki Weaver arrived and went in; no one approached them. Weaver noticed us and smiled and waved as she went in. (She’s been the most generous in giving autographs and interacting with fans this tour– and is one of the most entertaining cut-ups on earth.) It was almost 7pm (with a 7.30 curtain) when Richard Roxburgh arrived. A few fans approached him for autographs, which he signed before hurrying inside. (I never saw Hayley McElhinney or John Bell that afternoon). Then several more minutes passed.

If I’d had any idea Hugo would arrive so late, I probably would’ve rethought my strategy and tried my luck post-show with everyone else. I knew that, this late, conversation of any kind would be an impossibility, and he’d be exceedingly generous to stop at all. Finally, at 7.10 pm I saw him approaching from down the street, walking with purpose and determination. My heart started racing and I steeled my nerves. I’d held about a million conversations with him in my head over the past several days and I sorted through all the things I might say– that the play was one of the more significant things he’d done, and had been profoundly meaningful. That the Cloud Atlas trailer surpassed my every expectation and I couldn’t wait to see the film an what further roles he might have in it. I had brought along my ancient, dogeared copy of the published Proof script because Proof was the first Hugo Weaving film I’d ever seen, twenty years ago. (There is a crazy story about how I decided to bring along this particular item, which is full of all sorts of cosmic irony of its own, but I’ll save that for the personal LJ, lest this story grow ever longer and more convoluted…)

As he approached closer, I decided maybe I could say Proof was the first film of his I’d ever seen and thus it held special significance for me… but not much more beyond that. There wasn’t time. I clumsily muttered “Hugo, could you please…” as he saw the book and pen; he took them. He was climbing the Stage Door steps at this point but stopped and looked at the book (I’d opened to a photo page at the middle without thinking too much about it). He scrutinized the book and turned it sideways, his eyes widening, then he signed down the side of the photo. I as about to say something when a man suddenly broke in from behind me, thrusting his Playbill at Hugo and talking about how he’d attended Opening Night and blah, blah blah. I silently took the signed script back from Hugo, thanked him profusely and slipped away. (I don’t want to be too obnoxious about the other autograph seeker, but he had intruded on my Hugo Moment a little. I always wait my turn and avoid talking over or interrupting signings in progress — I’m shy by nature and will avoid talking over anyone else at all costs.) I understand it was an imposition of us to ask for autographs so close to the curtain call in the first place, so on the whole I felt extraordinarily lucky.

[Don’t worry: Ugly the Cat later recovered in the film. In the original script version, Martin adopted him.] 😉

So no, I didn’t “top” my experience last August at Kennedy Center… I probably never will. It’s impossible to quantify these sorts of things anyhow. I didn’t get any photos or conversation this time– nor did anyone else, as Hugo had someplace important to be. I’m more than happy with my autograph and meaningful look. I hope Hugo understood the significance of the whole thing for me, the things I didn’t have time or opportunity to say. I know that on a certain level, actors and other artists are never going to understand the inner journeys fans have gone on, or the specific inspiration their work has given us. They create art for their own reasons, sometimes equally mysterious or inexpressible. I always try to select objects of special significance the few times I muster up the audacity to ask an artist to sign something. (95% of the time, I don’t try. Just experiencing their work is enough.) I try to pick something of little or no monetary value on the resale market, but of deep symbolic importance to me.  Ideally this can lead to lovely little conversations, but such opportunities are rare. And often, other fans will understand more than the artist would anyhow.

So… it was a beautiful experience. One I’ll probably never repeat now that I know the potential complications and moral thickets. I hope I didn’t impose too much or cross any lines. I’m grateful for what I got to experience, but in the future I’ll try to adhere more closely to the unspoken rules, ie to wait at the stage door after performances and take my chances. The actors should always have the choice to avoid such interaction if they’re tired, busy or simply want some privacy. The fact that Hugo will patiently stop and sign even so late, will put up with us, is a gesture of utmost generosity, but we shouldn’t ask it of him too often. (And fans and paparazzi should never, ever, under any circumstances stake out an actor’s hotel, or approach them when they’re on their own time, especially with their families. This crosses the line into stalking. Also– don’t buy autographs on eBay or from other vendors. A lot of them are fake, and in doing so, you encourage professional autograph sellers to erode the Stage Door experience.) Anyhow, I offer karmic apologies to Hugo for any lines I may have crossed myself. Sometimes the fangirl loves not wisely, but too well. 😉

But I was verging on giddy as I finally made my way into the theater at 7.15. Since it was so late, we immediately headed to our seats. I didn’t see many of the celebrities I later learned were in attendance (which included renowned Cate fan Meryl Streep); anyhow, our seats were upstairs in the mezzanine area, not the Celebrity Section– ie the Front Orchestra. I’d already been fortunate enough (well, and I’d given Lincoln Center a month’s wages) to sit there on Tuesday, so I didn’t feel too bad. And I had a seat in the third row of the Mezzanine (which is confusingly called the Mezzanine in back and Grand Tier in front, though they’re all the same– second– level. The Balcony is the third.) I did briefly spot Maggie Gyllenhaal crossing the lobby– I wasn’t even sure it was her at the time, but other fans on hand confirmed it. Her husband Peter Sarsgaard was apparently there too, but I didn’t see him. I did see Enrique Murciano (of Without a Trace and CSI fame) as I waited in line at the bar. But that was it for accidental celebrity sightings, and frankly nothing was going to top the sheer coincidental bliss of the Michael Emerson sighting. Perhaps it was the work of the Dog Walker Gods. 😉

Anyhow… one often gets into much more interesting conversations in the cheap seats. Well, the cheaper seats. I was seated between a French-speaking father and son and an elderly couple of theater veterans eager to compare this production of Vanya to the many others they’d seen. In front of us were a gay couple in adorable, matching gingham shirts, and a larger group of Russians who seemed to be enjoying the experience immensely. (It made me wonder how much I’d similarly enjoy a production of Shakespeare in Russian, performed by top Russian actors.)

A lot of fun was had. It was interesting finally getting a bird’s eye view of the play, because I’d always seen it from ground-level (at various distances) before. There was a tiny section of the stage blocked from our view (I had to explain the refrigerator sight-gag to the couple sitting next to me, because that little alcove of the stage couldn’t be seen from our vantage point– but most of the play was unaffected. It was easier watching everything at once without worrying who or what part of the action I should be watching. Hugo’s the bravura and bluster of Hugo’s physical performance and his sexy way of slouching/draping his body over the furniture was more evident. We were close enough to still see facial expression pretty well. And, for the record, I never experienced any difficulty making out the words or with echoes the way some patrons and critics claimed they did. Yes, I’d seen the play four times before, but I’d have felt cheated if I missed this or that line due to poor acoustics. The person I brought with me reported no problems either, and she was much further back. I think some people are actually Australian-accent-impaired and are blaming the venue. 😉 Obviously one hears better in the front orchestra, but I still heard everything fine up in the mezzanine. And City Center does provide free headsets rental for anyone who might have hearing issues.

This final performance had a quickness and zaniness previous ones lacked. Actors seemed to be relishing both a final opportunity to perform their characters and that it was the final time… they were one-upping each other with more gusto, reaching broader emotional peaks and throwing themselves into the physical bits of business with more gusto. Quieter moments and subtleties were more in evident at the Tuesday performance. But the final scene brought tears to my eyes again. It has every time, though always in a slightly different way. Sometimes Sonya seems sure of her convictions and is trying to encourage Vanya… sometimes she seems unsure, and is trying to convince herself. Sometimes he smiles ruefully, sometimes patiently, sometimes not at all. I’m also struck by the seemingly- impossible range of meanings and emotions all of the actors are able to wring out of the word “Gone”, which figures so critically in the final act.  I’m feeling the full range of that again now that they are, in fact gone. It was over so quickly. I wasn’t there long enough for it all to sink in. In DC, I had the luxury of booking a hotel room and enjoying several days i the city. This time it was two jaunts in and out of New York City, each less than six hours. Not enough time.

I’m sure I’ll have many more thoughts about the whole experience over the coming days; I might share a few here or (more likely) on my personal LJ. Some I’ll no doubt keep to myself. 😉 On the drive home I was both blissful and a bit melancholy. My heart was full. I was reminded of one of my favorite exchanges from Lord of the Rings (the novels… which oddly didn’t make the film adaptation, fine as they are in every other respect. Anyhow, I’m paraphrasing a bit; at the end of Return of the King, after the Ring has been destroyed, Frodo and Sam are finally approaching The Shire again and wondering how they’re going to return to “normal lives” after all they’ve been through. Sam says that the process will seem like finally waking up from an incredible dream. Frodo replies, “To me, it’s like going back to sleep again.”

An interesting postscript: today, the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported on the play’s brief by highly acclaimed run, and followed with this but of teasing: “It is rumoured that the cast enjoyed working together so much that they are seeing if they can team up again for another production.” No word yet on whether this might mean another play with the same cast or another go at Uncle Vanya… or what city or cities will be lucky enough to witness it. Hugo and Richard Roxburgh are already in talks to team up again for Waiting for Godot next season (with Tamas Ascher directing again), but that’s a essentially a two-hander (there are three minor supporting characters, but nothing I’d imagine Cate Blanchett taking on.)  So any future cast reunions would probably wait for the 2014 season. Whatever it is, a lot of us are already up for it. Someone on Twitter suggested Hugo and Cate in a production of Macbeth… lots of juicy roles in that one. Maybe Roxburgh could play Banquo or Macduff. Best not to get to carried away with Fantasy Productions just yet, but I’m happy to hear these actors seem to have enjoyed playing these characters and collaborating as much as we’ve enjoyed watching them.