Healing: New Interviews
Healing officially opens in Australia today, so a new batch of cast interviews and previews is appearing online. Though Hugo Weaving is currently on vacation, he apparently gave several interviews promoting Healing before he departed, some of which are only appearing now. Costar Don Hany also continues to promote the film to a wide variety of outlets. I’ll include the full text of the two new Hugo Weaving interviews below (behind the cut) and links to everything else:
In Oranges and Sunshine he was deeply moving as the psychologically scarred English migrant who endured being taken from his mother and forced to toil for Catholic Church institutions in Australia; he was wonderfully inscrutable as a country cop in Mystery Road; and he communicated a world of hurt as Vic Lang’s reclusive, troubled father in the David Wenham-directed episode of Tim Winton’s The Turning.
“I enjoy playing these colourful, over-the-top characters but they are definitely not me,” Weaving says over the phone from Sydney, where he continues to live despite his flourishing international career.
“So it’s been a gift to have been given the opportunity to play men who are a little closer to me. It presents other challenges – you can’t hide behind a mask and you are forced to draw upon yourself – but it allows you to explore nuances of character.”
His move from the margins to the middle, character-wise, continues with Healing, a modest yet quietly effective Australian drama set on a prison farm that prepares prisoners for going back into society.
Weaving plays Matt Perry, a stern but sympathetic senior officer who puts a tightly wound Iranian inmate named Viktor Khadem (Don Hany) in charge of a program to rehabilitate injured eagles, falcons and owls.
Viktor is coming to the end of a long sentence for murder and doesn’t want to mix with the other prisoners. Matt feels that putting him in charge of the program – in particular, caring for a majestic wedge-tailed eagle with a 2m wing span named Yasmine – will draw Viktor out and, in turn, his strong work ethic will be a good influence on the younger prisoners, who are being preyed upon by opportunistic old hands.
Healing is the third time that Weaving has worked with co-writer and director Craig Monahan, who made a sensational feature film debut in 1998 with The Interview and followed up in 2004 with Peaches.
Apart from the desire to work again with Monahan, with whom he has forged a very productive director-actor relationship, Weaving says he was drawn to Healing because it showed a positive side of the prison system.
“Movies about prisons are almost always about thuggish, unfeeling guards and brutalised prisoners and little hope that anyone will change. Healing celebrates the people who do good work in the system. It shows them as concerned with the welfare of the inmates and the possibility of rehabilitation and a new life.”
The role is arguably the closest Weaving has come to a regular guy in the classic Hollywood mould, a steely, quietly spoken figure who has his own problems at home but heroically stands up for Hany’s Viktor.
“Matt is definitely one of the most subdued characters I’ve played. We don’t learn much about Matt but he has layers. The challenge of a part like this is to communicate what’s not on the page but implied. It’s what great screen acting is all about.”
Monahan was inspired to make Healing after reading an article in The Age in 1998 about a program at Won Wron, a minimum- security facility near Yarram in Victoria, to see if prisoners could rehabilitate injured birds of prey to return to the wild.
Authorities were sceptical at first because it went against what was deemed acceptable work for prisoners. However, it turned out to be a success and, while Won Wron closed in 1994, the raptor rehabilitation program continues elsewhere.
Monahan and his long-time collaborator Alison Nisselle were instantly taken by the story of Won Wron.
They were struck by the notion that taking responsibility for looking after a wild animal had the capacity to change someone’s life. “That always seemed very profound to us,” Monahan told The Age.
Weaving says that Monahan gave him the Healing screenplay while they were filming Peaches, so he has been involved not just in the evolution of the script, providing criticism and feedback, but familiarising himself with the bird program.
“I think I said to him a few years ago ‘Just don’t change your mind on this one’,” Monahan recalls. “And he never has. He’s such a gentleman and a pleasure to work with.”
He is also one of the few actors of the golden generation that gave us Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush who has consistently worked in Australia on screen and stage despite being an integral part of some of the biggest franchises in movie history and the most cherished cult movies.
The unfalteringly gracious and articulate Weaving embraces his entire oeuvre – he even believes the maligned Cloud Atlas will be properly appreciated in years to come – and is happy to move between the mega-movies and the smaller home-grown projects. And he is excited by his role as Macbeth in an upcoming Sydney Theatre Company production.
“Playing comic-book villains and ordinary Australians each has its pleasure and challenges. You do one and it makes you anxious to do the opposite,” he says.
CJ here: This is a case where I’d really love to see the full transcript of what was specifically asked and what Hugo said in response, because some of his comments here are directly at odds with most other interviews he’s done over the past few years, which strongly implied he was done with “cartoon villain” roles and big-budget American films. I hope the last comment is an explanation of why he’s mostly done Australian indies of late rather than an indication he intends to take on the sort of insultingly one-dimensional roles Hollywood would give him.
I do think he’s probably trying to reaffirm that he doesn’t regret any of his past choices, because a few interviews in 2012 were widely misconstrued by Marvel and Transformers fans as dissing of those projects, but in fact Hugo never meant any insult and only was trying to distance himself from playing the same character over and over. Obviously he’s not finished playing villains, as The Mule and even Macbeth demonstrate. (The Mule will probably be a very broad villain role.) And the character Hugo has been connected to in early reports about Glendyn Ivin’s possible next feature film, One Foot Wrong, would also be a nasty piece of work if the movie stays true to the book. So he’s very much maintaining variety in his career. I just don’t ever need to see him do another Marvel project, play a Star Wars villain or do evil robot voiceovers which distort his voice beyond all recognition. There are, of course, talented directors who do big-budget films too. I’d love to see Hugo work with Guillermo del Toro or any non-Tolkien work Peter Jackson might move on to. It could also easily be argued that American television offers more opportunities for fascinating, textured characters– good, bad and in between– than the increasingly adolescent-directed film industry.
As far as the Wachowskis are concerned: I loved The Matrix and thought Agent Smith was a brilliant character, brilliantly performed. But Cloud Atlas gave Hugo no characters of meaningful depth to work with (though some were entertaining), and the Wachowskis’ unseemly eagerness to whore out their best characters in terrible, clueless commercials has alienated me from wanting to support their current projects. So I’m not dying to see Hugo work with them again, unless they give him something other than a stock villain to play.
Just my two cents. anyhow, the second interview focuses exclusively on Healing:
As its title suggests, Healing probes the process of dealing with loss, coping with regret, and moving on to a more positive future. Director Craig Monahan has said that making the film was part of his own healing process, following the death of both of his parents during the years that the film was in development. Hugo Weaving’s character in the film is inspired by a real-life minimum-security prison officer whose daughter had died.
This man helped initiate a partnership between the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and Prisons Victoria, to develop a program for rehabilitating injured raptors, that would be overseen by prisoners as part of their own rehabilitation. ‘The program encapsulated the positive side,’ says Weaving, ‘of someone trying to deal with their own grief, and healing himself by setting up a kind of living memorial to his daughter.’
Such a program and process lies at the heart of Healing. ‘I’d read a number of drafts,’ says Weaving, who has shared a working relationship with Monahan ever since he starred in the director’s feature debut, the menacing police drama The Interview, back in 1998. His character Matt, like his real-life counterpart, is a bereaved father, and his all-but silent grief lends considerable weight to Weaving’s gruff portrayal. ‘It is not demonstrated in any great depth, but you understand the magnitude of his grief and what he’s trying to deal with,’ says Weaving.
Matt is inspired to initiate the program not just by his own grief, but also by his observation of the film’s hero, Viktor (Hany), an Iranian expat and inmate who bears his own deep emotional scars. Viktor is at the tail end of a prison sentence for murdering a friend. During the course of the film he must confront not only his sense of guilt over that deed, but also try to heal the family relationships that have been damaged by his errant ways. His care for the raptors mirrors and enhances this process of self-healing.
As part of his research, Weaving spent time at some of Victoria’s minimum-security prison farms, and hopes that the insights gleaned from these experiences will illuminate for audiences this often-unseen aspect of the justice system. ‘It’s a prison film and yet you’re in a facility that not many people know about,’ he says. ‘At these facilities there’s a great deal of trust and quite strong relationships between prison officers and inmates.
‘It’s a pre-release facility, a very different atmosphere to a maximum-security prison. There were no exterior walls or fences — the inmates could run away if they wanted to, though obviously that’s not in their interests. It’s the borderline between being incarcerated and being set free. Therefore there needs to be a certain amount of trust and responsibility given to inmates because they need to be rehabilitated back into the community.’
Healing’s strongest attribute is its cinematography. Its images of birds in flight or repose stand as poignant metaphors for the ebb and flow of human dignity, the fragility and resilience of the human spirit, and the burgeoning self-respect. If the story is a bit thin at times, and the dialogue stilted, this is balanced by the gravity of the theme and by the performances of Hany and Weaving, as their characters push back with increasing resolve against the weight of grief and regret. In this regard it, like its characters, achieves transcendence.
Don Hany, meanwhile, spoke to The Daily Telegraph/News.com.au . In addition to promoting Healing, he mentioned his past Australian series and possible jump to American TV (tentatively reinforcing what I said earlier, though the pilot’s chances and quality may vary widely based which network commissioned it. As far as US television stealth-casting so many Australians goes, the reason is simple: they are often better than American actors. ) He also had very kind things to say about working with Hugo Weaving: “He introduced me to a philosophy about working that has changed what I will take to every job from now on… He’s such a fan of Australian cinema and a believer in making something that resonates. You couldn’t help but be energised by that.” And he mentions a close call with one of his feathered costars, “copping a talon” to the face when one of the eagles was accidentally startled.
Hany told XPressMag “It was very important for Craig (Monahan, director) that Viktor be older and less intimidating, because of that and at moments reveal that he had the potential to kill people. But my prep for that was to start eating rubbish, refrain from physical exercise and take up smoking. So it means I was half dead for most of the shoot…
He is such a generous guy and a real asset to the industry. He formed a culture on set that trickled down to everyone. Respect everyone’s process and where they come to the story at. It changed my work ethic and I’m sure it changes everyone that he works with. His magnanimity becomes quiet infectious. That’s the way it should be but rarely is. ”
Hany also gave an audio interview to The Talk Hard Podcast, which may be streamed through WordPress or downloaded via iTunes, and there’s a new interview at The Sydney Morning Herald focusing mainly on the film’s raptors.
Craig Monahan spoke to The Australian about the challenges of marketing the film: for the record, I disagree with the article’s contention that the marketing misrepresents or sentimentalizes the film. And an article in Star Community notes the Healesville Sanctuary’s role in the film.
Pinnacle Films continues to share brief but tantalizing excerpts from the film; the latest is a “bird complle” featuring beauty shots of the film’s real scene-stealers: its wedge-tailed eagles and owls:
I’d venture that your interest in seeing Healing will echo your response to this clip: if you’re bored by it, you probably won’t get into the film itself. But if you could watch this all day, like I could… maybe you’ll be moved. 😉
New Healing Reviews:
The reviews continue to be largely positive, with critics insisting the film never gets too sentimental for its own good outnumbering those who found aspects “corny” or wanted more of a grim storyline. Excerpts below, with links back to full reviews.
Jake Wilson, The Sydney Morning Herald: “It’s corny, certainly, but not entirely commonplace. Slowly but surely, the extremely gentle pace induces a sense of intimacy with the people and the setting, while leaving room for touches of dry Aussie humour. If Hany is a bit too charming to be a plausible hard case, Weaving gives one of his best performances, restraining his fidgety tendencies while maintaining a gruff, awkward manner that helps keep the sentiment palatable…
Megan Lehmann, The Hollywood Reporter: “Australian director Craig Monahan’s Healing may be the gentlest prison drama ever made. That’s not to say it lacks power; rather, the narrative unfurls as organically and precisely as the wings of the majestic but damaged birds that the film’s minimum-security inmates are charged with caring for…Weaving is terrific as Matt Perry, a senior case worker at a pre-release prison farm in rural Victoria where he heads up a rehabilitation program involving the care of injured eagles, falcons and other raptors. But the film belongs to Don Hany, a veteran of Australian television starring in his first major feature film role…A simmering menace permeates the script but the threatened violence never eventuates. Instead the focus is on uplift, with David Hirschfelder (Australia) providing a spirited symphonic score and Oscar-winning Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) beautifully tracking the flight paths of the magnificent birds of prey.”
David O’Connell, XPressMag: “Perhaps director Craig Monahan (The Interview) has packed too much into this film that makes it seem like a clichéd prison yard story. To be fair, these are such commonplace tropes that the audience may well have missed them in their absence. However, it is the presentation that makes all the difference. Instead of being predictable and mawkish, Healing comes across as solid Australian drama, mostly due to the laconic performances of its actors…
Don Hany (Serangoon Road) as Viktor Khadem is definitely the highlight here. Hany underplays the role of a man that has been imprisoned for 18 years in a marvellously convincing way… Hugo Weaving as Matt Perry acts as a the perfect foil for Han, and their interaction really buoys the rest of the movie onward. Once again Weaving presents a man of few words, although one of obvious deep thought and positively verbose in comparison to Hany. As Healing progresses they grow a grudging respect for each other that appears to genuinely come from the actors…
Saved from schmaltz by strong acting, deliberate pacing, and some excellent cinematography (thanks to LOTR Oscar winner Andrew Lesnie) Healing gives us some solid drama. It may be full of overworked themes of redemption, but the result is a genuinely uplifting movie.”
And, finally, there’s this from The Limerick Review (by Lisa Malouf):
“Matt allocates some unconventional inmate chores,
In this low-sec prison where Warren heads turf wars.
There are personal demons to face,
And with quiet dignity and grace:
Like Viktor’s feathered charges, Hany soars.”
Archibald Exhibit/Del Kathryn Barton’s ‘hugo’
The 2013 Archibald Prizes exhibit, highlighted by Del Kathryn Barton’s Hugo Weaving portrait, will be shown in Nowra, NSW May 13-June 28 at the Shoalhaven City Arts Centre. more details available at ArtsRush and South Coast Register.