First off, my apologies for the delay in getting a new entry out. My schedule has been a bit more punishing of late.
Sydney Theatre Company’s innovative new production of Macbeth, featuring Hugo Weaving in the title role, continues to generate a lot of positive buzz as the actors enter their third week of rehearsals. The first publicity photos and interview published since STC’s late 2013 season announcement have finally appeared, and are more than worth the wait. I also have an additional pic from the STC pre-season luncheon for Macbeth, which featured a Q&A session with the cast and director, as well as a transcript of Hugo’s comments from the event. (it would be lovely if STC opted to share video or audio of the event if it exists, but so far all they’ve shared is a pic on Facebook and a brief quote from Hugo, though more will surely appear once the opening date approaches.)
Sydney photographer Daniel Boud, who took some wonderfully insightful portraits of Hugo back in early 2010 (you can see those here) was commissioned for a publicity shoot for STC’s Macbeth by Time Out Sydney, who interviewed Hugo about the production. Boud’s dramatic new portraits (and comments about the brisk but agreeable shoot) and that interview both appeared online yesterday; I’ll embed both below. (Note to WordPress readers: to see largest versions of photos, right-click, then click on “open in a new tab/window”.)
Hugo Weaving, June 2014 at Sydney’s Wharf Theatre. All photos by Daniel Boud, via Boudist
All comments below photos are Boud’s, from his piece 11 Minutes With Hugo Weaving
“I had the pleasure of being tasked with shooting a portrait of Hugo Weaving for a Time Out feature recently.
I love him as an actor, always full of charisma and spark, whether playing a flamboyant drag queen or a menacing villain. I’m not often that nervous before a portrait shoot, but this one I was somewhat anxious about.
This feature was about his coming role as Macbeth for Sydney Theatre Company – so menace was the mood required.
As usual with these things, time is limited, so I arrived early to set up and do some tests.
I had a rehearsal room to play with, so set up a few lights in a way that I thought could convey the darkness of the play. Macbeth is full of murder and bloodletting, so I also experimented with a red gel for some frames.”
“I moved on from the lit set-up to a nearby window for a different feel.”
“Then we wrapped up with a final set-up in a stairwell, lit with my Canon speedlites.”
“Looking back at the timestamp on the photos I see it was just 11 minutes from first to last frame. It was a very efficient shoot, and like a lot of the high-profile people i’ve shot I felt a general “we all know i’m not enjoying this but i’ll suck it up and give you what you need” attitude from Hugo Weaving. Which is just fine with me, it’s refreshing to shoot someone who just rolls with what you ask and nails the brief bang on.”
My thanks to Boud for sharing these generously large versions of his portraits; Time Out Sydney featured a handful of much smaller ones. I’m impressed with the directness and simplicity of these images; too many photographers get fussy with filters, color distortion and complicated setups, but he (and his subject) are confident enough to get memorable results with subtle use of light and existing space, which is more challenging than any amount of technological tweaking, but works, in my opinion, to much greater effect. (I’m not sure if the empty-theatre staging of STC’s production– where a small audience will be confined to the stage as he characters perform in the vast space around them– is also being referenced deliberately, or if that thematic tie is just a handy coincidence. But these are some of the best portraits of Hugo I’ve seen in a long time.
Here’s the full text of Time Out Sydney’s interview, which was relatively brief and focused solely on the play, then in the first week of rehearsals. (And also confirming Hugo was taking a well-earned break in Sicily last month.) 😉 I am trying to obtain a physical copy of the magazine, as print media often has a few added bonuses… it’s a constant source of frustration for me that, in this day and age, all magazines don’t publish a virtual version of their print issues. I’m more than happy to pay cover price for any issue, but costs of shipping from Sydney (and the wait, which can be a month or more) are a chore. That said, I am old-fashioned in that I will still seek out these print copies. I’ve had too many computers and hard drives die on me to not want the most reliable form of backup. Also, there’s that “new magazine smell”. 😉
Hugo Weaving – Macbeth
Great Scot! Huges tackles the murderous Macbeth in a bold new production that puts the audience on the stage and the ensemble in the auditorium
Anyone who has seen Hugo Weaving on stage knows that he’s a bit of a livewire, all limbs and barely contained energy. Off stage, he’s far more laidback; yes, there’s the height and the penetrating blue eyes – and the sneaking suspicion he’d make a convincing homicidal Scottish warlord. That said, he’s still relatively unassuming.
In fact, he’s downright relaxed (and jet-lagged) when Time Out catches him at the Wharf on a chilly June morning. He’s just back from holidays in Sicily; he’s a few days into rehearsals for ‘the Scottish play’, and so only at the read-through stage; and with the gruelling experience of Godot months behind him (besides his Sicily stint, he’s also filmed Strangerland with Nicole Kidman in the time since), he can look down the barrel of a ten-week season at Sydney Theatre with relative nonchalance. “I’ll lose lots of weight,” he laughs. “I’ll sweat a lot and get fit.”
Weaving’s first Macbeth was a 1982 production directed by Richard Wherrett. “I was just out of drama school – I was 22,” he says. John Bell was the star, Robyn Nevin was Lady Mac, and Colin Friels, Peter Carroll and Heather Mitchell were in supporting roles. Weaving was Seyton, Macbeth’s lieutenant.
“I dunno that it was the greatest production in the world,” he demurs, “but it’s such an extraordinary play. It’s a play I’ve always been fascinated and horrified by – and drawn to. It’s moody, atmospheric… it’s incredible; how much of it takes place at night, how much of it takes place in a claustrophobic, whispered world; how much of it is about fear and apprehension and hallucination. It’s a very shifty world. It’s a nightmarish world – I think that’s what grabs me. It’s almost like a horror film.”
No surprise, then, that it was Roman Polanski’s Shakespeare of choice when it came to screen adaptations. But as Weaving points out, Macbeth is also one of, if not the most modern of Shakespeare’s plays, well suited to a contemporary temperament by dint of being lean and linear. “It moves at such a pace – bam bam bam,” he clicks his fingers.
Macbeth, Weaving says, is “pretty much” his favourite play – which he shares in common with Andrew Upton, who offered him the role. “We were talking about what we wanted to do in 2014. He said, what about Macbeth? I was like, ‘Yip,’” Weaving laughs. Since then, the play has been bubbling away in his mental cauldron. “I’ve read it over the years anyway, but as soon as I get a role or a script that excites me – even if it’s a couple of years away, or even if the film hasn’t got its money – I’ll be reading it or thinking about it.”
Macbeth will be directed by young STC resident director (and Upton protégé) Kip Williams, and co-star Melita Jurisic, John Gaden and Robert Menzies. “The exciting thing about this production is that we’re putting the audience on the stage and the actors in the auditorium,” says Weaving. “And there’s only eight of us. Everyone’s doubling or tripling roles except for me, so I think there’s the sense of an ensemble of actors or people telling a story and then increasingly inhabiting this story – and using the language to create this world.”
A lot of curiosity arose as to who would play Lady Macbeth opposite Hugo once it became clear Cate Blanchett wasn’t planning a surprise involvement. (I personally never thought she’d resort to that sort of stunt…) Veteran Australian actress Melita Jurisic (of the television series The Flying Doctors, Blue Heelers, Bordertown– costarring a young Hugo Weaving in 1995– and the forthcoming Mad Max sequel) has stepped into the breach and gave this insightful interview to Best Weekend. Though it’s only appeared in print versions of the publication, here’s my scan:
More From STC’s Macbeth Preseason Lunch
Thanks to our Sydney correspondent Yvette, and to STC’s Facebook page, we have another photo of the Macbeth pre-season lunch event, which included a half-hour Q&A session with the production’s cast and director.
Here’s STC’s account of the event: “It was a full house at our Pier Group Luncheon at The Wharf yesterday… Andrew Upton and creatives from our upcoming production of the Scottish play were onstage having a casual chat over lunch.
Pier Group Luncheons are a great way to hear all the gory details from behind the scenes… This is Hugo Weaving’s (Macbeth) all time favourite play. It’s John Gaden’s fourth Macbeth, but his first time as Duncan. Melita Jurisic (Lady Macbeth) has played the title role herself before. Andrew Upton (artistic director) and Kip Williams (director) were both in productions as schoolboys.”
According to Yvette, Hugo personally fielded three questions, which I’ll provide the transcript for below. In a few cases the question being answered is a rough gist, not what was specifically asked. It’s very challenging to take detailed notes at crowded, noisy event, but Hugo’s answers to seem typical of him, and have been echoed in other recent interviews. Director Kip Wilson fielded most of the technical and interpretive questions, Melita Jurisic discussed the psychology of portraying Lady Macbeth, and most cast members (there will be only eight total– all but Hugo playing multiple roles) discussed their previous experiences with The Scottish Play, often in high school or amateur productions; Jurisic even played Macbeth in an experimental production years ago.Even though he plays the title character, Hugo often delegated to others, as fans will remember he often does in group interviews of this sort. But here are his three answers, putting quality before quantity. 😉
Q: [Asked about the ghosts in Macbeth, and how that might be staged]
Hugo: Hugo: It feels like, when you’re looking out at the audience, they’ll be the ghosts of all the audiences past, staring at you. [laughs]
Q: What is it about Shakespeare specifically that attracts you so much as an actor. A lot of his plays are so deeply embedded in [our] consciousness… how do you find a new approach to Shakespeare? What is it that attracts you so much to Macbeth?
Hugo: I think what attracts me to Shakespeare is the sort of impossibility, maybe, of entirely fathoming the piece, and therefore it’s eternally something you’re going to be investigating. Maybe. It always feels slightly out of your reach. I think that means it’s always challenging. There’s always something to rethink or to revisit. There’s always something you’re missing. There’s always something that’s not quite right, you haven’t quite understood, and I think that’s a bit like life really [laughs]. So Shakespeare seems to– for me– embody everything that’s contained in life. And yet he does it in such extraordinary different ways, you have scenes which seem so intense as to be contemporary, so brilliantly observed. The psychology of the characters seem to [have] such veracity to them. And yet there are other scenes which are kind of knockabout… you know “OK, we’ve got over THAT, let’s throw this on the stage and let’s make the audience laugh, and let them get over something that’s just happened. ” So he’s got this amazing ability to incorporate all sorts of worlds, and to allow you, allow your imagination to work, as an audience and as an actor. You’ve got to take people on a journey of the words, you’ve got to allow the language to spark other peoples’ imaginations. And that’s the essence of storytelling. And I think that’s why Shakespeare’s so wonderful. This particular play is probably my favorite play in the world. [Audience applause] And I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it has something to do with all of that, but also it’s so… it has always affected me in a… I kind of think it’s so awful what happens to these people, what they become, what they’re trying to deny to themselves, and then what’s exposed by what they do… what is exposed within themselves is so hideous that they can’t actually function as they used to. So it’s a horrible kind of awakening. But the thing that’s always excited me is this dark hidden world in which most of this story takes place, and it’s a world in which the sands seems to be shifting all the time, and nothing is quite what it seems to be. Nothing is very well defined. Everything has an opposite and its opposite seems to be present. And that’s what excites me about this particular play.
Q: An audience member asked a lengthy question about whether Shakespeare “in the original version” was still accessible, literally and figuratively, to modern audiences given the language barriers, costs of theatre tickets, perceptions of elitism and political incorrectness, etc. Director Williams gave a definite affirmative, saying even young audiences respond to the experience of seeing Shakespeare performed as written, and that theatres often work to address other barriers. Hugo then added:
Hugo: There’s a film version of Shakespeare you may have seen, by an Australian director [possibly Geoffrey Wright’s modern-day adaptation of Macbeth, 2006] with a fantastic cast. And I think Shakespeare lends himself, and this play lends itself so well to film, actually we haven’t even really started to investigate where we can go with Shakespeare, and I think we’re increasingly better at investigating Shakespeare than I think we were when I left drama school. I remember seeing really museum-y productions of Shakespeare a lot– course there are still poor productions of all sorts of plays over the world– but I think we’re just a little more open, a little freer with how we how we approach the man’s work. And I also think young people these days, people who are studying drama at schools, are much more switched-on, are much more theatre-literate, and personally, I think that your question seemed to imply that people were sort of more and more deprived of the ability to see theatre– good theatre– and Shakespeare, and I somehow feel maybe that’s not the case. I feel a bit more hopeful, actually.
While I agree that costs for quality productions of Shakespeare can be very expensive, particularly in New York and Sydney, the notion that somehow Shakespeare is “inaccessible” to modern audiences is laughable. Even if the words on the page seem hard to follow or archaic to a beginning reader, a good staging inevitably draws the viewer in. I’ve taken very reluctant friends and family members (who think the language will be impenetrable) to Shakespeare productions and inevitably they all wondered why they’d put up such a fuss. So I get tired of these questions about modern audiences being attention-deficit cases who can’t handle challenging work or relate to anything from earlier eras. I think Hugo is right about this: younger audiences are increasingly more open to Shakespeare, to older films and to earlier cultural eras, because they have greater access to informational resources… and because a lot of very trendy actors are now doing Shakespeare, and their audiences are more than willing to explore new horizons. 😉
So again, my thanks to Yvette for her account of the STC luncheon (if you haven’t seen her lovely photos of the event, they’re in the previous entry, and more than worth a look.) STC is also promising more promotional material as the opening date nears, so I’ll pass on whatever I find out. Unfortunately, the production is completely sold out, and STC’s final batch of set-aside tickets were gone within hours when they went on sale June 23. There’s always a chance of box-office returned tickets (though I doubt anyone would skip this production unless they had a fatal illness), so keep checking STC’s website. You can also try your luck with eBay and the like; I have gotten some good last-minute seats to New York STC productions last-minute when original ticket-holders were unable to go, and many patrons are interested in switching dates they attend. But you have to flexible, have some money saved, and be ready to run a lot of message board/social media searches.
We’ll probably see an increase in Macbeth news and publicity in the weeks leasing up to the official 27 July opening… and I’ll do my best to update more efficiently as this become available. Do keep an eye on my Twitter feed for breaking news, as I post new links to firsthand sources daily whenever possible.
In Other Hugo Weaving News
Some great news for Hugo’s North American, Middle Eastern and Asian fans: Healing has been picked up for what looks like the most decent, widespread distribution for one of Hugo’s Australian films in a LONG time, according to Screen Daily: “[At the recent Cannes Film Festival], Craig Monahan’s drama Healing with Hugo Weaving and Xavier Samuel has gone to Anchor Bay/Starz for North America, Eagle Films for the Middle East, Ster Kinekor for South Africa and Astro for Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.”
The prospects for decent US distribution are for once very promising, as Anchor Bay has a proven record obtaining cinema distribution, and the Starz/Encore cable channels tend to give generous replays of their films over a long period. (They still air Peaches and Oranges and Sunshine periodically). Contrast this with Last Ride, which played only a handful of US theaters and VOD and has never had a cable airing, or Mystery Road, which Well Go USA is STILL not distributing despite having locked up the rights, and it’s hard to to feel relief.
Still no word on European distribution for Healing, but that’s sure to follow given Weaving and Xavier Samuel’s international followings.There’s also an interesting article at Secrets Magazine about several filming locations for recent Australian features, including Kathy Mexted’s house, which doubled for Hugo Weaving’s character’s residence in Healing.
Tim Winton’s The Turning has been nominated for Best Drama Feature at the WA Screen Awards, which will be presented 14 July at the State Theatre Center of West Australia (tickets on sale here.) More details about the event at Cinema Australia, Inside Film and FITI.org.
The Mule will have four screenings at The New Zealand International Film Festival this month: July 19, 23, 25 and 29 to be more specific. You can read more details here, and buy tickets to specific screenings here. And, glory be, we finally have a new screencap which doesn’t feature Angus Sampson’s naked posterior. 😉
There’s a positive review of Mystery Road (posted after its recent Chicago Critics Film Festival screening) at Horror 101 With Dr AC. The film also recently returned “home” to shooting location Winton for the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival.
An entertaining review of the classic 1984 miniseries Bodyline (Hugo Weaving’s first prominent role) at A Hot Cup of Pleasure suggests it’s not just English cricket fans and Huo Weaving fans who are coming around to Douglas Jardine’s point of view. 😉
Australian Screen has posted a beautiful tribute to one of Hugo Weaving’s best (and most unsung) films Last Ride in honor of its fifth anniversary. The showcase features three quintessential clips from the film with commentary. Includes the skinny-dipping scene, but that is NOT the only reason you should watch. 😉
And The Australian confirms that Hugo Weaving was indeed “among the buyers” at the June 14 Art of Music fundraiser, which netted $275,000 in charitable contributions overall for Nordoff-Robbins. In case you missed ’em in my update to the last entry, here are Art of Music’s event photos featuring Hugo. No word on which painting he purchased. 😉
Hugo Weaving and Katrina Greenwood Photo: Bob King, via Art of Music Facebook
Photo: Isaac Leung, via Art of Music Facebook
Photo: Isaac Leung, via Art of Music Facebook