Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, starring Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, Philip Quast and Luke Mullins, held its first performance at London’s Barbican Center tonight. while we await the first reviews (and, ideally some new pics) I’m going to share two new promo interviews Hugo Weaving gave which appeared online yesterday. So far I’ve been unable to find print versions, so I’ll embed the texts of the online versions. As always, I don’t edit Hugo’s interviews, as everything he says is very much worth reading… however you should click on the links to the sites of origin too, because both have shared extra-large versions of the photos included below. Alas, none are new pics, but all are either recent (from January’s Sundance film fest) or are of the original Sydney production.
The new interviews– which iriginally appeared online in The Irish World and The Wall Street Journal— are refreshingly on-topic, thoughtful and fascinating reads. Some people are reading Hugo’s comments as some sort of retirement announcement… I wouldn’t do that. 😉 Yes, he’s probably going to take an extended break after a punishing schedule of theatrical performances and indie film shoots over the past few years, but I’m certain he’ll return to both in time. His series of annual STC gigs over the past several years WAS probably unique and had a lot to do with Andrew Upton’s tenure as Artistic Director (along with Cate Blanchett for the first several years), but I don’t think he’ll give up the medium which has provided some of his meatiest roles. He’s also emphasized his focus on Australian cinema in other recent interviews and has at least two semi-official projects (with directors Glendyn Ivins and Anand Gandhi) that might move forward sometime in the future. He sounds a lot less interested in joining any large-scale Hollywood productions, but this is nothing new, and I’m personally happy to hear him not waver on this point.
Anyhow, always best to let Hugo speak for himself, so here goes:
I’m Waiting for the man
The Irish World (online) 3 June 2015
Hugo Weaving and co-star Richard Roxburgh in a scene from Waiting for Godot. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti
David Hennessy talks to Hugo Weaving, the actor well known for film roles that include The Matrix and Lord of the Rings, just before he stars in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at The Barbican in London.
After a successful run down under in 2013, Hugo Weaving is coming to London with the Sydney Theatre Company and the Beckett classic, Waiting for Godot. So positively received was Waiting for Godot, starring Hugo, in it’s previous run that one reviewer gushed that the playwright himself Samuel Beckett, known for being hard to please, would applaud if he had been there to see it.
“I think the thing he loved probably about being in theatre was taking himself out of himself and being engaged in a more communal, creative enterprise but having said that, he also was quite firm about the way certain things should be so I’m sure there would be a lot of stuff we’re doing that he would not necessarily agree with.
“I think the spirit of Beckett is the most important thing to try and understand. The specifics of it, the particularities of it are probably going to change with every different actor. Wherever you are in the world, whoever’s playing Estragon, whoever’s playing Vladimir, whoever’s playing Pozzo, it’s going to be a different play and Beckett would have understood that.
Appearing in Waiting for Godot has encouraged Hugo to explore Beckett’s other work. Picture: Lisa Tomesetti
“The more I’ve read of his work, the more I appreciate the way in which he was trying to explore all of these unfathomable, unknowing parts of our existence so if we can in any way capture that spirit..that’s what we’re aiming for anyway. It always feels like it’s a work in progress.”
Waiting for Godot sees Vladimir, played by Weaving, and Estragon, played by another Australian Hollywood star Richard Roxburgh, waiting in vain for the arrival of someone called Godot.
Just this year, Hugo performed in Endgame, again with the Sydney Theatre Company. Prior to Waiting for Godot, to perform Beckett had been a long term ambition of his. He has felt the need to seek out some of his other work: “We decided we would do Waiting for Godot and I thought, ‘I’ve got to learn more about this writer, I thought I’ve got to read him chronologically’ so I started reading More Pricks than Kicks. I started reading and slowly worked my way through his work and then by the time I got to Godot, I sort of had a better understanding of who he was as a writer anyway.
“His work, I absolutely love it and I would rate Watt and Molloy as my two favourites, absolutely love those. I think they’re transformative for the reader and I don’t think many writers affect you that way, I don’t think many writers turn your view of the world on it’s head and force you to read something through a completely different set of binoculars. It’s great and he’s so funny too. I was reading Watt and laughing my head off. It’s not easy to read so you gotta keep going back over things and you slowly start to dig him.”
Hugo was unforgettable in his chilling role of Agent Smith in The Matrix. Other well known roles include The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and V for Vendetta.
However, he has such a huge body of work. He has won three Australian Film Institute Awards, all for Best Actor in a Lead Role for the Australian films Proof (1991), the Interview (1998) and Little Fish (2005). Other awards include a Sydney Theatre Award for his work in V for Vendetta.
Is it frustrating or unsettling to be well known for The Matrix and Lord of the Rings when he has been so productive on other things for more than three decades now? “Not really, it’s just the way of the world, isn’t it?
“I’ve done many many films mostly in Australia, mostly low budget. A lot of the work I’ve done that I’m proudest of has probably not been seen by so many people but I really think there’s some great little films. I always think it’s a shame that those films aren’t seen by a wider audience not because they highlight something that I’ve done but because I think they’re really interesting films but that’s kind of the way of the world.
“Then of course on the other scale you’ve got the larger studio films that I have been involved with that everyone’s seen and decided that’s what I’ve done and in a funny way, they’re a bit anonymous. The majority of my work has been in low budget Australian films and in theatre but every now and then, I’ve jumped into a big studio picture and I’ve been very happy to do that although I would be wary to do that (again), depending on what it is, of course.
“I do look to try to do Australian work which is necessarily lower budget I suppose. I don’t look to do lower budget film but I do look to do look to do Australian film projects and most of them are independent and therefore pretty low budget compared to working on something like The Matrix or like V for Vendetta or Lord of the Rings.”
The Matrix depicted a future where humans were farmed by machines and kept in a realistic but false computer world that kept the entire population distracted. Is it not a film that has a new relevance now with so many people living their lives online? “Yeah,” says Hugo who you would not catch tweeting what he had for breakfast. “I’m such a luddite really. Well, I’m not a luddite but I’d sooner plant a tree than go and make a tweet. I don’t have a Twitter account so my comprehension of that world is pretty limited as well. I have nothing great to add to the debate but certainly people are online a lot and I can only say: Get out and have a walk, enjoy nature, plant a tree and grow some vegetables, look at the sunset, look at the stars and chat to some friends face to face. I love all that.”
Waiting for Godot, presented by Sydney Theatre Company, is at the Barbican from Thursday June 4 to Saturday June 13. It is part of the International Beckett season there that runs from June 2-21. For more information, go to https://www.barbican.org.uk/.
Hugo Weaving Takes ‘Waiting for Godot’ to London
The Australian actor reflects on the challenges of Samuel Beckett’s classic absurdist drama
Photo: Hugo Weaving promotes Strangerland at the Sundance Film Festival, 23 January 2015. Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images
By JAMES GLYNN, The Wall Street Journal
June 3, 2015 11:52 p.m. ET
SYDNEY—A world away from Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Hugo Weaving is contemplating a hiatus from stage and screen.
“I have a hankering for peace and quiet, tree-planting, growing vegetables, being with nature,” Mr. Weaving says. “That’s where I’m at as Hugo.”
Before that, however, the Australian actor, whose big-screen credits include “The Matrix,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies, will be in London playing Vladimir in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Samuel Beckett’s classic “Waiting for Godot.”
A Beckettian odyssey—Mr. Weaving recently concluded a run of the playwright’s equally absurdist “Endgame”—can weary an actor. “Waiting for Godot,” which runs June 4 to 13 at the Barbican Theatre and reunites the cast of the company’s acclaimed 2013 production, is a real test, he says.
“Beckett has stripped everything out of ‘Godot,’ ” Mr. Weaving says. “It is almost an actor’s nightmare of being stuck on stage and not knowing what to say or even asking, What play am I doing? It is sort of what Godot is, I reckon. There is nothing to say, and the two main characters [have] got to keep saying things or otherwise they would go absolutely mad.”
There is no point in attempting to dramatically reinterpret the play, Mr. Weaving says, as any affectations or devices would simply collapse under the play’s demands for simplicity. “You need to be very delicate with Beckett. His characters are very human, and that’s what makes them so wonderful and so funny and robust in a way,” he says. “You cannot stick anything there.”
Mr. Weaving sat down with the Journal to talk about interpreting “Godot,” the play’s humor, and his recently dark theatrical path, which included a stage production of “Macbeth.” Edited excerpts:
What is your take on “Godot”?
The understanding of the play comes from watching it and being in it, really. I don’t think you can easily sum it up. It’s something that whenever Beckett was asked about, he said it is all in the words, and it is all in the play. So I think the understanding of it is in the viewing and experiencing of both doing it and watching it. Beckett wrote it after the Second World War, and he’d been on the run, hiding in the south of France, having left Paris and been part of a resistance cell and the Irish Red Cross in Normandy. He’d seen a lot of hardship. The Second World War decimated Europe and changed the world. The play expresses something that he realized after the war—that he couldn’t write in the same way. He could not be a knowing writer anymore, and he had to express a lot of his doubt—his inabilities. So I think that the play deals with not knowing, and weakness and failure—and that’s the thing I love about the play.
How risky is it to try and overly define the play?
He is one of the first writers to deal with all those human frailties that many other writers before him had tried to cover up with heroic characters. The beauty of its characters, and the beauty of the play itself, is because of his realization that that is what he needed to write about. It’s possibly a post-apocalyptic world—we don’t know really—and these people are waiting, there is a routine that they go through, and they are spending their time in the best way, trying to avoid the hideous silence that surrounds them. It is kind of a metaphor for life, I suppose, but, really, to try and sum it up is not a good idea.
Hugo Weaving, left, and Richard Roxburgh in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of ‘Waiting for Godot,’ which runs June 4 to 13 at the Barbican Theatre in London. PHOTO: LISA TOMASETTI
Is it important to know who Godot is?
He is a man we never see. Beckett absolutely refused to say who that was. There are obvious religious metaphors, but it would be entirely wrong to suggest that Godot was God. That is just completely wrong. He is just a man they are waiting for, or a person they are waiting for, [or] he is not one person. There are all sorts of theories.
Ian McKellen has said that it isn’t up to actors to tell audiences what to think. Is that the best approach?
Beckett is a great poet, and I don’t think it was his job to clarify things to people. It was his job to suggest things rather as a poet does through language. And similarly as actors, it’s our job to try to in some way find a world that feels appropriate for us, and our existence within that world and portray that, and allow the audience to imagine something for themselves.
Your recent plays all have an element of darkness and speak to universal human questions. Does that reflect your current stage of life?
I haven’t chosen them because of that, no. I was interested some years ago when I thought of doing some more theater with the [Sydney Theatre Company]. There had been a couple of plays I’d done, which were good plays. I had a hankering that if I was going to do a play, to do something that was a great work of art, that I couldn’t ever quite fathom or get to the bottom of. So the great thing about working with Shakespeare, Chekhov or Beckett is that you know it is always going to be slightly elusive, and the journey of it each night is going to be something which in some way mirrors life.
How does this production of “Godot” treat the balance between humor and darkness?
It is a delicate thing. You need to play the character to fit the situation, and then that’s what will make it funny. If you play for laughs, then it becomes obvious that’s what you are doing and then it’s less funny. I try to stick with what Vladimir is saying and thinking and let whatever happens, happen. If people think that is funny, great. There are times when Vladimir and Estragon [played by Richard Roxburgh] enjoy themselves despite the situation. It is a pretty fractious relationship—they are more clowning with each other, but I would not describe them as clowns.
Is there any self-reflection or catharsis coming to you from these roles?
I am at a watershed in my life. [My partner] Katrina and I are re-evaluating who we are, what family means, and what we want to do. I’m at a point of gradual change. Also, as an actor I’m increasingly finding it harder to say “yes” to film projects, because there are certain films that I really love as art forms, but there are a lot of films that I have no time for and I’m not interested in. The majority of films made for the industry are entertainments, and a lot of them are pretty poor at that. So the films that I love are pretty few and far between.
These are weighty roles you have taken on. Do you need time to rejuvenate?
I need to take a break from theater, probably because of the roles I’ve been doing, which I’ve absolutely loved. Theater is really quite exhausting. After we finish in London, I’m planning to take a bit of a break from theater. These plays give you a big workout every night. It is a complete holistic workout, so they do trash you a bit in a way. If I end up planting more trees up on the property, then that is fine by me.
Though there aren’t yet any new photos of the production in performance (nor has Hugo done any new photo sessions to accompany the interviews) there are two new great photos taken during rehearsals, both of which originally appeared on Tim McKeough’s Instagram feed. I’ll add those below with their original captions:
“Beckett Fest. The Godots and Lisa Dwan. #stcontour” Photo: Tim McKeogh via Instagram [L to R: Richard Roxburgh, Luke Mullins, Philip Quast, Lisa Dwan and Hugo Weaving]
“Checking out the space #stcontour #stcgodot” Tim McKeough via Instagram [L to R: Luke Mullins, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, Philip Quast]
Lisa Dwan, the actress who appears in some of thee rehearsal photos, is starring in a separate production (Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby) during The Barbican Center’s Beckett Fest, and will appear with Hugo on BBC2’s new arts series Artsnight, discussing Beckett with host Richard Foreman on an episode to air later this month. The series has a webpage here, where new episodes will probably be available for viewing (probably to UK audiences only) oncethey air on TV. No specific date has been announced, but you can read more at thestage.co.uk.
Though Hugo isn’t available to help promote Strangerland at SFF, director Kim Farrant has proven adept at handling publicity without the assistance of her stars; she gave a lengthy radio interview to ABC’s Movieland (which can be streamed or downloaded), and talked to The Sydney Morning Herald about her long journey in bringing Strangerland to the screen, including the tidbit that her casting of Hugo Weaving (who’s been attached to the project since 2008) helped secure Nicole Kidman’s services.
ComingSoon.net debuted the second official poster for the film; I sort of prefer the ambiguity of the first one, but both are pretty great.
Film Mafia‘s CJ Johnson is the latest to praise the film, calling it “… a terrific beast: it’s got a foot in each of the commercial and arthouse camps, and is entertaining in both. It knows exactly what it’s doing at each and every turn. It is assured, confident and well constructed. It is also gripping, thrilling, creepy and exciting. See it.” Of Hugo Weaving’s performance, he adds “Hugo Weaving plays a local cop who becomes deeply involved in their situation, and it’s the best role I’ve seen him in in ages. He’s just terrific, at ease and fluid, open and free, as a lanky, robust outback policeman who suddenly has a real case to deal with – along with the accompanying personalities. Over the years, Weaving has seemed to stiffen onscreen, constrained by Elvish make-up and the like, but here, given a wide-open landscape, a nice beard and a generous character, he flows, freely, givingly. It’s a great performance.”
Can’t say I agree with the notion that most of Hugo’s recent film roles have been “stiff” in any way… is it possible this critic has only seen The Hobbit trilogy and not Healing, The Turning, The Mule or Mystery Road? He has the beard in all of those fllms (except The Mule, which required the 80s Porn ‘Stache) and they’re varied and all compelling. Yes, I will concede Hugo’s acting seems more natural when he has the beard. 😉
You can read about the film’s original soundtrack by Keefus Ciancia at Film Music Reporter. Strangerland finally has a Facebook page, which you can follow here. And Sneak Peak recently featured a Nicole Kidman interview, taped at Sundance, discussing the film.
Updates soon as we start getting fan feedback, reviews and new pics from Godot’s London run