In naming the Australian actor with both the heftiest and most varied CV, it’s difficult to go past Hugo Weaving. He’s an actor who can make any role come to life, whether it’s a technicolour drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, a shape-shifting Nazi in the first Captain America, an Aussie detective in The Mule, or elf king in The Lord of The Rings.
Iconic Australian actors of earlier periods anchored their screen personae around traits considered typical of Australian masculinity – think Chips Rafferty, John Meillon, Jack Thompson and John Hargreaves. By contrast Weaving, aided by his international profile, has explored a huge range of character types, from his trans nurse in Cloud Atlas to the rugged father on the lam in Last Ride.
He’s also been been equally adept playing villains (think of his self-multiplying Mr Smith in The Matrix series) and sympathetic characters. This changeability and capacity for moral inscrutability lies at the heart of one of his most admired Australian roles as a suspected serial killer interrogated by detectives in Craig Monahan’s intense 1998 drama The Interview, now screening at SBS On Demand. What impresses about the script and Weaving’s performance is the way they push and pull at our sympathies and suspicions, so that one minute we’re sure he’s innocent, the next are convinced he’s lying, and vice versa. In the finale we discover the truth via a bravura, dialogue-free sequence that relies totally on Weaving’s quietly changing facial expressions. The role unsurprisingly won him an Australian Academy (or AFI, as it was then known) trophy for best male actor, while the film and its script were also named the year’s best.
Watch 'The Interview' at SBS on Demand
Stay at SBS On Demand for Weaving’s major career breakthrough as a blind photographer in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s bracingly unique debut, Proof (1991), which scooped up several AFI trophies including best feature and best male actor for Weaving).
There had never been (and has not been since) a film quite like it. Weaving’s sight-impaired Martin is a gruffly suspicious yet vulnerable character who befriends a kitchen hand (the young Russell Crowe), to whom he entrusts the task of describing the photos he takes. Genevieve Picot adds to the intrigue as Martin’s secretly sadistic housekeeper. You could hardly be blamed for expecting a scenario this batty to quickly go off the rails but on track it stays, helped enormously by its terrific cast and Moorhouse’s deft interweaving of roll-about comedy and intellectual rigour.
Watch 'Proof' at SBS On Demand
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