HUGO WEAVING - The man behind the mask
"What a lot of people want to talk about is this whole idea of is V a terrorist or is he a freedom fighter? From his point of view he is trying to wake people up and force them to take responsibility for their own lives, rather than be beholden to the government. What is terrorism? Terrorism is a word that’s bandied around a lot at the moment and the more we use it, the less it means; and the more we use it, the less we have to ask ourselves why is someone doing these things. It’s very easy to say these people are this and these people are this, we’re defending liberty and democracy and these people are terrorists. That’s a very convenient way of talking but it’s not very helpful."
How difficult was it acting behind a mask?
“It was challenging, but that was the thing that excited me about the project when I first read it. I mean it was physically difficult in many ways because it was hot and I felt excluded from everyone else. And I’m sure when they were talking to me they didn’t feel they were talking to me. So there were physical difficulties. But V says, ‘Underneath the mask there’s just flesh’, and that is actually not important. Who I am is not important. The individuality is not important. What’s important are the ideas that I’m expressing. So, the more I started to think about what he was saying, the easier that became.”
What make up did you wear?
“Just black under the chin to make sure no skin appeared and then mask on. Easy.”
Did the mask make it more difficult to interact with Natalie?
“Yeah, I was conscious that it would be difficult for her and I did find it difficult at first because I often wouldn’t be able to see. I’d have to wear the mask in such a way that I couldn’t often see her face, so I was addressing her breasts most of the time.”
V has been called a revolutionary type of terrorist. Did you think about how hat would play in England, post 7/7?
“Well, I mean this really goes to the heart of the whole film, actually, and what a lot of people want to talk about is this whole idea of is he a terrorist or is he a freedom fighter? What is he? Is the film in some way condoning terrorism? I guess, certainly from his point of view, he doesn’t feel that he is, and from his point of view he is trying to wake people up and force them to take responsibility for their own lives, rather than be beholden to the government. What is terrorism? Terrorism is a word that’s bandied around a lot at the moment and the more we use it, the less it means; and the more we use it, the less we have to ask ourselves why is someone doing these things.”
Do you think that question, the big why, has been missing from the mainstream debate since 9/11?
“Absolutely. It’s very easy to say these people are this and these people are this, we’re defending liberty and democracy and these people are terrorists. That’s a very convenient way of talking but it’s not very helpful. I’m not saying blowing people up is a good thing, of course, but they feel they have very good reasons why they’re doing something. We may believe they’re wrong but we should at least try to understand why these things are happening rather than just label them.”
Do you see this as a warning to the US government as well as a wake up call to the people because a for CIA official who used to give White House briefings was recently quoted as saying that what people in America in should be worried about right now is fascism?
“Yeah. There was a play recently written in Australia by a wonderful playwright, I can’t remember the name, but it was essentially about fascism in America. It was very entertaining but also kind of quite disturbing as well. I don’t know whether the film’s a wake-up call but it’s certainly a response to the world in which we live. I mean the source material was originally a response to living in Thatcherite Britain, but it’s since been updated.”
Were your own political feelings a reason for your taking part in this film?
“Yes, in part, I think that was the element of the script I responded to most and I thought that was very exciting. But there were other things. I suppose if it was a political thriller or a political critique as a film, yes I might have done it. But because it was couched in a particular form, coming from a graphic novel, if you put those political ideas within this particular context you’ve got a very unusual marriage of style and content and you don’t usually have those two elements together. I think that’s why it’s such an unusual film.”
Were you familiar with the graphic novel before you were cast?
“I knew of it but I hadn’t read it.”
In which way did the Wachowski brothers try to get close to the look of the graphic novel?
“Well I think the graphic novel looks quite different from the look of the film. The film has a very different look. And the graphic novel is a much more sprawling piece, it’s a broader piece. This is necessarily different because it’s a different form, but the spirit of the novel is certainly within the film. But also the film has different references and it speaks to a different period in history – twenty years difference – but it’s actually a very different period.”
Given the film’s hot-button themes and ambiguous approach to terrorism, was there any discussion before you went ahead about possible repercussions for you individually? Natalie has been criticised on the net by right-wingers, for instance, for taking part.
“Er, no, there wasn’t. And I suspect that if someone doesn’t want to do that they’ll say so. I guess if you agree to do something then you’re onboard. But no, we didn’t have a sit-down discussion like, ‘Now hang on, guys. Do you understand what you’re getting yourself into, potentially? You might be attacked by right-wing websites.’ Look, whenever you’re involved in any artistic endeavour, as a writer or actor or artist or whatever it may be, then if you believe in something and express your opinion, of course someone else is going to disagree with you, but that’s what society is. And I think that’s a good thing, it’s not a bad thing, so we shouldn’t be afraid. I mean really that’s what the film’s about: fear, and living in fear. I think if we decided, ‘Oh, I won’t do that because I’m afraid of what someone might say,’ then that’s exactly what’s happening to everyone in the film.”
It’s not a time to be standing on the sidelines.
“I certainly don’t think that. I think it’s important to stand up and say what you feel. And it’s interesting that this time has come out around the same time as a couple of George Clooney films, Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck, and there’s a couple of other films about the two martyr bombers in Palestine [Paradise Now], and I suspect those films have been in a gestation period for two or three years so they are made as a response to what is going on and they’re all coming out now.”