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By Joshua Smith

In Focus: Hugo Weaving
Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: July 7, 1998

He's been a drag queen. He's been a blind photographer. He's been a sci-fi psycho, a lawyer and a talking dog. He's appeared in shoestring budget short films and multi-million dollar Hollywood extravaganzas. It seems that everything that is thrown at Hugo Weaving ends up coagulating to create the image of a man whose artistic experimentation has no bounds.

While oft acclaimed as one of Australia's finest actors, and while having earned a major role in the upcoming science-fiction blockbuster, Matrix (1999), Hugo Weaving continues to express himself in weird and wonderful ways that add an exhilarating air to his image. Since art is an ever-evolving, emotion-charged expression of one's psyche, it is a wonder that many actors who refer to themselves as performing artists fail to experiment and take risks in the manner that Australia's Hugo Weaving is willing to do.

In many ways, Hugo Weaving's disparate filmography could be compared to that of some of America's finest actors, including Johnny Depp and Robert Duvall, both of whom fail to be categorised into generic stereotypes. Certainly, Hugo's ambitious approach to his public self-reflection could be seen as a reflection of the Australian film industry's constant desire to veer away from the codes and conventions established in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

In any case, Hugo has proven time and time again that he can deliver convincing, multi-dimensional character portrayals in a plethora of situations. Mr Weaving was trained at Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA - the school that has also produced the likes of Mel Gibson and Baz Luhrmann). Though his career advanced slowly during the 1980s, Mr Weaving revealed early in life that he was never so narrow-minded as to baulk at the opportunity to play a challenging character.

Hugo dabbled in both the dramatic and comic spheres in his early performances, his virtuosity in which led to his catching the eye of upcoming Post New Wave star Jocelyn Moorehouse, who subsequently cast Hugo in the role of Martin the cynical blind photographer in Proof (1991). The film, and Hugo's portrayal, earned acclaim from the Australian Film Institute, highlighting the actor as one of Australia's hidden treasures.

His critically-acclaimed performance led to roles in the Yahoo Serious comedy Reckless Kelly (1993) and two Stephen Elliott films, Frauds (1993) and the worldwide box-office success Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Mr Weaving moved on to provide the voice of Rex, the dog from Babe (1995), as well as starring in the commercially unsuccessful but critically-acclaimed True Love and Chaos (1996).

Recently, he has been beckoned off-shore to perform in upcoming releases The Interview (1998) and Bedrooms & Hallways (1998). By far the biggest commercial opportunity to present itself to Hugo thus far is his starring "bad-guy" role opposite Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne in Matrix (1999), which was filmed mainly at Sydney's new Fox Studio complex.

What sets Hugo's rise to popularity apart from that achieved by the average fortunate actor is the fact that he is still willing to experiment with challenging and fulfilling roles that net him little or no monetary compensation. Mr Weaving recently, for example, appeared in a Tropfest short film by Allan Lovell, titled The Kiss, simply because Mr Lovell's screenplay impressed the actor.

Undoubtedly, following the release of Matrix, Hugo Weaving will be approached by a variety of filmmakers who wish to cast him in similar "bad-guy" roles. Undoubtedly, too, the daring Australian will be more ready to accept a role that is affecting on a far deeper level than the majority of Hollywood-produced characters.

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