From tackling bigots at the pub while in drag in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to going toe to toe with Keanu Reeves in bullet time during The Matrix trilogy, or facing down Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, Hugo Weaving is one of our most enduringly popular movie stars.
But COVID-19 has stopped him in his tracks.
Thankfully not quite as dramatically as poor Tom Hanks.
The pandemic has prevented his latest film Hearts and Bones from opening in cinemas, instead going straight to video-on-demand platforms like iTunes.
“Yeah it’s so sad, because I love going to the cinema,” a good-spirited Weaving tells The New Daily from lockdown at home in Sydney.
“It’s a great film that celebrates community and diversity, and I hope people get to see it, because it’s a really human story, and ultimately people are looking for that now.”
At least he got to show it off on the festival circuit in Australia and take it to the Toronto International Film Festival last year.
Weaving plays Daniel, a world-weary photojournalist carrying buried trauma from all the war zones he’s covered.
Damaging his relationship with partner Josie (Hayley McElhinney), they’re also mourning a recent loss that hangs heavy over their home.
The sudden appearance of South Sudanese refugee Sebastian (brilliant newcomer Andrew Luri) feels like a lifeline for Daniel.
Brought into Sebastian’s community and meeting his no-nonsense wife (Bolude Watson), they bond over their respective histories.
But opening old wounds and uncovering buried secrets winds up complicating matters further.
“That’s what really appealed to me about this project,” Weaving said.
“It’s about trauma on a global scale, but it’s also a domestic drama set in Western Sydney.
“It’s dealing with morally complex situations where there are no easy answers. It’s not neatly tied up.”
He was keen to work with writer/director Ben Lawrence.
The filmmaker worked on ABC TV documentary miniseries Man Up (2016), presented by radio host Gus Worland, then big-screen doco Ghosthunter (2018).
Both address male mental health, a topic dear to Weaving’s heart.
He first read the script for Heart & Bones around the same time he caught Ghosthunter at the Sydney Film Festival, where it won the documentary prize.
“Initially, when you watch it, you think Ben’s [director Ben Lawrence] latched on to this little newspaper article about someone who claims to be a ghost hunter,” said Weaving of the film, which tells the story of part-time security guard whose passion is hunting the paranormal.
“He’s interested in what makes this man tick, and it opens up into something much bigger. I was fascinated, so I read Hearts and Bones through that lens.”
Weaving thinks Lawrence’s documentary background gave him an edge when it came to crafting Hearts and Bones.
“His eye is so tuned to the psychology.”
Daniel leapt off the page for Weaving, who has always sought out complex male characters that do not conform to stereotypes.
He suggested that approach has a lot to do with his childhood.
Born in Nigeria to English parents, they moved around a lot, including a stint in the UK before settling in Sydney when he was 16.
“I was really shocked by the whole Australian male thing,” he recalls.
“Though we moved around a lot, I come from a place where your sense of what it is to be a man wasn’t so loudly displayed, aggressively, with a rollicking good sense of humour.”
He felt awkwardly out of step with the larrikin identity.
“I found that really hard, because I didn’t want to do that, the breast-beating … the more we deconstruct these stereotypes, the better. Why would you want to put yourself into that box?”
All that travelling also instilled in Weaving a reassuring belief there’s more that connects than divides us.
“Every human being has very basic desires and needs,” he said.
“The things that unite us are completely universal. And the things that make us different are fascinating.”
Another reason he was drawn to Hearts and Bones: “It’s very much about how our community works best when we’re most interested in cultural difference – When we are respectful and patient and inclusive.
“How we’re a great tapestry when we do that, rather than a drab, blank wall.”
Hearts and Bones will be available to download on all major platforms including iTunes from Wednesday, May 6