Actor Hugo Weaving on wearing a dress (again) for ‘The Dressmaker,’ the Wachowskis’ gender transition, and the ‘Priscilla’ sequel that could happen yet.
By Lawrence Ferber
Hugo Weaving likes to frock around.
The Sydney-based actor first made his name starring alongside Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp as a drag queen crossing the Aussie outback in a silver bus in 1994’s LGBT classic, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. He full-on swapped genders as a hulking, tyrannical nurse in the Wachowskis’ 2012 epic, Cloud Atlas. And today sees Weaving again return to the outback with frock fever as a cross-dressing, queer police sergeant in the darkly comic, genre-hopping, 1950s-set vengeance tale, The Dressmaker.
Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, whose acclaimed 1991 drama Proof put Weaving on the map for his turn as a blind photographer, The Dressmaker stars Kate Winslet as Tilly Dunnage, a sophisticated and worldly dressmaker who returns to her rural outback hometown after being exiled years back, at age 10, for allegedly killing a boy. Reuniting with her prickly, alcoholic mother (Judy Davis), Tilly soon encounters residents both old and new, including handsome young soccer player Teddy (Ian Hemsworth) and police sergeant Horatio Farrat (Weaving), who soon grows fond of Tilly’s exquisite handiwork—and can’t wait to put it on!
Best known stateside for playing snarling Agent Smith in The Matrix films, Red Skull in Captain America, and half-elf Lord Elrond in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, the West Africa-born Weaving also played gay in 2005’s Little Fish (for which he won Australia’s Oscar equivalent, an AACTA) and lesbian director Rose Troche’s 1998 comedy Bedrooms & Hallways. Via telephone from Australia, Weaving discussed The Dressmaker, drag, a Priscilla sequel, and whether Agent Smith had the hots for Neo.
Lawrence Ferber: So what are the biggest differences between The Dressmaker’s Farrat and Tick from Priscilla?
Hugo Weaving: They’re very different creatures. Certainly both films are set in the outback somewhere, so the landscape plays a key part of the environment and beauty, but Tick is a drag queen, so he’s making a political statement. “Look at me,” there’s a show and face and political act. Farrat’s a country cop in the 1950s with a secret. Behind closed doors he has a wonderful wardrobe of beautiful dresses he’s made and tries on, but doesn’t want anyone to know about it. Even his sexuality might be totally different. I’m not sure it’s clear for Farrat, whereas Tick has been married, has a child, and is at least bisexual. Farrat’s sexuality is possibly hidden, even to himself. Both men wear frocks, but are entirely different creatures living in different eras.
The Dressmaker draws from plenty of genres style-wise, including westerns, thrillers, and romances, although the big theme is the settling of scores. Have you ever sought revenge?
I don’t like to, because it’ll probably come right back, and revenge will be taken on you. I do feel The Dressmaker has more in common with Jacobean drama than almost anything else, though. I think it’s a fantasy, and revenge is the key to the film, like the gunslinger comes into town with her sewing machine and unearths all the secrets and lies that caused her to be expelled when she was young. But personally, revenge isn’t something I would choose to get involved in because it will backfire on you.
On a side note, the past few years have seen a bit of gender-bending in popular culture, including men with facial hair and dresses like Conchita Wurst, so the mustachioed Farrat is right on trend. Did Kate dig the ’stache?
Yeah. [Laughs] She called me “Hairy.”
Were you surprised by the Wachowskis’ transition from brothers to sisters?
I’m not in the least bit surprised, actually, and my relationship with them both has been very good. I’m hugely fond of both Lana and Lilly, although I haven’t seen Lilly since she became Lilly. I would love to think that sometime in the future I can work with them again. I don’t think another Matrix movie will arise, but if I think the reason to do something is a good one, not just to make money, it’s something I would consider. But I don’t think that will happen.”
Did Agent Smith have the hots for Neo? Lots of tension going on there and he kept trying to, er, enter him.
I suppose in one way they’re one in the same, just bound together in eternal conflict. If one dies, the other does, and if one comes into existence, the other must. In that sense there’s an attraction and repulsion between them. I always found Agent Smith very amusing, and Keanu and I did have a lot of laughs over all the things you could write for those characters. I would have liked a song-and-dance routine for Agent Smith, doing his own chorus line with all the clones, like Fred Astaire in top hats. He’s crooning and singing and Neo could be watching and they could have a fight in the theater. The possibilities are endless.
Speaking of possibilities, Priscilla’s writer-director Stephan Elliott essentially wrote a sequel some years back when taking a crack at the stage musical version, but it was scrapped. Do you stay in contact with Guy and Terence, and would you consider a sequel?
Oh yeah. We talked about it at the time, and there were a lot of ideas about what the sequel might be and where they might go and what might happen. The best idea I’ve heard was Tick, Bernadette, and Adam go to the moon in a rocket. They go into space to some wonderful planet somewhere. That’s great—you can explore all sorts of fantastical worlds, and if the script was brilliant enough, it might be perfect. It would be an entirely different genre. I actually saw Terence in London last year, and it was lovely to catch up and reminisce about the wonderful thing that was the Priscilla shoot. Similarly, I talked to Guy this year, about “imagine those three old drag queens now and what they would be up to if they had a reunion.” I don’t think it’ll happen, but stranger things have.”
Wrapping up with another drag-related question, do you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race?
No, but I remember RuPaul from years ago, and really good drag is the most fantastic entertainment and political statement. I should check that out.
Hell, you should be a judge! Shall we let RuPaul know you’re game?