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Stephanie O [Celluloid 11.25.14] Australia comedy crime



Hugo Weaving skyrocketed into Hollywood fame as Agent Smith in The Matrix films and over the last two decades, the actor has curated a fine balance of Hollywood films and smaller indie productions, both in the US and in his native Australia. The Mule is one of his most recent forays into indie films.

Written and directed by Tony Mahony and Angus Sampson, Sampson also stars as Ray, the "mule" of the title in a comedic retelling of a real life events surround the first drug mule to be caught by law enforcement.

I had a chance to speak with Hugo Weaving, one of the film's stars (he plays one of the cops), about the bizarre story, his favourite scene in the film and his preference for working on smaller productions.

The Mule made its debut at SXSW earlier this year and is now playing in theatres and available on VOD.



How did you become part of this film? What attracted you to the role?

Very simply, really. I got sent the script. I read it. I loved it. I thought it was very funny, and very smart, and inventive, and I said yes the next day. So, it was really easy. I just responded to the script and the characters. I thought they were all very well drawn types. But they all had very specific needs and very individual... they seemed very like real individuals to me.

Once I was on board, and I found out some of the other actors came out, and I thought we had a really interesting project on our hands. Leigh and Angus seemed to be very smart actors and just really wanted to get into making films themselves and it seemed they'd had some success commercially, with Saw and Insidious. They had a very smart director friend Tony Mahoney who was directing. Very good eye. Lovely sense of balance, and proportion, and a lovely temperament. And some fantastic actors, who then joined the team as well. A great many. Hazelhurst, Geoff Morrell, Johnny Noble. Even Leslie and Georgina Haig are actually pretty well known in the states. Ewen's done a lot of theatre in this country and Georgina's quite new to the business, but it was great to be involved with all those experienced people.

And a fabulous art department as well. So, I sort of felt we were on to something. It was certainly a great project to work on. But primarily the reason I did it was just reading the script.



Disgust and humiliation are huge parts of this film but it's not a gross out film. They never went too far. How did they create that balance? Were there still times when you guys left feeling like you needed a shower?

There were a couple of obvious days on set where we were dealing with shooting someone with shit all over them. And it's very funny and serious, so well, how do you shoot a scene like this? How do you cover this? How do you reveal this? And what do you need to see and what don't you see? You need to tell the story. But if you can tell the story, it's like anything visually, tell the story visually in a smart way without shoving it in someone's face is probably the way to go. So you need to tell the story, you need to make it clear to the audience what happened. But beyond that, the imagination of the audience is at work and also you're engaging them.

So, yeah, there was sort of discussion about how to shoot something really interesting and what do we see and what you don't. Suppose, okay, you're on the bed, this is what happened. These people come in the room here. What then happens? Do we drag you off the bed? What happens? And so those sort of discussions were technically really interesting. and just the storytelling. How you tell a story visually. What you include, and what you don't. So, it was kind of really interesting, very interesting discussion. And it was a very efficient set. We were all involved in the creation of each scene and each day it was a collaborative set.




I felt like your character was the most animated in the film, which created a balance with the other performances. Is there pressure when you're playing a character who brings that energy to every scene?

I don't know. It's funny I didn't... I suppose when I read it I loved the trajectory of that character. He presents in a certain way and then he's revealed as actually, although he bends the rules, he'srevealed as being someone who probably upholds the rules more than almost anyone else in the film. I kind of liked that.

I guess I never really thought of him as being more animated than anyone else. It didn't come to blossom that way. That's great, but I suppose I never thought about that. I sort of thought of him as being very much an old school cop who was possibly a little bit weary and a little bit probably thought he, through his experience, he was able to overcome any situation and probably, you know, particularly sees himself as the alpha male. So, I suppose the physicality of the character that the projecting alpha male signals to everyone else in the room would be something he would do without thinking about it.

I really enjoyed playing him honestly. He amused me to no end. And there was a huge license to be inventive with him. It was a very good script. There was great stuff in there for him to say and some great scenes for any actor playing that role in the script. And they were very happy for me to enjoy myself within that role, which I need. And we sort of set the time that they wanted them to shoot, really in day two, and didn't look back. It was a lot of fun to do. I can honestly say it was a pretty enjoyable and seamless experience without any hiccups.



I know in the past you've discussed this a bit, but can you describe the difference of working on a larger studio film vs. working on a film like this, that is so collaborative?

Very simply, really, it often comes down to the amount of people that you're working with, so just by and large, and to make a terrible generalization, but it does appear to be true more often than not, the more people you have working on a film, the harder it is for everyone to know what everyone else is doing. So, the communication tends to be a little poorer. And also individual responsibility tends to go out the window. So, the fewer people you have, the more people have to engage with a number of different factors and often the demarcation between jobs becomes a little more fluid. So, people are multitasking, people are being more responsible for themselves, and people are being included in the activity.

That's why I like, generally, small budget films. I think communication, it's to a human scale, it's not to an industrial scale. People are being treated like human beings and not like robots. People are not being, there aren't assumptions being made about people. Just generally, that would be my political view in life. There are a lot of people in this world who are not treated well, and there are people who have power who don't think about other people, and what actually it means to be on the end of the food chain. So, basically, by and large, working on a small budget film mean people treat each other better, talk to each other in a better way, and it's more enjoyable, and therefore, the work you come up with tends to have a greater benefit on humanity.

[Laughs] It's a massive generalization. And of course I've worked on big films, large budget films, where the generosity and spirit on set has been fantastic. Where communication has been good. But by and large, I enjoy small crews and smaller films for that reason. Because I just tend to feel more engaged and more alive, and I think that's a good thing.



Tell me about your favorite scene in the film.

You don't get see the entire scene of the film, but you see the guts of it. It's a scene where Croft and Ray are talking by the window, and it's the scene just after, when Paris, the other detective, has killed Leigh Whannell's character, and Ray's character has seen his friend been killed, and he's had a run in with Paris, and it's the scene where Croft comes in and Ray tells Croft that his friend has been killed by Croft's partner and I love that scene because it puts Croft in an impossible position.

You see him receive the news that his partner's bent, you see him receive the news that his partner has killed someone. You see his disbelief in that. You see him thinking that Ray's lying to him. You then see him realizing that he's not lying to him. You then see him having to defend his partner, even though he doesn't want to. And you then see his anger at the situation he's been put in, which comes out as violence against the man who's actually told him something which is a benefit to him.

So, you got all these incredibly complex reactions and to a very complex situation, and I love that scene because it illicit such a really complex response from both characters, particularly from Croft. I enjoyed that scene a lot because it just revealed a lot and yet… You shouldn't reveal anything as that character and yet you need to reveal a lot and you need to go through a lot in order to sort of reveal to an audience what's going on so it was kind of great, and challenging, and enjoyable to do. And technically challenging too just smashing Angus' head against a window. How do we do that? How hard—[laughs], you know, we want to do it, we need to do it in sound sync but we also need to protect Angus' head.


The Mule made its debut at SXSW earlier this year and is now playing in theatres and available on VOD.

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