Hugo Weaving’s 5 best performances, from Proof to Priscilla

The mighty Hugo Weaving plays a war photographer in the Australian drama Hearts and Bones, which has been fast-tracked to digital release. To mark its release critic Travis Johnson picks the five greatest performances from our man Hugo.

Hearts and Bones has been fast-tracked to digital release, bypassing theatrical release for reasons that are by this stage all too familiar. Written and directed by Ben Lawrence (Ghost Hunter), it’s an astute, open-hearted drama centering on the unusual friendship that develops between Dan Fisher (Hugo Weaving) a psychologically scarred war photographer, and Sebastian Ahmed (Andrew Luri), a Sudanese refugee with wounds of his own.

It’s a typically fine and empathetic performance by Weaving, who is easily one of Australia’s best actors. Singling out any of his performances for special praise is a tough job⁠—but hey, we’ll give it a crack. Here, then, are five upper-echelon big screen turns from our man Hugo.

Proof (1991)

Where to watch

The Film: The first feature from Australian directing great Jocelyn Moorhouse maps the tangled love triangle that emerges between Martin (Weaving), a blind photographer who gets sighted people to describe his photographs to him; his friend Andy (Russell Crowe), whose descriptions are unusually vivid; and his housekeeper Celia (Genevieve Picot), whose unrequited love for Martin drives her to seduce Andy.

The Role: The smartest thing Proof does is make Martin a well-rounded human with his own foibles and faults rather than an angelic, inspirational disabled person. Mistrustful, somewhat bitter, and driven to test and tease those around him in many pointed, petty ways in order to ascertain whether he can trust them, in Weaving’s hands Martin is a complex creature⁠. There’s little wonder he picked up an AFI Best Actor Award for his efforts.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

Where to watch

The Film: Two drag queens (Weaving and Guy Pearce) and a transgender woman (Terrence Stamp) hie off across the outback in the titular big silver bus, headed for a performance engagement in Alice Springs. A lot of disco music and one of Australia’s best and most big-hearted films ensues.

The Role: As Anthony “Tick” Belrose, aka Mitzi Del Bra, Weaving is best in show among a cast not exactly short on bold, brave performances. It’s not all glitz, glamour and big hair. The film’s emotional resonance rests almost wholly on the encounter between Tick and his 8-year-old son, who he has rarely seen, and how the pair navigate Tick’s life in drag. What could have been a fun but throwaway camp caper lands a lasting punch thanks to its adroit characterisations, of which Weaving as Tick is the standout.

The Interview (1998)

Where to watch

The Film: Two cops (Tony Martin and Aaron Jeffery) mercilessly interrogate a suspected thief and murderer, Edward Fleming (Weaving). But is the meek and timid Fleming being framed, or is her harbouring a terrible secret?

The Role: The Interview takes place almost entirely in a single room, and so it’s the performances that anchor our attention here. And what performances! As Fleming, Weaving is by turns cowed and cruel, meek and mocking, innocent and guilty. The deliberately ambiguous, finely tuned script let’s Weaving pull out every tool in the box, and he deploys them expertly, nabbing another Best Actor AFI Award in the process.

The Matrix (1999)

The Film: Hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) learns he is cyberpunk Jesus in a virtual simulation our A.I. overlords have trapped us all in. He tries to liberate humanity; antiviral program Agent Smith (Weaving) will have none of that.

The Role: It would be disingenuous not to include an example of Weaving’s blockbuster work. While he’s grand as Elrond in the Lord of the Rings movies and behind the scenes footage suggests he had a blast voicing Megatron in the Transformers flicks, it’s his turn as the suited, stilted Smith that put him in tentpole territory. Even here, Weaving works idiosyncratic wonders; can you imagine anyone else supplying those weird vocal stylings for what could have been a rote villain? It’s bravura acting within the straitened confines of the blockbuster.

Oranges and Sunshine (2010)

Where to watch

The Film: Social worker Margaret Humphries (Emily Watson) fights to reunite “home children”—impoverished British children ripped from their parents and packed off to Australia—with their families, in the process uncovering decades of child sexual abuse at Australian Christian Brothers missions.

The Role: As Jack, a now-adult survivor of abuse, Weaving channels almost unbearable levels of pain and anguish through a careful, understated performance. Fragile, soft-spoken and unflinchingly honest, Jack is the beating, broken heart of a film contending with an unspeakable injustice. Another AACTA Award-winning performance, this time for Best Supporting Actor.