There is a story that ran not so long ago identifying Australia’s most commercially successful actor. It was a list that seemed to beg the inclusion of a Kidman, a Crowe or even a Blanchett, but the answer was a little unexpected – it was Hugo Weaving.

But of course it’s not surprising at all – when you think about it. As the king of the trilogies – Lord of the Rings and The Matrix, plus V for Vendetta, he has appeared in some of the biggest movies this century.

For Weaving, however, his passion has always been about Australian films (indeed, The Matrix trilogy was filmed in Australia). From Proof  to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert  to The Interview and now to Jasper Jones (out on March 2) he says he wants to bring Australian stories to the people.

“I see film as a great art form, a great teacher, a great illuminator of human life,” he says.

“I’ve always thought that about film. So my passion as an actor, apart from doing stage work, has been to work in great films. I want to work in this country and tell stories from this country, the sort of things that we feel and believe.”

Based on the best-selling novel by Craig Silvey, Jasper Jones is a classic coming-of-age story, set in the fictional small West Australian town of Corrigan, where nothing seems to happen, but everyone has a secret. Then tragedy strikes.

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Told from the point of view of 14-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller), it is centred on the disappearance of a young girl and all the fallout that ensues.

Weaving plays the mysterious character of Mad Jack Lionel, an old man who lives on the hill on the outskirts of town. It’s a small, but critical role. Mad Jack is mentioned throughout the story, and glimpsed occasionally but only fully appears in a handful of moments.

“It’s really only one scene,” says Weaving, “but he’s talked about a lot. He’s endowed with a lot of prejudice. People have all these ideas about him. Here’s this guy who’s this crazy figure and all the kids are terrified of him… we glimpse him and when we finally see him, he’s this shadowy figure.

“And of course, the truth is far more complex and much simpler and sadder.”

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Jasper Jones (Aaron McGrath), Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) and Eliza Wishart (Angourie Rice) from
Jasper Jones

Weaving filmed the role of Mad Jack in just three days and said it was a privilege to work alongside a stellar cast that includes Toni Collette (Ruth Bucktin) and Dan Wyllie (Wes Bucktin), plus a talented quartet of young actors – Miller, Aaron McGrath (Jasper Jones), Angourie Rice (Eliza Wishart) and Kevin Long (Jeffrey Lu). The book’s author, Craig Silvey, was also on set and wrote the screenplay.

“I was only there for three days, but I thought it was wonderful to have him [Silvey] on set,” says Weaving, “and the fact that he stuck around the whole time meant that he was both having a good time and Rachel [Perkins, the director] and the cast were gaining a lot from his presence. When the writer of the original material is there on set with you it’s fantastic.”

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Toni Collette plays Charlie’s mother in Jasper Jones

Shot in the town of Pemberton, 300km south west of Perth, the movie is set in 1969 and captures the mood and characters of small-town rural Australia beautifully. Racial tensions simmer under the surface, especially through the character of Jasper Jones, a half-cast Aboriginal boy who is the first suspect when the girl goes missing.

“I think it’s very specifically Australian, but it does resonate beyond that,” says Weaving. “It is about the small town that could be somewhere else in the world and it is about growing up and it’s about how disappointing your parents can be – how frail they are. It’s learning about the adult world.

“All of them have a secret and it’s revealed. And they’re all deeply human and flawed and those flaws are revealed. Toni Collette’s (who plays Charlie’s mother) performance is beautiful. She’s hard to live with, but she finds living in that town and living with herself hard. So you both feel for her and feel for Charlie with her.”

“Film’s a great medium,” Weaving adds. “As a 13-year-old boy, film was the thing that really brought me into the adult world. I started seeing really fantastic films and they educated me.”

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