Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon were the veterans of Wachowski productions, which meant they had a leg up on their costars in Cloud Atlas. They at least had first hand experience of trusting their directors. We got a chance to speak to the two about their multiple roles in the film, and it was great. Check it out…
So you’re the veterans of working with the Wachowskis, how was this experience comparatively?
Hugo Weaving: The main difference was the addition of Tom (Tykwer). The main difference for them was the addition of Tom. And the main difference for us working with them was the addition of Tom. I would say it was very similar as it was working with Lana and Andy on set, like on the first Matrix, the sense of playfulness and enjoyment of each other. Lot of life, a lot of conversations on and off set about life and philosophies and the project you’re working on. I’m immensely fond of both of them. Of course they’ve change, they got older, and changed in many different ways and they’re a little more open to the outside world than they were before. Not that they weren’t open to it, but just protective of themselves within it. They described Tom as their third sibling, and the first time I met Tom was on Skype. I was doing a play in Washington and Lana and Andy were in Berlin, and I was just trying to talk about the characters and their two heads were there, and then a third head bounded into frame, and it was Tom, and they were all like “Hi Hugo.” And it’s not like they’re all one, but they’re certainly in sync with each other., and I think he brings a kind of, wonderful infectious excitement and energy, and a great mind and a great musical spirit as well to the project. And I think they’ve found a real soul mate in him. That said they don’t work together on the day, not in person anyway, they run their own sets, you know that. I think on The Matrix everything was storyboarded, and there’s storyboards for this too. They do all the preparatory work, but they’re more open to freedom within that. Yeah, that was the greatest change.
Susan Sarandon: I think there was a fluidity because of the repertory aspect of the way they had divided up the actors. There was a feeling of playfulness in the make-up trailer, it was an unorthodox situation. And anybody who signed on to play big parts, little parts, throwing noses on, playing different genders, had to be of a certain kind of “yeah let’s go and do this.” It was like the Cirque du Soleil or something. I think that was really different. In terms of Speed Racer, I feel like they were the same, but it was much more by the rules, and this had more air in it. I think because everyone was leaving their egos at the door and it was arranged in such a different way, even power-wise, in a horizontal way. You have Tom Hanks in smaller parts, and Halle (Berry) in make-up for six hours to film for fifteen minutes, everyone jumping in and out in this playful way. You had a feeling you were something very unusual, you let go of each character after you finished it for the day, and took on a new one. It was airier, somehow, fluid, lighter, despite the fact that it was more organized on practically a military strategy in terms of pulling it off, and getting costume fittings. The two guys – one in each camp – who were putting the contacts lenses in and out, it was just crazy. And the make-up never got cranky.
HW: They were just extraordinary.
SS: I worked with them in Speed Racer. You’d be sitting there and Hugh Grant would come in, completely painted and naked and bitching about how much make up he has on in a funny, funny way, and Tom (Hanks) would be sleeping through his third hour, and people were just coming in and out, so I think that was very different in terms of the whole experience. And I think that makes the experience of watching it very different.
You mentioned that there was a day for the first time in your career where you didn’t recognize yourself? Was that just because of the make up or was it something else?
SS: No, the plains of my face were different, and I had contacts in, and even though in Enchanted it was, I hope, unrecognizable, but I had my eyes. So when I looked at myself and my dog looked at me, she didn’t get upset. But when I did this one, everything was changed, my hairline was changed, and I really didn’t recognize myself, and that’s never happened to me before. And it was great to freak everybody out.
We’ve talked to a number of actors at this point, it seems like there was something of a fugue state while you were filming, is that about right?
HW: Yeah. You prepare and you prepare, and then you have to jump and do it. And there was a very strong sense of that. We were moving into territory we hadn’t been into before, even the directors, so you can prepare all you like but you don’t know until you do it. You can read as much as you like but the true knowledge comes from the doing. And the doing of this film was the thrill for everybody.
SS: I think you had a sense that everything was under control, even though it was chaotic, so it felt more fun than scary, ultimately. Once you decided to be part of it. I’ve been a part of movies that are much simpler where no one’s at the wheel, and that’s really bad, but you always knew they were calm. They didn’t seem tense or cranky, they were laughing all the time, so it didn’t feel like you were thrown into it, you had to jump. You didn’t have time to hold on to your ego, but it never felt like it was out of control.
HW: No, no.
Halle told us she was very excited to get the opportunity play a white woman, so I was curious how you felt about playing a white woman?
HW: Well, great. Andy, when he first rang, said the script’s arriving tomorrow. And these are the roles we want you to play, and he listed them, and when he said Noakes, and I said “You want me to play Nurse Noakes? Fantastic. Really fantastic. And I hadn’t read the script at the stage, but she’s a monstrous hoot of a woman, she’s great, she’s this Nurse Ratchet character, if you like, who imagines all old people are these naughty children to be spanked and incarcerated, and she’s a demon. So the idea of playing her was great, the actual thing of doing her was much more complex and challenging. Once you think “Man I want to do that” that’s a good sign, but how am I and how are we going to accomplish this, and the first question’s “are we doing any CG or are we in prosthetic make up territory?” And then you work out “well what sort of look does this woman have, what sort of shape and size?” And then you get down to the pointy end where you’re actually on set tomorrow (laughs) and with that particular character there wasn’t a lot of time to test that particular prosthetic, and we have would have loved to test it earlier, but we didn’t, so it was very much that territory of “whack it on, make adjustment and adaptations really quickly because we’re shooting it,” yeah.
Do you think the Wachowskis will ever cast as a good guy?
HW: Well, look, V for Vendetta, V would have existed very easily in this world with a comet on his shoulder. I think he’s a revolutionary spirit. And you could argue that he’s destructive terrorist, but within that world he was definitely the heroic love interest, even though you couldn’t see him. And Lana did say the other day “oh perhaps we should cast you in a more sympathetic role,” so…
I get the feeling that in another lifetime your character may start to see the light and start to turn.
HW: Well, I don’t know. He’s moved from being a human being, if you look at the link between all those characters.
Once you kill your daughter, basically what’s left?
HW: Yeah, but the thing is actually in terms of lineage, like that’s the primary character. So he’s moved from one space into…the last character, Georgie is a demon. Georgie is an idea of pure fear inside of someone else’s head. Georgie is the voice in your head that sang no. He’s just a pure idea of control in your head. So he’s not even an embodied character in a way. He’s not even a person. The arc of my character has dehumanized himself because he has such a rigid idea of the world that he’s not even a human being in anymore. He’s not even embodied. So I don’t know where you even go to after that. He keeps going and he’d be like this black hole, this object in space maybe that everything gets sucked into. I don’t know what you become after Georgie.
What does it say about this movie that it almost never got made?
SS: I think it says more that it got made. I think that it’s incredibly encouraging, and if it does well, which I always talk about Dead Man Walking making over a hundred million dollars which is really a difficult film that you don’t want to see twice, and so that was a total shock. What it told me was that the audience is really underestimated, and this is a great experience. This is more like 2001 than something that’s like a mental, really difficult thing to understand. I think that hopefully it’ll break ground and tell the people that green light projects that audiences are ready for epic films with epic ideas and something that they can talk about for two days and they don’t have to have the familiar remake over and over and over again. I hope that…I’m hopeful. I applaud everybody that let this happen.
HW: Yeah, and also we’re all from all over the world, and all the people involved in this are from all over the world and the money is from all over the world. It’s come from everywhere. So it’s not just from a studio in L.A., although that’s very much a part of it.
SS: It’s a big independent.
HW: It’s a Cloud Atlas film in every way. We are the atlas of clouds, the people who have been involved with it. We are the people who make it, and that’s been very much a global concern. So it’s been kind of thrilling and difficult because it’s very hard to do that. It’s very hard to connect with people around the world. It’s very hard to speak in a unified way. I mean, look at the United Nations, or…it’s very hard to get together and form some sort of cohesive idea of humanity. But this project has been a really wonderful experience in that regard, I think.
How do you both feel about reincarnation?
HW: I personally can’t see exactly me inside being in the body of someone else somewhere in the future. So if that’s reincarnation I don’t buy it, but I do totally understand the sense of energy moving through time and space and energy not being…being dissipated and changed, but somehow moving on into another…becoming another energy. It doesn’t get lost. It gets lost from it’s connection with itself. It goes somewhere else. So I kind of totally understand that, that idea that everything you do, every action you make has an affect on someone else or something else and that reverberates through time.
SS: I agree with that. Energy can’t be destroyed, and when you see someone you’ve lost, they’re no longer in that body, you can see that whatever that spark was that was them is no longer there and where does that go. I don’t know, but I also know that I agree with Kurt Vonnegut and this idea that there are people that come into your life that you don’t see foresee coming into your life or whatever, that maybe repeat and that serve a purpose that you’re not aware of and that being flexible and taking advantage of these people that come in, that you draw to you, recognizing them I think has a flavor of that. Certainly my children were incredibly familiar to me, and my daughter at three said, “When did I choose you for my mother?” and “Where were we when Jack was the same age as me?” meaning…I don’t know. She said, “How deep is deep space?” So something in your psyche is already there that had a connectiveness with me and with her brother who was four years younger. And all of those things point to the mystery that we can’t understand, but I think the most important thing is this concept that your action not only create who you are, how you spend your energy, but also have reverberations that you can’t possibly even know necessarily. Certainly films do that. I’ll get letters from people who had taken something out of a film that has changed their life. Maybe some, obviously, like Rocky Horror Show and Thelma and Louise, but other ones, I remember getting letters from people after The Client saying, “I went into AA,” and I’m thinking, “Really? That came out of that film? That’s amazing.” So you never know, and I think that’s why you have to be responsible for what you put out there because every time you reinforce the status quo, if it’s sexist, ageist, racist, whatever, you’re encouraging it. They don’t call it political when it reinforces, but then every film that challenges something, it stars a dialogue and I think your life is the same way. People see you do things, your kids see you. Just little random acts of kindness or cruelty, as they say crimes, in the movie, birth your future. I totally believe in that. I totally believe in that.
One of the driving forces of acting is that you have the opportunity to sort of lend your soul to stories that you hope will endure. This narrative is that. How appealing was that to you?
SS: Very. Very appealing. You have to choose movies that you can talk about for five days in a junket. What are you going to do if you just did it for the money and it’s some stupid story? There has to be something there that you love.
HW: You would hope that they would endure, but you can’t try and choose them, in order that they endure. I think that there’s a difference. You’ve got to try and…you choose things because they have a kind of impact on you, almost physically. Instinctively you want to do it, and you’re not quite sure why that is. Then those sorts, “Well, I want to do it for these reasons,” and then, “These are things that are in this that I are contained…these are the ideas that are contained within this script and these are the things that excite me. And oh, there’s this thing here as well that would be fantastic to bring out and to kind of grow and let other people see,” and you’re thinking about the other and the viewers and then you may start thinking about, “We hope that this will speak to other people and I hope then when that comes out that it might reverberate through some sort of time and have some sort of affect on many people.” But you can’t be thinking like that. “I’ve got to choose a project that is some sort of monument to my life, and I’ve got to be known as this person who was involved in this great film in three or four centuries,” because that way lies kind of madness.
SS: I’m thinking more be careful what you do because everybody has a camera on their phone and they put everything they’re seeing and every movie you’re making is now somewhere on the internet. I mean, people are serving up pictures of me from the ’80′s that I never even saw. So there is this bank of things, whether or not it’s films or whatever. Somewhere things are existing in the cloud. Isn’t it called the cloud now?
HW: Yes, the cloud. The scary cloud.
Cloud Atlas opens October 26. Check it out.