A sunny day at The Beverly Hilton Hotel, they entered the room as easy as anyone, absent of ego and pomposity, also to their credit, happy to talk about one of this year’s most anticipated films, CLOUD ATLAS. I am referring to Oscar winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) and Nigerian born, British-influenced actor, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix movies).
Sitting across from them listening to the responses they give, you instantly recognize the love for their chosen craft, an appreciation for the life it affords them as well as the depth of character they bring to this cinematic journey that delves deliciously deep into the imagination.
In CLOUD ATLAS, Sarandon (Madame Horrox, Older Ursula, Yusouf Suleiman, Abbess) brings her own brand of fierce intelligence to every role she plays, from her acclaimed, fearless portrayal in “Bull Durham” to her Oscar®-nominated performances in “Atlantic City,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Lorenzo’s Oil” and “The Client,” to her Academy Award®-winning and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award®-winning work in “Dead Man Walking.”
Among her numerous accolades, she recently received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries for her role in the HBO film “Bernard and Doris,” as well as Golden Globe and SAG® Award nominations in the same category. In 2010, Sarandon received Emmy and SAG® nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her role opposite Al Pacino in HBO’s “You Don’t Know Jack,” directed by Barry Levinson. Her other HBO miniseries include “Mussolini: The Decline and Fall of Il Duce,” opposite Bob Hoskins and Anthony Hopkins, and James Lapine’s “Earthly Possessions,” based on the Anne Tyler novel.
Her more recent performances include the films “Arbitrage,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”; “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps,”and Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones.” Sarandon also appeared on Broadway in 2009 in “Exit the King” and “An Evening with Richard Nixon.” She received critical acclaim for her Off-Broadway turn in “A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talkin'” and the thriller “Extremities,” and also appeared Off-Off-Broadway in the moving post-September 11th stage play “The Guys.”
Among Sarandon’s additional feature credits are the Wachowskis’ “Speed Racer,” “Enchanted,” Mr. Woodcock,” Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah,” Romance and Cigarettes,” Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown,” “Alfie,” “Shall We Dance?,” “Moonlight Mile,” “The Banger Sisters,” “Igby Goes Down,” “Cradle Will Rock,” “Step Mom,” “Twilight,” “Safe Passage,” “Little Women,” “Bob Roberts,” “Light Sleeper,” “White Palace,” “A Dry White Season,” “The January Man,” “Sweet Hearts Dance,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” “Compromising Positions,” “The Buddy System,” “The Hunger” and “King of the Gypsies.”
CLOUD ATLAS casts Hugo Weaving as Haskell Moore, Tadeusz Kesselring, Bill Smoke, Nurse Noakes, Boardman Mephi, and Old Georgie. He is widely known for his role as Agent Smith in the Wachowskis’ highly acclaimed Matrix trilogy, for his starring role in “V for Vendetta,” and as Elrond in the award-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. He recently reprised the role of Elrond in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” in theatres in December. The film is the first of three movies Jackson will direct based on the book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
He previously starred as Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull in Joe Johnston’s “Captain America” and in Johnston’s “The Wolfman,” and “The Keyman.” Weaving’s numerous credits in voice work include the characters of Megatron in Michael Bay’s blockbuster “Transformers” and its sequels, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”; as well as Noctus/Grimble in Zack Snyder’s “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”; Noah the Elder in George Miller’s award winning “Happy Feet,” and “Happy Feet Two”; and Rex the Sheepdog in “Babe” and its sequel, “Babe: Pig in the City.”
Weaving is the recipient of four Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards, receiving the first in 1991 for Best Actor for his portrayal of a blind photographer in “Proof.” He received a nomination in the same category in 1994 for the role of Mitzi Del Bra in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” Weaving won his second AFI Award for Best Actor in 1998 for his role in “The Interview,” for which he also received the 1998 Best Actor Award at the World Film Festival in Montreal. In 2005, his role in the critically acclaimed “Little Fish,” opposite Cate Blanchett and Sam Neill, earned Weaving his third AFI Award for Best Actor. In 2012, he was honored with his fourth AFI Award, for Best Supporting actor in “Oranges and Sunshine,” which also received the Film Critics Circle of Australia Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Excerpts from our conversation follow:
Talk2SV: There are rare times in an actor’s life when presented with material as imaginative as CLOUD ATLAS. And because of the creative storytelling, it is essential to have the right cast to pull off the very large scenes and sweeping themes in this movie that allow audiences to go along for the ride. How did you feel when you knew you were chosen for your roles in this film?
Sarandon: I said ‘yes’ before I even knew what the parts were because I just wanted the ride and I knew that it would be something special because of who they (the filmmakers) were. I read the book when I was making the movie, Speed Racer (in 2008, also a Wachowski film). I just thought that it’s an impossible task, you have these fabulous people and how great it would be to be part of Camp Cloud Atlas, to just go and jump and do it. We had a limited amount of time that I could give them and I just said, ‘I’m yours, whatever you can find for me, I’m happy to be there.’ Later, when I read the script, I was amazed that they’d managed to do it. Of course, they didn’t have to use the same actors in multiple roles but I think that’s the fluidity that makes it really special, it was so unusual. We all knew that something very special was happening no matter where it went. Just organizing it that way, these people had to have a certain spirit. You’re talking about Halle Berry and Tom Hanks who you know aren’t normally playing tiny parts; the spirit that they entered the project with was very, very special.
Weaving: If didn’t feel like everyone would be in the film for the ride of it, possibly it wouldn’t be. They very much needed people who were open souls and people whose work they liked. They had to be people who were open to possibilities, open to others, open to the journey that we were going to be making which is very much into a territory that filmmaking hasn’t really gone into before. So I think that spirit of inquiry and adventure, and the idea that it was a voyage, if the actors weren’t prepared to embrace that idea and not just embrace it but actually be eager to be part of that, then I don’t think Tom (Tykwer) or Lana or Andy would have the actors be there. That’s why we’ve got an incredibly harmonious and joyous group of people in this film. I mean, there are great names in this film, but it’s not just, well let’s get all these names and let’s do all this…let’s package this up and none of the people know each other or think alike or get on at all. This is a group that’s come together over time who has a similar sense of wonder and delight in exploring the world and trying new forms. That’s why this has been such a great experience for all of us and I think that desire and that joy translates onto the screen in a very physical way. That is the great thing that surprised me when I saw the film. I knew we had that, but the fact that it was somehow bubbling up in a very playful way, you don’t get that in film, and you don’t really get that sense of play …
Talk2SV: As you’ve alluded to, when you have a film that is huge and so different from what people know you for, sometimes actors are asked where did you go to detox as it were, where did you go to unwind? Given the rare experience CLOUD ATLAS presented, did you want to hold on to some aspect of your characters because in some aspects, they represent a sort of parallel life?
Sarandon: I wanted to hold on to the experience of ‘being there’ because as an actor, you can sometimes forget how much fun it is; you can forget that your characters are your way into learning something new and surprising you along with everything else. Occasionally, you work with people who are competitive and actually set out to make your job harder, I’ve run into that a little bit. But when you have this kind of very rare repertory company, I was sad to leave that experience. I hadn’t seen Lana and Andy in a long time, or Tom (Twyker). I hung out a little bit with Tom during Speed Racer and we’d keep in touch a little bit but I hadn’t seen them so I was really happy to be there. I felt very at home with the characters and was proud to be the bearer of those lines in this film, ‘our lives are now our own.’ It was nice to know those lines made it in the movie’s trailer. It felt really cool, I thought, ‘oh wow, I’m in the trailer,’ and I liked being the one who got to say that even if you don’t see me that much in the movie saying it. Then, the Wachowskis’ did the sweetest thing, when the film was finished; they flew the cast and crew to their home in Chicago so we could experience it (a screening of the movie) all together, privately. Just another example of how thoughtful they are.