Bodies on the Line – from playing Jardine in BODYLINE to Vladimir in GODOT – Hugo Weaving

Michael Roberts

Way back when I was the second stringer in an Anthropology course on “Australian Society” directed by Susan Barham-Baggett at the University of Adelaide, one of my segments was the analysis of Australian sports culture. At that point it so happened that Channel Nine featured a blockbuster television series on the Bodyline Test series in Australia in 1932.

The central historical characters in that film were Donald Bradman, Douglas Jardine, Pelham Warner and Harold Larwood. Bradman’s role was played by Gary Sweet and Jardine’s by Hugo Weaving, an Englishman (4 April 1962) whose family had become domiciled in Australia from 1976.[i]In this script version much the more vital part was that of Jardine, whose unrelenting win-at-all costs character was presented by Weaving with some aristocratic panache.

It so happened that as my lecture work on the topic progressed, I discovered that Weaving was performing in a play at the Festival Centre in Adelaide. Securing his local address, one late morning I went to a house in North Adelaide. There was no answer to my door knocks but I wondered round the side and knocked on the doors of a glass-patio-room. Hugo Weaving appeared in answer somewhat sleepily (he was alone).

He was altogether amiable and readily agreed to visit the University one morning for a one-hour Q and A session with the students devoted to the blockbuster film on BODYLINE. I cannot recall most of this in detail. But one point has stuck in my mind: Weaving told me that in the original script the Nawab of Pataudi had been given a much stronger role than the way it panned out in the final outcome after editions and cuts.

This erasure, or reduction, albeit arising from contingencies, is not insignificant. One of the motifs in the Bodyline film was the emphasis on the colonial sportsmen adhering to the mantle of fair play while the imperial English master-class moved towards brutal pursuit of victory by fair means or foul. Jardine’s attachment to the latter goal was heralded at the start of the film, when as a young lad captaining Eton he ordered one of his bowlers to “mankad” a Harrow batsman at the non-striker’s end without prior warning. Well, the lad thus dismissed in such an unfair manner is represented in the film by an Indian lad [not Mankad of course!]. As he started his walk back to the pavilion this lad chastised Jardine: “Its not cricket.” The colonial blokes, therefore, are presented in this true-blue-Aussie film as the upholders of higher virtue.

It is known that the real Nawab of Pataudi who joined the touring MCC cricket team at Bombay or Colombo as they sailed across the seas to Australia, was unhappy with Jardine’s bodyline tactics. Thus it was entirely logical for the original storyline to give weight to yet another colonial voice in protest against the diehard victory drive epitomized by Douglas Jardine.

Be that as it may, the Hugo Weaving session went down well with the students and must certainly have been a welcome change from my lectures. At the end of the discussion I took him for lunch to the Staff Club with Chris Flaherty, one of the students, as cohort.[ii] It would be nice to say that we have remained pals ever after. But, alas, that is not a LINE I can take.

Since then Hugo Weaving has placed his body on many lines, so to speak, in both film and stage: from “Tick in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy, Elrond in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, “V” in V for Vendetta, and performances in numerous Australian character dramas.”

He is now scheduled to present himself as a rascal in Waiting for Godot on stage, teaming up with another scallywag who sees Weaving as his role model, namely Richard Roxburgh.


“Theatre’s larrikin pair bring us nothing happening, twice” — by Matthew Westwood, in The Australian, 7 September 2012

Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh will play tramps Vladimir and Estragon in a new production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot for the Sydney Theatre Company next year.
A COUPLE of lovable theatre rogues are getting their act together to appear in one of the emblematic pieces of 20th-century drama. “We’ll have to rehearse it a bit first,” said Weaving. Roxburgh added: “Hopefully we won’t disgrace ourselves and disappoint everyone.”

Giving each other bro hugs at STC’s Wharf Theatre this week, Weaving and Roxburgh turned the heads of theatregoers who were gathering for a matinee.

Roxburgh — whose dissolute Sydney barrister Cleaver Greene returned to ABC1’s Rake last night — exchanged a friendly wave with an elegantly dressed woman in sunglasses. “Was that Carla Zampatti?” he asked.
Yesterday Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton unveiled their final season as STC co-artistic directors. Upton will stay for another three years and Blanchett’s duties will taper off next year. Season 2013 could be billed as the year of the double act: Blanchett and France’s Isabelle Huppert in Genet’s The Maids; Tim Minchin and Toby Schmitz in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; a theatremaking duo known as Sisters Grimm; a production of Romeo and Juliet; and, of course, Weaving and Roxburgh in Godot.

There are also two stage adaptations of much-loved Australian novels: Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy, adapted by Tom Holloway, and Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, adapted by Andrew Bovell. The idea for Waiting for Godot was suggested by Hungarian director Tamas Ascher during rehearsals for 2010’s Uncle Vanya: that cast included Blanchett, John Bell and Jacki Weaver, as well as Weaving and Roxburgh. The two actors previously had not appeared on stage together.

“Hugo is the reason why I became an actor,” Roxburgh said. “When I was at university in Canberra, labouring under the rigours of an economics degree, Hugo’s third-year touring production of Twelfth Night from NIDA came to Canberra. I saw him on stage as Sir Toby Belch.”

He turned to Weaving: “You loved your Belch.”

Beckett’s 1953 “tragi-comedy” is famously known as the play in which nothing happens twice. “It’s got to be the great 20th-century text, really,” said Weaving. “It’s like ‘To be or not to be’, as told by a couple of tramps who can’t remember their lines.”

Blanchett said of Weaving and Roxburgh: “You’re used to grizzly old men playing it. But they are parts for consummate actors, which these two certainly are.”

I’d heard the anecdote about Richard being inspired by seeing Hugo in Twelfth Night before, but this is the first time Hugo’s role has been revealed. Somehow it fits in with the characters both actors have played in these team-ups. 😉 You can read more at Theater Mania, The Daily Telegraph and Playbill.

Hugo is surely en route to Toronto by now if he isn’t there already; Cloud Atlas will have its world premiere the day after tomorrow at the Princess of Wales Theater at 6pm; the entire cast and creative team is slated to be on hand, and the film world is rife with anticipation. A second, shorter theatrical trailer has now been released to coincide with the event and promote the film in cinemas. It repeats the general themes of the six-minute preview extravaganza that was released earlier this summer, but contains glimpses of new footage, including our first official (moving) glimpse of Hugo Weaving as Bill Smoke. I’m doing a frame by frame analysis to see if any other goodies are in there, and continue to be impressed at how much they’re able to convey in a limited amount of time. Nice touch casting Ben Whishaw as the record store clerk, BTW… fans of the novel will understand why. 😉 There’s also another, brief new interview with Susan Sarandon at Digital Spy.

[ii] Chris Flaherty and I subsequently co-authored an article: see Flaherty and Roberts, “The Reproduction of Anzac Symbolism,” Journal of Australian Studies, May 1989, 24: 52-69. This article originated from the ideas in one of Flaherty’s student essays which were then polished and supplemented by my own work on the Anzacs as well as sporting symbolism.

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