Hugo Weaving isn’t returning to Middle-earth any time soon — or probably ever.
“No way. Absolutely no,” Weaving tells Variety in a recent phone interview about whether or not he would don the elf ears as Elrond again, considering the upcoming “Lord of the Rings” Amazon series. Weaving starred as the half-elven leader in both the “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies, which collectively grossed almost $6 billion worldwide and is currently being adapted into a show for the streaming platform (it’s set before “The Fellowship of the Ring,” so perhaps a younger version of Elrond could appear).
He adds that he would have, however, returned to another fan favorite role of his from the early aughts — antagonist Agent Smith in the first three “Matrix” films — for the franchise’s upcoming fourth movie, had scheduling conflicts not gotten in the way.
“‘Matrix’ might have happened,” he says. “But ‘Lord of the Rings,’ no, I would never — I’m not interested in that at all. Look, I loved being in New Zealand with all those great people, and it was like going back to a family but actually, to be honest, I think everyone had more than enough of it.”
“Matrix” and “LOTR” aren’t the only big-budget franchises Weaving has opted to not return to: he played Red Skull in Marvel’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) but didn’t reprise the role for subsequent films when contract negotiations fell through. He isn’t eschewing doing blockbuster films entirely, though, saying, “they have to be something really interesting, with a different twist to make me really keen to do it.”
For the time being, the veteran actor is happy nurturing projects in his home country of Australia. “I’m not saying ‘no’ [to those kinds of tentpole films] because I’m sort of open to anything,” he says. “But I suppose my interests have always lay with this country and trying to find really interesting projects out here. That’s my primary focus.”
Among those projects is “Measure for Measure,” a gritty modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play set in a subsidized housing development in Melbourne. In an unexpected turn that perhaps only the Bard could write, the making of “Measure for Measure” was marked by its own tragedy when co-writer and star Damian Hill passed away suddenly, right before shooting was to start (actor Mark Winter stepped in to take on the role of Angelo, who Hill was slated to play).
Director Paul Ireland, who had collaborated with Hill on 2015’s “Pawno,” says the irony wasn’t lost on him. “I just kept thinking, ‘Well, that’s Shakespeare isn’t it?’” he says, with a laugh. Instead of scrapping the film entirely, Ireland says that after a short delay, he decided to press on with production, with the blessing of Hill’s family.
Weaving says the experience made the cast and crew closer. “We bonded through adversity and through necessity after that… [The film] became about something else in a way. There was a major element in: it was grief, actually.”
Weaving plays Duke, an underworld crime boss coming to terms with his own mortality, but unwilling to relinquish total control to his successors. While the play is considered a comedy, Ireland leans into decidedly darker territory, exploring themes of racism and socioeconomic disparity among Australia’s multicultural communities — themes that are evergreen but feel particularly relevant today.
“There’s a sense in all history of things coming around again and again and again, so history has a circular rhythm to it. But in some ways, things are always the same,” Weaving observes. “There’s always people who are seeking power. There’s always people who are seeking for themselves above others. And they’re are always other people who are trying to look out for everyone and trying to do the right thing. In that sense, it’s a classical piece.”
“Measure for Measure” is out on VOD Sept. 4. Megan Hajjar and Fayssal Bazzi (“Stateless”) also star.