Cloud Atlas, the new movie co-directed by Matrix filmmakers the Wachowski Siblings and Tom “Run, Lola, Run” Tykwer, is a sprawling story about the interconnectedness of humankind. To illustrate how we are linked the directors took the unique tactic of assigning multiple roles to the entire cast, including stars Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.
Hugo Weaving, the Australian actor of Matrix Trilogy Agent Smith fame, for instance, plays everything from a hired-gun assassin to an evil spirit to a female nurse (which he based on Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and more.
“Most of my characters were agents of control, enforcement or attempting to limit imagination or incarcerate people or stop certain stories from getting out into the world or just plain going out and killing people,” he says, “and then there’s Georgie. He actually doesn’t exist as an embodied figure. He’s literally a devil, so he’s a fear.”
Playing a range of characters spanning centuries and even gender divides didn’t faze the veteran actor.
“I was completely thrilled at embracing the idea of it,” he says. “When they told me the idea originally, ‘We want you to be one character in each storyline and at this stage we’re calling him the antagonist,’ it was a big thrill. If an idea grabs you in the gut, it is something you should definitely do.”
Gut feeling aside, juggling six roles presented challenges during the shoot.
“Right from the go the stories weren’t going to be shot in the same block,” he says. “We would do elements of certain stories in certain locations. If most of a particular story took place on one set of course you would tend to shoot most of that story before moving on to the other,” he says, “but there was one time I had five characters in a week.”
The unusual approach, he says, gives the film “a sense of playfulness that it wouldn’t otherwise have.”
“That’s what was fascinating to me,” he says, “seeing how one story can parallel another one because people are in sort of the same place. Then you get the strong sense of life repeating itself and certain constructs in the world repeating themselves time and time again. Certain power games being repeated time and time again and then you realize this same actor is playing all these characters and having the same attitude toward life.”