I recently asked a guest whether she'd had a 'normal childhood.'
I was quoting something she'd said herself in a documentary.
People will often tell me they've had a 'normal' childhood.
Or they dispute that their childhood was normal.
But what is normal?
Is it nothing out of the ordinary?
What exactly is ordinary?
Apparently, normal is something between 'typical' and 'ideal'.
I would have said my childhood, growing up in colonial Hong Kong was normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to see here.
Yet when I was a child, there were violent protests by Mao's sympathiser's blocking the city centre. Several bombs were set off to cause damage to the colonial government and its officials. Later I remember an apartment building collapsed after days of heavy rain, killing dozens of people and injuring others whom my family knew. The morning newspaper was filled with headlines of people fleeing China across a waterway and getting bitten by sharks in the process.
Or there was the day when I was convinced people on television could look through the TV set and actually see me, so I applied to be part of a children's TV show so that I could be sure of this incredibly phenomenon.
Maybe my childhood wasn't so normal?
I made a note not to ask that question again. But then again, very little seems normal at the moment. Perhaps that in itself is a good conversation starter.
I first met George Gittoes in Beijing in 1998. He had an artist's residency. I was the resident correspondent. He wanted to paint people and life. He disappeared for a little while. Then the day before he left, he turned up looking like a pizza delivery guy. Like a waiter, he held two small oil paintings up near his shoulders. They were my farewell gift and they had been freshly painted. as a gift.
This one is the Journey:
This is the little Chinese Gymnast.
George and I drifted apart. I was doing my war reporting in relative safety. He was living life large in the most dangerous places you could nominate.
Then his name popped up when he won the 2015 Sydney Peace Prize.
I discovered he'd been making documentaries and taking incredible photos to add to his incredible body of artwork.
Then in May, I interviewed him at the South Coast home he shares with his partner musician Hellen Rose (and their dogs).
He is delighted to see the little oil paintings he gave me once again and he offers to clean them.
But it was his notebooks that captured my imagination.
They are the works of art that the public isn't likely to see, yet they imprint the essence of his travels. They lasso his emotions and thoughts that then bleed into his grander canvases.
And as he strides into the interview room tall and smiling, Hugo Weaving sports a bushy beard and appears surprisingly relaxed as if he has all day to chat, which he does not.
As we wait for last minute camera adjustments, he mentions that after four months off in his hometown Sydney, he’s due to fly to Western Australia shortly to begin work on the much anticipated film Jasper Jones.
Since the 1980’s Hugo Weaving has carved out a successful career in theatre and film, mixing lower-budget Australian productions with huge international blockbusters including The Matrix series, V for Vendetta and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
For Weaving, there has never been a dilemma about whether to relocate to Hollywood or remain in Australia.
"I’m happy to work overseas,” he tells me on One Plus One, “but my focus is here.”
This is a golden era of film-making in this country, we just don’t know that.
“I’ve been saying that for ages. I think our films are getting better and better. We (Australians) are just not going to see them.
Weaving believes there are two reasons for this.
“The problem is not in the film-makers or the creatives. The problem is somehow selling the idea of selling our own culture to ourselves,” he says.
“Or, we have an industry which is so slanted towards American films that it’s very, very hard for Australian films to get a look in.”
Weaving is clearly proud of the homegrown industry, despite deriving his reputation from high-grossing blockbusters.
His latest film borrows from both.
He’s appearing in The Dressmaker, a film directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, based on Rosalie Ham’s novel of the same name.
It’s set in the fifties in a small, fictional Australian town named Dungatar.
The film opens with femme fatale Tilly Dunnage (played by Kate Winslet), returning to her home town from Europe. She’s a glamorous and gifted seamstress who travels with her portable Singer sewing machine. But she has a past. Years ago as a child, Tilly was sent away after being blamed for the death of a school-mate.
The film features a Who’s Who of Australian performers including Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Sarah Snook, Rebecca Gibney, Kerry Fox, Shane Jacobson and Barry Otto, to name just a few.
Weaving - who plays Dungatar’s policeman Sergeant Horatio Farrat - said he was ‘immediately interested’ in the script when it landed in front of him.
“He’s essentially a very nice man,” Weaving says.
However, “he does have a secret…he’s a cross-dresser. He also feels guilty because he’s done something to the heroine, Tilly.”
“It's got a dark centre, a dark underbelly to it,” he says in his deliberate, mellifluous voice.
Weaving was extremely happy to work with director Jocelyn Moorhouse again. It was Moorhouse who cast Weaving in her critically acclaimed 1991 film ‘Proof’. They were both relative newcomers to the screen world. She recently returned to Australia after a stint in Hollywood with her husband, director and writer P. J. Hogan.
Proof was the first film I had read…that I so wanted to be in,” Weaving recalls warmly.
“I jumped on it and I thought, ‘that’s my film’. I was tested for it and thank-good (Moorhouse) wanted me to be in it.
‘Proof’ was released a decade after Weaving graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA).
He was born in Nigeria, arriving in Australia as a teenager, after an upbringing where the family relocated every few years.
He says he did not have grand dreams when he first entered NIDA.
“I never think too far ahead,” he said.
Weaving does not like to put himself above anyone else. He seeks meaning through voracious reading, spending time with his friends and family (partner of thirty-one years Katrina Greenwood and his children Holly and Harry) and enjoying his farm in northern New South Wales.
“I have a pretty strong sense of myself as a not particularly special person,” he says.
He does, however, enjoy in-depth research and finding the redemptive qualities in the characters he plays. Those qualities are often to be found in how a character interacts with nature.
I adore nature,” Weaving says. “Without nature and without the natural world we have no perspective on ourselves…I think it’s really special and life-affirming and gives me a perspective on who I am.”
“I don’t have a grand notion of who human beings are because I don’t think they are any more special than a tree or a bird or a kangaroo.
But he clearly values what it means to be human and strives to get to the heart of what makes an individual tick whether playing Mitzi Del Bra in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or the cross-dressing Sergeant Horatio Farrat in the Dressmaker.
(Photos by Tom Hancock)
Watch the full One Plus One interview at 10 am Friday on ABC, at 5:30pm (AEST) Saturday on ABC News 24 and 2:30pm (AEDT) and 9:30pm (AEDT) Sunday on ABC News 24.
If you love contemporary music and the personalities who sang your favourite songs, the ones that remind you of a certain era, then there’s nothing better than a juicy autobiography tapped out by an ageing rocker.
Some of those memoirs leave out salacious details of the parties, the sex, the drugs and the alcohol. We may be left curious about the extent of the unreality of those performers' lives.
Some years ago, Moby told me that at the height of his fame, he hired a person just to organise his parties.
Other musicians, like Mark Seymour from Hunters & Collectors, don’t do tell-all. He didn’t talk much about things that happened during the parties and drinking, probably in deference to his partner and family.
So I was unprepared when I started reading Rick Springfield’s 2010 autobiography Late, Late at Night recently.
In short, Wow! and Whoa!
At one stage he tried to halt the publication of the memoir, but got talked out of it.
Rick Springfield was born in Sydney and lived in Melbourne as a teenager. He, became one of the biggest pop/rock stars in the world. His hit Jessie’s Girl scored him a Grammy Award in the early Eighties. He also studied acting and got a role in the hit soapie General Hospital, playing Dr Noah Drake.
Let’s say that his life in the US was lived to the full. Let's be kind and say fidelity was not his forte.
Incredible as it may seem to some of us, Rick is about to turn 66. He is touring again. He has never given up writing music. I got to interview him for One Plus One while he was in Australia promoting his film Ricki and the Flash. He has an American accent now, but he does a nice impersonation of his Mum, who still lives in Victoria. He’s a nice actor, by the way, and there weren’t many musicians/actors who could have played the part he did... and played it so well. He was Meryl Streep’s love interest in the film.
In our interview, Springfield doesn’t back away from his dodgy behaviour. But I think it’s missing the point to dwell on that. Everyone stuffs up.
I guess what fascinated me most, both in his book and in our chat, was the constant presence (since puberty, he says) of ‘Mr D’. Mr D, AKA ‘The Darkness’. It’s the alter-ego of Rick’s depression and Rick has give him a character. He once even saw him sitting at the edge of his bed. Audaciously, Mr D even sits in on the interview.
I feel slightly uneasy that we will air the discussion about Rick’s teenage suicide attempt. We talk about it because it was a defining moment. These days Rick is very glad to be alive. This is the message to take away from the discussion.
But I’m moving towards something else here, so stay with me.
In Late, Late at Night Rick describes the moment he decides to stop his music career following the birth of his first son in the mid 1980’s . He’s living in a big fancy Spanish-style house in Malibu, surrounded by luxury and elegance; a waterfall, tennis court and meditation gardens. It’s “the house of our dreams that I’ve worked so hard to secure,” he says in the book. In an effort to calm “what fees like the beginnings of a storm in my soul,” he starts to make a mental list of his accomplishments because he believes he has ever reason to be satisfied with what he’s achieved.
I’ve played sold-out concerts in theatres, halls, arenas, and speedways. A Grammy Award and numerous Grammy nominations, American Music Awards... I’m famous (good for prompt restaurant reservations), and I’m so wealthy that I can’t even count how much money I have (although, looking back, I will wish I’d given it a shot). And to top it off, I married my true soul mate and we’ve given birth to a baby genius.
And then it hits him.
Success has not changed me. It is not the panacea, and I am not a better person for it as I had hoped I might be. I certainly have not escaped the depression that has dogged me all my life, like I’d been pretending I had. I’ve changed everything around me that I can possibly change, but I am still the same. After all the mountain climbing, the battlements storming and victorious plundering, it’s still the same guy looking back at me from the bathroom mirror. I am not cured. And I am finally made aware of the “myth of fame” ... you can’t imagine what kind of a mind-f*ck it really is to truly understand that, in and of itself, fame is not ultimately transformative.
A good lesson. Or maybe just a good conversation to have.
If you studied Oscar Wilde at school or earlier in life, it's worth looking at his life again.
At school, I was taught about his sartorial flamboyance and incredibly quick-wit. The language still holds up today.
A few days ago, I gave British character actor David Sucheta copy of a book about Oscar Wilde written by the writer's son Vyvyan Holland. I do this during the interview because Mr Suchet will be playing Lady Bracknell in the London production of The Importance of Being Earnest next year.
How poorly was Wilde treated? Even his wife changed the family name after his conviction.