Universal is set to release a live action adaptation of Philip Reeve’s best-selling book series The Mortal Engines on December 14, 2018.

“Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved.  Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan)—who hails from a Lower Tier of the great traction city of London—finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar).  Two opposites, whose paths should never have crossed, forge an unlikely alliance that is destined to change the course of the future.”

Last year our own Ashley Victoria Robinson was fortunate enough to visit the set of The Mortal Engines and interview many of the creative forces behind this major motion pictures – including Hugo Weaving. Weaving is an actor known for appearing in many famous genre films including: The Matrix trilogy, Transformers, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy to name a few. Weaving plays the antagonist of Mortal Engines: Thaddeus Valentine.

Tell us about Valentine and kind of your first initial impression of this character and where you’ve been taking it.

HUGO WEAVING: Well, when I read the script and I thought it was a kind of great invention, you know? So, it incorporated–the character incorporates a great kind of broad spectrum of humanity. He’s set up as being a–he’s kind of set up as being a hero in a way. But, he kind of travels to another place. So, it’s partly concealing certain things within him from the audience.

So, you’ve got to make a sort of psychological sense of that for yourself as an actor. Make the character real, but at the same time, as filmmakers, just–you don’t reveal everything. So, it’s a bit of a juggling act really.

What’s his world view? Is it just sort of survivalist, pragmatic? Because he’s, in a sense, the villain, but obviously from his perspective–

HW: No, from here, absolutely right. I mean, he’s–I think villains can be very boring because they can be two-dimensional. Same heroes are even more boring. Villains can be fun. But, no, I don’t see him as a villain and I don’t think it’s useful to see him as that. So, sort of fighting–well, what is it that he actually does want? What’s he trying to do? And I think if you see him in the sense that Crome, the lord mayor of London, he’s very much an old school guy who believes in tractionism. He believes in the world as it is. He wants things to go back to the future.

And Valentine is someone who really can see that tractionism–the era of tractionism is dead. That they are in dire trouble. That they’ve got starvation problems. That there is let’s pray that this world is going to come to an end. And that this whole paradigm of tractionism and anti-tractionism has to be smashed because on the other side of the world, there’s a

completely different view of how to live. And actually, I think even though he does, he’s sort of a, you know–we’re saying he’s like the deputy of London. He actually doesn’t believe in his own–he doesn’t believe in tractionism or London or that paradigm.

So, he’s a–I think if we see him as a revolutionary, as someone who’s trying to push the boundaries and trying to change the whole paradigm, then that’s much more interesting. So, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Have you had any opportunity to work with Dog yet?

HW: Alas, Dog exists for Leila [George] and I. Leila’s playing Katherine. But, I don’t think Dog will make an appearance in the film. But, yeah. It’s a shame because … Leila was very excited about Dog and I thought it’d be great to have Dog wandering around. But no, Dog’s not around, except in our imagination. I thought we should have when we do the scenes in Clio House that we should have–Valentine’s, there’s dog hair all over the couch or something. I told you to put–

How does Clio House compare to some of the other, like, grand sets that you’ve worked on, like, Rivendell, for example?

HW: Well, I haven’t–we haven’t seen the Clio House set yet. We haven’t shot there. I think all the sets here in the first year of, say, Lord of the Ring, they were complete sets with running water. And then the next year, they were sort of partial sets and then, you know, little bits of sets with green screens. So, they know which bits are relevant and which they can–which they’re going to be, you know, using CG with.
So, it depends on the set, really. Some of the sets, like the museum set, which you may well have seen or will be seeing today, are really phenomenal and they’re complete sets and other sets. So, yeah. Kind of just a section of a set and then a whole are green. So, I think there’s some more set, which we’ll be working on next week will be pretty spectacular.

There’s a relationship that’s sort of revealed with Hester and all of that. How much of the back story did you do? How far did you go in terms of where their relationship goes in the books?

HW: Just what’s relevant really to the–for me for the first book. But, good to be mindful that, you know, things can develop. That’s another reason why playing something in a simple–like, a hero or villain is boring and actually you leave yourself nowhere to go if you don’t–a franchise if you’re doing further films.
I think it’s much more interesting to see Valentine and Hester as, yes, she wants to kill him. Yes, she wants to take revenge for the death of her mother. And yes, he’s–as soon as she tries to stab him, he is trying to get rid of her … And they do–they don’t want to kill each other at all. And that’s what we’ve both been playing. So, much more interesting. So, the big fight sequence at the end is laced with both those.

Valentine’s very dashing. There’s lots of swordsmanship. What kind of training have you done for this?

HW: I’d like to say lots, but none. Really, I think we had plans to do lots of sword fight training. But, yeah, things have transpired to make that not possible. So, I think what we’ll do is rather than learn a fight that’s going to change–so, there was a fight choreographed and sorted. And I went–did go in and talk to them about it. And then we thought we would have time over the weeks to–but that fight was never quite signed off on. Things change. The sets changed a bit.

So, the choreography’s going to change. So, rather than learn a fight that is then–I have to unlearn, we decided it’s best to–and the nature of a fight scene when you count it up, will be your–you’ll see something in the wide. You’ll cut back to a bit of a Valentine’s face. You’ll cut back to a bit of, you know, Anna Fang.

So, I think what we’ll be doing on the day of this week will be probably, like–so, about five beats at a time. So, you just learn that on the day. And then you’re flexible. You can actually still kind of–so, I think that’s where we’ll go with it. Get five beats really looking good, do those, take that again and again and again. Move on to the next five beats.

That’s my sense of what we’ll be doing.

This isn’t your first franchise. Besides job security, what do you enjoy being involved in a franchise as opposed to, like, a standalone movie?

HW: I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I don’t think about them being franchise. I just think about I read the script, I like that script for whatever reason. You know, there’s very different reasons why you like particular script at a particular time. Maybe just appeals to you at the time. Genuinely, it’s that. It’s that, ah, that feels like what I’d like to be doing next. Or, you know?

Is it rewarding, though, that you get to live with the character a little bit longer than you would for a normal movie?

HW: Possibly. Not necessarily. I think, to be honest, a really big film like this, you are engaged with something for a long time and that means–and with a big film, it does mean there’s a lot of stuff you’re–you’re sort of mocking time a lot of the time. So, ideally, in an ideal world, I’d much rather be in a little film where you’re kind of energized and, you know, you’re moving from one scene to another. And you’re moving on and you’re capturing that at the time. Films like this are wonderful to watch, but to do, they’re a lot less romantic. You know?

That’s just–but I know that. It’s not like I didn’t know that. Well, it’s just the reality of it. It’s not–no, I enjoy it. Lovely people and it’s great to be back here again and all of that. I’m not downing it all. But, it’s just–the reality is that, yeah, the process is quite slower, you know?

Well, kind of within that, what is the influence of Peter Jackson? Because, obviously, you’ve had the opportunity to work with him before.

HW: You feel like you’re here, but it’s–he’s the–actually, he’s like god. Literally, he’s, like, a very, very benevolent god. He’s very friendly.

Sometimes you hear Pete’s voice and it’s coming from a loud Speaker. And so–you’re going to have to go and meet him and say, Pete, what were you saying? No, I think he–well, I mean, you know, Christian’s directing this and Pete’s–I guess you’ll have to ask Christian and Pete about this, but feels like there’s–they’ve worked together for quite some time and there’s a sense of sort of mentoring him probably some time ago. And Christian’s sort of taking the reins and Pete’s there for him.  And Pete and Fran and Philippa are all involved creatively with this as they always have been.

So, there is a sense of family here. There is a sense that this is something that you put together on the day. But, at the same time, it has a sort of massive scale as well. So, you get both of those, you know, sense of being a little home movie and at the same time being a massive studio picture. And that’s the quality that I think Pete brings to his films.

That sense of being familial, but kind of epic.

Are you technically signed on for more than one movie? Or will you kind of return to the sessions when that time comes?

HW: I think I am technically, but I don’t know exactly practically what that means. Literally, I don’t. And I won’t say much more than that because it’d sort of be spoiling the film a bit. But, I’m–so, honestly, who knows? Who knows?

First of all, this film would have to be a huge success for them to do another film anyway. And secondly, once they do, then it would be, well, do we just go and do the next book? Presumably, that’s what they would do. So, in answer to your question, yes, but I don’t really know what that actually means.

What was it about this particular script character story? Or was it just trusting this team?

HW: Oh, no. I mean, I’m quite trusting, but I would never trust anyone to the extent that I would never read a script. No, I read the script and I thought it was really–I thought it was a really great adventure. And it’s got a very specific journey and characters and it’s a very particular world. I did trust the vision, not the way in which that world was realized would be–I thought it would be realized really well here by these guys in terms of, you know, the look of everything.

The art department; fantastic art department and sets and all. So, I thought the visual world would be very well realized. But, no, I kind of like the challenge of it.

But, I enjoyed the read. I thought it was a lot of fun. And I thought Valentine, they were kind of asking him to be kind of everything, which was challenging. I thought we needed to, you know, tweak a few things and make sense of a few things. But, if we could do that, then that character would be fun to play.

He’s sort of a–he’s an archaeologist. He’s an adventurer. He’s a pirate. He’s a leader. He’s an inspiration. He’s a hero. He’s Dr. Strangelove. He’s a Yago. You know, he’s Macbeth. He’s kind of all of those things, I think. And so, to try and make some sort of sense of that was, I thought, could be quite fun.

Mortal Engines opens in theatres worldwide December 14, 2018.


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The Author

Ashley Victoria Robinson

Ashley Victoria Robinson

Ashley Victoria Robinson is a Canadian girl by day and Robin by night. She lives in Los Angeles now and stars as Ensign Williams in THE RED SHIRT DIARIES, co-hosts the GEEK HISTORY LESSON podcast and writes for Top Cow.