Musings on V-for-Vendetta: The Art of Acting Beneath a Mask

I just re-watched V for Vendetta this past weekend. I must’ve dozed off the first time around as I forgot much about the movie’s plot.

Set in a dystopian future of Great Britain ruled by a fascist government, it’s a fascinating story as the ‘hero’ is a quintessential terrorist. Morally ambiguous? That’s putting it mildly. Call him a masked vigilante, a freedom fighter, but it’s all semantics really. Let’s face it, the shadowy figure who calls himself ‘V’ is a radical extremist. Heck, he even wears a creepy-looking Guy Fawkes mask, the 17th-century British anarchist who failed to destroy the House of Parliament back in 1605. But contrast him with the Hitler-like Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt), it’s hard not to root for the guy. Natalie Portman plays the movie’s protagonist Evey Hammond, who’s rescued by V from a group of crooked policemen one fateful night. She ends up uncovering the truth about his mysterious background, as well as her own, and emerges as V’s unlikely ally in the culmination of his plot to bring down the totalitarian government.

Now, I’m not about to discuss the movie’s controversial nature. Politics aside, the movie really works as an art form, it’s beautifully made, well-written (check out V’s poetic introduction made into a kinetic typography clip at the end of the post) and impeccably acted, especially by the man under the mask, Australian actor Hugo Weaving. From start to finish, we didn’t get to see the actor’s face for even a second, and that ceramic mask means not one iota of facial movement was visible. The advantage of that is I became fully immersed in the tragic character, and often forgot there was an actor beneath that straight ebony hair and perfectly-cut black ‘uniform.’  The absence of facial expression is more than made up by the way the character expressed himself with even the tiniest movement: the way he walks, his gestures, and the manner of speaking. So Weaving pretty much acted with his body language and that signature deep voice of his, which can be all commanding, bone-chilling, and soothing depending on the circumstances.

Weaving has played many iconic roles before, he’s Neo’s nemesis Agent Smith in The Matrix and the elven Lord Elrond in The Lord of the Rings. But he’s equally compelling in small indie roles: playing a blind photographer in Proof (with a young Russell Crowe) and a desperate junkie in Little Fish with Cate Blanchett (which I had the privilege to see at 2005 TIFF). Yet I think his performance as V stands to be one of his best. I particularly love the dancing scene below, which showcased the vigilante’s tender side.

Interestingly enough, that same night I read this Karl Urban interview in ScreenRant, where he will be stepping into what Mr. Weaving has done remarkably well in this movie, that is acting beneath the Judge Dredd‘s helmet for the upcoming comic-book adaptation. According to that article, Urban appears to understand the importance of Dredd’s helmet and will be leaving his face covered for the duration of the film’s running time – but don’t expect he’ll merely rely on his tough-guy jawline for two hours.

“You’re taught as an actor that if you take away the eyes you have to think about what you’re left with – there’s the voice; there’s body language. How a character does what he does speaks volumes. So those are the tools I will have to employ.” – Urban is quoted as saying.

Judging from that statement, looks like Urban will do well in this role, though of course I would wish he’d play more roles where I could see his handsome face. [updated 4-2013, now that I have seen Dredd, check out my review]

Anyway, here’s the kinetic typography clip I mentioned above:


Any additional thoughts you’d like to add about the movie? Do share in the comments section below.

45 thoughts on “Musings on V-for-Vendetta: The Art of Acting Beneath a Mask

  1. Using a mask and still intimating every detail of the character reveals true acting talent. Weaving is one of those underrated actors whose talent is never discussed enough.

  2. Totally agree with Fitz, the fact that he gave such a memorable performance without being able to use any facial expression is such an overlooked feat by itself. Nice post Ruth!

    1. He…he… I’m not going to lie, but I definitely thought of him. I actually got distracted watching his POTO clips as I wrote this post, he..he… But I didn’t use him as an example as only part of his face was covered up and most of the time, his mouth & eyes are visible, so it’s an entirely different category. Still, that was a remarkable performance from GB, to be able to sing AND act with that thing on his face.

  3. Ted S.

    This is one of the films that grew on me, the first time I saw it in theater, I thought it was ok but forgettable. A year later I watched it on Blu-ray and to my surprise I truly enjoyed it.

  4. Why does everyone think Guy Fawkes was an anarchist? From what I’ve read, he was a hardcore Catholic working for the Spaniards (or was it the British?) to take down the government so as to put in place a more extreme, conservative one.

    Anyway. Hugo Weaving kicks everyone’s ass.

    1. He was indeed a Catholic who planned to assassinate King James who was Protestant. What he’s involved with makes him an anarchist, whether he’s a hero or villain depends on which side you’re on obviously.

    1. Well now you know 🙂 In a way, if you don’t think about the actor while you’re watching him/her act, then the actor probably take that as a compliment as that means he/she did a good job.

      1. True. Although now usually if a see a performance that i like that i can’t attach a actor too i usually imdb it(like with Isabelle from orphan). Guess i just wasn’t in that habit back when i saw V.

        And btw i updated my blog.

  5. I haven’t seen this one yet. I missed it in the cinema at the time, and just kind of forgot about it. It’s also due to the fact that I’m not the biggest Portman fan.

  6. Phil

    Just for the record: Weavings Name in Matrix isn´t Mr. Anderson. Mr. Anderson is the actual name of Neo inside the Matrix. Weavings Name is Agent Smith.

    1. Oh right, sorry, I will make that correction, thank you for pointing that out. I do like him saying ‘Hello, Mr. Anderson’ to Neo in that voice though 🙂

  7. UncleTim

    What’s particularly interesting is that James Purefoy had originally been cast as V but had to drop out due to his difficulties with the mask. However, according to director James McTeigue, some scenes with Purefoy remain in the film.

    1. Hi UncleTim, yeah I did know that from the special features. Purefoy does have that deep voice also, hmmm, I wonder what difficulty he’s having with the mask. It kinda makes me respect Weaving more the fact that he’s able to not only pull it off but do it well.

    1. Hi Raphael, thanks for stopping by. I have never heard of that movie, but I’m not surprised that Robert did a good job. He’s such a talented actor. I’d have to check that out. Thanks for the info!

  8. Some of the scenes in the film were actually Purefoy, most of V’s dialogue was overdubbed afterwards. Nice article by the way!

    Have mixed feelings on the film, it wasn’t bad by any means but the book’s imagery was so much better. So much darker, made you genuinely despair for the world the characters occupied, in the movie you kinda thought “ach it ain’t so bad…”

    Big Weaving fan though! Very under rated but his presence always adds class to any feature…

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment! I have never read the graphic novel, but usually the source material are better than the movie. I actually did read about the discrepancies between the novel and the film and boy, there are quite a lot of them. I think the genuine despair of the actual world that Alan Moore envision would’ve been a more compelling reason why ‘V’ had to do what he did… as you said, the world depicted in the movie didn’t seem so bad. In fact, the movie Equilibrium (which is set in a similar totalitarian-ruled society) is much more bleak as people aren’t even allowed to have feelings. I quite like that movie too, actually.

      Well, glad to hear you like Weaving. He is a classy actor indeed.

  9. Matt

    You do actually get to see Hugo Weaving’s face in the movie. At the very end when they do the mask reveals in the crowd, you see all the characters that have died during the course of the film.
    Hugo is also one of the people in the crowd that you see.

    1. Hi Matt, thanks for your comment. Oh really? I totally missed his face then. I did see the other people who have died during the film, but didn’t see Hugo’s face. I should see if YouTube has it now.

  10. Francis

    It’s an incredibly poorly made film. Blandly shot, amateur writing (most of the dialogue is unbearable), the acting is boring (and when it comes to Portman, flat out awful), and the politics are juvenile and ham fisted at best. Some nice voice over work from Weaving aside, there is almost nothing in this film that could appeal to anyone over the age of 14.

    1. Oy, poorly made?? Hmm, I guess to each their own but I thought the dialog was pretty good to me. I for one am not crazy about the political/moral stereotyping in this movie, but still I thought it was well-made.

      Glad you agree about Weaving though. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Ebfarnum

    My favorite beneath a mask performance was Edward norton in kingdom of heaven-directors cut. He was able to imply so much without showing anything. Great actor, great role, great movie.

    1. Ah yes, Ed Norton as King Baldwin, my initial reaction when I realized it was him was, what a waste! If you’re hiring someone like Norton, why cover him up?? But at the same time, he brought so much without showing his face, just like Weaving. I disagree that it’s a great movie though, I thought it was just ok.

  12. Matt Erofact

    Great article \m/…Even i wud love to read the novel cant get my hands on it…Loved the movie.Definitely in my top 3 movies.Kinda movie which u can watch over and over again and still feel the same rush.Hugo Weaving is a class act indeed!btw i watched the end scene very carefully.cudnt see hugo weaving’s face.maybe my dvd doesnt have that shot.but i doubt it.Anyway.Cheers!

    1. Hi Matt, welcome to FC. Yeah I think the graphic novel would’ve been more substantial than the movie.

      Oh, so you didn’t see it either, huh? I still have to see it really close, it’s probably a blink-and-you-miss-it case. Oh well, it doesn’t change the fact that Weaving acted pretty much the entire time beneath a mask.

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