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.