• Hugo Weaving playing an elf in The Hobit
James Fisher; Everett Collection

Playing an elf in this month’s The Hobbit is but the latest fanciful experience in actor HUGO WEAVING’s enviable career.

What is real and what is not was a key theme in The Matrix, the 1999 science-fiction epic that made a star of Hugo Weaving, who played the film’s nearly omniscient villain, Agent Smith. What is real now — more than a decade and roles in films like Lord of the Rings and Captain America later — is that the 52-year-old Weaving is the real deal: an actor of poise, presence and playfulness. Equally at home onstage performing Chekhov or battling evil as a lord of elves in this month’s Rings prequel, The Hobbit, Weaving chatted with American Way about the film’s secrecy, getting younger and those famous elf ears.

American Way: You’re no stranger to working in disguise, having worn a mask for the entirety of V for Vendetta and having played a woman twice (in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and this year’s Cloud Atlas). So how do you feel about the elf ears you’ve worn in the J.R.R. Tolkien films?
Hugo Weaving: To be honest, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to be in the films to begin with. We all wanted pointy ears. They’re very light and you forget you’re wearing them — until you’re at the pub after a day’s shooting.
“We all wanted pointy ears. They’re very light and you forget you’re wearing them — until you’re at the pub after a day’s shooting.”

AW: What can you tell us about The Hobbit?
HW: My knowledge of what the film will be is really almost as limited as yours. I’m in the dark. There was a great deal of secrecy around this project, even for the actors.

AW: We do know you’ll be playing Elrond, your Lord of the Rings character, but 60 years younger.
HW: Thank God Elrond is 3,500 years old because I’m, of course, 10 years older [than I was when I made Lord of the Rings]. The makeup artists did these little wire-based attachments that pulled my skin back tight and gave me a bit of a face-lift. They were attached to my hair and tended to work for about half an hour until I started sweating, and then I’d feel the little wires snapping and half of my face would just collapse again.

AW: What made you want to be an actor?
HW: When I was about 9, living in South Africa, my parents took me to see “Romeo & Juliet,” the ballet, and the thing that really amazed me was the music. It was just extraordinary. After the ­ballet, my mother and I began to read Shakespeare together at night, and it wasn’t long before I had recruited all of my friends to dress up and act out scenes from the play. I guess you could say that was my first acting job.