Based on the novel by Elliot Perlman, the gripping new Australian drama series Seven Types of Ambiguity observes the aftermath of a child’s abduction, and their subsequent return, from different character's perspectives. One of these is psychiatrist Alex Klima, played by Hugo Weaving. The renowned actor spoke with STACK ahead of the DVD release.
What can we expect from Seven Types of Ambiguity?
Six episodes, seven main characters [and] each episode looks at a separate individual and their response to a particular event, which is revealed throughout the six episodes, but sort of initiated and also closed in the first episode.
But then [the event is] revealed through people's reactions to it and throughout. So it’s really an exploration of the complexity of each individual, the way in which they view the world, the way in which the self is a very complex, multi-dimensional, ever-changing entity.
Alex is seen through the eyes of different characters throughout the series – do you also have to portray him differently depending on the episode?
There was talk at one stage that when a scene was replayed and you see the same scene from someone else’s perspective in another episode, we might even have them in a different costume. I thought, ‘that sounds a little bit weird’ – there are certain realities that, if someone’s wearing this shirt, I’m still wearing this shirt even though you’re viewing my intentions in a different way. So we had to kind of clarify a few ambiguities a little bit.
But no, I just tried to maintain that sense of who Alex was. When it’s told from someone else’s perspective, you just don’t reveal certain things. But look, we express ourselves in a particular way and then someone else will read us in a different way, so that’s exactly what the series was trying to highlight, I suppose. The way in which we see things in different ways is the point of the book and the series.
Did you find the mini-series format was a better fit for an adaptation of the novel, as opposed to a film or longer-running series?
Yeah, very much so. This is incredibly complex source material; it’s a great book with wonderful characters and there’s a wealth of material in there that you couldn’t possibly include. In the series, we dropped a lot of stuff, so if you could imagine trying to wrap that into a film, it would be fiendish and it would be stupid. So it’s a much better format for it to be in. I guess you could do it over more episodes, but it feels like six episodes is what everyone’s making these days, and I suspect there’s more than just a financial reason for that. It’s a pretty good number – ‘yes, I can watch six hours, but not sure about series five or thirteen eps in each series.’ I think you can get exhausted by the wealth of stuff out there.
What did you find interesting about the character of Alex?
I guess more time spent with a character is more complexity, more contradiction, more humanity – and I love that. Anything that makes a character richer is appealing to me. Specifically, Alex is a psychiatrist. So he’s a very rational man, he’s a very empathetic man and he’s an intelligent man – he’s perceptive, he’s artistic, he’s composed, generally. But he also has an interesting sense of humour and also, probably, has a sense of poetry which goes beyond the norm, and he’s a political animal. He also [could be] in denial about his own values and in denial about his own marriage. So we see him as both a healer of other people and also unable to look after himself. His life is quite messy.
You've been known to put in a great deal of research for your characters – what was required for this particular role?
Reading the script, reading the script, reading the script, reading the book. Working out what in the book was pertinent to the character in the screenplay. A little bit of thinking about and reading about psychiatry and what that might involve, and to what extent that was necessary. It was to an extent, but it’s not the major focus of the piece, him as a psychiatrist. Rather, what was (ethically) crossing the line. I had to work out in what way Alex crosses the line professionally, because that’s actually pertinent to the piece. It’s more to do with putting yourself in the shoes of someone and putting yourself in the situation of someone whose marriage is breaking up and not being able to live with your own children. I thought that would be utterly distressing, and indeed it is for him. Empathising with the situation – that’s the major work.
Why should people watch Seven Types of Ambiguity?
Because it’s much more complex and therefore human and truthful than most television now. It’s more intelligent because it’s more complex and contradictory – human beings are difficult and life isn’t easy. I think it somehow explores the truth of human complexity in a way that most TV doesn’t.
I also think it’s got a great sort of drive through it. It’s got a fabulous music score and a fabulous sort of psychological rhythm that drives you through – episodes one and two are really rhythmically different. There’s a sense of something that’s moving forward. So I think it’s got a genuine, compelling nature to it, and that’s exciting in itself.