The Matrix Revisited

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Ian Bliss, star of the Matrix sequels

While she was working on the big budget production of Troy in the Mexican desert, Aussie actress Rose Byrne told Rage in Placid Lake director Tony McNamara (Byrne's previous project) her nightmarish stories of boredom at being on call for weeks at a time, stuck in hotels in the middle of nowhere.

Ian Bliss, who plays Bane (Agent Smith incarnate) in both Matrix sequels, had no such problems during filming. Asked about the notorious amount of waiting that happens on big budget movies, he wasn't too bothered. "There was a bit of sitting around waiting," he says, "but being shot at Fox it was pretty handy to where I live so I could be home but in the vicinity. I'd hate to be someone who's been flown in from overseas or interstate to work on it."

Although he might not realise it, Bliss might have hit on the biggest deal Australian actors, producers and film technicians have ever had. One of the world's best moviemaking facilities, crawling with Hollywood bigwigs, right in our backyard. And one of the movies most responsible for cementing that opportunity was a little project called The Matrix...

"There's certainly a bit of a legacy in terms of what was created here," Bliss says when asked how The Matrix has changed moviemaking in Australia. "The fact that we can do it. Overseas projects are coming over knowing the crews and cast are capable of films of the scale and scope of The Matrix. Before The Matrix they didn't know what to expect and I think were pleasantly surprised by what the Australian crews could achieve."

Although 'achieve' might be an understatement. Thousands of Australians were behind The Matrix films, and despite the mauling fans and critics gave the sequels, there was no disputing the imprint the series has left on us and our industry.

So was it strange for an actor more used to Water Rats and Heartbreak High to be sitting in the middle of a giant, special effects-driven production?

"In a lot of the mainstream Australian film work I've done the budget wouldn't even cover the catering budget on The Matrix, it's just massive," he says. "The first thing I experienced was the size of the sets they could build and the amount of time they had. What would take a day on an Aussie film they'd have two or three weeks to shoot, so that luxury was quite an eye opener."

And that preparation and practise time might have been just what Bliss needed. As the real-world incarnation of Agent Smith, he had an important role to play, and a tricky acting challenge to pull off.

"Soon after he's established as one of the freedom fighters, he becomes Smith. So the balance was trying to create the subterfuge so people didn't know Smith was inside Bane, but make it beleiveable that he was. [As an actor] I try to create that balance between playing something my way but also remaining true to the way Smith was created by Hugo."

So did the Wachowksis pick Bliss because he looks just like Weaving? According to Bliss it was slightly more than that. "There might be some similarity," he thinks, "but I had to watch the first film and some assemblies of stuff he'd shot for the sequels so I could really nail it.

"I listened to the cadence in his voice and the mannerisms he created for Smith because they were quite unique, and studied them enough so when he revealed himself it was a pretty good match. A lot of people actually thought Hugo had overdubbed me," he laughs.

Speaking of the ghost-like Wachowski brothers, no film journalist can resist asking what they were really like.

"They're really approachable guys," Bliss insists. "They're two totally down to earth guys who've been given this massive amount of money to put their ideas on film. The problem – if anyone encountered it – was the red tape you had to get through, it's like a huge wall had been built around the brothers and that's ultimately why people find them reclusive."

Ian Bliss can afford no such reclusiveness. With two more big US movies behind him since The Matrix (including Stealth for director Rob xXx Cohen), the Man Who Would Be Smith might be set for a Hugh Jackman or Martin Henderson-style career skyrocket, so it looks like future Ian Bliss fans will hardly remember the shortcomigs that ultimately characterised The Matrix.

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