Angie Milliken hits on Hugo Weaving in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. Joel Gibson discovers it’s not the first time.

The moment Angie Milliken is alone with Hugo Weaving tonight she wuill ask him to touch her. “Come on, touch me. Help yourself. Touch me anywhere you like,” she will say.

Milliken has done it every night this week, with some degree of success.

Weaving’s point-eared and black suited turns into the Lord of the Rings and The Matrix trilogies have given him the sort of celebrity to snap a knicker-elastic, however reluctantly, at 20 paces. Milliken is no groupie.

The 2001 AFI Award-winner can plead two things in her defence: their relationship is purely professional and they were fooling around (professionally again) before Hugo adorned buses and kids’ pencil cases as elf king Elrond or the digital policeman, Agent Smith.It will be purely professional tonight when, As Annine in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, Milliken will drop by with some raw vegies to visit playwright Henry (Weaving) and his actor wife, Charlotte (Heather Mitchell). Annie’s husband, Max (Andrew Tighe), will also be there, since Max and Charlotte are in the play Henry wrote.

While Max and Charlotte are in the kitchen converting vegies to crudites – which Henry thinks is a “perfect title for a pornographic revue” – Annie will playfully propose a quickie on the carpet.”Let’s go while they’re chopping turnips,” she will say.

This cat’s cradle of modern relationships, real and fictional, matrimonial and sexual, is the launch pad for Stoppard’s play about writer and actors trying to make sense of lust and love. The Guardian newspaper called it “that rare thing…an intelligent play about love” when the play premiered in London in 1982 with Roger Rees as Henry and Felicity Kendal as Annie

The Spectator heralded it as a sign that Stoppard – who “arrived” with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in 1967 – had a heart as well as a head.

In this Sydney Theatre Company outing, Weaving comes back to Earth to inhabit the wry hero, Henry. Armed with wit, cynicism and a pen, he is not unlike an older, worldlier version of Will Shakespeare in Stoppard’s Oscar-winning screenplay Shakespeare in Love. It’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to the part than Weaving, Milliken says.”I think it has to do with his sensibility and knowledge of himself,” she says. “Henry knows his flaws and so does Hugo. Also, because he has a great facility with language, I really enjoy working with him.”Henry is charming, pedantic and idealistic. Despite his profile, Weaving is renowned for being honest, unapologetic and unaffected. He writes, too. “I’ve got reams and reams of crap written down,” he told the Herald in April, and admitted to habing an embryonic film script up his sleeve.

As Milliken eats her lunch between rehersals, answering questions with a manner that jumps from distracted to intense and sudfddnely vivacious, it is clear she shares some traits with the bright, reaxtive Annie. “She is deliciously impuslive,” she says. “What is happening for her right now is the thing that is real. In the next second that might change it right now it’s real.”

It gets both of them into trouble, Milliken says, but rings true as a reflection of how some people move through the world. As for fooling around with Hugo before, Milliken engaged him in an illicit affair during the Olympic Arts Festival in 2000. As Vittoria Corombona in John Webster’s 17th Century revenge tragedy The White Devil, her roll in the hay with Weaving’s Duke of Brachiano inspired hand-wringing, revenge killing and critical acclaim. The production went to New York with Marcus Graham in Weaving’s place when he began rehearsing for the Matrix sequels.

Did their earlier fling help her to prepare for this role? “Only in terms of working with Hugo,” she says. “We already had that connection, that working relationship, which meant there was a great deal of safety and ease. He’s wonderfully intuitive and I eel lucky to be able to work with him. I think we rely on each other a lot. He’s fearless in an emotional sense. I rely on him to be good and he is.”

So when Milliken asks Hugo to touch her, it will be Annie speaking, not Angie. If she were a groupie this week, the actor would probably be in Stoppard’s entourage. Working with his words for the first itme, Milliken describes them like a lover – they are “lovely”, “very moving”, “wonderful” and “trustworthy”.

“It completely exercises me from the tips of my fingers to the edges of my toes. Great plays do that,” she says. Great lovers, too.

“The Real Thing”
Where? Wharf 1 Theatre, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay.
When? Until December 21
How much? $65 / $53
Bookings – 9250 1777