I went out to Australia to seek rejuvenation and new lands within myself. The trip back got me thinking about the nature of identity, as I reconnected with old friends and reinstated myself within the family unit again I noticed my Australian accent getting stronger, old phrases coming back into my vocabulary. All these things made me reconsider the nature of craft, as a separate theory from the human animal impossible. Belief is not a digested 'system' that lies dormant once learnt, but something that grows and shifts with the person.
I went back to where I first started acting at the age of ten The Australian Theatre For Young People, still thriving under it's parent company the Sydney Theatre Company, Cate Blanchett's leadership taking it to an Australian institution. I remember the first time I tread those boards, the dust and the lights much the same as it had been nearly two decades ago. My first role on that stage was Richard Attenborough. I remember the strange kind of confidence I had as a child, all intuition no theory.
"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child" - Picasso
I ambitiously took on the classics all my young life from about 14 when I played Caliban in The Tempest at an amateur theatre in Canberra, the renowned avant-garde composer Christopher Lyndon-Gee came to see me perform, he shook my hand after the show and said "you really do have the natural ability", his remark I remember so clearly, yet it has taken me this long to fully understand his reasons. As a professor of Music at Adelphi University, Christopher overseas the development of classical musicians at the highest level and sees the rigor, discipline and daily devotion to their craft necessary to groom violinists, pianists, cellists etc for such institutions as the New York Philharmonic. He saw that I was at the very beginning of a life dedicated to the pursuit of art, that would never, ever end. A few years later when preparing for the role of Richard III for my Drama School monologue I remember telling Christopher that I didn't want to watch any other actors performance of the piece because I didn't want to be influenced by their interpretation, he told me he had come to the same conclusions about music, but that it was still important to listen to everything, good and bad.
Christopher was later to write my recommendation to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, the technical discipline of the place fine tuning my instrument, but offering little to my inner life as an artist, at least I felt there was not enough attention paid to artistic sensitivity, psychological intensity, and the inhabiting of the imaginary circumstances of the play. Though it must be said BOVTS is one of the oldest and most established Drama Schools in England, my comment I think is more about the pros and cons of the British institutional style of acting. Though there are many technical and disciplinary benefits to classical training and my reason for wanting a foundation in Classical Theatre before taking on the method style of American film, graduating actors may leave Drama School with a voice and a body but with an art shaped hole to their performances. Being from three different continents, a dual citizen of Australia and UK (spending 12 years in each country throughout my upbringing) and now a Greencard Holder in the US for the past five years, ultimately I feel Cultural Nationalism pretty pointless, there are great British actors and many bad ones, just as many in America and Australia. I would say from first hand experience artistic talent has nothing to do with a national identity and everything to do with the application of will. Take the best of a culture and cut the rest, no use hanging onto its failings for the sake of conformity. Discernment must be exercised in determining its benefits to artistic progress. So what classical theatre has to offer is the development of physical, vocal and transformational facilities, depth is a lifelong pursuit that can be found on any continent.
I remember arriving in Australia at seven years old, fresh off the boat from England preppy accent and posh hair, being met immediately in the schoolyard with a push to the chest and a Rugby ball. The heat bearing down on my spiked boots as it picked up mud grass and blood on the field of battle. This is where my accent began to change to the strange hybrid it is today, I adapted to survive in the harsh and beautiful Australian outdoors. My second taste of transformation.
Today I walk around Sydney, instead of pigeons the parks are flooded with an array of some of the most intelligent, complex and beautiful parrots in the world, Galahs and Cockatoos. It's no wonder upon arriving in Los Angeles I immediately purchased a flock of cockatiels. Not that Los Angeles is devoid of nature, it's all around, intermingled with a brutal urban 'progress' that builds up concrete mounds of neon as fast as it can turn a buck. Though the city and its leaders are making conscious efforts to establish and maintain better architecture than the black skeleton and blinding square. The new Wallis Annenberg Centre For The Performing Arts offering great hope for the future of cultural activity in Los Angeles. Developed out of Ralph C Flewelling's original 1934 Renaissance style post office. The structure blending the best of what the original building had to offer with a contemporary aesthetic, sculpture garden featuring Emmanuel Fillion's "Exhaltation". Under the new artistic direction of Paul Crewes, coming from Britain's Kneehigh Theatre Company, promises a much needed innovation and legitimacy to LA's theatre scene including Jesse Eisenberg's "The Revisionist" on until April 17th.
Back to Oz;
I caught up with the director of Possession(s) Jim Lounsbury, we discuss our next art and film project and go to see the beautiful, at times transcendent film Dheepan at Alliance French Film Festival.
I had the good fortune to meet with the art critic John McDonald who was an early mentor after my father died, we had many conflicts because of my rebelliousness and my eye turned to what was for him popular culture. He taught me about black & white films and Bob Dylan when I was a boy. Today we compare Michael Fassbender and Chris Hemsworth.
I went to visit my mother's beach where she paints her beautiful pictures. And to Perth for my Grandmother's 75th, and to see my Uncle, Aunty and their kids. My stepfather and Grandmother are both working on novels. My cousin Andrew is getting a band together in Japan with some success. My other cousin Tiffany Titshall has an art exhibition coming up in Melbourne.
Being around those who witnessed the crash, the catalyst that sent me on my new journey, in many ways my rebirth, I realized it is a choice that we face, those of us who have experienced trauma in our earliest years, either use it as an excuse to skate by, or fight it for the rest of our lives, prove to ourselves and those around us that no obstacle however insurmountable will be the rock that hinders the ascent of our will towards our desires. This life passes like a dream that can be jolted at any time, we must live fiercely in pursuit of our passions to be without regret when that time comes.
On my return I stopped back in at Ivana Chubbuck Studio to audit her flagship Thursday night Masterclass. I worked with Ivana for a year in 2013. She believes 'interesting and dynamic people go after what they want in interesting and dynamic ways' and that this is the key to compelling behavior on screen. That the most interesting characters have at their core, deep desires that they chase and overcome all obstacles to get what they want. Every desire and fear must be impelled by these defining relationships and events in the actors life, reimagined to fit the circumstances of the piece.
"The better the actor is at accessing his life experiences as a way of creating urgency and passion for the goals in the script, the higher the art." - Ivana Chubbuck
I am reminded of the furnace of the crumpled and burning vehicle that forged the man I am today. My mother's grip on my three year old arm as she pulled me out the backseat, tugging me to life. Like a new birth, my mother's will delivering me from the darkness out into the light of the new world that waited for me, the broken leg I had to stand on like the slap of the Doctor.
I love Australia, I hope to spend more time there in years to come and make more Australian movies. There's a grit and connection to all the universe that comes from standing on the rocks by the shore, watching the waves crash. Knowing the biggest sharks, stingrays, and predators of land and sea stand all around, and being totally confident and strong in that knowledge, proceeding with all the will in us as a species to go out into the world and obtain our desires. The search for ourselves, and the call for determination against the elements.
At the end of it a trip to Australia reconnects me to the natural world, the environment is so beautiful, it becomes common place to the people. There were these beautiful green and black parrots in my Grandmother's backyard, their intelligence and vitality was full of all the world. I pointed them out with curiosity, Grandma said "What Greenies? Yeah they're pests".
Below is an account of my father's relationship to Australia, his vision for the future of Australian art and the affect of its raw natural presence on him as a man.