His World Is Still A Stage

Mark Seymour talks about acting.

Author: Liza Power, The Age.

Date: 4 September 2009.

Original URL: http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertainment/arts/his-world-is-still-a-stage/2009/09/03/1251570796967.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1


Article Text

Mark Seymour tells Liza Power why acting is more confronting than rock ‘n’ roll.

IT’S midday on Tuesday and Mark Seymour, buttoned tightly into a denim jacket, sits like a coiled spring at an upstairs table at the Malthouse Theatre. He’s a week into rehearsals for Wesley Enoch’s theatrical adaptation of One Night The Moon, in which he reprises the role played by Paul Kelly in Rachel Perkins’ award-winning 2001 film by the same name.

Munching on a brownie and drinking coffee, the former Hunters and Collectors frontman, best known for such songs as Throw Your Arms Around Me and Holy Grail, recalls sitting at the same table three months earlier to discuss the role with Enoch. ”I was familiar with the story, but the way Wesley wanted to do it, well, I wasn’t exactly sure how it would work.”

Seymour is, of course, fast finding out. He’s no stranger to the stage, but the singer says the pace and complexity of theatre – particularly Enoch’s – is something he’s still getting his head around. The similarities between performing as an actor and a musician are, it would seem, fewer than one might imagine. ”They’re vastly different. Actually, I think the only thing that’s similar is that I’m comfortable being looked at. I’ve always been drawn to performance and telling stories and being a conveyer of information with my body and my voice, but acting is incredibly challenging.”

Seymour’s first foray into acting was in 2002 when he played a dying clock shop owner in Clare Watson’s VCA production of Spumante Romantica. ”I met a girl who was studying the director’s course at VCA at the same time I was studying acting and she cast me as a blind man – I’ve done a lot of dying and suicide, it’s all dark! – in her play. I don’t think I was particularly good, but I did realise I love acting.”

He has since performed across stage and television, including roles in the Melbourne Workers Theatre’s production of We Built This City and several episodes of Stingers, RocKwiz and City Homicide. He recently auditioned for a role in The Librarians, but isn’t sure he’ll be borrowing books from the formidable Frances O’Brien any time soon. Regardless, Seymour joins the ranks of an increasing number of rock ‘n’ rollers to be recruited for acting roles – think Tim Rogers in Woyzeck and Renee Geyer in Sleeping Beauty, or Tex Perkins, now earning his acting stripes as The Man in Black: The Johnny Cash Story at the Athenaeum.

Also an established author, Seymour has long used his writing and music to voice his opinions on matters he considers important. While he initially took the role in One Night The Moon simply for the opportunity to act, the more he explores his part – Jim is a white farmer in 1930s Australia who, when his daughter goes missing in the bush, refuses the help of an Aboriginal tracker to find her – the more he appreciates the significance of the role. ”I remembered seeing Paul Kelly in the film say ‘I’ll have no blacks on my land’, and it immediately interested me. Here was this mainstream commercial singer who is loved and admired by his fans, and he’s getting up and putting himself in a position where people have to hear him say something appalling. It threw an incredibly dark light on our story as a nation and it struck me as an incredibly brave and important thing to do.”

Seymour says the challenge of playing such a repugnant, racist character only added to the role’s appeal. As did the idea of appearing in a gothic musical, conceived by one of our most accomplished indigenous directors and with a soundtrack by Kev Carmody, Paul Kelly and Mairead Hannan. ”The emotional stakes are really confronting and a lot of it is driven by the music. Jim (Seymour’s character) is really a victim of his own prejudice and his racism is the least of his problems. But he’s still human, he’s a man, he loves his wife, clearly he loved his daughter. That’s really how I see it. I’m fascinated by how ugly his character is.”

Happily married and the father of ”two very beautiful daughters” himself, Seymour says finding parts of himself in the characters he plays is a necessary part of the acting process. ”It’s an unfolding skill and there are no limits to learning it, discovering what you have in your own tool kit.”

Interestingly, Seymour says he feels more vulnerable on stage as an actor than he ever has as a musician, and while the collaborative, rough-and-tumble experience of being in a high-profile band is one thing, sitting back and taking orders from a director is quite another exercise.

”Well, yes, I did want to make a few suggestions (in rehearsal) just yesterday, but I soon realised it wasn’t really my place. Still, in some ways I don’t feel I’ve ever really had complete creative control over anything I’ve done, so perhaps this isn’t so different.”

One Night The Moon runs September 11-October 3.