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Interviews - 2/19/05

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Nice David Article

                                2 of 5 DOCUMENTS

                  Copyright 2005 Nationwide News Pty Limited
                             The Weekend Australian

                  February 19, 2005 Saturday Preprints Edition


LENGTH: 1697 words

HEADLINE: Character building


BYLINE: Miriam Cosic


It's a far cry from his usual cool. After three years away from the
stage, David Wenham is tackling histrionic hero Cyrano de Bergerac, writes
Miriam Cosic

 ACTOR David Wenham has a nice line in self-deprecation. He seems
closer to the easygoing Diver Dan, the role in the television series SeaChange
that made him a household name in Australia, than to the coldly menacing Brett
Sprague in the confronting movie The Boys, which made his reputation as one of the finest actors at work in the country today.

There is certainly nothing intimidating about him this morning,
none of the warning signals that often flash when actors are pressed with questions about their motivations or their private life. The only thing that unnerves
him is the air conditioning, which occasionally roars like a jet engine taking off.
It's as though he has nothing better to do than to talk to a perfect stranger
about what it is that makes him tick.

"People will probably be thinking, what's this person who works in
film doing, having a go on stage?" he says during a break in rehearsals for
Cyrano de Bergerac, which opens at the Melbourne Theatre Company next week. "It's a bit of a delicious irony, really, because I spent years working in theatre."

That in itself is an understatement. Wenham has been obsessed with
theatre all his life; even at drama school, becoming a movie star was not what
interested him. And as for celebrity: reality TV, he points out, has put that in
its proper perspective.

Simon Phillips, MTC's artistic director, calls Wenham the "foremost character actor of his generation". Yet, going on the evidence of his previous
work, it's hard to imagine him in the expansive, swashbuckling, histrionic role
of Cyrano, the golden-tongued yet lovelorn soldier, defeated in his most
intimate ambitions by his tragic understanding of his own ugliness. That nose!

Phillips, who is directing Wenham in the title role of Edmond
Rostand's classic play, has no doubt what he will bring to the stage. "He's a
very, very deft character actor," Phillips says. "If you think that he managed to
make himself into a heart-throb on SeaChange, and into one of the most
dangerous men in the world in The Boys, that is a very useful quality for someone
like Cyrano.

"He needs to be able to hover between those two things: because of
his appearance, Cyrano has sublimated his love into violence. It's flashy
violence, it's elegant violence, but it's violence nevertheless."
For all their apparent dissimilarity, however, Diver Dan and Brett Sprague shared an intrinsic quality of emotional distance. Wenham's co-star in The Boys,
Toni Collette, has said that she looked into the pale eyes of Sprague on set
and, chillingly, saw nothing. And the blondly boyish Diver Dan, let's face it,
would hardly have seemed heart-throb material if he'd been holding up
the local bar: shortish and slightly weedy, with ginger stubble and a dry line in
humour, just another of the quirky characters that made the fictional town of
Pearl Bay so endearingly funny. We took our cues from Sigrid Thornton's Laura
who, despite her quick intelligence and lawyerly logic, inexplicably found his
elusiveness and lack of passion irresistible.

Cyrano, by contrast, has to be earthily present, emotionally larger
than life, if the role is to work. After all, Rostand wrote the play in 1897
in express reaction to the naturalism of contemporary playwrights such as
Ibsen and Zola. Cool is clearly not what's required.

In the pause that stretches after I point this out, you can almost
hear Wenham thinking: Hello? I'm an actor. Instead he muses dryly, "I
certainly wouldn't describe Cyrano as cool. The play would go on for 10 hours

The role is something he and Phillips have discussed, on and off,
for years. It's three years since Wenham last appeared on stage -- in True West,
also with the MTC, though he has never worked with Phillips before. With a bagful
of film and theatre awards, and well-crafted parts in movies as varied as The
Boys, The Lord of the Rings, Van Helsing, Moulin Rouge and The Bank behind him, he's in the happy position of being able to choose his parts. He also has a partner, actor Kate Agnew, and a baby daughter, Eliza Jane, to consider. "I've
got to the stage in my life, particularly with theatre, that I only want to be
involved in productions that I would really want to see myself, because it's very,
very easy to produce mediocre theatre," he says.

Returning to the stage, he agrees, is a chance to sharpen his
craft. "Oh god, yes," he says. It's a locution he uses often, rapid-fire, in
answering questions. "I haven't worked so hard in some time. It sharpens you
creatively; it's certainly sharpening me intellectually. It's challenging; it's
like exercising muscles ..."

Cyrano is obviously a hell of a workout. Just talking about it
raises his energy level. Diver Dan disappears completely and he becomes
loquacious, stacking clauses and superlatives against each other as his mind seems to race ahead of his tongue.

 "It's a play that has intrigued me and fascinated me for some time
now," he says. "It's one of the most beautiful stories going around, and deals
with interesting subject matter -- exterior beauty versus inner beauty,
among other things. And it's a really terrifically structured play. The adaptation
that Andrew Upton has done is really quite fabulous. There's nothing
extraneous in it at all; there are no loose ends. "

"Anyone who's interested in studying writing for the stage need go
no further than to look at this play for how wonderfully structured it is. It's
five acts of big epic theatre -- it covers wars, love scenes on the balcony, huge
set pieces, sword fights, wonderful verse, and then it goes into really
wonderful free-flowing descriptive prose ... The characters are wonderfully
carved, they're so rich. And Cyrano obviously is a gift for an actor because there
is so much there to work with. And then the other characters -- Roxanne is a
gorgeous character, and what a journey she's got through five acts of action

And so on. Upton's adaptation, first performed by the Sydney Theatre Company
six years ago, is intended to make the language, and the cadences of
it, more contemporary without updating the drama. "We're still the Gascon cadets and we're still fighting the Spanish," Wenham says.

Fencing lessons when he was 14, stage combat work in Hamlet, and
expert coaching from swordsmen and fight co-ordinators for The Lord of the
Rings will come in handy. And he will be kitted up with a prosthetic nose. That's
not something that can be left to the imagination, Phillips says. "The
audience does need to be confronted with how the odds are stacked against him," he explains. "He's lived with this terrible thing, this ugly thing that has
blackened his life. For that tiny moment early in the play he dares to hope that
Roxanne may see through it."

Wenham grew up in a working-class suburb of Sydney, the youngest of
seven children in a family with no interest whatsoever in the performing
arts. But his parents were extraordinarily encouraging of this cuckoo in their nest.
Strapped for cash, they gave him birthday presents of theatre subscriptions to a
pro-am company that staged plays in the city on weekends. His father would go
to university book sales, load up cartons with everything he could find on
theatre, pay a couple of dollars for the lot, then cart them home on the bus for
his son.

"It was a terrific thing for my father to do," Wenham says fondly. "We used
to go to Sunday matinees at the Nimrod Theatre together and that was
just the best time ever. My father now, even though he's in his 80s and I
obviously don't live at home any more, still goes to the theatre by himself, to the
matinees.  There's been a joint love of the theatre that grew out of that."

Eventually Wenham went to the University of Western Sydney, Nepean,
to study acting -- he was rejected by the National Institute of Dramatic Art. He
had no ambition to be in movies. "I thought those actors came from a different
planet," he says. "The height of my ambition when I was at drama school was to
eventually be accepted into what became the Belvoir St Theatre company."

He took small parts in TV, in A Country Practice, GP and Blue
Heelers. But he also appeared at Belvoir in the 1990s, in Hamlet and The Tempest. In 1991, he created the role of Brett Sprague in the original stage play of The Boys at Griffin Theatre.

Six years later, that play -- like another he appeared in, Cosi -- was made into a movie. Theatre, he says, is much more difficult than film. "You have a
much bigger support system as an actor on film and there's more time to
achieve exactly what you want to do, even though you don't have a structured
rehearsal period. When you're doing a film, you have the luxury of more than one
take,more than one go at little pieces at a time. In a play, you have four
weeks toachieve everything and then you're up there on your own."

It's not only about working in real time: every night the audience,
the ambience and the experience of acting are different. "That's part of
the appeal of it," he says. "You are entering into dangerous territory and it's
extremely precarious but you also enter into it with a wonderful, child-like
excitement at the possibility of it all."

The storytelling aspect of his craft is what fascinates Wenham
these days. He would like to direct films. "As a young actor, you're always
concerned with doing the best that you can, you're focusing entirely on yourself. I
don't do that any more," he says. "Even with the play here at the moment, I'm
concerned with every other little bit that's occurring on stage and I want
everything to be as brilliant as it possibly can be."

It's not about control. "Oh god, no," he says, quickly, and you
believe him. "As a director, I would want to empower everybody else, as much as
possible, to bring out what they've got in such a way that they could reach the peak of their performance."
Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Cyrano de Bergerac is at
Playhouse, Melbourne, February 23 to April 2.

LOAD-DATE: February 18, 2005
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And another.

                                1 of 5 DOCUMENTS

                  Copyright 2005 Nationwide News Pty Limited
                       Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)

                           February 19, 2005 Saturday


LENGTH: 967 words

HEADLINE: David knows best



 Being a good father is more important to David Wenham than being on
Hollywood's A-list, writes Harbant Gill

THE shock of being ugly, laughs David Wenham, is not something he
needs to get used to.

"Look, I tell you what, when I wake up in the morning all I have to do is
look in the mirror and I'm very accepting of that fact," he says before his
first stupendous-snoz fitting for his role as Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac.

Wenham hasn't spent hours pondering what life would be like for an
ugly man who can't get the chick, but what's interesting to him is how the
physically disadvantaged can have great lives.

He cites Wendy Harmer's "wonderful, real-life" Australian Story of
the young child whose cleft palate was no impediment to success or acceptance.

And he speaks of the Hawaii leper colony he lived in for four months
for Molokai: The Story of Father Damien as the "best experience I've ever

"Here were people who suffered the most horrendous existence but
were certainly the most accepting people I've ever come across and possibly
the happiest people I have ever encountered in my life," Wenham says.

"They are extremely accepting of their fate. They harbour no
bitterness or resentment whatsoever. There's a huge amount of dignity. They sing all the time. It makes you soar.

"Accept who you are, and then no matter what you are dealt with in
life . . .that just opens you up and you can live your life to the fullest."

Indeed, that appears to be how Wenham himself faces life. He is not
seduced by the Hollywood hype nor dazzled by his international successes such
as The Lord of the Rings, largely because his working-class blueprint defines
his core values.

 "The draw of fame and fortune was never a factor. I love acting. I
love being other characters, I love playing with other actors, whether on stage or
on film.  It's something that gives me an incredible amount of joy and

"That's my motivating factor; to create and to entertain people. That gives
me the greatest joy, not how many zeros are in my bank account or how
many magazines I can appear in. That's fluff and bubbles," says the youngest
of seven children.

"We didn't have much money growing up. We lived in an environment
where there was no need for anything other than friendship and support within the
family and the community for happiness. It was as simple as that."

Wenham's father worked in accounts in the same Sydney company for 49

 "And my mother, besides being a full-time mother, could still juggle
being a secretary at a school. I can't fathom how she did it," says Wenham, who
has a 16-month-old daughter, Eliza Jane, with actor partner Kate Agnew.

"There were always meals on the table. She made most of our clothes
and she worked. God almighty, how on earth did she do it?"

Wenham's childhood love of putting on puppet and ventriloquist shows
in the dining room, with his sister selling tickets for 2c each, coupled with
a great drama teacher at school led to drama studies at the University of
Western Sydney after a NIDA rejection. Soon the Marrickville boy was on stage and TV, where he won hearts as Diver Dan in SeaChange.

A string of roles followed -- Cosi, The Boys, Better Than Sex,
Moulin Rouge, The Bank and Gettin' Square and on to international fame with the Rings trilogy and Van Helsing.

"I never knew I could ultimately make a career out of it," Wenham
says. "I never thought I'd ever be involved in movies . . . movie stars, it was as though they were born in another place, on another planet."

At times he stills finds it surreal to be on the set of a blockbuster he has been courted for.

"There are moments when I do pinch myself and think I have been
really bloody lucky. Like The Lord of the Rings, there was one particular day when I was on my horse and there were about 100 horsemen around me and a huge camera. In fact, they built a road for this particular camera to go along as a tracking vehicle.
"On that particular day I looked around and thought, 'This is
extraordinary.  I would never have even dreamt of being involved in something like

What keeps Wenham level-headed comes back to what he values most --
acting, his family and his "very small" circle of friends.

WENHAM treasures his private life, which is often invaded by the

"It's not something I enjoy, no," he says. "It's not fun when not
long after your baby's born and you're out maybe going shopping and somebody
alerts you in a carpark that somebody's hidden behind a car taking photographs. No, it's not fun. But I try to accept that part as best I can and try not to let it affect

"I live a very, very normal life and what I do hasn't changed the
way I live my life, and it's something that I'm very proud of and very happy
because of it."

Wenham is glad he has never known the despair of Cyrano, a real
person who yearned for the unattainable all his life and died unfulfilled.

"I've certainly known longing, but not like that, no. Only for people I am already involved with, whether it be my partner or my family, I know that sort of longing.

"That's sometimes unbearable, but it's fabulous, it's a great thing
to love somebody so much," he says of time away from his little girl, whom he
talks to every day on the phone.

"I make sure I'm never away for any great time when I'm interstate,
and if we go overseas I try to make sure they come with me. If I'm interstate I
try to pop home, even if it's just for a night."

Being a father, says Wenham, is "the greatest thing that I've ever
done and ever will do. Definitely".

David Wenham stars as Cyrano in the Melbourne Theatre Company's
Cyrano de
Bergerac, Feb 19-April 2, Playhouse, Arts Centre.

   Tickets: $66.50/$15. Ph: 1300 136 166 or

LOAD-DATE: February 18, 2005


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