1. "CHARACTER BUILDING"
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Copyright 2005 Nationwide News Pty Limited
The Weekend Australian
February 19, 2005 Saturday Preprints Edition
SECTION: REVIEW; Arts; Pg. B16
LENGTH: 1697 words
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
in the world in The Boys, that is a very useful quality for someone
"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
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
saw nothing. And the blondly boyish Diver Dan, let's face it,
would hardly have seemed heart-throb material if he'd been
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
when he was 14, stage combat work in Hamlet, and
expert coaching from swordsmen and fight co-ordinators for The Lord of
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
"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
There's been a joint love of the theatre that grew out of that."
Eventually Wenham went to the University of Western
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.
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,
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
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."
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
LOAD-DATE: February 18, 2005
2. "DAVID KNOWS BEST"
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Copyright 2005 Nationwide News Pty Limited
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)
February 19, 2005 Saturday
SECTION: WEEKEND; Pg. W03
LENGTH: 967 words
HEADLINE: David knows best
Being a good father is more important to David Wenham than being on
A-list, writes Harbant Gill
THE shock of being ugly, laughs David Wenham, is not something he
needs to get used
"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.
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
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
were people who suffered the most horrendous existence but
were certainly the most accepting people I've ever come across
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
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
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
and the community for happiness. It was as simple as that."
Wenham's father worked in accounts in the same Sydney company
"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
"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
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,
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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".
Wenham stars as Cyrano in the Melbourne Theatre Company's
Bergerac, Feb 19-April 2, Playhouse, Arts Centre.
$66.50/$15. Ph: 1300 136 166 or www.mtc.com.au
LOAD-DATE: February 18, 2005