With Clybourne Park about to launch on audiences at the Melbourne Theatre Company, Australian Stage's Eleanor Howlett took some time to sit down with well known actor Patrick Brammall and chat about assorted things over a decaf skinny soy latte and some biscotti.
A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, Patrick has worked extensively in film and TV in Australia, and has tread the boards for some of our most lauded theatre companies. Making his debut with the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2009 he has most recently been seen in Apologia and The Ugly One and will next be playing Algernon in Simon Phillip’s last production as Artistic Director for MTC – The Importance of Being Earnest. Earlier on this year Patrick performed in The White Guard at the Sydney Theatre Company and he has also toured internationally with Bell Shakespeare. With roles in highly praised film and television productions such as Hawke, The Alice, Canal Road and feature film Griff the Invisible – we can probably expect to see a lot more of him in years to come!
With Clybourne Park now showing at the Melbourne Theatre Company, tell us what attracted you to the play?
I saw the London production of it last year on my way back from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I had almost overdosed on theatre in the preceding month, but this play just blew me away. It was so dangerous and funny – there were moments when the whole room was electric. It is an utterly brilliant investigation of racial relations. As soon as I learned that the MTC was staging it, I did everything I could to be in it.
The play deals with some interesting issues over an elongated period of time, how do your two roles differ from the first half to the second?
The obvious difference between the roles is that each exists in a different time in history: Karl in 1959 (Act 1) and Steve in 2009 (Act 2). Karl is ostensibly the villain of the piece; he is deeply racist, misogynistic and highly conservative. Steve, a more sympathetic character, would consider himself a left-wing liberal but is also accused of racism and while the two characters would disagree with each other’s politics, they are very much products of their respective times. Personally, I identify more readily with Steve, but it’s vital to see things from Karl’s point of view also. When I’m Karl, I can’t think of myself as the villain, I have to believe that my intentions are good.
It’s been announced that you’ll be performing in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Melbourne Theatre Company later on this year, what are you looking forward to most about that season?
So much! Firstly, I get to play Algernon: what a fantastic role. And what a brilliant play – it’s close to a perfect comedy. I remember studying it in high school and loving it even then. Then there are all the things particular to this production to look forward to: working with Simon Phillips in his final show as the MTC Artistic Director; working with Geoffrey Rush; playing opposite good friend Toby Schmitz; and to be a part of what is essentially a reprisal of Simon’s production of twenty years ago. Lots to look forward to.
You also have a lead role in the new Aussie film Griff the Invisible, how did you find working with Ryan Kwanten?
Ryan was fantastic to work with. I hadn’t seen any of his work at that time but I knew he was a bit of a star on True Blood. He was completely unassuming, easy to get along with, just a lovely guy. He was very open to ideas and to trying things out; always looking to improve the scene or the brotherly dynamic between our characters in some way. Watching him work was a lesson in professionalism: there were a lot of demands on him and his time, a lot of pressure playing the lead in a film, but I never had any sense that he was having a hard time. A gracious and hard-working man.
You recently worked with Miranda Otto and Andrew Upton at the Sydney Theatre Company, any quirky stories about the experience?
Andrew’s adaptation of Bulgakov’s The White Guard was excellent – and playing Miranda’s enthusiastic suitor was unsurprisingly easy to do. Throughout the play, the characters drink a lot of vodka – being Russian, what else? – and on the final night we swapped out the lime-flavoured water for Russian Standard vodka. I had two shots in quick succession. Needless to say, I won’t ever do that again.
Tell us about dik.
dik is a short film in which I played the lead (possibly the titular role), written specifically for me by my friend Christopher Stollery, who also directed it. It’s a very funny, clever little story of a husband and father who misinterprets his son’s drawing and this misunderstanding leads him into a horrible confrontation with his wife. I did the short film thinking that, as funny as it was, it would go the way of most short films – ie, not very far – but this thing will not stop getting selected and winning awards in festivals all over the world! Flickerfest, St Kilda festival, Aspen Film Festival, Palm Springs, LA Shorts, and we were just selected for the Manhanttan Film Festival which screens in over 250 cities! I think it can be viewed on the Flickerfest website. (http://mnc.tv/flickerfest-2011)
What’s in your CD collection at the moment?
Just bought The Police Greatest Hits from Coles for $10, so I’m obviously right into the latest music and indie stuff nobody’s heard of. What else do I have here…Paul Simon’s latest one, Peter Gabriel Shaking the Tree, Jurassic Five Feedback, Vampire Weekend, Paul Kelly’s Stolen Apples and The Saboteurs Broken Boy Soldiers, John Williamson Warragul. Make of it what you will.
Where was your very first on screen/on stage kiss and what was that like?
My first onscreen kiss was in a short film called Heartworm, written and directed by a friend. Fortunately for me, I was playing an uptight dork who was nervous about kissing the hot girl. So it was really straightforward.
If you weren’t acting – what would you do?
Maybe a journalist. My dad was a journo and I always sort of thought I could go that way too, if the acting thing hadn’t taken over. I doubt I could have written to order for too long though. I reckon by now I would have started my own publication, burned out, become disenchanted with the whole thing and gone to do something else.
Favourite actors/acting influences?
Too many to name. I’m a sponge. The director of our producton of Clybourne Park, Peter Evans, described me the other day as a Talent Vampire. He assured me it was a compliment, but I’m not totally convinced. So I suppose right at this moment, the biggest influence on me is Martin Freeman, who I saw play the Karl/Steve roles in the London production. His imprint is on these roles, but through rehearsals I’m finding my own reading of them.
Clybourne Park opens at the Melbourne Theatre Company on 22 September and runs until 26 October. Full details on the Melbourne Theatre Company website: www.mtc.com.au
Top right – Luke Ryan, Patrick Brammall and Laura Gordon. Photo – Jeff Busby