Truth is, I wasn’t going to chat to well known Aussie actor Gyton Grantley for this series. I completely missed the first Underbelly series… And most of his feature film roles too. I usually forget to watch The Logies and maybe I figured someone as recognisable as Gyton wouldn’t be that interesting…right?
I met Gyton when he became my colleague (upon replacing Eddie Perfect as Luther Billis in the return season of South Pacific this year). It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear he is fun-loving, curious and an all-round nice guy. But perhaps you weren’t aware that he is also classically trained, a very hard worker and suffered from ‘Luke Skywalker Syndrome’… it’s a thing. Read on.
In a break between shows, we grab 20 minutes to enjoy a cuppa from the green room cafe and discuss how we do what we do…
Marika: So the way this works…
Marika: …is it’s supremely casual.
Marika: The idea is that people reading it will feel like they’re having a cup of tea with us in the dressing room.
Gyton: Sure. As we are.
Marika: As we are.
Gyton: Let’s just chat.
Marika: So you’re a Brisbane boy?
Gyton: I am. Brisney Land. Brisbekistan. San Fran Brisco.
Marika: I haven’t heard any of these!
Gyton: Everyone knows Bris Vegas…
Marika: Yeah I know that one, but I’ve never heard of Brisbekistan!
Gyton: Brisbekistan is a good one. But my favourite is Brisney Land. Every kid wants to go to Brisney Land…
HOW NOW BROWN COW
Marika: Were you always into drama at school and stuff? A bit of a drama nerd at school?
Gyton: Yeah. Mum, mum sent my brother and I to speech and drama classes when we were kids. Because she just believed that if we could speak confidently in front of an audience, in front of a group of people, then we’d be successful at whatever we chose to do, which I believe in, and I guess while I was there I discovered and realised I was really good at it and I really loved it. School plays, theatre sports at school. I continued my AMEB studies. Yeah I should really have finished that. I’m up to level 7.
Marika: Wow, so you’re really fancy. That’s really high.
Gyton: I’ve just got to do the last one, yeah.
Marika: I would never have known that about you.
Gyton: I can write phonetics.
Marika: There we are! Incredible. And you went to QUT? Is that because you wanted to stay close to home?
Gyton: I finished school and didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I did an arts degree at University of Queensland. I mean I loved acting, but I knew that it was a ridiculous idea to consider actually making a living out of it. So I did Journalism, and Psychology, and Business, and English, and Drama subjects, and after a year thought, “Stuff that, I’m going to have a crack at it”. I auditioned for QUT. I didn’t actually get in, I got in 2 weeks before the year started. Some other person pulled out at the last minute.
Marika: Ah, you got in on a second round. I love those things. 2 paths diverge in the woods…
Gyton: Yeah, I was devastated when I initially didn’t get in. In going through the audition process I realised that’s what I wanted to do. So to get that phone call was pretty special.
Marika: Did you love drama school?
[pull_left]ultimately good acting is when you’re in the moment. When you’re completely involved in the story you’re telling. How you get there doesn’t matter I reckon, as long as you get there[/pull_left]
Gyton: Yeah, I never looked back. The style of acting they teach you at QUT is quite method based. So it’s pretty raw. It’s pretty hardcore. It strips away all your barriers… Like all good acting you try and get to a place of vulnerability, but the techniques and methods used to do this were pretty confronting. It was a traumatic experience as well as an enlightening and exciting experience, but I wouldn’t change it, at all. I loved it.
Marika: Do you still find that even now, that the stuff you learnt at drama school is the foundation of how you are as an actor? How you do what you do?
Gyton: Yeah, look it gives you tools. Everyone has different styles and techniques. And ultimately good acting is when you’re in the moment. When you’re completely involved in the story you’re telling. How you get there doesn’t matter I reckon, as long as you get there.
Marika: Having done all that AMEB stuff, which is pretty theatre-centric and about speech and stuff, did you always think, “Oh, I’ll probably always be a theatre dude”, or did you aim for film and TV?
Gyton: That was the important thing about my training at QUT – It loosened me up and broke down a lot of the strict kind of teachings of AMEB. It let the irreverence lead as opposed to the structure of things, but then again it’s turned out quite handy. Those skills – it’s like playing an instrument you need to learn to play each note before you can…
Marika: Fuck with it.
Gyton: I just liked acting. I liked performing. I just wanted to work. And to create obviously. And perform.
FAME, WHAT YOU GET IS NO TOMORROW
Marika: Before TV, did you have a period of bar work, telecommunications… blah blah blah?
Gyton: Yeah… I’ve pulled beers, and waited tables and sold many bottles of wine. Obviously my breakthrough role was as Carl Williams in Underbelly but that wasn’t until about 7 or 8 years after I’d graduated. I’d accumulated a fair amount of TV guest roles and parts in films though. Maybe 3 months on Home and Away.
Marika: What’s your prep like for a role, be it TV, film or theatre?
Gyton: Obviously if it’s a real person like Carl, or say Gary Cunningham, who I played in Balabo, who was one of the Balabo 5, you know you read about them as much as you can, you watch any video, you talk to any of the family members if they’re available. Which I didn’t do with Carl actually. I wasn’t allowed to.
Gyton: Yes. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t. Because the thing about stories that are true, is that they’re not. Nothing is. Nothing can ever be true. But you’ll do your research. You’ll read about the time. It is based on real happenings, real events, so you’ll have a look at the area. Reading really is the best research.
Marika: Did you know much about Carl Williams before you did that?
Gyton: When I got the audition for Carl Williams I had no idea who he was. I turned up for the audition in a suit and tie because the scene was set in a casino.
Marika: So you thought he would be dressed up for the event…?!
Gyton: The casting guy said, “Can you pull your shirt out? He’s a bit sloppy this guy”. I think my appearance helped a lot in getting that part. And obviously I did the research and developed and created the character.
Marika: Underbelly was such a successful series. I think it was one of the most successful series in Australian TV. People just really took to it. You go to literally being anywhere in Australia and having people scream at you. Is that weird?
Gyton: (nodding) Especially when they don’t call me Gyton, they call me Carl.
Marika: That’s pretty weird.
[pull_left]You lose your freedom. I went to a festival that summer with my brother, and I couldn’t move because people just constantly wanting to take photos[/pull_left]
Gyton: It changed my life. Because I’d been acting for 7 years, and had all sorts of great parts in big films and TV shows. And I’d get the odd person saying, “Oh you’re that guy from the KFC ad” … and afterwards you can just go about your day. Then all of a sudden (I had lived in Bondi for 8 years) I was being followed by 4 or 5 cameras and paparazzi and things. And yeah, it was really strange. You lose your freedom. I went to a festival that summer with my brother, and I couldn’t move because people were just constantly wanting to take photos.
Marika: Do you handle that well? Do you enjoy those interactions?
Gyton: People are mostly polite, and that’s fine. It’s when you’re in the middle of dinner, and someone’s pulling at your shoulder; they’re actually handling you. And I’m like, “Can’t you let me finish my meal? Can you not tug on my shoulder please? I’m a person. I’m not your property”.
Marika: I’m not in your lounge room!
Gyton: One thing I’ve found is be polite and oblige. It makes them happy, and they leave a lot faster.
Marika: Has it changed the way you approach work? Like you’re in House Husbands, and people sit down and watch the pilot of the show. They’re not watching you as an unknown anymore. They’re not taking it at face-value. They’ve got a bag that they’ve got some preconceptions about you in… Or do you just go, “Ah fuck, I can’t think about it I just got to keep doing work”…?
Gyton: I don’t think it worries me. I always try and pick roles that have a strong sense of character about them. So no, it doesn’t worry me. But there was a period for about almost 2 years where I had trouble getting work because I was Carl Williams.
Marika: Oh really?
Gyton: Luke Skywalker syndrome.
Marika: Yeah, right. I didn’t know that.
Gyton: There was a lot of feedback to my agent where it was, “He’s great, he’s wonderful, we just can’t have Carl Williams playing that part”.
Marika: Interesting. What did you do for that 2 years?
Gyton: Voiceovers. And eating into my savings a bit. I had a little dabble at producing, and things like that, and started making plans. But then it picked up again, which it always does. It’s a roller coaster. It comes and goes, and then dries up again. Kind of encouraging to know now 12 years on that you can keep it going.
Marika: For sure.
Gyton: But always be prepared for it to stop.
Marika: Yeah it’s surely one of the few careers where you don’t necessarily do a good job, get promoted, then do a good job and keep working and keep going up. I think people, even the most famous people, go down and up.
Gyton: Where are they now?
Marika: That’s why those specials exist! Did I tell you that in our dressing room the other day, we were talking about child actors. Turns out Michael Banks from Mary Poppins is dead and died very early in life quite tragically. Who knew?
Gyton: Thank God for Google.
Marika: Yeah, where were we without knowing? See years ago we wouldn’t know where they were until Channel 9 did a special on it.
TRADING TV FOR MY ISLAND HOME
Marika: You’re probably known best for TV.
Gyton: Well that’s the natural beast isn’t it?
Marika: You’re in our living rooms.
Gyton: You’re in more magazines, blah blah… It’s one of the reasons why I got this job in South Pacific, I’m positive about it.
Marika: Because of your profile?
Gyton: Because of my profile.
Gyton: I hope that since doing it I have proved that I was worthy of it as well, but that’s for people in the audience and critics to decide.
Marika: I dare say when I stand behind you 8 shows a week and the whole crowd goes “Yay!” about 100 decibels louder than any of us schmucks, I’m pretty sure they appreciate you!
Gyton: It is always a nice moment…You know, film and TV is great because it’s a lot more intimate, there’s a type of intensity about it. You only get really one chance – which is not true because you do get many takes – but it’s not like you can go away, think on it and come back the next day.
Marika: You don’t get a re-do.
Gyton: But there’s nothing like the joy of having a live crowd. Like the other night when the set wasn’t available [due to a mechanical breakdown part of the South Pacific set wasn’t available and Act 2 was performed on a bare stage] and every single one of us just thrived and became so alive again, and was exactly what we needed – and that’s the joy of theatre.
Marika: A little part of me was thinking, ‘Was this a little trick the producers have pulled to put a firecracker under our bums?!’
Marika: Is South Pacific your longest run of a show?
Gyton: Yeah, by far, yeah.
Marika: How does it feel now, 8 weeks into this run? How has it grown or changed? Is it harder?
Gyton: I think in musical theatre you have a little bit of leeway in the sense that… the idea of song and dance… it’s not so hardcore. It’s not as hard to be available in those moments, emotionally. I find it easier – I assume most people would – to let yourself be happy and enjoy it as opposed to being angry and upset. If you were doing a 3 month tour of Hamlet, I think you’d go nuts.
Marika: Because you have more terrain to climb.
Gyton: It’s just exhausting.
Marika: Yeah, but you get to be the life of the party in this show!
[pull_left]This is one of the greatest roles I’ve ever had. It is a wonderful opportunity for any actor to play Billis[/pull_left]
Gyton: Yeah. This is one of the greatest roles I’ve ever had. It is a wonderful opportunity for any actor to play Billis. There’s just so many different ways you can take him too. Which must be really fascinating I’m sure for everyone else in our company to see all the different takes on him [referring to 3 different actor’s interpreting this role]
Gyton: Like I was the shit Billis!
Marika: You were the shit Billis that I didn’t care to know about….!
Gyton: Anyway, to answer your question – I’m not getting tired of it. Whereas all the other theatre I’ve ever done, you’re definitely well and truly over it after 4 weeks. I think the main reason I’m just so comfortable and enjoying this and not over it yet, is because of the people. It’s because of the cast and-
Marika: – and if someone annoys you you’ve got 30 other people to hang out with…!?
Gyton: Exactly. And I love a crowd; 2’s company, 3’s a crowd. I love a crowd. Because if this one’s annoying you, you can talk to the other one.
Marika: Are you from a big family or something?!
Gyton: No, I’m from a small family.
Marika: We are all the siblings you never had…
[pull_left]you create this big family. There are ups and downs, there are fights, and there’s laughter. And everyone gets to know each other really well and we all have a good time. We have created memories that I know I’ll be keeping forever[/pull_left]
Gyton: Well that’s true, you do, you create this big family. There are ups and downs, there are fights, and there’s laughter. And everyone gets to know each other really well and we all have a good time. We have created memories that I know I’ll be keeping forever.
Marika: Do you have rituals for our show? At the hour or the half or anything like that?
Gyton: At the half I’m getting changed. Because we’ve just done our vocal warm up. Then I’ll put my mic on. And then I’ll get a coffee. The last 2 weeks I’ve been in the boy’s ensemble dressing room doing pushups …
Marika: Ah, you like to hang out with the boys on the island!
Gyton: I like hanging out with the boys. It’s nice to engage with them. So many times you can walk on stage and you haven’t even seen another actor at all.
Marika: The audience don’t realise that.
Gyton: Instead of saying your opening line, “Here you are sweaty pie!”, you feel like saying “Hi Christine, how are you, how was your morning?” It’s good to get that out the way and establish a connection again. Besides being out on the road it’s just fun hanging out with the boys. Which goes back to the whole community, the family thing.
Gyton: I’m going to look back on this year so fondly. I absolutely love it, so I’m always asking around the dressing rooms what’s coming up. Asking “What kind of parts are in that show? Are there any characters that don’t sing and dance too much?!!”
Marika: That’s hilarious. That’s a niche market – characters in a musical that don’t really sing or dance that much…
Gyton: That’s what I’m aiming for!