How We Do What We Do: Guy Edmonds with Marika Aubrey

Like so many theatre-goers, I first noticed Guy Edmonds in that legendary production of Holding The Man, which sprang out of the Griffin Theatre, toured nationally – and internationally – and left audiences picking up their hearts from the auditorium floor.

Guy Edmonds in The Witches
Guy Edmonds in The Witches

Apart from being an actor with a lengthy CV across theatre, film and most recently TV’s A Moody Christmas, I learn Guy is a proficient musician, and a trained film maker (see? this is why these chats are cool!).

I catch up with Guy on a coffee break at the Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, where he is rehearsing The Witches – A delicious one man theatrical telling of the dark Roald Dahl tale.

Behind the Camera

Marika: Where did you train? How did you start? Why did you become an actor? Let’s start there.

Guy: Well, three questions. Firstly, where did I train? I trained at QT in Brisbane.

Marika: We had Gyton Grantley on this series and I think he was from there…

Guy: Yes, he was there… the year I got in, he’d left. I graduated in 2004, nearly 10 years ago.

Marika: Time flies.

Guy: I’d always been into music. I play a whole bunch of instruments and all through high school, was looking at maybe pursuing a career in music but in year 10, I had this really amazing drama teacher, who was very inspirational. I’d always been into performance but never really thought of acting as something I would do. I thought, “If I can get paid to do this, that would be a very excellent life”, because I never saw acting as work.

Marika: Yes.

[pull_left]I thought, “If I can get paid to do this, that would be a very excellent life”, because I never saw acting as work[/pull_left]

Guy: So, I auditioned straight out of school for NIDA, QT, I think all the big ones, couldn’t get into any of them, which is often the case, so then I went and studied film for a year.

Marika: As an actor, or as a film maker?

Guy: No, a film maker.

Marika: Wow. Ok.

Guy: Yes. I’ve, kind of, come full circle with that, funnily enough, but we’ll come back to that… I got into the Queensland College of Arts film making course and did a year of that. Loved it, but found myself doing community theatre, co-ops, independent theatre… I think I did maybe three or four shows that year in Queensland, you know, free jobs. I thought, “Okay, I’m clearly bound to this. I really want to do this”, so I re-auditioned for the schools again, got into QT and then went and did the three years.

Marika: How was the drama school for you?

Guy: I really responded well to it. I probably got less actor training and more, just life personal training, you know. It really challenged me, it stretched me, but the stuff we do there… It’s Eric Morris, I don’t know if you’re familiar with him…

Marika: I’m not actually.

Guy: So, its method based acting but the whole first year was personal development. We didn’t really touch plays at all. It was just about, kind of, stretching your emotional muscles and… very confronting work but as a young man, I… it really pushed me. I then got out of drama school and was like an insecure wreck. I was so self-aware that… it was hard to manage sometimes.

Marika: That’s not helpful…

Guy: Well, no, because you realise that ignorance is bliss. When you become aware of your things, habitual things you do, or resistances you have to certain emotional states it’s like, “Oh, fuck. I’ve got work that I need to do” except that then I did. I did my on the job training once I got out.

In Front of The Camera

A Very Moody Christmas
A Moody Christmas

Marika: Did you get work immediately upon getting out?

Guy: I did, yes, but I had a funny journey, like I got cast in All Saints straight out of drama school. This is actually a good anecdote that you should print…

Marika: Okay.

Guy: …because, particularly for young actors…well, we’re still young but, like younger actors who are starting. I had a dream run coming out of drama school. I got a job before I’d even graduated…

Marika: Yes, wow.

Guy: Before I did showcase, I’d got a three year contract on All Saints…which was really only six months, then they renew it for another 6 months and so on. Anyway, so I came out of drama school going, “Wow, this is easy. I’ve got a job straight away!”. And I had more money than I knew what to do with and it was an amazing experience. It made the move to Sydney really easy, but then at the end of the six months, when my contract was supposed to be renewed, it didn’t get renewed.

Marika: Yes. I have a couple of friends who have similar stories.

Guy: Right. I also had a very tough time on the show. It wasn’t, like the most awesome environment to work in and-

Marika: -In what way?

Guy: Look, the show was… It was at the time when Blue Heelers and All Saints were both on Channel 7 but one was going to get the chop…

Marika: We can’t possibly have two! [laughter].

Guy: No. Blue Heelers got the axe, which freed up a bit of money that they would spend to rebrand All Saints.

Marika: Right. Was this when they did the big move from ‘Ward 17’ to the ‘Emergency Unit’?!

[pull_left]Anyway, so I came out of drama school going, ‘Wow, this is easy. I’ve got a job straight away!'[/pull_left]Guy: I came in at the time just before it was all happening. I was green firstly. I had no on-set experience really. I’d come from this really supportive environment of drama school and the love and the passion… Look, it was a combination of me probably not being ready for the demands of procedural TV but also, some… problematic personalities, which made my life difficult. So, yes. I, kind of, came out of that experience feeling like I’d been chewed up and spat out and I didn’t work really for about a year and a half. I just couldn’t get a job. The All Saints experience, while it was tough – and I actually wouldn’t change it in a heartbeat – but it really forced me to grow and I got to a point where I was auditioning for stuff and just couldn’t get any traction. I think, partially because I was insecure and felt like, “Oh, I didn’t get my contract renewed.”

Marika: Nothing makes you scrutinise yourself more than seeing yourself every week on a TV show even though you’re not quite sure what you’re doing yet…

Guy: Totally, and then when you get told that, “Well, we had you on a three year deal” and then you don’t get renewed, to a 21 year old fresh out of drama school, you know… And this is all within the six months of graduating. I had the absolute high and then… [gestures up high and then simulates a crash landing]

The Great Australian Theatre Miracle

Holding The Man
Holding The Man

Guy: After All Saints, and not working for quite a while, I got to a point where I said to myself, “Where do I feel most secure? Where do I feel the safest? What do I feel most in control of?” and it was theatre, so I started harassing all the theatre companies in Sydney, independent & professional, to find out what was going on (because I’d moved from Brisbane). I didn’t know anyone and I found this director called Anthony Skuse and auditioned for a play he was doing at the Griffin called The Cold Child, got in that and that was a really lovely experience, a beautiful cast. Like what I thought acting could and should be.

Marika: That is restorative.

Guy: Yes, it was, but also a major career turn because it was there that I saw a poster for a play that had yet to be cast called Holding the Man, and I was like, “Oh, what’s that about?” and Skuse said, “Oh my god, you have to read it. It’s amazing. It’s an amazing book” and I did, and it was… it is an amazing book, so I wrote David Berthold a letter.

Marika: Love a letter.

Guy: I contacted my agent and said, “Oh, you know, I’ve heard about this play. Skuse says I’d be right for it” and they said, “Oh, no, they’ve already done auditions and they didn’t ask to see you.” I was like, “Fuck that” so I wrote David a letter inviting him to see The Cold Child and also expressing my interest in the play. He came and saw it, gave me a copy of the script, which I read, then he asked to audition me and then I got the role.

Marika: And I’m imagining that none of you guys knew what that show would become…

Guy: No, not at all.

Marika: …when you were making it. It must have felt pretty special, just because the source material was so special. But you couldn’t realise it would have the commercial and critically successful ramifications that it did.

Guy: No idea… because, I mean, that just never… Well, it doesn’t never happen but…

Marika: It certainly barely ever happens.

Guy: Cloudstreet prior to that was the last show I recall having that momentum. I’m sure there’s been other shows before that but you probably get one a decade or so that has that immense life.

Marika: Shows that take on a mythical quality in social circles when you say the title Cloud Street or Holding the Man.

Guy: I still get regularly stopped in the street and hear people tell me, yes, “Thank you for that show…”. Beautiful personal stories from people about the impact that show had on them and certainly not just gay people either, you know, but people across the board and I think that’s what really surprised all of us involved. It started out as this very small niche piece of theatre for a part of the community and then just grew and grew and grew, you know, and then ended up playing the West End.

West End, Washington and Beyond

Marika: Tell me about your West End experience?

Guy: It was awesome. I mean, talk about ticking a major box for an actor. It was extraordinary. There’s no other way to put it. I mean, the theatre community over there is so robust and it’s an industry that is across all parts of society. I, kind of feel like, not to go on a theatre rant but being in Australia, I take issue sometimes with the fact that theatre is seen as something for either the culturally elite or the financially elite. Now, I think that’s part to do with the public perception, also partly to do with culture, and then also some programming choices that I think maybe could be more inclusive. Not to say that everything needs to be Michael Bay’s Transformers, but something that speaks to Australian culture and not Berlin culture because I feel like theatre here is, yes, sometimes it’s just a bit… not disingenuous…

Marika: Inaccessible…?

[pull_left]what really struck me in the UK is that the public’s perception of what theatre is –  that you can go to the footie and you can go see a play[/pull_left]Guy: Yes, maybe sometimes inaccessible and just not as inclusive as it could be. And what really struck me in the UK is that the public’s perception of what theatre is – that you can go to the footie and you can go see a play. Both are forms of, you know, entertainment. They’re both community experiences.

Marika: Correct, and that makes a huge impact on your culture. Friends of mine over there, who have nothing to do with the industry, go to the theatre regularly and love it. They don’t view it as being ‘special’…

Guy: “Oh, I must do something cultured”, like it’s a special event or something for your business lunches or business events but it’s not something you would just do, like you would just go to a movie, or go to a sporting game.

Marika: Yes! And how did such an Australian story go down in London?

Guy: Pretty well. I mean, there are a few jokes and a few tonal things, references that didn’t quite land but even when there wasn’t a direct connection to it, there was still a fascination or an understanding of what that joke meant… but also those people then learn from that as something that they’ve never experienced before, so they come away richer because of it.

Marika: That’s wonderful.

Guy: Yes…I’ve been very fortunate with the theatre shows I’ve done. Holding the Man, which had, like a billion seasons, Toy Symphony, which didn’t tour but was still one of those really magical shows, and then Rupert at MTC, which toured to Washington.

Marika: I didn’t realise that toured over there.

Guy: Yes. We toured to The Kennedy Center as part of The World Stages Theatre Festival.

Marika: Has that opened up more work? Overseas I mean. Have you gotten work from those situations?

Guy: Not directly…

Marika: [Laughter] Yet.

Guy: …but I think indirectly, because I’ve got management in the UK and I’ve got management in America and it certainly hasn’t hurt. It helps you get in the door more when there’s, you know, a Washington Post review of your work or a New York Times review of your work.

Marika: Is that how you see your future? One where you can work in all countries?

Guy: Yes, I mean, I love travel. Even coming to Melbourne for a few weeks to do The Witches here at Malthouse is like, “Holiday!” [Laughter]. I do like travelling and ideally, yes. I’d love to live all around the world and be able to work in many countries. And I’m hoping, that could happen with The Witches, you know.

Recognising A Real Witch

Marika: I saw The Witches at NIDA in 2012.

Guy: Oh, you did? Cool.

Marika: It’s a great show.

Guy: Thank you. I’d never done a one man show. But it was one of those ones where the idea really excited me and Lucas [Jervies – the director] is great.

Marika: What are the demands of a one man show that versus being in a beautiful big ensemble?

Guy: Pretty lonely.

Marika: [Laughter] you have no one to bounce off.

Guy: No, and the cast party is a bit shit.

Marika: Yes, you and a bottle of wine [Laughter].

Guy: Going, “Yeah, well done, Guy”, “Yeah, well done, Guy.” “No, stop it.” “Oh, go on.”

Marika: [Laughter].

Guy: We have had a two week re-rehearsal and I’ve found the last week particularly, not taxing, but energetically hard because… I don’t want to give too much away but…

Marika: It’s physical.

Guy: It is, and the audience are, kind of, another character. There’s a lot of interaction, not to the point where, you know, like people get dragged up on stage and embarrassed but it’s a direct address a lot of the time, so when you’re looking out… I know I feel when I’m talking to the audience that I’m engaging with another actor.

Marika: That connection’s really important in that show.

[pull_right]when people are looking back at you, or they’re scared or, whatever their reaction is, it feeds me[/pull_right]Guy: Really important and when people are looking back at you, or they’re scared or, whatever their reaction is, it feeds me. So, to have been doing at least one or two runs every day for the last week – which has been important for stamina because it’s fucking physical – but it’s been a bit tough, like “Oh, fuck this. I need some audience, you know, I’m going to go mental.”

Marika: Do you enjoy working in that physical, kind of, way?

Guy: I really do, yes, because it’s different to what I normally do, and that’s what excited me. I mean, even just at the company meet and greet, Marion said, “Oh, Guy here, it’s such a wonderful show, blah, blah, blah, and seeing Guy who’s normally a serious actor, to see him moving…” and that’s because you spend most of your time doing mostly comedy or drama in film, TV and theatre.

Marika: Yes.

Guy: I am very rarely demanded to move every part of my body, which is what interested me in the beginning. I like being challenged. I like going into things only half knowing what I’m doing and learning.

The Plasticine Approach

Marika: Well, that brings us really to the crux of this interview, which is, how do you do what you do? Is that your mantra, to go in with a bit of knowledge but not too much and see what happens or do you have a particular way of working with every project? Can you define it?

[pull_left]I don’t believe in the idea of character.  I don’t believe I can be anyone else other than me.  What I do believe is that everyone… every person, actor, human, otherwise has, kind of, an infinite amount of potential in them[/pull_left]

Guy: I mean as an actor, I trained in Eric Morris which is really about taking what’s personal to you and using that in your performance without getting too bogged down in all the language and the psychology of it but… I don’t believe in the idea of character. I don’t believe I can be anyone else other than me. What I do believe is that everyone… every person, actor, human, otherwise has, kind of, an infinite amount of potential in them to be whatever or whoever they want to be. Through life and conditioning and environmental circumstances, we’ve become a certain version of ourselves but, you know, given the right set of different circumstances, we can become anyone else. So, for me, it’s about almost being given permission to explore other parts of me.

Marika: Kind of like a plasticine approach?

Guy: I guess, yes. I believe the character’s created in the audience. That’s, kind of, how I think about it, and through signifiers and layers – i.e. costume, voice, a walk, that creates something but it all comes from within, within me. In terms of approaching something, I just, kind of, I just do it and I know that isn’t always particularly helpful as a technique but…

Marika: What do you do when you get stuck, if it’s not coming naturally? Do you have a thing that you do, or do you just ride it out and hope that it will come?

Guy: I just go with it and I go, “Alright, so that’s there. What’s the problem?” I might talk it out for a bit. If I don’t, I just move on and, you know, I come back to it.

Marika: Look at it later with fresh eyes?

Guy: Yes, and I don’t like talking too much about things. I like to just keep it on the floor, you know, not over-rehearse. I just think, and look, it’s easy to say this with 10 years’ experience and three years of drama school training, but I do think sometimes the job of the actor gets over complicated.

Marika: It’s about getting out of your own way sometimes.

Guy: It is. I think sometimes, it’s simple as just doing it and I say this because I know a number of actors who have never trained, ever, that have absolutely no process and are wonderful…

Marika: Yes.

Guy: I know that’s hard to swallow sometimes but that’s the reality of it. I think sometimes the best thing you can be as an actor is comfortable in your own skin, kind of fearless and just get on with it.

Back To The Beginning

Marika: So, yes, “let’s go full circle”, you said earlier that you started off doing film making up in Brisbane. Are you using that now?

Guy: I am. Yes, I directed a feature film last year called Super Awesome with a friend of mine, Matt Zeremes who was in Holding the Man. We’ve got a production company called Boomshaka Film and we make all manner of things. I’ve produced six shorts, a feature, we’ve got two TV shows in development now…

Marika: Most people in this series make their own work. It’s a really interesting common thread.

Guy: I think you, kind of, have to. I’ve had too many conversations with actors, you know, moaning about the state of the industry, moaning about the lack of work, moaning about the quality of work and, I just had this brain wave where I thought, “Well, if it’s so easy, why don’t you go do it, Guy?” So…it’s not easy at all [laughter], but in all the things I’ve done, I’ve gotten steadily more and more ambitious.

Marika: A feature film is pretty ambitious.

Guy: Yes, that’s just been finished.

Marika: Congratulations. That’s huge.

Guy: Yes, it is. Thanks.

Marika: Thank you! Great to chat.

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