Original Cougar: The Delicious Jerry Hall is Mrs Robinson

AussieTheatre’s Clare Pickering was starstruck when she met Jerry Hall to talk about the upcoming revival production of The Graduate in Melbourne and portraying the original ‘Cougar’ on stage.

Jerry Hall at media launch for 'The Graduate' 12 March 2013
Jerry Hall at media launch for ‘The Graduate’ 12 March 2013. 

Despite having arrived super early to prepare for my biggest ever star interview, the minute Jerry Hall glided onto the podium everything started to close in around me. The photographers on either side practically pounced on her in a frenzy of flashes as my iPhone decided at that precise moment it would no longer record or even take photographs. My heart was pounding and my head was in a panic. Thank goodness I had memorised the one and only question I was hoping to ask her.

Having quickly given up all attempts to record the interview, I internally begged my iPhone to at least please take a photo! Just as I was about to toss it across the room, Hall slinked into her chair, flicked her hair back, set her eyes upon the media crouching before her and smiled. In that instant I was entranced, trapped like an insect in a spider web. I was totally and utterly star struck. And right on cue, my iPhone finally agreed to work.

Hall is here to promote her role as the iconic Mrs Robinson in the upcoming Melbourne season of The Graduate. Hall has already wowed audiences from London’s West End to Toronto, Broadway, North America and Perth. Shel last stepped into Mrs Robinson’s shoes in 2010 and is eagerly anticipating slipping back into those shoes this coming September.

The Graduate is adapted from Charles Webb’s novel (1963) and the 1967 Oscar winning film.  Younger audiences may not be aware of the stir this coming of age story caused when it not only launched the career of the now famous Dustin Hoffman in the role of Benjamin Braddock, but shone the spotlight on older women whose vitality and sexual freedom was finally being acknowledged in the era of the swinging sixties.

The character of Mrs Robinson is now considered by some to be the original ‘Cougar’ who graced the film set and stage and explains why the play is as relevant today as when Webb wrote the novel. It’s easy to see why Hall revels in playing the role. When asked what she thought of the phrase ‘Cougar’ Hall agreed that “it is relevant because Mrs Robinson is quite the predator, and it’s quite nice dating younger men because they have a lot of stamina and can keep up!”

The focus throughout the media press call and interview was, as to be expected, on Hall’s modeling career; her famous loves, Bryan Ferry and Mick Jagger; and of course ‘that nude scene’ in the play. But what stood out for me was that, beyond her fame and glamour, Hall is an extraordinary, passionate woman who loves to have fun and is having the time of her life.

Hall confesses that her first true love was, in fact, the theatre and that she ‘got the bug’ at a very early age. But life took an unexpected turn when her modeling career, which catapulted her into the limelight at the tender age of sixteen, lasted longer than the five years she was anticipating. Hall had to wait until she was thirty-one years old to finally tread the boards.

For those of you who assume Hall is just another model-turned-actor without any acting nous, think again. Hall trained with Stella Adler at the Actors Studio in New York and the National Theatre in London, with Kate Fleming and Patsy Rodenburg. Beyond her incredible modeling career, Hall has worked extensively in film, television and theatre.

While her theatre credits include an impressive list of productions, it is evident Hall is relishing this particular role and the chance to reprise it.

My greatest love is performing in front of an audience, especially comedy

Hall has a wickedly good sense of humour, is gracious, elegant and charming. But it’s this sense of fun that has captured audience hearts around the world. Hall confesses she simply loves playing the role of Mrs Robinson.

“Fun! This role is great fun. It’s a contemporary theatre piece. During the time the film came out, women had freedom because of The Pill and it was so shocking at the time to express this when the film was released. But love is love. People fall in love with other people of different ages all the time. Mrs Robinson is just a very naughty woman who drinks too much and has inappropriate sex.”

When Hall is asked whether she can identify with the character, she responds, “I admit I have a way with difficult men”, much to the amusement of the swooning media.

As an actor, a woman gets to a certain age and it is rare to be offered such a great role. Normally you get offered the role of the mother. Mrs Robinson is a sexual predator, an older woman who is wicked and fun. I love the way she plays cat and mouse

Hall says she has loved working with the different actors in each production and delights in observing the differences in audiences around the world. Hall mentioned that there was a particular line in the play that she thought was very funny, but to her dismay the London audiences never laughed. Thankfully the Perth audiences always laughed, perhaps, she surmises, because of the influence of American TV on Australia. I suspect Hall is eager to see whether the Melbourne audiences have a similar sense of humour.

Hall confirmed that the role of Benjamin Braddock has not yet been cast but she has been happily assisting with the casting process, cheekily admitting that both actors were “very cute so I am happy with that!”

[pull_left]But love is love. People fall in love with other people of different ages all the time. Mrs Robinson is just a very naughty woman who drinks too much and has inappropriate sex[/pull_left]Questions from the media quickly turned to the famous nude scene. Hall admitted that the first time this scene was played out was quite horrible. As she disrobed “fifty photographers all stood up and starting snapping away.” Despite this paparazzi onslaught from the London press, she overcame her initial fears and it soon became her favourite part of the play. Maybe, she admits, because she felt a little liberated, but mostly “because it is so shocking and naughty and the audience love it and it is tastefully done.” She then quips a cheeky reply, “Of course I am not really naked on stage, after all, she is still in her high heels!”

Beyond her career and much publicised love life, Hall reveals her greatest role to date is that of mother to her four children to Mick Jagger, Elizabeth, James, Georgia May and Gabriel. When she talks about her children, her entire being lights up. When asked how she managed to juggle life on the road with a family, she simply states that she always works to keep her family together.

“My children are fantastic. I don’t know that I did anything that special; I was there and I cooked their dinner. We always had an open house with friends coming over to share a meal. I really believe that it is important to let your children make mistakes and learn from the consequences. I am so proud of them. They turned out to be really great people.”

I did mention previously, that my iPhone was not co-operating with me, however, in case you are wondering, I did manage to ask Hall my one and only memorised question. In my nervous blur of excitement I do recall my words that went (hopefully) something like this: “It is quite rare for an actress to have the opportunity to reprise a role in the way that you have, particularly working with different cast, and I wondered whether you have learnt anything new about Mrs Robinson this time around that you perhaps did not know before?”

Well that is what I hoped I asked her and to be completely honest, I was just thrilled to be holding a microphone, speaking to her and have her utter and undivided attention. Alas, I was so caught up in the moment that I can’t quite recall all of her response but I did capture this:

“It has been wonderful to discover new things about the role because of working with different actors who give you different things to work off. It is delicious working with different people … you have to work with what you have and bring what you have to the role.”

When Hall was asked whether she is like Mrs Robinson she replied:

I am not Mrs Robinson, but I could have been! All women feel a lot of what Mrs Robinson feels. You have to give up a lot to be a mother. Women can’t have it all. But it is worth having kids and Mrs Robinson does think that, somewhere down deep!

Coming from humble beginnings Hall admits she feels very grateful and has a great appreciation of the successes in her life. Her motto, it seems, has always been to stay close to her family, to work hard and be careful with her money. She continues to have great friendships with Bryan Ferry and Mick Jagger and confirms the two songs they dedicated to her ‘Kiss and Tell’ and ‘Miss You’ are indeed on her iPod playlist.

Hall is a woman who has come into her own. In the same spirit of the lady singers she adores – Nina Simone, Edith Piaff and Ella Fitzgerald – she is a woman of class, substance and strength. When asked how she feels about ageing she is a breath of fresh air.

“You feel more fun being older. You don’t care. You just relax and have fun. I have aged well thanks to my mum and I am very healthy.”

But when asked what advice she would give about being healthy, Hall quickly confirmed why she has been so cleverly cast as Mrs Robinson.

“I don’t think I should be the one to give advice. I like to drink, smoke, have coffee and have a good time!” Barely missing a beat she added, “but everything in moderation. Oh, and I get a lot of sleep.”

Despite her reluctance to give advice, and beyond all the incredible experiences and successes she has enjoyed, Hall has grown from a model to a role model. ‘As you get older you realise that what is important is family and friends.  To have fun and laugh a lot.’

Don’t miss the opportunity to have fun and laugh a lot with Hall as she steps one more time into those delectable stilettos of Mrs Robinson.

Jerry Hall (left) and at the Melbourne launch of 'The Graduate'
Jerry Hall (left) and at the Melbourne launch of ‘The Graduate’. Image by Regina Magner Karon

The Graduate is adapted and originally directed by Terry Johnson, from the novel by Charles Webb and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry. It is produced in Australia by Kay & McLean Productions Pty Ltd in association with Michael Coppel Theatrical. The Graduate features songs by Paul Simon, performed by Simon and Garfunkel, and original music composed and arranged by Barrington Pheloung.

The production will play a VERY LIMITED SEASON from September 24th at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

For more information and booking information go to kayandmcleanproductions.com.au, www.ticketek.com.au or call Ticketek on 132 849.

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