Paul Capsis is one of Australia’s most individual and versatile performers, effortlessly crossing between theatre, film,TV, concerts and cabaret. On top of five Helpmann-awards and an array of Australian theatrical credits, Paul has also worked extensively internationally in cities as diverse New York, London, Vienna, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Paul Capsis talks to The Street ahead of the Resident Alien season.
YOU WORK ACROSS ALL MEDIUMS FROM THEATRE TO CONCERT TO CABARET AND FILM – IS THERE A DIFFERENCE IN WHAT EACH FORM BRINGS OUT OF YOU AS A PERFORMER?
Each area brings out different demands on me as a performer. Film acting and theatre acting differ greatly, one demands an instant connection to a live and present audience and the other requires you to pull in your emotion and work towards the camera which picks up everything and Cabaret of course has no rules, again different to both forms.
HOW HAS YOUR GREEK AND MALTESE HERITAGE INFORMED YOUR WORK AND PRACTICE?
My heritage informs my work totally, as I get all my working ethics from my family and how they brought me up to value hard work. That’s how I always work. I am always very focused and dedicated.
YOUR THOUGHTS ON HOW WE CONTINUE TO ADDRESS DIVERSITY ON OUR AUSTRALIAN STAGES AND AMONGST OUR AUDIENCES?
I don’t think we address the issue of diversity very much in Australia. When the day comes when you can switch on your television and see all the diversity in Australia, then that will be the day when I will feel that we have fully embraced who we truly are and not what a few think we are which is a white Christian Celtic Anglo Saxon country which we are NOT. We have had some progress but far too little in my opinion.
WHY DID TO TAKE ON THE ROLE OF ENGLISH WRITER AND RACONTEUR QUENTIN CRISP IN RESIDENT ALIEN?
For the very reason that he is an English writer not a role that I would normally be offered. I took the role because I knew fully well, it would be enormously challenging. Offering a role like that to me, is an indicator, that maybe things are changing, but I attribute that to my producer, Mr Lukey, for having the vision and courage to offer me the part.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS IN BRINGING QUENTIN CRISP TO LIFE?
Two hours in the make-up chair to age myself to look ninety and then there is the wonderful hand-made wig, made from Yak and Human hair, hours and hours of reading, watching documentaries and interviews and radio programs and then the actual rehearsal itself with my director Gary Abrahams and the great team of creatives that bring you Mr Crisp’s Lavender Cave. It takes me at least half an hour after the play to change out of him and he usually stays with me for hours after too.
WHERE DOES PAUL CAPSIS MEET QUENTIN CRISP?
In the fact that we are both effeminate homosexual men who have endured violence, verbal and physical, for being ourselves, for our natural afflictions. This is something we both experienced from a very young age and something for which we had no control over, nor did we have any idea of how to stop or change it but only to become who we truly are and that’s quite extraordinary as we were born in different times, in different countries to a very different upbringing.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE YOU HAVE EVER PLAYED? WHY?
Quentin Crisp in the Resident Alien, learning the long text and the way of speaking like Mr Crisp and being true to who he truly was and not censoring his words or philosophy, although his belief may differ vasty to my own, the make-up, the way he walked.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO A SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR?
Collaboration, trust and mutual respect is key for a healthy working environment. Trusting your director’s decisions is important. My director Gary Abrahams for Resident Alien has a great dramaturgical genius and a great way of pulling a brilliant team of creatives together.
ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS LIKE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE STEPPING OUT ON STAGE?
Every night I pray to Saint Quentin and ask his permission, to be him for an hour and a bit!! At first he wasn’t too pleased, he resisted coming into my body, for most of the rehearsal. had to beg him in the end.
YOU HAVE PERFORMED ALL OVER AUSTRALIA MANY TIMES? DESCRIBE HOW AUDIENCES DIFFER OR ARE SIMILAR ACROSS THE COUNTRY?
Audiences are different around the country but also the venue affects a performance. Some venues have great acoustics and others have terrible acoustics. The acoustics affect how you project your voice or if you can hear the audiences’ laughter… or not. The main similarity in audiences in Australia is that most of the audience going public are older (over 60) and mostly women and thank God for them, otherwise we would have no theatre. Resident Alien has attracted the Gays, so that’s a nice treat too.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR FROM AN AUDIENCE?
Generosity of spirit, being present and not thinking of ‘if they have left the stove on or not’. My job is to engage with them as best I can and always be in present time. The rest is up to them. An audience can make a show good or not so good.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
Edith Piaf, the funding cuts by our government makes me want to work harder and to never give up, Alexander McQueen, Frida Kahlo, Quentin Crisp of course.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
The documentary of Resident Alien (1990) and How to Become a Virgin (Quentin’s second major book). I really liked the last episodes of Rake and the Cleverman series and loved the Aussie feature film ‘Goldstone’ starring the brilliant Aaron Pedderson.