Since graduating from London’s Drama Centre, which included specialist training and performance at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and at the Shukina Institute of Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow, Kristian has enjoyed a wide and varied career in film, television and theatre. Highlights include playing the title role of Macbeth with the Sherman Theatre Company in his home town Cardiff, Wales, performing with the National Theatre of Wales under renowned playwright and director Peter Gill and playing Lord Gorin in An Ideal Husband in London. He also spent three years working and training further in Los Angeles, and can be seen soon on ABC’s flagship drama The Easybeats. Kristian is delighted to be given his theatrical debut here in his new hometown Canberra.
The Street talked with Kristian at the start of rehearsals for Constellations.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ACTING AND THEATRE?
My relationship with the theatre is not uncommon in that like many love affairs it’ often been a tumultuous one, thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Ever since seeing The Rocky Horror Show as a young teenager, and being struck for the first time by the electrifying dynamism of live theatre, I’ve been ceaselessly drawn back to it. For me the visceral immediacy of live theatrical performance is unpassable, whether in the audience or as a performer on the stage. The analogy often expressed compares actors to victims who have been “bitten by the bug” and have contracted a condition against which there is no known inoculation. It’s a fair one – try as I sometimes do to put it all behind me and get on with leading a “normal” life, the sacrosanct atmosphere unique to working theatres remains irresistible to me.
YOU PLAYED MACBETH EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER – TELL US ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE.
Absolutely seminal. Apart from the fact that Macbeth is one of the most psychologically fascinating characters in the entire canon, leading a large cast in that way taught me so much about stage craft and theatrical skill. I can’t overstate how formative the experience was. It’s probably true to say that had I not had that experience I wouldn’t be a professional actor today. It revealed to me the myriad possibilities in theatrical performance, and showed me how transformative and arresting good theatre can be, for the cast members and creative team, and the audience as well. Not to mention that Macbeth is still close to my favourite play of all time.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST RESPONSE TO READING CONSTELLATIONS?
I remember being struck by its inventive experimentation with form and narrative structure, facilitated so elegantly by use of the notion of the multiverse, while still maintaining dramatic motion and clarity. In a postmodern piece like this, the danger could be a tendency towards mere meaninglessness and incomprehensibility, both in artistic form and philosophical content, but Nick Payne manages to tell his story through a postmodern prism without falling into that trap. And while he doesn’t flinch in the face of the potential that our lives, loves and deaths are ultimately without any transcendent purpose, in the end he affirms love as the indestructible principle which perhaps does transcend everything else, even death.
YOU’RE PLAYING A BEE KEEPER – HOW IMPORTANT IS UNDERSTANDING BEES AND HIVES TO PLAYING THE ROLE.
It’s important in this piece because for both of these characters their vocations reveal quite a bit about them, and speak to the way they see the world and how they interact with it and with each other. As a simple bee keeper Roland tends to keep his eyes fixed on the earth, held firm by the regularity of the seasons and the certainty of the cycles of his bees. Unlike Marianne, a theoretical physicist, he is less perturbed by the brute magnitude of the universe above him and the apparent chaos of the quantum realm beneath him.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS OF BRINGING ROLAND TO LIFE.
I haven’t yet landed on a rigid or systematic process which I apply to every role I play, but rather in each case the process has been different. So while I would always look to build a character profile, or back story, from what is revealed in the script and from my own imagination, and I will look to bring colour and texture by seeking motivation for the character, and by giving him objectives to play, I still aim to keep an open attitude to building a role like this, especially so that I can respond to whatever the other creative people in the process bring. I’ll be able to give you a better answer after we’ve finished the run!
THERE ARE 50 SCENES AND UNIVERSES. HOW DO YOU PLAY EACH SCENE AS REAL AS THE NEXT?
Again, this will be easier to answer with retrospect on the other side of the process, but the usual rules will surely apply here – play the objectives of the character as sincerely as you can in the given circumstances. And above all, work to be as perfectly open to what the other performer and the audience bring as you can be.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO DISCOVERING IN THE WORK?
So many things! Already at this early stage it is clear that this really is a profound and multifaceted piece, revealing deeper layers of meaning and movement with each read. I can’t wait to begin to discover more and more as we come together as a creative team in rehearsals. It’s a truly exciting prospect, and I am genuinely blessed to have such a singular opportunity to explore and bring to life such an excellent play with what promises to be an awesome creative team!
WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE THEATRE COMPANY?
It’s often said that a lot of egos are attracted to the theatre, and while this is true to some extent, I have usually found that theatre people are among the kindest and most giving I have come across. I try to work with that expectation, and I try to exemplify those qualities myself. I’ll try to leave my ego at the door, and I’ll try to be as loving, supportive and collaborative as I can be. If I can do that I am hopeful that this will be the start of a long and very fruitful relationship with the theatre company. I can’t wait! Oh, and don’t forget about a sense of humour… vital!
ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS LIKE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE STEPPING OUT ON STAGE?
Although I wasn’t raised to be religious, in recent years I have developed a personal Christian faith of my own, which has led to a change in my pre-performance process. In the past I would have been doing all that I could to manage my nerves, remember my lines and psyche myself up. Now, though I will still do my physical and vocal warm up as ever, the last thing I will do before stepping out will be to offer up a simple prayer, and trust that that will be enough to see us through.
CANBERRA HAS AN EXTREMELY DYNAMIC ARTS CONTEXT. WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR OBSERVATIONS SINCE COMING FROM LOS ANGELES AND MAKING CANBERRA YOUR HOME?
I have to confess that in the short time I have been here I have been so preoccupied with finding work, getting my visa, organising where and how to live, for the sake of the security of my young son, that I haven’t had much time left over to get too involved in Canberra’s arts scene until now. However, I am very encouraged that for a city of this size there is a vibrant and burgeoning theatre scene, and I am looking forward to becoming more involved in it as I settle here.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
In my other work I am writing a lot. Not creative or dramatic in the literary sense, but more op-ed’s and analytical pieces, which require a creative sense of their own. And also in my other work I have recently learnt how to edit film, which has been a fascinating and challenging process full of all kinds of possibilities, like other creative endeavours. As a creative I think it’s important to have as many creative outlets and challenges as possible, not least because it helps develop and inform your main pursuit, which in my case is acting. I am very grateful for all the different creative challenges I am facing at the moment, chief among them playing Roland in this extraordinary play at The Street!
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WATCHING?
I am currently reading The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I have always meant to get around to reading him, but haven’t until now, apart from a collection of short stories of his I read a few years ago. I would certainly encourage everyone to take his work up. It’s not as intimidating as you might expect, and in terms of psychological insight he has to be unsurpassed as a novelist. The last film I watched was a revisit to The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick. Truly a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and well worth revisiting again and again.