André de Vanny has won the 2015 Green Room Award for best theatre actor. The accolade arrives after the film and television star set about reinventing himself as a theatre actor, and delivered a scorching interpretation of Ray in Glory Dazed for Red Stitch Theatre.
‘What better encouragement than acclaim from your peers,’ a grateful de Vanny told writer and Media Super member, John Dickson.
André was quick to acknowledge the cast of Glory Dazed who generously helped his character Ray, flourish.
‘There was a trust between all of the cast and director, Greg Carroll, from day one. This allowed us to take the risks, to have the courage to explore all kinds of possibilities in the rehearsal room in pursuit of a true interpretation of the text,’ he said.
The costs of war
Glory Dazed was born out of author Cat Jones’ response to the over-representation of British servicemen in UK jails. A large proportion of soldiers returning from conflict zones, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, found themselves out of sync with the society they had left behind. Families no longer recognised them, friends had moved on and the absence of the visceral thrill that life surrounded by death provides, emptied them out.
Many turned to alcohol and drugs to fill the void.
‘Ray has already endured that trauma and embarks on one last mad attempt to reunite his shattered family.
‘While it was a very intense role, it was allowed to exist on stage without compromising my private life. I am not a method actor who, at the extreme end, occupies a character 24/7 for the duration of the piece.
‘For me, part of being an actor is to be able to walk out of the theatre and let the role go. Your work is done and it’s time for real life. One the great advantages of this job is having the privilege to express feelings, attitudes and emotions from the stage. That ends for me at the theatre door,’ André said.
He does, however, acknowledge that echoes of certain aspects of the character, mainly his physicality, might linger after the lights go up.
Year 12 exams or a starring role?
André’s professional career began early. In his last year of high school he was juggling Year 12 examinations and a five-day shooting schedule for his starring role in television series Wicked Science.
‘Most actors come out of school, do some study and then build a career from fringe theatre to more mainstream productions and then on to television and film. I went the other way,’ he said.
During a lull in work, André decided to go back to school. He was part of the first intake at Melbourne’s 16th St Actors Studio.
‘Those who I see succeeding are those whose passion for the art never dims – no matter their circumstances. They will always be feeding the dream. If not on stage or on set, these people are training and learning and exposing themselves to new experiences – anything that feeds the flame,’ he said.
This led to a period overseas to study at the Ivana Chubbuck Studio in Los Angeles, in the shadow of such Hollywood stars as Eva Mendes, Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, James Franco, and Halle Berry.
‘I was going to stay over there and have a crack at the American scene, but was offered the opportunity to audition for Red. Ivana spent a lot of time with me, helping prepare the tape that ultimately got me role.
‘That was the turning point towards theatre,’ André said.
Red was a well-known, Tony award-winning mainstream theatre piece. The two-hander told the story of a free-ranging intellectual exchange between international art star Mark Rothko and his assistant. Australian acting icon, Colin Friels played Rothko and it was staged at the MTC.
‘The dialogue was just so sharp. It’s rare that you get that kind of ammunition – the kind of stuff you wished you had said in life.
‘Colin insisted that the story was paramount – whatever served the text was the goal. And it was always a two-way street – each had to be there for the other for the piece to work. And that was an invaluable learning experience for me,’ he said.
It was the same relationship he enjoyed with Emily Goddard, nominee for best theatre actress in Glory Dazed.
‘No ego, not about any one character, but the give and take of a relationship and always serving the story,’ he said.
Following Red and prior to Glory Dazed, André spent a year touring with the triumph of British theatre, Warhorse.
‘Not only was it great to have some security for a longer period,’ he said, ‘But the company had been dipped in excellence – from the fine cast to the creative wizards shipped in from the London production, there were lessons to be learned everywhere, everyday.’
André is now in Sydney preparing for the role of Curley in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men with a new company that is making waves there. Sport for Jove is taking on the bigger theatre companies and offering challenging work that is proving popular.
And yes, Curley is the antagonist of the piece – a boxer who provides the dark tension. So André is boxing non-stop to get the physicality right.
As the great acting teacher, Stella Adler was famous for saying: ‘It’s not enough to have talent. You’ve got to have a talent for your talent.’
So even though you win an award, the next day it’s back to the storyboard, back to the co-op theatre, back to the part-time job so you can pay for boxing lessons. But it’s still a very rewarding life, and André de Vanny wouldn’t have it any other way.