One of the things I identified quickly when I moved to the east coast, was that in WA there is a much stronger sense of anything is possible. I don’t know whether that’s to do with the topography or what.
And with that comes a perverse delight in doing the impossible?
Probably. WA has produced an inordinate number of successful entrepreneurs.
Geoffrey Rush reportedly found the play to be quite a draining one. Were there extra challenges in managing your star, while managing the logistics?
By the time we got to Russia, we were on our third season. That play is a particularly gruelling one for an actor because there is no release at the end. Really, it was a pretty life-changing experience for everyone. For me, it forged friendships that have been incredibly sustaining, and it made me decide to have a child.
Why was that?
Watching Russians hoard food for what they knew to be a really harsh winter and continuing to grow their families, that was a really big thing for me. I had no intention of having children until that point. It was quite an epiphany for me to see, “Oh, having children isn’t about why other people have told me they have children, it’s actually about a little soul coming and sharing in your life experiences”. They were hoarding black cabbages, but still having children and loving them. I suppose I had thoughts that children should only be in situations of great abundance and hadn’t understood that in periods of great deprivation, there is still reason to continue the cycle of life.
Did it feel strange to be taking this Russian work back to Russia as an Australian production?
No. Don’t ask me why. We didn’t even question it and, you know, we had lines happening outside the theatre in both Moscow and St Petersburg. But we walked into an environment that was so different. It was scary at times. There was a mini-coup in August and the Australian embassy tried to tell us not to go, but by that stage, I was already friends with (journalist) Monica Attard, who was very famously in her pyjamas on top of the tank in Red Square, so I took her advice. The only thing we did differently was to cancel the Georgia performances because it was too dangerous.
Having been involved in that circle, are you proud to see them go on to such international acclaim? Did it feel inevitable?
Yes. Geoffrey always had a perception of himself that was exactly what he is, which is one of the world’s greatest actors. He was very alert to the responsibilities that an actor brings to the work, from a marketing point of view, from a protocol point of view, from every aspect. His thoughtfulness was quite profound and he was always someone whose work was reviewed as world class. It’s wonderful to have been part of that period, everyone was doing amazing work.
Thinking back to that time, what do you think working in theatre gives you that, say, working in film and television doesn’t?
I’m not sure. When I was working in the theatre, I would have been seen, in film terms, as one of the crew, so you get a very strong sense of family. I think it’s a combination of that ongoing continuity of being part of a team, but I don’t think that’s all. I think I like the speed of theatre, and TV. When I work in TV, I love that you can have an idea and then have it on air within a year. Film is much more bespoke, much more rubbing and rubbing and rubbing to get it absolutely perfect before you can take it out into the world.
I remember, during production on Looking For Alibrandi, I spoke to the distributor and he said, “Yes, we’ll be releasing the film in two years’ time”. I couldn’t believe it would take so long. But of course, they’ve got to build a campaign from the ground up. It’s not like getting a known quantity from the States. With an Australian film, you’ve got no idea what you’ve got until it’s delivered.
At least, with Looking For Alibrandi, the book had already been a success.
Yes, but before us there was He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, after us there was Hating Alison Ashley. I think success always makes people go “Oh yes, of course!” You know I get that all the time—“Oh yes, that was always going to be successful!”
Making a film is a ten-year chain of activity. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to understand that. Sitting inside it, you always know it takes a long time, but it’s when you break it down to your life’s work that you understand you’re probably only going to be able to make 15 pieces of work, just because of the nature of the model.
What was it that saw you move into film, then?
I wanted to speak to more people. Diary of a Madman was probably important there, because it was a remarkable production, and in its lifetime, I think it was probably only seen by 20,000 people. That’s a very small number.