|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: November 14, 2002
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
When you're launching yourself on an acting career, how much thinking do you do about how to shape the career? I mean do you set out to have a career or do you set out to get jobs?
It's funny. I, I, I'm sure I had some ambitions about, I would love to be an actor, yes, when I got over the shock of playing Lucie Manette in the high school classroom all those years ago. I always, I just had a funny feeling, once Owen Weingott and I had been allowed to visit the set at Cinesound, that just to do something in that marvellous atmosphere would be great. And I wasn't, I don't think I was too sure what I really wanted to do but once the lights were on and the leading actors looked good and the, the tape measure was out measuring the focus and all that, which they used to do in the old days. I thought, now that would be nice too. And I think I envied the actors who could walk on the set and do it well and I've got a feeling I was waffling around a bit but I also liked the thought of directing and I thought there was something glamorous about saying, "action" and "cut", as Ken Hall used to, any director still says. But I don't know that I had - it was just a general feeling of wanting to be in the business. I don't know that I any, had any really strong ambitions about the theatre but, like most of us, we all loved the thought of doing radio because that was, that was the television of its day, if you like.
You all listened to it and wanted to be there.
Yes, it was - in some respects radio, I think, was even more powerful than television was. Which - I have no way of proving that - but I just remember that the discussion about the latest radio drama or the latest episode of the serial, whether it be 'Blue Hills' or 'Dad and Dave' or, later on when I was working in radio quite a lot myself, they, all the discussions about those shows in various pubs and, and it was just the same as it is now about television. Or used to be about television. I feel even that, that enthusiasm's damping down a bit these days. But, yeah, and there was something glamorous about it I suppose, especially to a teenager. And then suddenly to get that job offer because of Owen Weingott's hard work in getting me involved in that competition, the one with Jack Davey, I mean that, that was an extraordinary exciting - though it was tinged a bit by a sort of guilt feeling that Owen had done the hard work and I'd got the, I'd got the gig, as they say.
In the course of your career, how much thinking did you do once you were established and once you were really serious and into it about shaping things? For example, how did you choose an agent?
Pretty accidentally actually. I was managing very well without an agent and I didn't know much about agents, certainly in Sydney in those days. Then I gradually became aware that there was, I think it was James Joyce who was a respected agent, who seemed to have a lot of the big names. The Lyndall Barbours and the Nigel Lovells and people like that who were very big and well-established actors in those days. And then I was aware that Nora Burnett had an agency called Telecast and I think it was when I was directing a lot of those commercials for Charles E. Blanks, that I started to be aware that I, as a director, was using the services of agents much more than I realised was necessary. And I think I found that Nora Burnett was doing a lot of very good work on my behalf whenever I wanted somebody for a production. And, eventually, I think I said to her one day, "Gosh, it would be good if you looked after me too".
And then I found my work became far more regular and secure, I suppose. Given that I still wanted to stay away from anything long term so that I'd be available for any films that might come up. And by that I mean, I suppose Nora was restricted to me doing say, the Lux Radio Theatre or a one-off play at the ABC or a guest role in a half hour series or something like that. Or, if it was a serial, that I was only in for a few episodes. So that I, I tried to keep myself available for this, this passion about film.
And later on when you went to the UK and you were working in England - how do you go about, what's the best way to find the right agent for you?
I'd no - wasn't sure that I had much of a thought about a right agent. I was very lucky that Googie Withers and John McCallum were being looked after by one of the biggest agents in London and in America too at that time. MCA, I think it was the Music Corporation of America. And they were very, very important agents and they took me on, on their recommendation. Possibly also assisted by a recommendation from Leslie Norman who was directing 'The Shiralee'. There was a bit of an old pals feeling about it and, but it was great of John and Googie but at least, they had worked with me for eighteen months in the, in this very successful tour of Australia and in, and according to the reviews and things, I was, you know, quite successful in the role they gave me. Or the roles that they gave me.
What about choosing roles? You've played a lot of supporting roles and some people say that's not a very good idea for someone who's very earliest film role was a lead.
Yeah. I think I worked out, that particularly in Australia, there, you can have a bit of trouble paying the rent if you only play leads. I love the fact that I was, frankly, happy to play anything. And I'm still like that and I still do things that people say, you know, "Should you have done that role?" A young actor on the set of 'Secret Life of Us' recently when I was doing a relatively small guest role - that I was enjoying doing it, playing a bit of a, a chap devoted to, to the poker machines in an RSL club and he had a bit of wisdom here and there to impart while pressing the buttons and whatever they do now. And this chap said, "What are you wasting your time doing this for?" I said, "I'm not wasting my time. I'm working with a director I've never worked with. I wanted to work with you guys up close and I love playing this part". "Ah". And he went away and he, he's becoming quite a successful actor himself now.
And, I don't know, I've, I've never been mad about being 'a star'. And, in fact I always remember hearing Peggy Ashcroft admonishing a, an interviewer when he said, "And what does it feel like to be a star at your age?", or something. "Oh, please don't use that word." "And, what's that?" "The word 'star', no, no, no." And she didn't like to hear the word 'star' being used about her. And we all sort of know what it means we think but I've never had that ambition. I love being handed a good role, even if it's only a short role. I must admit I did enjoy playing leads in radio because the laziness in me says it was great because you didn't have to learn it. I had some wonderful parts, wonderful roles in, in radio. Both tiny roles and big ones and I've always love, you know, even Charlie the Wonder Dog which led to 'The Castle'. And, all those things. And really, if you keep your wits about you, you can learn from everything you do. And I used to love that. Still do.
Now, you don't look for the lead role, you've explained that. But what about choosing the right role for you? Do you play a big part in that or do you leave it to your agent? What do you do to choose a role that you think you can excel at?
Well, I'm - very seldom really had to choose. The main, the interest, looking back over the years, the time that I had to make a choice that became important, was when we'd finished shooting 'The Shiralee' in London and Audrey and I were about to go back when they said, "Well look", it was MCA, saying, "You can do this, this, this and this". And they were the five, I think it was four or five, choices and they all clashed, including the Peter Sellers' show, etcetera, etcetera. But the thing that looked interesting to do was the role of an Australian surgeon working in London in a London hospital. They didn't have a lot of character notes because the show was got together very quickly to fill that toddlers' truce that I may have mentioned before. And the idea of playing an Aussie in London, and I was an Aussie in London, I was an Aussie actor in London, he was an Aussie surgeon in London. I just felt that that would be interesting and I had no thoughts about it helping the career because, at that stage, I was in episode one, two and four.
So I had two weeks work and then Audrey and I were going to hop on an aeroplane and go back home to Australia. But, because it was live to air, the show took off immediately and, and so it was a lucky choice. But it wasn't done with anything else but saying, "Gee, that'd be interesting". Like the role many years later in 'Money Movers'. Ooh, you're playing the Mr Nasty Guy. But it was so interesting to be playing the guy in the best suit who was probably the most evil villain of the team. And I had to go crook at Bryan Brown a couple of times which was good fun.
Now, you didn't do the sort of formal training that they do nowadays and in which you participate in teaching at the VCA. Do you, do you regret the fact that there wasn't that sort of training around when were young?
I suppose in a way, looking back and seeing the skills of the young actors, when you think of people like, well Lisa McCune, who became, you know, hugely successful doing the 'Blue Heelers' show. When she went into the theatre and did musicals, like Sondheim musicals and 'Sound of Music', her range of skill was extraordinary which had to have been developed at that wonderful drama school in Perth, at WAAPA. Western Australia [Academy] Performing Arts. And then when I saw Hugh Jackman, who's a fine actor, saw him playing the lead in 'Oklahoma', and singing superbly. And recently working with Martin Crewes in 'The Man From Snowy River', the range of skills that Martin has, had to have been developed in the three years he did at WAAPA. See it's interesting that I've mentioned three WAAPA people but they, it just seems to me that the skills and the concentration on work that they get at the drama schools, of course must be enormously helpful to people.
I knew young Matt Newton, Bert Newton's son, and I remember seeing him just after he got into NIDA in Sydney. And he was telling me what he was doing and at one stage he was going to play Iago in a drama, in the school production, the NIDA production. And I said, "Ooh I envy you". It was the one, one Shakespearean role I'd have loved to have had a go at. And I, I sort of - and he's come out of that three years at NIDA as a very, very fine actor indeed. Yeah. But also I don't believe there were the highly developed training establishments in Australia in those days. There were some drama schools but, not too sure about them looking back. Worthy and well-intentioned, but I don't think quite as highly skilled as they are now.
How would you sum up what the most effective training you had was? Where did that really come from?
Oh, I'd have to say mainly John Saul. That influence was wonderful. Not only on me but on Rod Taylor and Dinah Shearing and lots of fine actors. But also I'm very grateful to Guy Doleman who had this passion about naturalism and reality. Now his training, and I'm not sure that he had any formal training, but he was a New Zealander who'd come to Sydney to give it a go in about 1946, just after the war. And we found we shared - and we were playing co-leads in 'Always Another Dawn' - and we shared a lot of views about what was, I suppose what was attractive to an audience or what was, what helped involve an audience in the story you were supposed to be telling.
And we both agreed that it was the naturalism and reality of great actors like Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and - in the American scene and some of the greats like Robert Donat and I suppose the early work by Redgrave, Michael Redgrave and other great - and Laurence Olivier too, of course. Even in those very early days. They set a very good standard, I thought, of, of, of naturalistic, real and very truthful work very often. And that intrigued Guy and I and then we, in our clumsy way, we used to work out how to do it. Put in a few pauses as if you can't think of what to say. We, all those sort of things. It was great fun trying to. And then we had that great advantage when we were both doing a lot of radio after we finished 'Always Another Dawn' and we could put it into practice doing radio too. And get a bit of a kick if somebody came up and said, "Oh you sound so real. Oh, I can't believe you were acting". And that was, you know, that was great.
Did you ever do a musical?
Ah, I was nearly going to say no but I did do the Phillip Street theatre shows and they were revues but I had to sing quite a few songs in the first revue, which was 'Top of the Bill' and then a few more in 'Hit and Run'. And that's one of my regrets, that, it was Lance Mulcahy I think who was the, the music director and I used to worry him enormously because I'd get mixed up with the accompaniment and try to sing the accompaniment and not the melody, which was a demonstration of my lack of skill. But I should have taken advantage of that situation and, you know, learnt singing and did all the things that perhaps you can do at a drama school now. But I was having too much fun just being a working actor I suppose. And also a bit lazy too.
In so far as the technical aspects of acting are concerned, how do you go about learning your lines?
Well, I used to do the old hard working method of going over and over and over and learning it a bit like you'd learn a piece of poetry at school and all that. And it was when I was doing 'Emergency Ward 10', Audrey who wasn't an actress, was always hearing me my lines and that means sitting there with the script and feeding me the cues and checking me if I got my lines wrong. And most wives, partners, friends do that at some stage to help the actor who's trying to learn the role. And, after about eighteen months, I realised that poor Audrey didn't, you know, she had a, she was working just as hard as I was on 'Emergency Ward 10' and trying to run our flat and all that. This was before the children arrived.
And I suddenly realised with the advent of audio tape, the good old reel to reel tape, that if I acquired one I might be able to use a tape recorder. And, I think it was 1958, one of the chaps at Associated Television where we were making 'Ward 10', was able to get me a reasonable tape recorder, a reel to reel tape recorder, at cost price and I brought it home and I used to record the scene and leave appropriate gaps for my role, for my lines, my speeches and I got quite good at estimating the correct gap. And then I could act my socks off and Audrey could do what she liked and she didn't have to hear me my lines any more. But we kept up and we did, up until not long before she had to go into hospital towards the end there, we would, we made it a ritual that on the night before a show, whether it was telly, film or the opening night of a theatre play, she would hear me my lines in the old way to see if I'd drifted away from the, the actual text.
And once I tried that, I had a ball just learning because I used to be able to act my socks off. The tape recorder never went crook. You just wound it back and started again and you could do it fifty times and - as long as the machinery kept working. And I got very, very secure with my lines and developed in England quite a reputation for being able to, you know - especially when we were live to air. Now, I'd like to think I was as dedicated now but I still use a tape recorder. In fact I've got a little tape there. I'm doing a film next week and I've got the lines on tape. I've got one run of the scenes I've got with the gaps and I also, if it's got a little stop start button, I sometimes do what I call a stop start track where I put only the other people's speeches and leave a little bit of a gap and then I stop so that if I want to do a long pause, I can stop the tape and act the long pause.
I feel sometimes like I'm five or six years old, having fun, but it's a great way to work. And then I discovered that some great mates in England, well people like Gordon Jackson, fine, fine, Scottish actor and a great friend. We were doing a film together and we'd already done 'Bitter Springs' and 'Eureka Stockade' and then years later we were doing some work together in England and I mentioned that and he said, "Yeah, me too". He found the tape recorder. George Cole, who became famous for 'Minder', George and I did a mini-series in, in England together playing sort of co-leads and he said, oh, he lived a long way out of London. He said he used a tape recorder but because he had to drive a long way to come to work, he used to record his scenes and shout his scene, his lines very loudly so he couldn't not hear them. And I remember I had to up into the provinces somewhere to do an Oscar Wilde play, playing, I think it was 'An Ideal Husband', and I had the lead in that. And I learnt one whole act while driving up to Bradford or Hull or wherever we opened the play, using George's method. Tape recorders have been marvellous and I think an awful lot of actors use them.
Have you found it just as easy to learn your lines as you've got older?
Not really but a drama teacher friend of mine who does a bit of telly acting occasionally, now overseas so I think I can speak freely. Very - he gave me a marvellous tip when I was learning Alan Hopgood's 'The Carer' and I was a bit daunted by the prospect of having to learn it. We'd done a rehearsal, reading and yeah, that was OK. All the old radio training came out. But, I said, now I've got to learn it. And I must admit I was getting a bit nervous about it and not exactly being as successful in learning it as I thought when I was working at home. And Ron said, "Well, there, there's the old repetition of three, you know". I said, "What, what do you mean?" He said, "Well, if you say something three times", he said, "it'll stick". I said, "Well, why not four?" He said, "Too much". "Why not two?" "Not enough."
And blow me down, from then on I started learning sentences by repeating it three times and that section of 'The Carer', even when they were doing it again recently in Melbourne, they're - I'm, I'm, they're the most secure I've got. And I must admit, must admit I don't think I learnt the whole thing that way but when Ron told me about that. And I still do it now. So there's - and that's only a little while ago, about a year or so ago that Ron gave me that, that tip. So. Also I did work out a way of using a tape recorder for children to learn things and as a, as a gag once or as a sort of fun thing, when my kids were quite young and their cousins were down from Sydney staying with us here in Melbourne, and as a fun game I had a book on the rules of chess. Not a big, deep and meaningful book, very simple.
And I think within an hour or so I had all the kids being able to rattle off the rules of chess. Not that I'm a good chess player but, you know, "Who moves first? White or black?" "White." By making it a question and answer thing. You know, "How many squares on a chess board?" Rather than, and then you had to fill in the gap. And I was surprised by my son who's a - who did nuclear astrophysics and got a PhD, which I mean a mind boggling amount of work to go into that at university. But he didn't tell me until he was coming in on, on, coming on 'This Is Your Life', when they did me a few years ago now. And he said he was always very grateful for that learning tip I'd given him. And I didn't know that until he said it out loud on, on the program. So, good old tape recorders have helped us a bit, the whole family perhaps.
Is there anything you need to do just before a show? If you're doing live theatre, especially a one-man show which must be quite a weight of responsibility. Do you have rituals? Do you have things you need to do?
I have a sort of a compulsive ritual where, now, I'm very old fashioned about the theatre. I do miss the curtain. Modern art designers and people don't the - like the curtain. I used to love the curtain because when I was playing the lead in that play in London for a couple of years, I don't think I ever missed going on stage with the curtain down about a quarter of an hour before, ten minutes before and running through the whole of the, say the first ten minutes of the play, by myself. And saying it but not loud enough to get through the curtain to the people who'd be coming into the theatre. And then I developed a technique, I don't know where I picked it up, but whispering a line loudly and over-enunciating while whispering, as if you're trying to warn somebody, be careful the boss is outside. "Be careful, the boss is." That sort of thing. I found that was a way of, of opening up the muscles of the mouth or clear - or making things more flexible.
And I used to combine that with that little ritual of going through the beginning of the play. Now I know a lot of other actors have got very sophisticated vocal exercises and strange noises and things like that, but even with 'The Carer' now, and I've done it very many times in several short seasons, I still find that the best for me. And, but I do like to whisper it but not in a sort of a mumbled way. I try to over-articulate and that seems to set up the, whatever the muscles are that do all the hard work. And the head seems to get into it a bit too.
Yes, now you've put a tremendous amount of emphasis on the importance of the head and getting the head into the right space. Do you have any tricks for that?
Oh, it was interesting. I was doing a lovely play called 'The Herbal Bed' not all that long ago with a marvellous cast. With Frances O'Connor, who's now a lovely big international star too, like all, like Rachel Griffiths and all the others. Beaut gal to work with. And I had two beaut scenes. Nice old man's role. You come on for a beaut scene at the beginning. I was playing the bishop of wherever it was. And then a long gap and came on with another beaut scene towards the end of the play and got off and all the other actors had to do all the hard work, the really dramatic work, and the shouting acting and all that. Which they did superbly. And I loved playing this role, especially with that [sic] people.
But after a while I started to forget the lines, as soon as I walked on stage, of my second scene. Not the first, the second scene. And they were all being terribly helpful, they were wonderfully cooperative cast. Robert Menzies and people like this saying, "No, no, no, you were alright". Said, "Oh, I'm sorry", you know when I came off stage. And they'd help me and I'd dry a bit and then mumbled my way out of it somehow and they would help. And it, it wasn't a big deal but, you know, it was the little things that happen in any theatre company I suppose.
And, but my morale was going - oh, I really am getting old - and this was what? About five years ago, I suppose. And I suddenly thought, hang on, I haven't been thinking about where the guy's been, and this sounds a bit Stanislavskian method and all that, but I had, the scene was written where the bishop comes hurrying in to realise that it was a scandal concerning Shakespeare and his wife and I, and I knew they were there and they - and I had to, had to front up and talk to her. And I suddenly tried to work out what exactly he'd been doing for the last five or ten minutes before being given the news that they were actually waiting for him and he should have been there, the bishop.
And so the next time I did it, and a, it was much more lively and I came bustling on stage and played the scene. No danger of drying or forgetting my lines at all from then on. And, I suddenly realised I'd forgotten one of my own basic rules. Never, you know, you've got to, your head's not just got to be there when you're actually doing it. There's quite a bit of preparation. It may not be long but you've got to do it to get yourself absolutely ready to go on stage.
Over the years you've taught acting at the Victorian College of the Arts, do you teach all of this?
Yeah. I, I, I, look, it's wrong to say I teach acting because I once got into trouble in Sydney by saying everybody can act. And I think what I meant was, everybody does act. That is that if you're going to be polite to the boss when you really don't like him, you're acting. Or if you're apologising for not paying the newspaper bill, you're acting. So, I think it's part of our species or whatever we are. What I have tried to do is to pass on some of those marvellous things that John Saul taught me. I have read and re-read many of Stanislavski's books, particularly 'An Actor Prepares'. I still go back to Shakespeare's 'Advice to the Players'.
But by the time I work with people at the Victorian College of the Arts, they're, they've usually started their third year. So they've already had two excellent years under Lindy Davies' directorship. And they're already skilled actors. All my task becomes is to make them comfortable in front of cameras for film or television but, inevitably, I will pass on tips that have been important to me, like going on stage totally prepared for that scene in 'Herbal Bed'. So, and usually they seem to respond to that pretty well.
Do you like working with young actors?
Yeah, very much, I do.
Oh, I don't know. Is it a reflection of seeing myself having a go and, you know, and I get a tremendous kick out of seeing them pop up on the telly and even in a commercial doing a good job. You know sometimes I think, gee I know that face? And suddenly, woo, you know. And, with Sybilla Budd, when I worked with her in that, the episode of 'Secret Life of Us', the penny suddenly dropped. I think, I haven't been able to do any classes in the last year or so because of my own busy schedule but, when I first met her, I said, "Hang on". I said, "I know, you were in that class". She said, "That's right". And I'd asked the whole class, there must have been about nine or ten, because they're culled down a little bit at VCA, down to the final year, and I went right round asking them what they thought was wrong with television or what they thought about television. And I hope Sybilla doesn't mind me saying this. But it got right round to her and she said, "Yes, I just want to know why it is so dreadful".
So I happened to have a box of tapes of award winning shows of the year before including that brilliant drama done about the, the Granville train disaster in - that was a superb production by all standards. And there were, there was a lot of work like that. A brilliant episode of 'Halifax FP' which could have been a great feature film. Things like that. And I played chunks from it and they all went, "Ah". And they were all a bit impressed by that. Because, you know, they've got work to do so they're not going to be watching as much telly as perhaps I might watch. And I reminded her of that and I got a tremendous kick out of seeing her being terribly successful as she has been in 'Secret Life of Us' and she's a very, very fine actor indeed.
Yeah, just in general I love it and I love their enthusiasm. I understand their cynicism, their thing, "Oh, it's who you know, not how you can do it". And you're trying to convince them that, no, it's how you do it that's important. And try to teach them some of the things that Scotty Ehrenberg taught, taught us. I was years ago asked by Hector Crawford to write down a list of things that actors could do to help us directors and I got to twenty points. And it's now known as Bud's, Bud Tingwell's twenty points. And it's now very old but occasionally, even recently, I was asked by a leading producer if I could, if he could have a copy. And the first one starts with 'Be early and if you're running late, tell somebody.'
And it think it was one of the leads in 'Neighbours', a very experienced actress, Anne Haddy, she read them when Peter Dodds, the producer, had asked me for a copy of them a while ago when Anne was still at work in the show. And he said, "Yes, we're - I agree with all of that and I showed them to Anne. She agrees, she said, except for the first one. She said, unless you're a quarter of an hour early, you're late". So. But simple things like that and, you know, and, and if you're, they're lining up a shot, stand still, don't muck about because the cameraman's trying to line up and get focus and everything. But if you start chatting about what you did last night and, and what you're going to have for lunch and scratches, and all those sorts of things, you're giving him a hard time.
And also remember that the microphones are often live, if you're, and you may be miced up with a little miniature mics we use now. Just be careful because the soundman's got a job and he's trying to determine levels and atmosphere tracks and all sorts of things. And it's surprising how some, some quite experienced young actors, don't seem to know that.
Now, you've done almost everything there is to do around the entire industry, theatre, television, film, the lot. But you've been a director, producer and a little bit a writer as well. Now, how do you characterise the difference in those roles? When you step from being an actor to a director, how different is that for you and how do you see the advantages and disadvantages of being in that role?
Well, I learnt my lesson very quickly when I was directing, I took over from Lawrence H. Cecil, directing John Saul in that radio show all those years ago. And, in my enthusiasm, I went through that script and I put marks as to how I thought each speech should be played. Then I hired some of the best actors in Sydney who were mates of mine. Rod Taylor, Johnny Meillon and, you know, and I was so wrong in doing that because if I started, I knew them so well that if I said, "No, say 'What's that on the road ahead?' Not 'What's that on the road, a head?'" And whatever I determined should be said and they could turn around and say, "Pull your head in. Who do you think you are?" And I suddenly realised, I didn't have to say anything to them really at all. Unless they totally misread it.
And I found that with good actors, the less you tell them the better unless you can come up with something as brilliant as John Saul used to say like, "Play it like you love her, not like you hate her". And, you know, things like that. And I then was able to work, I think eventually later on when I did a lot of television directing and, again, working with good actors, you had to - I really could talk, you know, about what I thought the guy was thinking if that was appropriate. If they'd misread something and thought, "Oh, I forgot about that. Yes, that's right. He was thinking that because of that". And actors in the shows that I was directing like 'The Sullivans' and sometimes even in 'Carson's Law', which was a pretty high standard show too. Often the actors were, their major task was to learn it and you couldn't go into the analytical depths that you perhaps would have with, say a feature film or something like that. So the director was there to help guide them if they were off on the wrong track at all.
But very little direction is needed to be given to good actors. And sure, if they ask for help, but I had to be careful because of one, now quite a distinguished actress, she hadn't been doing that much telly and I said, "I think if it could just be a little more real it would be good". And she said, "Oh, you'll have to give me much more than that. What do you mean?" I thought, "Oh gosh". But Tony Keary, who was the original producer and directed the first four episodes, I think it was, of 'Emergency Ward 10', he got wonderful results by coming up to you after a run through of something and say, "That's great. Just a little more real", and walk away. And you'd think, I won't ask. Ah, hang on, oh I can't ask him, he's doing something else now. And every actor, I think, has got some built in meter that says, "Uh uh, I wasn't real". And you can go back to being real.
Whatever you think that might mean. And I've found that that trick of, that method of Tony's, has helped me enormously. I found most actors have responded to it and the next time you run through, something amazing has happened. I had a very interesting task, I'm sure they won't mind. Gary Sweet, Peter Harvey Wright and, and Nick Waters, I think, were the three concerned. They were cast brilliantly as three mates in the AIF, in 'The Sullivans'. And Hector called me and said, "Could you have a word with them?" He said, "They're the best casting in the world for those parts. They're supposed to be close mates but it's not gelling". And he said, "Would you work with them in the rehearsal room?"
So, they come up to the rehearsal room and I, we had the next scene they were working on. And they started to run through it and I said, "Oh, hang on, you're not working with each other". They were very, very accurately portraying those characters as written but they weren't really working with each other. Weren't really listening to each other or, you know, whatever. Or getting through to each other. And so they said, "Ooh, sorry". The next time they ran it, it was fabulous. And I said, "Well, that's all we had to do". And, it was probably a bit lazy of me but I said, "I don't want to do it any more. You can just, away you go". And Mandy Smith was working with them on that next episode and I said, "How did they go?" She said, "It was like working with three brand new wonderful actors". Now, was that clever of me? No, it wasn't. It was just a very basic thing that Johnny Saul would have picked up like that and luckily enough, because of John's influence and perhaps Owen Weingott's influence, all those other influences, I happened to notice that and they responded wonderfully.
Now, you're talking about directing actors. What about when you're directing, you're arriving at an overall interpretation of the total work, how do you enjoy that? Do you like that aspect of it? Because that's the whole extra bit that you get to do as a director.
Yes, sure. Yeah, look, in fairness I don't think I've ever been asked to direct, you know, something as, 'Gone With the Wind' or anything like that. What that must be like, doing a really big film. Or as Fred Schepisi did with 'Evil Angels' and that would be an enormous task. But I suppose when I produced the 'Flying Doctors' mini-series, I've often thought that was like producing a really big, big movie. And I just found that it, you know, breaking them down into bits and making sure each bit responds, you know, links with the other and trying to keep it as real as possible, that seemed to work. But I know there are other many, many more deep and meaningful aspects to a big production that a producer and or director's got to be very, very aware of. And I suppose be careful of not getting too self-indulgent and realising too that if you've cast it right, both in front of the camera and behind the camera, you've got a lot of help there.
In looking at being a producer, a director, an actor, which have you enjoyed most?
It's very hard to pin one down. At their best each one I believe is absolutely fabulous to be asked to do. It's great.
[end of tape]