The Griffins caught up with Tim Rogers and Bojana Novakovic as they were preparing for the Mary Mac dress rehearsal to chat about the show, about being a rock god and about working together.
ON THE STABLES
Griffin: I understand you’ve reconfigured the show a bit since it played at the Malthouse in Melbourne.
Bojana: Yes, thank god.
G: Why thank god?
B: Because I always wanted it to be in a smaller space and for whatever economic reasons it was in a bigger space and I found that space really challenging and the show was made to work for the space rather than the space made to work for the show.
G: So does that mean you’ve just moved things around or rescripted?
B: We’ve rescripted and moved things around. We had to because there’s a different audience. It’s just more intimate and less deliberate. The show is more inclusive. I think there’s a greater sense of ease to the show than there was because if you’ve got someone preaching that they’re a narcissist, talking at you about herself and how great she is, it can get a bit overwhelming. So I think this space is better for it. What do you reckon Tim?
Tim: Absolutely. To hear those conversations between Bojana and Tanya (Goldberg, director) about the changes that have been necessary … in retrospect we can see that that wasn’t the best way.
G: So is it more like a conversation than a lecture now?
B: For sure. And sometimes it’s not even like a conversation, it’s like you watching a person disappear into their own thoughts. With full awareness that you’re there.
G: Tim, you’ve said that it’s unusual for you as a non-theatre person to be involved in the writing. How did that work?
T: It’s more being involved in the writing as a spectator and as a confidante and friend and the whole bit. I am now involved in other works in theatre and there’s a part of me that turns off as soon as I hear the term meta-theatrics and makes me have a narcoleptic reaction.
I think personally I’m not very interested in the grander concepts. I just like being involved and doing the work and giving what I’ve got but having said that my interest is increasing. I think I’m just very much a doer so I do what I’m told and I think that’s where my strengths lie.
G: So did the writing lead the music or at times did the music lead the writing?
T: They really informed each other.
B: Yeah, that’s true.
T: Bojana and I were spending a lot of time together during the writing so of course we talked about it a lot and a lot about Mary’s character and what we wanted for her. It really did ping-pong because we were spending a lot of time together when we started constructing the script. We were living together in Albury and it was 24 hours a day topic of conversation, you were surrounded by it.
T: My interest in everything in life has increased tenfold since Bojana and I first worked together. I’m far more critical of myself and performances and modes of performance and attitudes towards doing research for work and those methods and principles. You’ve got to have a certain ferocity.
G: So did you just used to wing it and now you actually know what you’re doing?
B: He doesn’t wing it, he works much harder than that. He’s an amazingly hard worker.
T: I’ve always been fearful of lapsing back into old habits of mental illness. I could feel myself becoming vertiginous when thinking about anything too deeply and I don’t feel that any more so that means breaking through a fear and I think you have to do that. I’ve often wondered if Bojana and I should work together, if I should be in this play, then I think we’ve come to the performance historically from different ways but the one thing we’ve got in common is that we both love to work, we live for work and most of the good things in our lives have come from that enthusiasm and attempting to be honest.
G: Bojana, has it been hard to come back into this persona of Mary after a while away?
T: She has one sleep and she’s back into it. People say “how long have you been in the country for” expecting to hear a couple of weeks and she goes “two hours”.
B: I would love Paul Capsis to play Mary MacLane. Tanya and I keep saying that.
I found it hard when I came back. I went: “Oh, me again.” Sometimes I get sick of the sound of my own voice, especially in this role, because it’s been around for so long with us and because as a writer I have a voice in my head and then as a performer it’s a challenge to be open to other modes of performing what’s on the page. It’s really important, but it’s been a real difficulty for me to see that. Then when I want to change the performance I start wanting to change the text and I get – you know that thing you were talking about Tim, delving deep and asking too many questions – I start to get into that then I have to stop and think am I compromising something? Should the whole play change? What should we do? Should we change the whole thing in the space? Let’s cut this scene, let’s put something else in. I just start to think too much and I have to stop thinking and go this is what it is for now.
My normal inclination is to keep changing and moving and growing. I think every preview of ours was different and I’m pretty sure it will happen again. After every preview I would sit down with Tanya and go I want to change this or try this and chopped huge things out, and now we’ve put them back in – one of Tim’s favourite bits about toothbrushes is back in which is great because it was everyone’s favourite really. It’s been really interesting but I do find it challenging, I’d be lying to say that I didn’t, on a personal level and on a professional level too.
But both of us are performers, and I love an audience. Every night when there’s an audience there and they’re laughing, they’re responding, we’ll be having fun. It’s a challenge before that audience comes in because I start to over-analyse stuff.
I’m not the first actor or rock star to hate doing a show six times a week but just before that curtain opens there’s none of that, then all of a sudden it’s really, really fun. Because there’s an audience and you have another level of communication. It’s not just with yourself or with the other person in the room with you so it makes sense. In film it’s like between action and cut, even if you’re having a shit day, something happens between action and cut where you absolutely have no sense of anything other than the job that you have to do. I wish it was like that all the time – the focus, wouldn’t that be nice? A freedom from all the kerfuffle. So I’m just looking forward to having an audience.
ON CHARACTER & PERSONA
G: Tim, I saw you play at the Hi-Fi bar recently and it was a fairly quiet night but as soon as you were on stage you were in this rock god performance mode. Is it a very different type of persona you’re putting on for a gig like that or is it the same sort of zone that you have to get into for a theatre show?
T: The devolution or the evolution of my character has been quite maddening but really, really educational. I’m playing someone who isn’t – there are elements of me in it, compassion, a love for who I’m serving, but it’s absolute discipline. Twenty years ago if I did that thing at the Hi-Fi bar I’d want to go out and kill because before going on I’d feel a disgust with people’s attitude towards entertainment, performance, even the people I’m playing with – it would disgust me, there was a lot of hatred there and passion and violence and sex.
B: Sounds good!
T: Yeah, well, it keeps my cheekbones polished. Twenty years ago that would have been the performance. But now it’s just a switch and it takes nothing. I did a TV show with a different band the other night and the producer said “What just happened there? You started playing and something happened.” But for Mary it’s very disciplined. I find it terrifying but I really enjoy the discipline of turning up to work each day sober, prepared …
G: Knowing your lines?
T: Well …