While rehearsing at the Ensemble Theatre for its current production of David Hare’s My Zinc Bed, Sean Taylor also managed to fit in a couple of day’s filming on Secret City, a new political drama for Foxtel being shot in Canberra.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever worked with an Oscar nominee so it was daunting,” he quips.
The Academy Award nominee in question is his wife Jacki Weaver. They’ve acted opposite each other many times. In fact, they met when they played lovers in David Williamson’s Soulmates for Sydney Theatre Company in 2002, marrying the following year.
“But this is the first time post-nomination, well, twice nominated,” he says.
“But, no, it’s been a lot of fun. Jacki plays the Attorney General and I play the Head of ASIO so she’s my boss and there’s one scene where she fires me. She’s been working very hard and from the little I’ve seen I think it’s going to be a good series.”
It was just coincidence that filming on Secret City coincided with rehearsals for My Zinc Bed but it has given them a chance to spend some time together and for Weaver to be at the opening night this Thursday.
Born in South Africa, Taylor emigrated to Australia in 2000 to be near his two daughters who moved here with their mother after they divorced.
“I try to go back to Africa at least once a year and see friends and family but I suppose I’m spending most of my time these days in Los Angeles (due to Weaver’s career),” he says.
Blessed with a beautiful, deep, sonorous voice, Taylor is a commanding stage actor recently seen at the Ensemble in productions of Hare’s Skylight and Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange.
In Hare’s intriguing play My Zinc Bed, which explores themes of addiction, he plays Victor Quinn, a charismatic millionaire. Directed by Mark Kilmurry, the Ensemble is staging a new 90-minute version.
Taylor bought the script and learned the whole play while in LA prior to rehearsals without knowing that they were using a different version.
“I’m of an age now (60) where I can’t learn something in 10 days, it takes longer,” he admits candidly.
“I got here and suddenly there was this other tighter version of the play and I thought that Hare had cut some very nice stuff out so I persuaded Mark to bring some of the other stuff back in and it’s working very well I think.”
When a hard-up poet and reformed alcoholic called Paul Peplow is sent to interview Victor for a newspaper profile, he finds himself enticed into a thrilling but dangerous world. As Paul spars verbally with Victor and flirts with his younger wife Elsa, his hard-won sobriety is threatened. But is Victor just using Paul to amuse his wife and reinvigorate their stale marriage?
“There’s a lot of game-playing and manipulation in the way Victor sets things up,” says Taylor.
“In the last couple of runs I’ve been playing against that a bit just to see how it goes but Mark prefers it that I lay it on a bit. I’m trying to make him not quite so obvious. But Paul, who is played by Sam O’Sullivan, actually says: ‘Am I Faust? Is he Mephistopheles? Am I making a pact with the devil?’
“It’s about addiction to many things, I think, besides drink and drugs. I think there’s a certain addiction to chaos. Some people thrive on it. When their life is running smoothly they veer off. I think the other two characters especially seek that because it makes them feel alive but they also realise that if they do follow those instincts then they can spiral into a very bad situation,” says Taylor.
“Hare always deals with politics even if he doesn’t overtly state it,” he adds. “My character used to be a communist and now he’s this capitalist – which is kind of a similar journey to what Hare’s been on, I think. He was a big leftie when he was younger. I remember readings his plays like Fanshen, which was about the Chinese revolution. Now he’s an older man and very successful. The younger character is maybe a bit like Hare in that he’s a writer.”
Taylor also plays Harold Holt in a new short film called The Defector directed by Scott Mannion, with Oscar winner Russell Boyd (Master and Commander) as Director of Photography, which he describes as “a quirky film”.
“What really got me interested when I was approached about it was that Russell Boyd was the cameraman on it. And Russell Boyd has actually written a thing online about this young director saying he believed in him so I thought that’s a project I’d like to be involved in.”
Taylor admits that life has changed since Weaver’s breakout film role in Animal Kingdom.
“Five or six years ago, I never dreamed we’d be living in Los Angeles,” he says. “It’s an interesting city but it’s not a city I would choose to live. Hollywood was never on my radar. So I don’t know that I love Los Angeles, but Jacki really loves it. She’s really enjoying it, and so she should. She’s been in this game a long time. I said to her, ‘you’ve got to take this ball and run with it. You never know when it will implode. It might never implode but it might, so just enjoy it,’” he says.
“I’m still working on trying to get a visa so it get a bit boring when you’re not working. I’ve been for a couple of screen tests and had very good responses. But the people in my age bracket have been working there for 40 years and they’re established.
“I was up against Nick Nolte for a role and you go: ‘well I ‘m farting against thunder here aren’t I?’ But still it’s good to go and meet these people. The role is out there somewhere. It might never land in my lap but if I’m fortunate to be in the right place at the right time that will be great. If it happens I’ll embrace it.”
My Zinc Bed plays at the Ensemble Theatre until November 22. Bookings: 9929 0644