Anthony Gooley is not a household name, but you would be hard pressed to find a Sydney based actor who hasn’t worked with him or doesn’t know who he is. Cast as ‘Biff’ opposite Jacki Weaver in Death of A Salesman straight out of NIDA several years ago, Gooley has since enjoyed a series of meaty roles that demand guts and gravitas – and a highly sophisticated grasp of text – winning ‘Best Actor in an Independent Production’ at The Sydney Theatre Awards 2011.
Gooley and I meet for a morning coffee during his tech week for EMPIRE: Terror on the High Seas the highly anticipated new play by Toby Schmitz in which Gooley plays yet another complicated man of many words.
Funnily enough, our coffee spot is in Erskineville, the suburb we first met and worked together in nearly 10 years ago, in a Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, directed by Erin Thomas at The Pact Theatre. Having crammed a shit load of great work into the time since, I can’t wait to observe what the next ten years brings for Anthony Gooley.
Ever Wish You Were Ryan Gosling?
MA: Who are the actors that inspire you?
AG: Umm, there are so many. My age? Locally? Guys like Ian Meadows, Josh McConville, Yalin Ozucelik – guys who I consider my peers and I love seeing what they do. I’ve been really lucky to work with some truly great older actors too, like Sean O’Shea, Jacki Weaver. I’m always very humbled and grateful to work with actors with much more experience than me.
MA: How was working with Jacki Weaver?
AG: Delightful. She is just as sweet as she seems. And brilliant. Playing Biff my first year out of NIDA was pretty great. I found out I was cast in January, and we didn’t start rehearsing until April. I had a wee bit of ad money up my sleeve and I spent 3 months just researching, learnt grid-iron and boxing. It was a treat.
MA: That’s so cool! Given that you are, I think, well respected and known within the Sydney industry, is fame something you wish you had more of? A dollop of Ryan Gosling notoriety?
[pull_left]You could always be doing more gigs. I don’t know anyone, no matter what they are currently working on, that doesn’t have a gripe about it [/pull_left]
AG: It’s hard to say. I have no concept of what that would even be like. Things can always be better I guess. You could always be getting more phone calls. You could always be doing more gigs. I don’t know anyone, no matter what they are currently working on, that doesn’t have a gripe about it at some point. But things could always be worse. You gotta remember that too.
MA: Yep. Sandra Bullock is sitting at home weeping to her mate, “they just won’t see me for that role!”. She is probably just as frustrated. I bet it exists on every level.
AG: Ultimately, I just want to make a living and enjoy it. Work on good material.
MA: A fine line. I think we want to be well-known enough to get work, but not so well-known that you become a weird brand.
MA: Tell me about your training and stuff. You did the NIDA thing?
AG: Yeah. First I did a Bathurst Uni degree, a journalism course-
MA: You wanted to be a journalist?
AG: I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I was an 18 year old rugby beefcake cliché from Mudgee when I left home… So I did journalism. Then I stuffed my knee playing footy for Uni and had a reconstruction – no more football. But I’d always had a performing streak in High School-
MA: How does that get facilitated when you grow up in Mudgee?
AG: Umm, you do suss musicals. I think in Year 12 I was the lead in the school musical. It was a rock ‘n’ roll musical set in the desert called Sheik, Rattle and Roll|. Some real B-grade stuff.
MA: LOVE IT! See what they did?!
[pull_left]I hadn’t worked hard before either. I hadn’t worked hard at high school. I hadn’t worked hard at Uni. But then when I got to NIDA I worked my guts out[/pull_left]
AG: I never thought I would actively pursue it though. I guess especially given the environment I was growing up in. So I went to uni, studied journalism. It was a great course. But I wasn’t suited to it. I’m too much of a softie to work in journalism. On a friend’s recommendation I started doing some plays with Bathurst Uni. It was great.
MA: Corrupted by the Uni Drama Department!
AG: Totally. Straight out of Bathurst I tried out for NIDA. Didn’t get in that time. I got into NIDA on my second go. NIDA was… well, I don’t regret it. But were they the happiest 3 years of my life? Definitely not.
MA: Are they ever?
AG: I found it to be a really hard 3 years of… scrutiny I guess. But the opportunities and the resources available to me were awesome. I didn’t always fully understand what i was being taught. Like the Alexander Technique I still don’t really understand, I just did what they told me to do, and hopefully it helped me out a little bit.
MA: Do you ever look back on some of the things you did at drama school and think, ‘What the fuck?!”
AG: Yes. Some embarrassing stuff went on there.
MA: I swear to god I lay in studios perched in mid embrace with people. For HOURS on end. Why? I cannot tell you.
AG: I hadn’t worked hard before either. I hadn’t worked hard at high school. I hadn’t worked hard at Uni. But then when I got to NIDA I worked my guts out, surprisingly. Committed 100% to everything. I did every single bizarre voice exercise I was asked to do. Got heaps out of it.
MA: I watched you in the Larry Moss workshops this year. Why does an established actor engage in that?
AG: Well, I had done it last year. I’d heard about it. And had the money at the time, because it’s pretty expensive. Normally I see those big workshop things and I’m not all that interested. But this was a rigorous theatre scene-work masterclass… I thought, well this I would enjoy. So I did it. A great scene. A great part. And we worked our butts off. And the first time we got up, we did a corker job. He gave this glowing feedback. And I kind of walked away thinking, ‘oh that was nice…but I didn’t pay $1200 to get a pat on the back’…
AG: But he had some notes for us. And when we came back the next day he absolutely nailed the shit out of me. Pinned me to the wall. I was so taken aback by it. You’ve seen his workshops?
MA: Yes, I observed this year in Sydney.
AG: I hope I’m not being self-indulgent when I say that in the two years I’ve watched him work, I’ve never seen him (Larry Moss] be as hard on someone as he was on me.
[pull_right]in the two years I’ve watched him work, I’ve never seen him (Larry Moss] be as hard on someone as he was on me[/pull_right]AG: I just wanted to present myself as a calm, composed, confident actor. He saw an actor who needed a shake-up.
MA: He needs to rock the boat!
AG: And he rocked the shit out of my boat. He said some really confronting things. It shook me. Not that everything he says needs to be taken as gospel either, but he IS an awesome teacher-
MA: What sort of stuff did he say? Do you mind if I ask?
AG: Umm…he called me a “manipulative, snide little bastard”, and he asked me if I’d hurt people before.
AG: I said yes. He said, ‘yeah, I’ll bet you have.’
MA: Oh my goodness me…
AG: He went to town.
MA: That’s so personal!
AG: And I even went home and thought, ‘what does snide even mean?!’ I looked it up in the dictionary. It said ‘false, counterfeit’. I thought, ‘oh god, that’s awful.’
AG: But I know he meant it in a certain sense. I think he could see that I was a bit guarded and I think he was using very provocative language to get through and really shake me. In going back this year – and obviously problems can’t be fixed overnight – but I wanted to see if I had been able to make some inroads.
MA: I observed that scene this year. It was tremendous. I was very excited watching it. And he seemed to respond well.
AG: Yeah, he seemed to think there had been a shift, and that was the whole reason I went back. Which was satisfying.
MA: Do you adhere strictly to his teachings or do you tend to mix up your process job to job?
AG: I do like his approach, yeah. Thorough script analysis and all that. When he’s working a scene, pulling the text apart – it’s thrilling.
MA: What is the greatest joy and greatest challenge of your job? What bit do you get most excited about and what bit would you gladly get rid of?
AG: I don’t want to state the bleeding obvious, but…working on great, intelligent writing. That’s what’s exciting. As far as challenging goes, I guess…remaining staunch, or positive. I mean I’m a reasonably confident person. I love it so much and wouldn’t know what else to do. But even in recent years I’ve thought, ‘uggghh’. You know, taking my costume shirt home to scrub clean after a show and busting out the Napisan so it’s all good for the next day, running back and forth between rehearsals and a survival job…
MA: It’s exhausting
AG: It can be, yeah. But I know I’ll never do anything else.
MA: Yes, I’ve had that ‘talk’ to myself… You know, “ok Marika, if this is all it’s ever going to be, a commercial now and then and a co-op you believe in once or twice a year…what if that’s all that ever happens?” And my response (to myself!) was, “ok. I still want to do this” Then you know you’re done! I may live in a shitty house share for the rest of my life, but hey!
AG: I sound like a diva. Like I’m above washing my own shirt. Not what I meant.
MA: No, I know!
AG: It’s just when it’s 1am in the morning…
MA: I’m living in the opposite now. I have beautiful ladies at Opera Australia who dress me. I had to stop myself from laughing the first week. It seems hilarious to me that I walk offstage and someone wants to undo my buttons. You get so used to doing it for yourself when you come from an indy background.
Classic Actor Apply Within
MA: You seem to be an actor who never stops. You always have projects. And you have worked with pretty much every independent company and a good whack of main stage theatre companies too. Do you hassle up the work?
[pull_left]I would absolutely take more screen work if it came my way[/pull_left]AG: Umm, I try too… if I really think I’m suited to something. But to be honest, I’ve only ever done two main stage shows – Death of a Salesman for The Ensemble Theatre (co-starring Jacki Weaver and Sean Taylor) and The Glass Menagerie with the State Theatre Company of South Australia. I’ve done more theatre than TV. Some dodgy guesties, some commercials which are the bread and butter.
MA: Why do you think you may not have done as much TV/film?
AG: I don’t know. It’s certainly not a concious choice. I have just tended to fall into the theatre thing more. I guess I know more people in the theatre world. Certainly these days anyway. I’m a bit more hungry in chasing that, maybe. But I would absolutely take more screen work if it came my way.
MA: Do you like that world or is it still a bit foreign?
AG: I think it is a bit foreign, to me I mean. Just through lack of experience. In the theatre I’m pretty comfortable and feel like I have some idea of what I’m doing. I’ve been really lucky to have worked on some great plays, some great classics-
MA: Ooh! I wanted to ask you about that because almost all the plays you’ve done have been wordy or classic – like The Libertine – That had a lot of words Gools!
AG: It did have a couple.
MA: Is there something about you that says, this man belongs in the past?! Something quite robust and intelligent…
AG: I don’t know about that… but I know I’ve got no complaints when I get to work with such great writing.
MA: Do you feel classic texts are your happy place?
AG: They very well might be. I start rehearsals soon for an Arthur Miller play, All My Sons (Eternity Playhouse Nov 2013). And we did the initial read through and I actually said to the rest of the cast, ‘this is as good as it gets for me’. I’m a bit of a boring old traditionalist I guess. I don’t feel the need to-
MA: Get naked and splash orange juice around on stage?
AG: Well, just not all the time, that’s all. By taking one of these great plays and simply serving it… I just wish that wasn’t seen as a ‘dated’ approach… Because if you do it well, you’ll have a winner on your hands, guaranteed.