AussieTheatre’s Jan Chandler speaks with Grant Piro about his latest venture at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne…
It is well known that Australian actors, especially those who choose to remain in this country, need to be versatile if they want to sustain an on-going career.
Grant Piro’s career, which started in the early 1980s with a role in the television soap opera Sons & Daughters, is testimony to this. As he tells me, he’s been very lucky, but much of that luck has resulted from sheer hard work.
Piro has worked on television, in film and on stage and his work has covered many different genres: horror, comedy, musicals and drama. Mostly he has worked in Australia although during the 1980s he spent some time in the UK. Asked about some of the highlights of his career he immediately mentions working with Mel Brookes on The Producers; being directed by writer/actor/director Ray Cooney, recognised in the UK as ‘The Master of Farce’; and also working with British comedy writer and actor, Jimmy Edwards.
Coming back to Australia, and back to the more recent past, Piro talks with enthusiasm of working with Maria Aitkin on The Thirty Nine Steps at Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) in 2008.
“She is quite literally a comic genius, so getting direction from her and instruction from her was an absolute highlight.”
Given his love of performing comedy, what is he doing in a play called HATE? Piro laughs as he tells me how the playwright, Stephen Sewell, has come to some of their rehearsals and commented ‘it’s a funny play you know’. Piro’s response was to ask why then Sewell had called the play HATE.
Sewell is known for his dark themes but Piro assures me that, despite the title, there is humour in the play; granted some of it is very, very dark. Piro plays Raymond Gleason, the middle child in a very wealthy family dynasty, with a politician at the head. He is thankful that his character has most of the very droll, throwaway, comic lines.
One of the challenges Piro admits to is having to go to work and be hateful for eight hours a day. This isn’t easy for a man who describes his household as a very joyous, happy place, with five children and constant visitors. He admits that cuddles are his favourite food and he gets lots of them when he returns home. The diet of cuddles helps ease the pain of being hateful, as does the fact that Piro is working, in his words, with great actors and a great director.
This is the first time Piro has been directed by Marion Potts and he doesn’t hesitate to say that he would jump at the chance of working with her again. He describes her as exceptionally clever and a delightful person.
Then there’s the cast led by ‘the great Bill (William) Zappa’. Piro first met Zappa at the State Theatre Company in Adelaide when Zappa was already an established actor and Piro, in his own words, a child. He admired him then and delights in saying that over the last twenty-five years or so he has copied and borrowed and stolen Zappa’s technique and materials on many occasions.
He describes Zappa as hilarious, irreverent and self-effacing, with a tremendous knowledge of acting and stagecraft. Laughing he says that when people tell him he’s a good actor, he thinks, no, I’m a good thief.
So what is it that attracted Piro to this play? He considers himself fortunate to be part of a very select group of actors in Australia. Whilst there are a great number of good actors trying to make it, Piro has been around for such a long time that he is able, he tells me, to have his finger ‘on the pulse’ and know what projects are coming up. He generally tries to think about things some eight or twelve months into the future.
[pull_left]It’s very difficult to see this play and let it wash over you. It’s not a fast food kind of play, it’s a gourmet restaurant type of play. It’s rich, thick, deep, heavy, with a little bit of sorbet thrown in there for good measure[/pull_left]
Piro knew about the up-coming production of HATE long before it was even scheduled. He decided that he had to be in the play and went out of his way to chase down a role. Laughing, he tells me how he hunted down the producers and ‘wrestled them to the ground’.
HATE may be twenty-five years old, Sewell was commissioned to write it for the Australian Bicentennial in 1988, but Piro has no doubt that it is just as relevant today as when it was written. Sewell was writing about Queensland politics in the late 1970s but, given the current political scandals constantly hitting the headlines, he tends to think that it may be even more relevant now.
Given this, what does he hope audiences will take away from their night in the theatre? Whilst Piro believes that, given the range of opinions in any audience, it will be a matter of everyone taking away a different message, he does offer an ironclad guarantee that audiences are up for ‘a most thrilling night in the theatre.’
“I think anyone who comes to see HATE will leave the theatre with an opinion”
“It’s very difficult to see this play and let it wash over you. It’s not a fast food kind of play, it’s a gourmet restaurant type of play. It’s rich, thick, deep, heavy, with a little bit of sorbet thrown in there for good measure.”
HATE – opens at the Malthouse Theatre on 26 February with previews from 20 February
Visit www.malthousetheatre.com.au for more information