Wil Coleman is an Australian actor, currently working on projects in the UK. He has recently starred in a production of Twelfth Night at the newly opened Rose Theatre. Performance Reviewed catches up with him to find out more about his experiences.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Australia, in a fairly small coastal town. There wasn’t much theatre around, it was all about sport, a heavily sporting society. I always felt the need to perform, I guess acting’s showing off and I always felt the need to show off. Being the youngest of five boys I was supported by people who actually appreciated that so I felt secure in doing it. But it wasn’t until I played the guitar (and I sing as well) until I started building my confidence up with the musical instruments that I decided I could do this solo and I actually got asked to audition for my very first show at a singing class from a lady who came in and she was a director and she said ‘I’d like for you to audition for this’ I got the job and it ran from there.
What was it?
It was a play called ‘The Lamb of God’ by a Sydney playwright. I was playing a very sadistic young lad who, in one of the scenes, he burned his mate with a cigarette, in a scene where he ties his mate up and they’re playing out some war crimes. It was set it the time of the Second World War in Sydney and kids I guess had those sorts of pictures, it was that sort of environment thrust upon them at that time, innocent but disturbing at the same time.
When did you to go to the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts?
Much later on, in 2009 but yeah I was in musicals and plays 6/7 years before that before I decided I should do this.
What prompted that?
I think I got this kick-in-the-arse sort of mentality. I go to a point where I wanted more, I felt like I wasn’t achieving enough. That’s definitely in my mentality, I’m always wanting more. On some level I’m an opportunist. Not in the respect that some people believe I’ll take advantage but I’ll make the most of any situation. I felt like I needed to break free. I went from earning quite a lot of money in my own business and working part time as an actor in smaller community theatre to going ‘I’m gonna live on $440 dollars a fortnight’. I did the whole thing of living on baked beans and rations.
What did you do before?
I had a plastering company. And I’m a carpenter as well. I really like playing with my hands. I don’t know how to describe the difference so much between something you can touch and something you can live through like acting.
Why did you choose the Western Academy?
A lot of actors have chosen the Western, Hugh Jackman is one. I lived in Sydney and Sydney’s very busy and you can get caught up in the lifestyle and not get your head down. So I thought I need to break free and I’m going to fly five hours to the other side of the country, to Perth, surrounded by ocean and desert, the second most isolated city in the world and put myself in a place where I had to be disciplined. I auditioned, they offered me a role and why not?
And then once you left, what happened?
Saving money to come to here.
What made you want to come this far?
I wanted to pursue acting, to challenge myself in an environment where I had to learn which, and I didn’t want to be typecast as an Australian ochre male and I guess I wanted to learn manners. How can I play an English person who is very educated when I grew up in Australia in a small coastal village?
How do you think the Australian accents and the British accents compare?
I would say, there’s not a great deal of difference in the training but it’s a nature thing, the Australian will know when to take it seriously and when not to take it seriously and is more relaxed with the approach, whereas ive found there’s a certain sincerity especially about the words from an English actor and director. But that’s because I’ve been doing Shakespeare for a little bit now and there’s such an emphasis on the words. They’re more of a serious bunch.
How have you found London since you’ve been here? How long have you been over?
Its been almost 2 years. The first 6 months is the toughest, you’re not really living in London for the first 6 months, you’re trying to live in London, you’re attempting. You’re pushing through so many boundaries, so many things are being thrown in your face and your just holding on. After that, everything’s at your dispoasal. There’s never a boring moment and that’s the main thing I’ve found. Sydney’s a big city but compared to London… London’s an international city, there’s always a different accent, a different social experience as opposed to the same that I perceived in Australia which was relaxed. The nature of everything is different, the speeds much faster in London and I’m a quick guy. I really enjoy the abundance of motion that you get there.
You’ve done some screen work as well as stage. Which do you feel more comfortable on?
I’ve done more theatre than I have filming so an easy answer would be theatre. The thing with film is you can’t get away with lying and I try to bring truth into theatre and film and in films but there’s not room for an off moment, the camera will catch you out and you look silly and film is forever. With theatre, you get in there the next night and it’s a different show. It’s a lot less forgiving film, a lot less forgiving.
How have you found the role of Malvolio?
There’s so many similarities between me and Malvoilio. It the little things that he finds important in life and it’s the little things that I find important. I’m a perfectionist in many ways and Malvolio’s a perfectionist. He’s got his idea about the way the world should work. Everyone sees him as totally insane so I’ve got to find his sane moment. He’s an outcast. In fact when Shakespeare’s writing this he called the show Malvolio and I kind of sit with that and it gives me the right to create the world as almost his world. It is for any character it becomes their world but it can be hard to come in in yellow stockings and cross gartered and as, some people would suggest, a fool. But that’s his one chance and he takes it. He’s an opportunist. Its been very liberating, its not a role that comes up all the time and it gives a license to be insane. If I did half the things I did on stage as Malvolio in the street, I’d be arrested. There’s a moment of confusion for him just as we’re reminded there’s so much confusion about where we sit in society as we’re forever progressing. I’m still learning so much about him. He’s not the same guy as on the opening night, there’s no license with him you can do whatever you want.
How does being an actor make you feel?
It’s the one thing I hold on to. The license to feel the way I do. I think any actor would say the same if they were really truthful. We get to look at people and wonder how they feel and what they’re thinking. We’re observers. We like to experience things that are out of our comfort zone. If I have a break up and I cry and get emotional about it. There’s something in the back of my head that says ‘this is good, you can use this’. So it helps being in London because everything is diverse, everything is happening. It’s a full on life, the spontaneity, in the moment sort of stuff, people under stress. So I fit in quite well in London as an actor. Because in a small town, you want more.
I’m working during the day and working at night with the carpentry. I’ve started writing my own film, I’ve been writing for about 3 months now. It started off as a short. Just finished a pilot for a TV show that’s been pitched to the BBC so that’s in the final stages of editing. I guess more auditions, it been a quiet time but I’m keeping busy with reading and exercise. A bit of travelling would be nice, around the UK. I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of Asia. Those things are really important to any artist. You have to take things from life or you become stale.
You can find out more about Wil at his website here.