Words by Rhys Tarling
I had a brief conversation with local theatre actress Jo Morris. A graduate from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in 2003 and an acclaimed performer – hitting it particularly big as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire — Jo has an important part to play in the upcoming Black Swan State Theatre Company production and Pulitzer prize winning play, Angels in America.
What can you tell us about your character in Angels in America?
Her name’s Harper Pitt. She’s a very complex creature and married to a man who is possibly not a heterosexual man. She’s deeply religious and addicted to valium, so she has an enormous amount of guilt and fear which has lead to her becoming agoraphobic. She’s a fearful person who kind of has a wild imagination.
What was your first major role?
I graduated from drama school in Sydney and then I went travelling overseas. I did a whole lot of work that was anything but acting. But then I got back to Perth and was cast as Abigail in The Crucible which was my first professional gig. It was absolutely incredible, an amazing role, and it was unbelievable to be a young emerging actor and working alongside a huge ensemble. But also a lot of that ensemble was made up of the experienced actors who’d been doing it for a long time, so that was a real treat too.
Do you often think about the characters you play in your day-to-day life, or do you keep your job and personal life separate?
I think that you train as an actor to learn to pretend really well. I don’t think it’s necessary to take that character on – I don’t think that’s fair to the people you love [laughs] to be with that character. When I finish a play, I will very easily leave a character behind. Sometimes when we’re in the midst of rehearsals, and we’re all working really hard to get to a point–the point we want to be at before the preview–I find the character does infiltrate my world outside of the rehearsal room. And I’m doing that final kind of period of processing the character and thinking about her, and fleshing out the intricacies of the world that she’s a part of. So, yeah, I really try and keep it as separate as possible. But I find in those couple of last weeks before production that things start to get a little…intense. Which is all part of the process, I think.
Besides memorising the lines, how do you prepare for a role?
In the year between auditioning and rehearsals, I just love to dream about the character – about who she is, and let her filter into my body. I like it to be not so much a conscious process, if you know what I mean, so by the time I get to rehearsals she’s kind of just under the surface. I will obviously do the research I need to do, though I don’t like being too intellectual about it. Personally, I have never been a valium addict, so I researched what it’s like to be addicted to valium, also agoraphobia, what it is, looked at interviews from people who suffer severe anxiety. I like to understand the physical component of that illness. Over the years, you learn to find the balance between understanding the factual evidence in the script, and the emotional response you have to it, and marrying those in a way that makes it accessible to the audience.
What determines your interest in a role?
I think it’s vulnerability, that’s always a big component. Realness, truth, and a grittiness – something that you can understand on a very human level is what I am excited about. I find with classics and Shakespeare that it’s a lot harder to connect, in a contemporary way. I love exploring new stories, and stories that still have a powerful presence in our current culture.
What do you like to do on your down time?
Well, that’s kind of changed as of late. I’ve recently moved to the hills, so pretty much all my down time I’m walking my dog, which I love. Being meditative, and…I sound quite old now [laughs]. Hanging with friends, going to the movies, all that jazz. Quiet time is really appealing to me right now. Also, living all the way in the hills, I tend to do a lot of driving. I do lots of bush walks up there too, it’s great.
In terms of acting, it was, maybe two years ago, with another girl I commissioned and co-produced a show that premiered at the Blue Room called Those Who Fall in Love Like Anchors Dropped on The Ocean Floor, written by Finegan Kruckemeyer. It was a really beautiful show and it went on to have a Fringe season, and is now being given a slot at the Griffin Theatre in Sydney. So we’ll be heading over to Sydney in July for that. It’s a project that came from the heart and was a story I really believe in. The fact that we’ll get to do that show again is really exciting.
Angels in America will have its run at the Heath Ledger Theatre from 28 May to June 19.
We will be running a review of the play here 29 May. Look out for it!
For ticket information, check out: bsstc.com.au