Interview by Holly Ferguson
“A deeply moving and enigmatic tale of friendship – of promises made and bonds sealed in blood.”
Are you a fan of vampires? Yes/No? If Twilight turned you off the whole vampire shindig I totally understand but I encourage you to give them another go, with Let the Right One In. In this vampire tale, there will be no feeling like you were given a sedative, or weird alien-esque birthing scenes or people who sparkle in the sun (actually, I can’t confirm that). Instead the stage will host humour, blood, a remarkable friendship and a strong ensemble of talent. Playing Oskar is Ian Michael, a WAAPA graduate from the Aboriginal Theatre course, who has taken the Australian acting scene by storm. I had a lovely chat with Ian to find out more about the show, his career and some other things on the side:
What can you tell me about Let the Right One In?
Oh, my goodness! Let the right one in is a Swedish novel that was made into a film in 2008 and it tells the story of a young teenager called Oskar, who I play. Oskar is a bullied outsider who is quite sensitive and lives with his mother in a housing commission flat in this outer suburb. One night he meets this girl called Eli, who he’s never seen before but knows she’s just moved in next door and they create this lovely little friendship, not knowing she’s a 400-year-old vampire!
What drew you to the role of Oskar?
I got an email a year and a half ago saying that Black Swan would love to offer me this role of Oskar. I had heard of the film before but I didn’t know it was a novel, so when I got the script I read it immediately and I fell in love with it in a way that I could really emphasise and connect with these people. I could connect with Oskar being this outsider because that was me in high school and I could relate to this idea of his family going through this really strange separation, that’s kind of what I went through. Oskar collects this scrapbook of newspaper clippings of crime stories and murders, when Eli moves in all of these murders start to happen and nobody knows who’s doing them. I was really obsessed with things like crime stoppers when I was a kid, it was really weird, I was 8 or 9 and I was watching it obsessively. So, yeah, I could connect to him really strongly and connect to the world they’re in. It just felt like kind of me in a way, it was really strange.
So, Oskar is a young teen. How are you going to work to characterise that age?
(laughs) Somebody asked that the other day and they said what are you going to do? Because I’m 28 and Oskar is about 12… So, I’m twice his age plus! But, fortunately my whole entire career leaving WAAPA has been playing teenagers. I’ve got quite a young voice so I think I’ll soften the voice. There’s that awkwardness of a teenager so I think it’s finding that physicality of him having this real false sense of bravado, he does things like stabs trees because he wants to get revenge on these boys who are bullying him. He’s quite sensitive. There’s lots of things to play with and I think once we get into the rehearsal room we’ll start to find all of those character choices. I think stuff like his age and what he’s going through, I think they’ll really start to affect how I find him as a character.
In reference to WAAPA, how has your experience there set you up for the ‘acting world’?
If I didn’t go to WAAPA, I can’t imagine going into the industry. I went to a school that didn’t offer any arts and so doing the Aboriginal Theatre Course at WAAPA I learnt pretty much acting 101, the basics and the stepping stones into the industry. You get to discover the industry for yourself having those things in your tool bag. I don’t think acting school prepares you for the industry, it’s not like acting school at all. It’s much more difficult. But WAAPA gave me every single tool I needed to go out and adapt to a script and do technical work and the physical side of acting.
What initially drew you to acting?
I had a really big imagination as a kid and I would make these stories that would go on for a week or afternoon. I did lots of singing and performing in primary school and then I moved to a smaller town for high school and we didn’t have any arts there. So, I didn’t think it was an option, I didn’t think that could be a career. I’d watch movies and think that would be something you can’t do as a job. Then I studied at ECU for half a year, I was entering into a journalism degree, I was 17 at the time and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was talking to Lynette Narkle, in my opinion she’s one of the best female actors in Perth, and she was like, “You can go to this school and do a one year course.” And I was like, acting? That’s not a thing! She encouraged me to apply and I got in. That was the one year I did of the Aboriginal Theatre Course. Then I auditioned for every single acting school in the country for about six years after that and I never got into any of them. But having that one year gave me the hunger to keep working at it. Every audition I did I was growing more in the industry and I was able to work most of the year as an actor. Eventually the acting the schools were like you don’t need to come here, keep doing what you’re doing!
I was going to say that since graduating it looks like you’ve been working pretty hard and you’ve won several awards. So, what’s next for you? I don’t assume you still want to go to acting school, I think you’re above that now!
I haven’t auditioned for acting school in about three or four years now so I’m a bit past that. In 2015, I made a show called HART, which is verbatim theatre about the stolen generation. We’ve toured that pretty much all over Australia and New Zealand. It did a season at the Blue Room last year that did really well. So, I’m doing HART again next year and I’m writing two plays at the moment that I can’t really say too much about. But right now, I’m trying to really focus on Let the Right One In. I’m looking forward to getting into the rehearsal room and getting to see what happens with this!
How did you get into creating theatre and writing?
It was about six years after I finished acting school and literally every single character I played had been between the ages of 16 and 18 and they were really awkward bullied teenagers trying to find out who they were. I kind of got a bit frustrated with it, I had done about six months of touring this play about this 17-year-old kid, I thought I don’t think I can handle this anymore for this year. I heard about statistics of aboriginal kids being taken away in 2015 and realised that this policy of children being taken away was worse than the stolen generation and it’s increasing still. I didn’t know what to do and I thought that as a theatre maker I’ll make a play about it. So, I came across all these testimonials and I did interviews with people from the stolen generation and young aboriginal people. I figured I’d make a play about it and tell the stories through theatre and hopefully people will be able to tell what’s going on in our country. It’s the first play I’ve ever written and it’s been very successful, we’ve done over 130 shows of it. So, I think my writing is always going to be about history and stories and voices that are quite silent. Writing I really just fell into because I was frustrated about playing teenagers and now I’m about to go play a 12-year-old.
It all comes back round I suppose!
Who knows what’s going to happen after I play a 12-year-old?
Yeah will it keep getting younger or older?
Or I’ll just be like, I’m going to become a gymnast or something!
So, I don’t know if you’ve heard or not but next year Black Swan is ensuring that there is at least one Aboriginal actor on each production.
If that’s your first-time hearing that can you tell me your initial reaction is and what means for the Aboriginal acting and creative community?
That is the first time I heard of that! I’ve got goose bumps actually, that’s really exciting! But I’m also not surprised. I’ve known Clare Watson (BSSTC Artistic Director) for about five-years and speaking to her over the past year and a half about Let the Right One In and the future of Black Swan, she’s told me how excited she is to get to know Perth. You don’t hear about any other mainstream theatre company doing that, why aren’t they? What an amazing thing that Black Swan is leading the way on those kinds of initiatives. It’s incredible. Clare is such an amazing theatre maker and Perth is really lucky to have her!
Definitely! So, what are you looking forward to the most for working on this show?
There are many things. HART is a one man show, so I tour around with my stage manager for most of the year by myself. So, I’m actually really excited to be on stage with other people. I’m excited to talk to other humans on stage and connect to other people in a story. I’m really excited that it’s the Australia premiere of the show, it’s never been done here. I’m going to be the first Australian Oskar and Sophia is going to be the first Australian Eli. We’ve got a really great cast and three of them are Noongar fellas and it’s set in Sweden. How incredible that I get to play a 12-year-old Swedish kid. There’s all of these things within the story, this cast and this production as a whole that are really fresh and new for Australian and Perth theatre. I think it’s something that audiences won’t have seen before. But I don’t know anything about the production really, I don’t know what direction we’re going in. I heard the set is going to be huge and I’ve heard lots of whispers about things. So, I’m really excited to just get into the room and what we’re working towards. I think it will be the biggest production I’ve ever been involved in. I can’t wait to discover this beautiful, heartbreaking, bloody story! I’m also really excited to come back to Perth, I think that’s the most exciting for me to be able to come back home.
Do you have any processes or warm ups that you do before you go on stage that might be a bit funny?
Yeah! I’m a bit crazy when it comes to warm ups. Even when I was at WAAPA I used to go into the room two hours before and took it really seriously. Now, when I do my show HART I go into the space two hours before and do the exact same thing every single warm up, to the T. It’s all timed, on a schedule. I get really worried that if I do it in the wrong order that the show will go wrong!
For HART I do a whole line run of the show. The show is 55 minutes long. I do a line run every single time before the show. I do a lot of nervous wees.
The audience will be coming in and I’ll be like “I’ve got to go!” I think it’s all pretty standard acting things but I’m very OCD about it all.
Do you think you’ll be able to run a line for everything for Let the Right One In?
I feel like I’ve got a little less pressure to not do a line run. There’s lots of scenes and they’re very short. There’s less pressure in an ensemble, I know a couple of people in the cast really well. So yeah, I don’t think I’ll be doing a line run of the show every night. I’ll just be doing my own thing but I’m really looking forward to being part of an ensemble because I haven’t done that in a long time.
One last question! What’s your favourite song to get down to on the dance floor?
Oh my god! There’s so many! Oh, my goodness. I’m one of those people who will dance to anything. I’m usually the first person on the dance floor and will never leave it! I don’t need water, I don’t need anything, I’m just here for the dancing! But pretty much anything by Beyoncé.
If you give me a 20-minute mega mix by Beyoncé, it’s serious!
I totally agree!
(again, much laughter)
I’m not too picky but if you give me Beyoncé, I’m there.
For more information about Let the Right One In & to buy tickets click here
*Dear Ian, it’s not quite 20-minutes but this is my fave Beyoncé remix- Holly*