Toby Sch­mitz takes the lead

There aren’t many young ac­tors with the style and charisma as­so­ci­ated with the stars of yes­ter­day. Rose­mary Neill talks to one

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

WCab driver: So you’re an ac­tor. Sch­mitz: Yep. Cab­bie: Would I have seen you in any­thing? Home and Away? Sch­mitz (to him­self): Same old con­ver­sa­tion. Sch­mitz (to the cab­bie): No, I do the­atre, I do plays. Cab­bie: You been in Les Mis or Cats? Sch­mitz: No. Cab­bie: Yeah, didn’t think so. Not real plays. THE ac­tor and play­wright re­counts this ap­par­ently typ­i­cal en­counter with a bit­ing ir­rev­er­ence wor­thy of Noel Coward. He is mak­ing the point that he re­fuses to be dis­cour­aged by the com­mon view that tread­ing the boards isn’t a real job. Sch­mitz says with a cer­tain fe­roc­ity: ‘‘ You’ve gotta have some balls about it. You gotta have some claim on your­self as an ac­tor and not get down when the cab­bie HEN Toby Sch­mitz, one of the coun­try’s busiest the­atre ac­tors, finds him­self in a taxi, this is how the con­ver­sa­tion of­ten goes: or your mum say, ‘ What have you acted in?’ You’ve gotta own it.’’ This for­mer party an­i­mal, who was once threat­ened with ex­pul­sion from the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Dra­matic Art be­cause of his drink­ing and tar­di­ness, is now one of the lead­ing the­atre ac­tors of his gen­er­a­tion.

Yet on the day we meet, Sch­mitz looks more like a nerd crossed with a wannabe hip­ster than the up­per-class gent he is about to por­tray in Coward’s Pri­vate Lives. The ac­tor is un­shaven and wear­ing a black hoodie and Clark Kent-style glasses. He pads about the small ter­race he shares with his ac­tor girl­friend in vast, un­laced bas­ket­ball boots that en­gulf his lower legs. Yet once the tape recorder is on and Sch­mitz’s thoughts pour forth in a flash flood of words and droll asides, it’s easy to imag­ine him in a silk dress­ing gown, drop­ping a con­fetti of bons mots while hold­ing court in a Riviera ho­tel suite.

Sch­mitz’s sig­na­ture roles have ranged from fo­cus-pulling com­edy (sim­u­lat­ing sex with a bunch of flow­ers in a pro­duc­tion of Mea­sure for Mea­sure) to full-blooded tragedy (Ham­let for Bris­bane’s La Boite the­atre). ABC critic Nigel Munro-Wal­lis de­clared this 2010 La Boite show the best Ham­let he had seen, adding that Sch­mitz, now 35, ‘‘ brings to his part a fab­u­lous com­bi­na­tion of angst, mood­i­ness and true edgi­ness that will have even the most jaded of the­atre pa­trons will­ing him on’’.

Next year Sch­mitz will ce­ment his rep­u­ta­tion as one of our finest ac­tors in se­ri­ous roles with Sydney The­atre Com­pany and Belvoir that will be an­nounced shortly.

But it’s when the ac­tor plays ro­man­tic and comic leads that he em­bod­ies the pol­ished mas­culin­ity and ver­bal dex­ter­ity that also de­fined ear­lier gen­er­a­tions of lead­ing men; the suave, stylish, ef­fort­lessly ar­tic­u­late ac­tors we rarely see on con­tem­po­rary stages and movie screens. Last year, Sch­mitz starred as Benedick in a Bell Shake­speare pro­duc­tion of Much Ado About Noth­ing —a role renowned for the ver­bal spar­ring be­tween the os­ten­si­bly re­luc­tant ro­man­tic hero and his seem­ingly im­per­fect match, Beatrice.

Again, the crit­ics were im­pressed. The Age’s re­viewer wrote that: ‘‘ Sch­mitz brims with feck­less charisma, and brings a fan­tas­ti­cally mo­bile comic in­tel­li­gence to ev­ery ex­pres­sion and ges­ture. It’s a per­for­mance packed with ado, most of it LOL funny.’’

Belvoir’s artis­tic di­rec­tor Ralph My­ers has cast the ac­tor in his pro­duc­tion of Pri­vate Lives be­cause he reck­ons he was born to play the wealthy, wise­crack­ing di­vorcee Elyot. In this frisky com­edy of man­ners, which opens in Sydney later this month be­fore tour­ing to Wol­lon­gong and Canberra, Elyot and his exwife Amanda run into each other while on hon­ey­moon with their new spouses. In spite of their volatile his­tory and the mar­i­tal vows they have just taken, they rekin­dle their feel­ings for each other — for bet­ter and worse.

My­ers de­scribes Sch­mitz as ‘‘ very sharp, very funny, very droll, very much like Coward in many ways . . . Elyot is a kind of per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of Coward; Coward wrote the role for him­self to play and gave him­self all the best lines. Toby is kind of him.’’

Si­mon Phillips di­rected Sch­mitz when he ap­peared op­po­site a cross-dress­ing Geoffrey Rush (play­ing Lady Brack­nell) last year in a Mel­bourne The­atre Com­pany pro­duc­tion of The Im­por­tance of Be­ing Earnest. The for­mer MTC boss agrees Sch­mitz is an ‘‘ in­nately el­e­gant ac­tor, which means that he’s born to play that kind of role — lo­qua­cious and witty lead­ing men of the 30s and 40s who have a kind of el­e­gance as well as a sex­u­al­ity about them. He’s got those qual­i­ties as a per­son and as an ac­tor.’’

Yet male char­ac­ters such as Elyot are a dy­ing breed in con­tem­po­rary the­atre and film, and this, in turn, begs the ques­tion: What has be­come of the suave, so­phis­ti­cated lead­ing man who made women swoon and men un­easy; screen and stage ac­tors who had the good looks, charm and dash­ing qual­i­ties of mati­nee idols, but who also brought an edge and depth to their craft? From the 1920s to the 60s, ac­tors who were charm­ing, elo­quent and wore a well-cut suit like a sec­ond skin held sway in Hol­ly­wood and be­yond. Among them were David Niven, Cary Grant, Fred As­taire, Sid­ney Poitier, Peter O’Toole and Tony Cur­tis.

As­taire’s phys­i­cal grace was prized more than his looks, while Grant was a by­word for debonair mas­culin­ity. O’Toole, mean­while, amassed eight Os­car nom­i­na­tions while of­ten play­ing char­ac­ters who ‘‘ em­bod­ied the rogu­ish gen­tle­man who looks as good cross­ing the desert on a camel as he does at high tea in his Plaza suite’’, as GQ mag­a­zine has put it.

To­day, with the ex­cep­tion of Ge­orge Clooney, Hol­ly­wood’s lead­ing men are cut

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.