From Thalido­mide and freak shows to global celebrity and Richard III, it can only be the inim­itable Mr Mat Fraser

Sunday Herald - - 19.03.17 NEWS - BY RUS­SELL LEADBETTER

THRILLED, hon­oured, ex­cited, & de­lighted!,” Mat Fraser tweeted to his 20,000 fol­low­ers ear­lier this week. “Peo­ple have said I could be a Dick, and now I can prove them right!”

Thus did the ebul­lient ac­tor re­act to the news that he will play Richard III, Shake­speare’s “twisted vil­lain”, in a theatre pro­duc­tion in Hull, the 2017 UK City of Cul­ture, in May.

“He is an ac­tor of scin­til­lat­ing phys­i­cal­ity and vo­cal power,” said Bar­rie Rut­ter, the play’s di­rec­tor. “His re­turn to the Bri­tish stage as Shake­speare’s iconic vil­lain her­alds a shiv­er­ing fris­son of ex­cite­ment.”

As in­deed it does. Fraser, who is 54, has pho­comelia, a con­di­tion caused by his mother be­ing pre­scribed the drug Thalido­mide while she was preg­nant with him. But he has never let his con­gen­i­tal de­for­mity hold him back, and has var­i­ously been a rock mu­si­cian, ac­tor, writer and per­for­mance artist. Af­ter years of hard graft, he achieved in­ter­na­tional celebrity play­ing “Paul the Il­lus­trated Seal Boy” in Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story: Freak Show, the fourth sea­son of the awards-laden an­thol­ogy hor­ror se­ries.

Fraser’s char­ac­ter was orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned as a tat­too-cov­ered lizard man. How­ever, the writ­ers tweaked the phys­i­cal na­ture of the char­ac­ter when they found Fraser. “I fought against hav­ing tat­toos on my face,” Fraser said. “My face con­veys my emo­tions and I wanted to be recog­nised. I wanted peo­ple to be able to see me act­ing. To see me.”

He has also starred on stage with his wife, the bur­lesque per­former Julie At­las Muz, in a provoca­tive take on Beauty And The Beast, which has played to au­di­ences in the UK, New York and Chicago. When it played the Ade­laide Fes­ti­val, the pub­lic­ity said the duo rekin­dled a lust for life “in an adults-only fairy­tale like no other. Bring your lover (not your mother) to this joy­ful romp that ex­plores the naked truth about love”.

When he and Muz got hitched in New York five years ago, the cer­e­mony ap­par­ently re­flected their “ex­tro­vert, al­ter­na­tive life­style”, with zom­bie school­girl brides­maids and other bizarre fea­tures.

Fraser’s ear­li­est years were, how­ever, far from easy. “Oh, the joys of be­ing the dope-smok­ing rebel at 17,” he re­calls. “Far bet­ter than be­ing called the lo­cal flid.” He was not minded to ac­knowl­edge his own dis­abil­ity: “The D word was not men­tioned. I avoided all young chil­dren, ‘cos you know their first ques­tion’s go­ing to be, ‘Mis­ter, why are you like that?”

He got into mu­sic and played drums with var­i­ous groups. Even­tu­ally, he re­alised that his po­lit­i­cal anger was about his dis­abil­ity. He be­came “dis­sat­is­fied with the noth­ing­ness of what I was do­ing”. Fraser took up act­ing and be­gan his ca­reer with the Graeae Theatre Com­pany which de­scribes it­self as a “force for change in world­class theatre”, putting deaf and dis­abled ac­tors cen­tre-stage.

Fraser re­mains one of its pa­trons, and says it was the com­pany that in­spired him to fi­nally be­come an ac­tor.

His sub­se­quent CV has ranged far and wide. In 2002. he was one of the sub­jects pho­tographed in Manuel Va­son’s ground­break­ing book, Ex­po­sures – all of whom were de­scribed as artists who were dis­rupt­ing the norm and pro­vok­ing de­bate by “ex­pos­ing the body in all its di­ver­si­ties”.

Fraser’s list of Bri­tish film and TV cred­its in­cludes an ap­pear­ance in Holby City, in which he played a Thalido­mide-af­fected pa­tient who has been di­ag­nosed with a tu­mour, and whose life can only be saved by, as it turns out, that very same drug.

He has ap­peared in doc­u­men­taries, films, plays, the Chan­nel 4 com­edy drama Cast Offs, and in an award-win­ning, site-spe­cific solo show, Cab­i­net of Cu­riosi­ties: How Dis­abil­ity Was Kept In A Box. He has also just fin­ished film­ing a role in Peter (Dumb And Dumber) Far­relly’s new US TV com­edy, Lou­d­er­milk.

Fraser also took part in the open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies of the 2012 Lon­don Par­a­lympics; on YouTube you can see footage of him drum­ming along­side Cold­play in the clos­ing cer­e­mony. He is also skilled in mar­tial arts and showed his kick-box­ing skills to un­com­pro­mis­ing ef­fect in a 2009 film, Kung Fu Flid (later reti­tled Un­armed But Dan­ger­ous). One of his co-stars was Faye Tozer, one-fifth of the pop group Steps.

The ac­tor has never seen any point in dwelling on his dis­abil­ity, es­pe­cially in his TV roles. “I’ve learned a lot about dis­abil­ity por­trayal, and some­times you have to let that stuff go,” he said. “Yes, it’s im­por­tant and in my own work I talk about it, but some­times you just have to want to do the act­ing … Let’s talk about the act­ing and the work and the art, and not about if I was bul­lied as a teenager.”

Richard III, which will be staged at Hull Truck Theatre from May 4-27, and in Hal­i­fax’s Viaduct Theatre be­tween May 30 and June 4, can’t come quickly enough for him.

“This fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to play drama’s most fa­mous dis­abled vil­lain, and to put the visceral re­al­ity on­stage of a ‘rudely stamped’ ac­tor in the fa­mous char­ac­ter, is made even more ex­cit­ing by hav­ing it be a North­ern Broad­sides and Hull Truck Theatre pro­duc­tion un­der Bar­rie Rut­ter’s forth­right di­rec­tion,” he said.

“The hon­our of work­ing with all the sea­soned clas­sic ac­tors in the cast is one I hope to match with a deep un­der­stand­ing of a life lived dif­fer­ently, com­bined with a love of this in­tense violent drama, and joy­ously de­liv­er­ing the beau­ti­ful po­etry of Shake­speare.”

Ac­tor Mat Fraser and his wife Julie At­las Muz, a bur­lesque dancer

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.