OUR STRAIGHT MATES: BRENT HILL
He may be in musical theatre but, reckons Brent Hill, from Rock Of Ages to School Of Rock, who needs textbooks when you have guitars!
Who needs textbooks when you have guitars reckons Brent, star of Rock Of Ages and School Of Rock.
DNA: What’s the best thing about working in musical theatre?
Brent Hill: I love plugging into an audience and feeling the energy that they bring, because it changes every show. It moves, changes and evolves. It keeps things fresh when you’re doing eight shows a week for several months. I recently saw Patti LuPone and you can hear that in the way that she sings. She’s incredibly smart; it’s just a simple thing of changing vowels so it’s not as harsh on the vocal chords. She did Don’t Cry For Me Argentina with great conviction. I love the technical side of theatre. Your stage roles include Rock Of Ages, Little Shop Of Horrors, Once and now School Of Rock… is there a dream role awaiting you? Evita!
Er… as Evita?
It was between Tina Arena and me, but I got School Of Rock so I let her have it! [Laughs] Actually, I’ve done a lot of the roles that I wanted, like Seymour in Little Shop Of Horrors and Leo Bloom in The Producers. Now I’m interested in writing and creating my own musicals. I have four on my current project board, and I’ve written myself a role in two of them.
How would you describe Dewey Finn, your School Of Rock character?
He’s a bit of a dropkick who just loves rock’n’roll. He’s so focused on it that all other aspects of his life get forgotten, including looking after himself. He basically sees himself rocking out on a mountaintop with Thor and Odin. But he’s mid-’30s, can’t pay his rent and needs money. So, he poses as his friend Ned, takes his role as a substitute teacher at a prestigious school where the kids play classical music, and he gets them into rock.
In developing Dewey, did Jack Black’s characterisation from the film influence you? It can be tricky. Years ago, I did a production of Cosi and developed my own characterisation for Roy. But a few days before the show I watched the film, where Barry Otto played it exceptionally well. Then, of course, my version changed. It’s a weird middle ground because you have to be half what people expect and something that’s your own.
What gives School Of Rock its gusto?
It’s a great story; fun and, ultimately, it’s joyful. A lot of the magic is seeing the kids play their instruments live. It has real energy and it’s a rock concert where the kids are savants. They’re like nine- and 12-years-old and already exemplary musicians.
Are you into AC/DC-style rock? I’ve always been a more jazz-based musician. That said, all my cousins are huge Acca Dacca, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana fans. I’d hang out with them and listen to that music by proxy. When I did Rock Of Ages there was a lot of singing like Axl Rose every night!
What about playing guitar?
I’m more of a pianist and drummer. For School Of Rock I’ve been practicing guitar. Who are your favourite artists?
One of my favourite songs is Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses but at the same time I can enjoy Miles Davis or big band jazz.
Who’s your diva?
Whitney. My go-to song is I Wanna Dance With Somebody. When it comes to getting up to dance I love Beyoncé’s Single Ladies.
Have you ever played a gay role?
My last role was as Lord Goring in An Ideal Husband and he’s an embodiment of Oscar Wilde. It’s not gay per se but it has that hidden agenda. In fact, during the first production of the play, Wilde was jailed. A lot of the play deals with self-acceptance and public acceptance. Speaking of public acceptance, what was your impression of last year’s marriage equality debate?
I was incredibly disappointed that some people, who I knew quite well, held these misinformed opinions. It was just terrible. I have a lot of gay friends and when the same-sex marriage law passed it was a wonderful, joyful day. We all celebrated and forgot the stress of work.
Who has been the biggest influence on your professional career?
My parents have been very supportive and my grandmother was a dressmaker and she’d make me costumes like Spiderman and Sherlock Holmes. I always enjoyed the process of creating a character and my family encouraged me. In fact, every single person I’ve worked with has influenced me in some way, whether good or bad. I learned long ago not to have heroes and meet them but, that said, I worked with Hugo Weaving on The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui and he’s the best actor I’ve ever seen. He’s not guarded at all, there’s no ego and it’s all about the work. He was one of those people I was wary about meeting but, once I did, I fell in love with him.
Have you ever had an on-stage wardrobe malfunction?
In An Ideal Husband we had an elegant upperclass party scene with a chaise lounge. I sat on it and it tumbled like a Jenga tower! We were meant to be having a fun time, and the whole thing just broke apart. Michelle Lim Davidson, who played Mabel, simply said, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ve got enough money to pay for that!”
When the same-sex marriage law passed it was a wonderful, joyful day.