Brendan Cowell: “With no wife and kids I was free to make whimsical decisions.”
ACTOR & WRITER
Did you have a plan – or even an overseas acting agent – when you upped sticks from Australia and moved to London three-and-a-half years ago? No. Without trying to sound like one of those poetic actor types who says they put it all in a rucksack and wandered off, I wasn’t exactly Bob Dylan. I did have a writing agent and a bit of attention over there since The Slap’s success, but not as an actor. So why do it at all? I guess I was a bit restless and starting to feel a little confused. I was 38-39 and because
I didn’t have a wife and kids, I was free enough to make whimsical decisions. I felt like I wanted a whole new thing to do. It wasn’t due to a criticism or unhappiness. I turned up to London’s Bloomsbury hotel with a blue suitcase and an iPhone speaker, no agent and no idea what the hell was going to happen.
Now you’re in New Zealand for a new
job. Let’s talk about this… [Laughs.] Tell us everything! “Well, the Avatar plot…”
Yes, you’ve joined the cast of James Cameron’s Avatar sequels alongside Kate Winslet and Edie Falco. And you’re playing a ship’s captain, after recently playing one on Game Of Thrones. And I don’t even like the ocean!
We won’t see the ﬁrst sequel until 2021 and then there’s three more to come through to 2027. That’s a lot of story. I’ve been knocked on the head by everyone around me saying try not to speak about this job at all. But it is Avatar and I am in it. Look, I have never done anything on this scale. I’ve no idea about what it all means. We’ve had a couple of rehearsals and all I can tell you is I’m working with some of the best talent, from stunts to design to acting, that the world has to offer. And that’s all I can ask.
And you can make money appearing at fan conventions. Holy… I’ve got an appalling autograph, too. Are there courses you can do? I’ve got a curly name.
It must be an incredible working environment. It really is. Technology and ideas are being invented while we
make the ﬁlm. The idea of ﬁlmmaking is moving forward as the camera rolls, which is pretty exciting.
Sounds a bit like… Game Of Thrones.
I know! The nice thing about it careerwise is both these major TV and ﬁlm opportunities came from independent theatre in London. Normally, when you move to a new city it takes a year or two to do the rounds. And casting directors see so many of you, they’re going, “Oh, here we go, another half-shaven actor who tells us he’s special.” There was a line of 200 people out the front of The Young Vic every day [for his 2017 play Yerma] and the whole industry saw it. I love the fact you can go there with no money, do a great piece of theatre just for the sake of it and end up in these kind of shows.
And you also landed a role in Press, a recent BBC drama about newspapers.
I’d done independent theatre and Game Of Thrones, but you have to do a BBC show to assert your name in England. That was a joy. Every newsroom needs an Aussie journalist with his life falling apart.
The current SeaChange remake has a few of us wistful about Love My Way. What about you? Oh yeah, it was a golden time. Six Feet Under had just come out on HBO and that kind of changed television, and then Foxtel said they wanted to do one of those kind of shows and they backed the creatives and didn’t tell us to calm down. You look at its writers’ room – everyone’s gone on to do something. It was a time and a place, and everybody realised it was a special one. We should do it again.
But the actors’ fees might be a bit unreasonable now… Yeah! A couple of them.
“I’ve been told to try not to speak about this job… But it is Avatar and I am in it”