Interview 31st May 2001 by phone ex Sydney
by John Frame for Queer
Radio on 4ZZZ
Transcript 14th June 2001 © firstname.lastname@example.org
Brisbane hasn't seen Paul Capsis since about 1994, when you brought "Burning Sequins" up to La Boite Theatre here.
It's been a long time between drinks!
It's a long time - but Brisbane is waiting to see Paul Capsis. We've got the Brisbane Powerhouse Centre, who are sponsors of Queer Radio, and we would expect that Brisbane Powerhouse would be inviting you to perform - hopefully in the near future.
I really hope so. I'm really hangin' out to come back - I've been hangin' to come back since I performed there in '94. It was a WONDERFUL experience.
You have a great show - you were saying that it's a big performance. When we saw "Burning Sequins" it was "you".
Yeah, it's changed a lot since then. I mean that was a very different way of performing - with just prerecorded music - but now I've got a band, and I've got a few configurations. I can sing with just a piano player, or piano player and prerecorded music, or I can do a whole band - and I suggest the band is the one that goes off. Do you know what I mean? It's a really good show.
You're described as being one of Australia's great divas, which is a wonderful thing, as a man, because your voice is a very "all encompassing" voice - and during "Burning Sequins" you evoked the personalities of women as well as men. But you do have an extraordinary personality - you've played in very successful movies like "Head On". You received the Film Critics of Australia Award for Best Supporting Actor for "Head On". You've also had a painting of you entered for the Archibald Prize…
Yeah, and I've just done another one - this other guy asked me to sit for an "Archibald". ~(laughs)~ It's sort of bizarre, really - it's nice, it's a great acknowledgement.
I loved doing the film "Head On" - it's been a great thing for my career and what has happened now is I've become known for that film. It's that thing of, you know, you could be working for ten years as a performer on the cabaret/music scene and then you do one film…it's an amazing thing.
You were proud of the character you played, "Johnny"?
Very proud. My god, I'm so proud of the whole thing really - the whole film. It was a great opportunity for me to show that I am an actor, because I didn't sing in the movie, so that's good…
I danced a little bit, yeah, but I didn't really sing - so it was very much an acting role and a very strong character. I identified a little bit with that character, mainly because of the cultural background (the Greek/Maltese thing that I have , and the character is Greek) and with the gay stuff…all that came together and kicked in. And playing with gender as well:- which was a stage there in my career, where I was playing with that a little bit. I don't use that so much these days, but there's still an element of it in my work.
It was a great experience working with Ana Kokkinos, the director. She made a short film called "Only The Brave", which was an incredible short film and won a lot of awards. I watched the film to see what sort of a director she is… and I thought "Oh my god, she's gonna go there! She's really gonna go there!"
"Head On" got a very mixed response from people who found it very confronting, which is good - do you know what I mean? - It was like a new way of presenting Australian stories. But I just feel very blessed that I was given the chance to play such a great part and in such a wonderful movie, based on a wonderful book, "Loaded" by Christos Tsolkas. I'm grateful that I've had an opportunity to do something really good.
There are times when people have to decide that they're going to take a line where "this is who I am, people will have to accept me as I am". It must be extremely hard with a Greek/Maltese background, where there are strong pressures to behave in a certain way. When I spoke to you in'94, you said that you felt those pressures as well, and that you would try to come out to your mum and she would put her hands over her ears, yell and run out of the house - rather than talk about it. Have these things changed?
Oh yeah…a great deal. A lot of it has to do with my work, I suppose, but I've changed too, I don't know… I guess you just sort of make a decision - and it's not an easy decision. It wasn't an easy one for me…but it was a really good thing. Mum's sort of OK now. I'm in a relationship and have been with this lovely man for two years and Mum likes him and he's in the family - the family knows about him.
So it's changed a lot because, I guess, I just live my life. I think I've become stronger, more than anything. But I still feel there's quite a high element of homophobia out there and knowing full well that I don't get the opportunities because I'm openly gay:- basically I've gone "well, there's no turning back". So I'm just going to go further with it and embrace it even more, rather than try to pretend, or satisfy other people because they may not be comfortable with it. I think I'm stronger now than I've ever been about all that. But I just "am" - I just do it, I "be" rather than think about or contemplate - do you know what I mean?
With "Burning Sequins" you were refashioning, perhaps, other people's work but you're contributing to the CD "Refashioned" that's just been released through Groovescooter Records, and you're reworking a Marcia Hines song…
It's the first actual proper professional recording I've done, so I was really thrilled to be asked. When Georgie and Paris approached me, initially it was another Marcia Hines song they wanted me to do - "Something's Missing" - and I thought that was a little bit kind of slow and a bit sappy. So I said what about "(Without) You"? - something a bit more "up" and a bit more camp, maybe.
It's an interesting one with that song, 'cause I have a connection with Marcia from my childhood, from when I was a kiddy at school:- My best friend at school was a Marcia Hines fan and we used to go to Marcia's house and stalk her and hide behind trees - and then one day her mother invited us into the house! So we met her when I was at school and we used to watch her on CountDown, and she was the Queen of Pop and all that…she was like the Diana Ross of Australia. Years later I got to sing with Marcia at the Pride New Year's Eve around '94/'95 and it was like amazing - beyond dreams come true. So it's kind of ironic for me to have done that song on this album. And there's another connection, because I've just been cast in a musical (yet to be announced) that Marcia was in years ago. So there are lots of parallels to Marcia.
I think that there are a lot of excellent versions on the "Refashioned" CD and these are great pop songs from the Australian past. You recently co-hosted the Eurovision Song Contest on SBS, and someone suggested to me - when I had said "these are not all great songs" - that they believed some countries were deliberately entering crappy songs so that they had no chance of having to host it next year…
That's a strong rumour, yeah. You look at them sometimes and say that they just have to be deliberate, they are so bad. They dress bad, the songs are bad - it's high on cheese. It's a high cholesterol experience… and it's a lot of fun! I really enjoyed it, but I was incredibly nervous because I don't usually do that sort of thing (hosting TV shows, live to air). But it was fun and I had a good time.
It came over very well; it looked like you were enjoying yourself.
It was interesting that SBS had quite a few people calling up about the show. They got a lot of negative responses and a lot of those negative responses were about the gay element of the show. There were people complaining "Oh Effie, she's giving the Greeks a bad name";" So-and-so's giving the Croatian's a bad name" - da, da, da, da, da… They love to have a little whinge, you know? But a lot of people rang up very homophobic comments to the station:- "What were all the gays doing there?"; "Leave Mardi Gras to Mardi Gras" or something. 'Cause there was myself; and there was Claire DeLune; the editor of DNA; and there were lots of drag queens in the audience. It's very interesting isn't it?
Yes, and they can't see that this is the tradition of "high camp":- not taking yourself too seriously.
Well they got the highest ratings that they've ever had for Eurovision, in all the years that it's been showing on TV, but it also had the most complaints for any show they've ever run as well! ~(laughs)~ But out of that, I've just done an episode of "Pizza" on SBS. I'm playing Bernard King's camp flatmate - very funny, very funny. I won't say any more, but it airs in September.
So are you getting offers to do roles in films as well?
Not so much. I've only just started getting offers now because of Eurovision. "Head On" garnished nothing for me as an actor - absolutely zilch, got me nothing. I mean I got an award, nominated for an AFI, I got great reviews all around the world, and people say wonderful things in the street. But as far as the Australian Film Industry goes, they just basically put a lid on me and just went "ah well, he did that - I guess he just played himself".
You said that you're away soon with stage director Barry Kosky…
I'm going to be working with Barry in Vienna, for three months. So I'm going to be off doing that and hopefully getting into the Europe scene, somehow, with my act. 'Cause I've performed in Edinburgh - I've performed there twice - but Barry wants to do a new show that the two of us write. I did a show with him called "The Burlesque Tour" a couple of years ago, which was a BIG show. Again, it was a shame it never made it to Brisbane, but it was very highly acclaimed. Our new show will be a more theatrical and intimate piece, probably along the lines of what "Burning Sequins" was about.
In '94 you said you heard your mum, after refusing to hear you say that you were gay, go out and say to the neighbours over the fence " My son Paul will never marry - he's married to the stage!"
Yes, that prompted me to come out to my mother, because she used to always say that to people - and I didn't think that was a good idea because I thought people knew - and they'd be laughing at her, you know?
Do you still feel yourself though, that you are married to the stage and that's your direction in life - your vocation?
It's my thing. It's definitely my place. I mean I feel very blessed, because I'm doing what I want to do and that's perform - and I've always wanted to do it. But now I have a relationship, and I was one of these performers who believed that if you were a performer, that you had to be alone and dedicate yourself to your work 100% - and you're lonely like Judy Garland and Janis and all that. There was a period where I was like that - for a long time.
It's only been the last two years, but I've met somebody who's incredibly understanding and is accepting of me and wants me to do what I want to do. He's encouraging of me continually doing what I do, because I had this career before I met him. And he understands when I need to be on my own; and I need to rehearse; and I need to research.
Nothing's changed - if anything, I feel like I'm incredibly supported and loved, and it's the sort of love you'll never get from an audience. I mean "audience love" is particularly powerful and incredible, and there's nothing like it - but there's something about intimacy too, you know? 'Cause a lot of the books I've read about Judy, Janis and Marilyn say they could never find, in a person, anything that came close to what they had as a performer – and to a degree that's true, but I didn't want my life to be like that - so I made a decision that I wanted a full life, not a lonely "performer" life.
Who knows what will happen in the future, but for now, right now, I'm enjoying being in a relationship and being a professional performer with a career. I go away a lot, and that's really difficult. I was in London last year for six weeks and I really missed him - and that was very difficult actually. And I'm going away for three months to Vienna and already I'm dreading it. I'm aching to go to Vienna and work with Barry, because I love Barry and love his work and respect him as a director, and I'm excited about the opportunity of going to Europe and creating work over there and do my thing - but I'm also dreading being away from my boyfriend for that long.
It’s been lovely speaking to you Paul and you know you’ve got a crowd waiting up here to go and see you – certainly anyone who saw you in "Burning Sequins". And all those people who’ve seen you in shows with Mardi Gras Festivals, come back and say that each show is a knockout, and that each show is different and fabulous.
That’s great – well I hope I’m there really soon – at least early next year, at the latest.
Look after yourself Paul.