Saturday, October 13, 2012

Celebrity Interview - Steve Bastoni (part 2)

Following on from our quick chat back in April, I was recently privileged to sit down for a longer chat with Australian actor Steve Bastoni.
Currently starring on the Melbourne stage as ‘Barassi the Stage Show’ as the titular Australian Rules Football hero, humble Steve has the experience of someone who has sat through a lot of interviews, but with the warmth and banter of your favourite Uncle. Choice of football team aside, of course.

 Aaron Ware: Having seen Barassi, how did you approach the heightened reality of the show- Are you portraying Ron Barassi as a “character” or as the “real person”?

Steve Bastoni: It was a bit of a mish-mash, any theatrical production I do I look at really in the realms of heightened reality purely because that’s the nature of theatre. It’s unlike film where you do have to step into another dimension, it has to be a little bit bigger for the audience to read it, so really, the performance is based in realism but needs to be elevated. So automatically You can step into a realm of fantasy, whereas film you’re into a more real-realism –if you like- and with Ron, ‘cause he’s almost such a mythical figure and so many people know of him- enough has been written about him, it was a combination. I didn't have the luxury to meet him so I was going purely off uh-you know, what I've read about him and seen in terms of archival footage, luckily there was a lot of material available… on You Tube and stuff with Ron, so I had a chat with his daughter and stuff, so, there was a lot of research material available with was great… I didn't want to do an impersonation of Ron, I wanted to do my Impression of Ron Barassi. So, in terms of a style, I guess it was more impressionistic than more of a presentation.

AW: Looking at You Tube videos of him, I noticed there was an uncanny resemblance between yourself and younger Ron, did that play any part in your casting?

SB: No, not at all, without the moustache and my bald noggin’ I look nothing like RB.

AW: I saw it.

SB: Yeah? That’s interesting, ‘cause a lot of people have said that, but a lot of others have said the opposite… I think it’s more the mannerisms that create the illusion of Ron, certainly the moustache helps, the moustache and the hair certainly help put it into context.… We do have similar eyes; we have a similar intensity in the eyes. Ron’s trademark was intensity… I think that’s the passion for what he was trying to communicate via a level certain (of intensity) and I think that’s what they liked about my audition because I was able to deliver that.

AW: Ron came and saw the show recently, was this the first time you’ve played someone real who isn’t now dead or in prison- that would be seeing your performance?

SB: Nah, I have played other people that are alive, namely I suppose the one who comes to mind is Mick Drury and [MD] on Blue Murder was quite an interesting figure as well… He was an undercover cop so obviously there was no footage of him, he was very much a chameleon, but with MD I was lucky enough to hang out with him for a couple of months during the rehearsal process so that was, um,  that was incredibly useful for me as an actor to become “Mick Drury”. So yeah, it’s always interesting when you play someone who’s alive, you do feel a certain obligation to get it right.

AW: And they’re not in prison so you know they’re most likely to see it.

SB: Yeah, that’s right, we were really lucky and very relieved, happy when Ron came down to see the show, he came on stage afterwards and introduced himself and his wife and they all had nothing but high praise for the show and our efforts so we were all very happy.

AW: You must have been humbled by it?

SB: It was a humbling experience, we were all close to tears, and it was quite an emotional sort of experience for all of us, including Ron… It was very much a tribute to the man.

AW: You could feel that, more of a Celebration than anything, helped by the disclaimer at the start. Well, as a Carlton boy, do you feel dirty having to wear those bloody Melbourne Demons colours every show?

SB: (laughs a knowing laugh- that tells me everything) Yeah, look, my sense of shame about putting on the Melbourne Guernsey at the start of the act is overshadowed by my sense of pride that takes over when I put on the Carlton Guernsey.

AW: I can imagine. There was an interesting way of adapting the sport to the stage which I found to be almost dance-like. Did you explore other ways of executing it?

SB: No, no, that was always (Director) Terrence’s take on the action stuff of the play, the football stuff was always going to be interpretive, and was always going to be done without a ball which is always a unique approach. I was actually quite sceptical at the start, I thought it could go terribly wrong, I could see it turning into this ballet and I thought that’s not going to represent AFL well at all. But as it turns out, the way they worked it and honed it… it’s… I think it’s really evocative of the game. I think it’s a great way to portray it on stage because obviously you can’t put a ball on stage; there’s too many variables. But the fact we use that device of an imaginary ball it really allows the focus to go on the actors. And that’s a testament to their work to create that illusion too.

AW: Did you have to work-out much to prepare for the tiny short shorts?

SB: No, mate, I didn't do much. It’s funny with a show like this that requires so much adrenaline and energy you get fit doing rehearsals. I mean, I surf nearly three times a week so I manage to keep- and I've got two- three kids so that keeps me fit.

AW: Barassi was big in China, any chance of a tour?

SB: Ah, I don’t know, but we were on the cover of the local Chinese paper, the Epoch Times, which was interesting- I didn’t even know Ron was big in China.

AW: I thought the sport itself was? How would you describe Aussie Rules in 5 words to someone who’s never seen it before?

SB: Ah, someone who’s never seen the sport before? Ok… Um, well I’d have to say it’s a cross between Gaelic Football and Rugby, but that’s kinda not- you know, if you don’t know what Gaelic Football is then that doesn’t help you. (SB thinks)  A more athletic version of Grid Iron I suppose, with more of a kicking game. How many words is that?

AW: I’ll let it slide this time, it’s slowly on the growth worldwide, which 2 people from throughout history would you want to take to a game?

SB: If I could take 2 people to the people? From any time in history? Geez, well, um, well I’d have to say my Father, no longer with us, who was an Olympic champion in Kayak, and he appreciated athleticism so my Dad would be one, and um (SB thinking) and maybe Napoleon, Napoleon would have appreciated the battle-like structure that’s involved in the coaching aspect of the game.

AW: You've worked extensively across 3 mediums, any chance of venturing into a 4th and releasing an album.

SB: I already have had an album out.

AW: I should do my research better.

SB: I’ve ticked all the boxes, mate, I've done film, television, theatre and music. Because on Bad Boy Johnny the musical we released a cast album in 1992, I think… I had to sing a song called What U Want on it.

AW: Which I think was taken off your character in the recent London re-writes.

SB: That’s right, yeah, I very much enjoy singing, I find it a very satisfying creative outlet, so don’t be surprised if I do more of it in the future.

AW: Good, so what cover songs would you put on this hypothetical album?

SB: Um, (thinks about it) Stay Together by Al Green.

AW: That’s pretty slick…

SB: (still thinking) Maybe, ooh, geez, I don’t know… Stone Me by Van Morrison, maybe some Frank Sinatra or something like that, maybe some Witchcraft by Old Blue-Eyes.

AW: Interesting, would get some ladies and guys swooning I’m sure.

SB: (laughs) yeah…

AW: What theatrical roles, or shows, do you want to sink your teeth into?

SB:  Ah, look, I would love to do Glengarry Glen Ross, the Mamet play, would love to do anything by David Mamet. I would also love to do Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter. And uh, John Osborne, I think wrote The Entertainer, I would love to do The Entertainer, which is a one-man show. I also want to write my own but I don’t know where to start.

AW: Well you've done everything from Neighbours through to a Marvel Comics movie (Man-Thing, 2005) – What was more fun to play; Steve Parker or –as you put it- “Native American Environmental Vigilante” Rene LeRoque?

SB: Rene LeRoque was a lot of fun,. Because he was kind of like the Phantom, he was kind of like this mythical dude that no one really knows anything about he kind of just appears and does stuff. I thought it was kind of fun, having that mystique, that veil, that mystique around the character which was really good fun.

AW: And did you get killed – a spectacularly corny death?

SB: Ah, yes, I got shot by Jack Thompson.

AW: Ah, really? Spoiler Alert! Did you get to meet Stan Lee, I know he likes to show up on Marvel film sets.

SB: Nah, he didn't come out to our set unfortunately.

AW: Bugger, have you seen the finished product? Was it good?

SB: I have, ehhh, you know, it was ok, nothing to write home about.

AW: Just my curiosity; I understand as an actor, an artist, you go where the work is, but when you watch back something like that is there a sense of embarrassment, like thinking “What have I done?!”?

SB: Nah, not really, no, the thing is, with everything I do, I don’t do it unless I believe I can do a good job on it, you know what I mean? If I don’t think I can walk out of something going “Ah, well, I did my best and it’s a good piece of work” – I've got no control over whether the film’s good or not, I can only bring my performance to it, there are so many elements that make a good project. Sometimes you make choices of work based on financial insecurity, other times it’s based on artistic merit, the reality of it is most actors don’t get to choose the work they do, sometimes I have to take roles that feed my family, so, I mean, but anything I do, I never walk away feeling embarrassed because I know I did my best.

AW: What are your favourite B-Grade movies? We all love a good B-Grade.

SB: Ah, Re-Animator was pretty good. Other B-Grade movies… Well, Scarface was kind of a B-Grade movie, and I thought that was fantastic…

AW: What have been your career highlights?

SB: Uh, Blue Murder, Oliver! (Bill Sykes, 2002-04 Australian Tour), 15 Amore (1998 Film) and Barassi.

AW: What was working on Prisoner like?

SB: Prisoner was intimidating, because those ladies were tough-arse bitches, you know they were really tough. They were in Prisoner mode, so it was really full-on. You know, the young kid going into that environment was really intimidating. They’re all sweet ladies now, I know them all now, but at the time it was… Wow, “Bea’s sitting over there, shit”.

AW: You did (hit Australian cop show) Police Rescue, do you still abseil?

SB: No, don’t abseil anymore. Not unless it’s an emergency.

AW: The entry period into your short film festival – Peninsula Short Film Festival (see below for details) recently closed, are there any that have caught your eye so far?

SB: Yeah, I've ear tagged about 6 films so far for finalists, and still have another 50 or so films to get through, we’ll have a very strong programme this year with some entries from America, some entries from Canada and one from China; entries from all over the world, so we’re very excited.

AW: One thing we share in common is we both have founded Short Film Festivals- I went through the local council to achieve mine but what advice would you give to other people wishing to create their own?

SB: Well, it’s a very difficult undertaking, there’s a lot of logistics to take into consideration, and you need a strong group of people, you know, trustworthy people around you, it’s a lot of work for no money. You have to have a passion for it if you don’t have a passion for it, don’t even try it.

AW: Do you think Tropfest has helped raise the profile of short films – especially in the past 15 years or so?

SB: Definitely, yeah, look, Tropfest was one of the reasons why I started this festival, I was around at Tropfest in the first years, the first couple of years, when it was just 30 people in a cafĂ© and it was great. I loved the atmosphere, and I loved the possibility that anyone could make a film, I found that very exciting. And having watched it evolve into what it is today, I’m using that, very much, and I’m not too proud to admit, but it’s very much the model that we’re working on for our festival.

AW: No shame in that, so who would be your ultimate director to work with?

SB: Martin Scorsese.

AW: Let’s just put that out there in the universe. You’ve worked with a lot of cool people, is there anyone you’d love to work opposite?

SB: I’d love to work with Jennifer Jason Leigh… De Niro… Pacino… Malkovich, Sean Penn… Uh, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon...

AW: All the “Big Guns” aye?

SB: All the big guns, mate.

AW: Did you enjoy your time on Ramsay Street?

SB: It was work, it was hard work.

AW: I’ve heard a bit of negativity come from out of there…

SB: Ah look, it’s a difficult gig, you know, um, it is, Neighbours is not an easy job to do, it was perfect for me at the time but it was difficult.

AW: Any gossip from set?

SB: Nah, no gossip here.

AW: Bugger, what’s a soap opera without gossip?

SB: Yeah, I slept with everyone.

AW: I’m not surprised.

SB: They’re all awaiting my babies.

AW: Yep, that is just what the world needs, mate.

SB: (laughs) No, no gossip.

AW: What medium do you prefer to work in?

SB: Theatre and Music I love, but Film’s good too. I don’t know, I don’t \really have a preference it depends on the individual job, I suppose.

AW: Any desire to move into directing?

SB: Yeah, I’ve directed a few shorts, I’ll probably direct some more, I’ll probably direct a play in the near future.

AW: If you could have any other skill, what would it be?

SB: Teleporting. Would save a lot of time.

AW: Tell me about it… Taking it back a little, how did you get started in acting.

SB: I started when I was 8 years old in an amateur production that my Mum was involved in called “Minestrone” it was for the Melbourne University Italian Theatre Group. I did a 4 minute monologue in front of about 1500 people at the Adelaide Festival.

AW: Was it daunting?

SB: Yeah, it was- (SB ponders for a moment) Actually, not really, no, because at that age I didn't really know what I was doing and the audience just loved a little kid on stage.

AW: What were some of your earlier crappy jobs?

SB: I did a commercial for village cinemas once which was pretty crappy, I did a guestie on- I played a one-episode guestie on Neighbours a few years ago which was shitty.

AW: So no Table Waiting or Garbo? Toilet cleaner?

SB: Yeah, I cleaned bricks, I tended bars, done all kinds of things, restored antiques.

AW: Brilliantly dull, back to Barassi, what would the Steve Bastoni stage show be called?

SB: What would the Bastoni stage show be called? A Life.

AW: Which of the current 20yo actors would you have playing you in the future?

SB: Oh god, I don’t know, I wouldn't have a clue, I don’t know many actors… Firass Dirani.

AW: Awesome. Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Puzzle Hub, One last question; if you were a Super-Villain, what would your name and evil deeds be?

SB: The incredible Snowman!! Why? Cause you can't snow the snowman!

Barassi the Stage Show - Closes October 14th at the Atheneum Theatre, Melbourne for further details.

Peninsula Short Film Festival – November 10th, 2012

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