One thing about being nominally involved in South Africa's indie film scene is that I get to meet and work with some pretty darn interesting folks. My husband's film company, BlackMilk Productions has brought out bunches of award-winning indie films that have made waves locally and overseas. One of the repeat offenders we keep working with is Cape Town-based actor Aidan Whytock, who's a fabulous darling and I absolutely had to have him over for tea. (He had the starring role in Alone, which was very well received at this year's South African HorrorFest.)
Aidan, you've recently starred in a stage production, I Am Hamlet. Can you tell us a little bit about the play and audience's response to it?
I am Hamlet is a new take on the well-known Shakespearean play Hamlet. When a theatre director loses his lead actor just before opening night he scrambles to find a replacement. A mysterious young man, Simon, comes to audition for the role but seems to know nothing about Hamlet or acting, until he reads the prose. It transpires that Simon has more in common with the Prince of Denmark then he is letting on.
It's a great comedy with a thrilling twist. The comedy comes from this seemingly ignorant chap being put through the challenges of an audition by a completely over-the-top theatre director who thinks he is God's gift to Shakespeare.
We were truly stunned by the audience's response: the Cape Times and Die Burger gave us glowing reviews, as did every other review. Cape Talk made us Pick of the Week and just about everyone didn't see the twist coming. Overall the city responded very well and really enjoyed the comedy and the massive shift the play takes in the last 10 minutes.
I'm glad the play was so well received. So, how do you feel about everyone's favourite Danish prince? Were there any aspects of the role that you feel were particularly challenging?
Ah Hamlet. I've spent a fair amount of time with him in the last few months and have come to the decision that I don't like him. He's a cowardly little spoilt brat who is so self-centred he hardly considers the impact his self-serving plans for revenge have on those he loves. I get the impression he had a perpetually running nose and a snotty sleeve.
That said, the man could talk.
Due to circumstance we didn't have long to prep the play so I had three main challenges. The first was coming to terms with Shakespearean prose. Beautiful, but deadly to the unfamiliar actor. I was very much an unfamiliar actor: I hadn't read Shakespeare in ten years. I try to make my performances as believable as possible, which means believing what I am saying. So it was critical that I understand the prose and deliver it whole-heartedly. I translated it all into modern English and learnt that first. Then I started substituting the new for the olde. That said that may have been one night where I went completely blank: one of the most terrifying moments of my life I can safely say.
The second challenge was to act at acting. My character (this chap called Simon Prentice) is doing exactly that - pretending he can't act. So that was a fun challenge: to shift from acting badly to acting well (or trying to) and back.
Finally was to get into the headspace of a psycho. I ended up developing a pre-show ritual that helped me shift from me into the introverted, awkward shell that the completely bonkers Simon was hiding in. Music was vital to helping me do this.
Haha! You said the magic word. What music did you listen to for inspiration? Very curious to know. Also, would you say that as an actor you put a mask on, or do you delve deep into your psyche to dredge up archetypes?
I had two genres to tap into, depending on how I was feeling that day. The backup playlist was Portishead – Roads and Radiohead – All I need. I would feed into them if the primary tracks didn't quite get me there, which were The Narrow – She went away too soon and Slipknot – Vermillion. The lyrics of 'she went away too soon, she went away so soon' and 'I won't let this build up inside of me' and 'she isn't real, I can't make her real' really helped me have a conversation with Simon's dead mum.
As for the mask versus the psyche: I think it's a combination of the two. As I've said I try to believe everything I'm doing and saying. So for instance if I'm killing someone what part of me can believe that? There is definitely an element of me that believes, in the appropriate context and situation, I'd be capable of doing that. So I tried to find how I'd feel in that moment. Then I'd put on the mask of Simon which I'd spent a bit of time building and layering.
As much as I'd like the process to be cognitive and step-by-step I've realised it isn't: it's fluid and emotional so all I tried to do was be truthful to whatever I was feeling.
And the road ahead? A while back you let me listen to some of your band's tracks. Tell us a little more about your music ... and future acting endeavours.
On the music front I realised that I miss it a lot so I'm trying to get producer to free up his manic schedule to get us back in studio to start jamming again. I'm still very curious to see if the tunes coming out of my head have a place in this world. I'm experimenting with heavy blues and a lot more synth at the moment. I've no idea what will come from it. Time shall tell I suppose. As for acting I'm doing a play in February called Feb 14 and another in April called Lady Luck.
Stalk Aidan on Twitter @aidanwhytock