Friday 10 April 2020

Going Method with Elliot Roberts

Meet Simon Hammersmith. The University student theatre veteran is busily preparing for the lead role in an upcoming production of The Crucible. But Simon is not your typical university theatre performer. He is a committed actor who takes his role extremely serious, and in a new six-part series, Method Actor, we are drawn into Simon's world as he contends with fully inhabiting this complex and flawed characters. 

Of course, Method Actor is a fictional comedy series with its creator, Elliot Roberts stating that it were his experiences through studying theatre and performing that revealed a reoccurring theme coming from actors, including himself, that he wanted to explore. "I’ve noticed more and more that, particularly for male actors, the crazier you prepare for a role the more it’s accepted as serious art. There’s a lot of merit in using method acting but there aren’t any boundaries for it and because it’s male movie stars, they often get away with whatever they want. Not to mention it’s mostly used as a marketing tool to win awards. It’s kind of gross and bizarre," he says.

"So I thought what would it be like to take that extreme approach but scale it down to a student theatre setting? Some of the storylines actually came from real scenarios from my time at student theatre. There are many over-confident male egos and it’s like dude, you’re playing The Porter in Macbeth to your classmates. So Simon is a distillation of those guys, myself among them! Those years at student theatre were also the best years of my life so it was a strong emotional place to mine from as well."

While the series runs for a total of just 60 minutes, Roberts has been working on it constantly since 2018, from writing, performing, filming and editing and while it was a challenge from the beginning, it was the pre-production that proved to be most taxing. "There’s roughly sixty-five scenes and I had to cast over fifteen roles. There was no crew; it was one person filming with a mic, and me. So my resources were slim which is why I reached out to people I knew as a matter of familiarity and efficiency," he tells me. "I found three performers from putting up flyers at Monash University but it was mainly a case of asking my friends if they’ll do it for free. Luckily I know a lot of talented and super generous people!"

The always wonderful to watch Elizabeth Brennan plays Kate, Simon's director who Roberts confirms is a director's worst nightmare. "Any director who dreams of working with an actor such as Simon is a director you should steer clear from. But I wrote Kate with Lizzie in mind. We've been friends for years so I was really hoping she’d agree to it. And thank goodness she did because I couldn’t imagine Kate being played by anyone but her. No one I know acts Shakespeare as naturally and effortlessly as Elizabeth Brennan but she also gives the perfect mockumentary reaction shots into the camera. She’s incredible." 

Having been released on YouTube earlier this week, there is plenty of relief in finally having it out in the public realm, but there's also plenty of excitement knowing that it's out there being watched. "I love performing live but I wanted to make something that could be seen by anyone, anywhere and not close forever after a couple of weeks," Roberts says. "I wrote, directed, acted in, and edited Method Actor so I only had myself to hold accountable to finish it, so it feels unreal to see the finished product. It was either going to be a web-series or it was going to be a staged show, and given there’s not much theatre on at the moment, I’m happy that people can see this for free without the need to leave the house."

With everyone currently staying at home, I'm curious how he is staying creative during this time, with limited opportunities to perform. "I feel there is this pressure right now for creative people to be doing nothing but new projects because of all the time they are spending at home. But being stuck inside doesn’t lend itself to a sudden burst of inspiration. I’m privileged enough where I’m still employed which frees up a lot of anxiety but ‘staying creative’ doesn't necessarily mean writing the next great screenplay," he explains.

"This isn’t exactly a revelation, but I’ve been taking lots of walks and it’s remarkable what a difference it makes when a bit more oxygen gets into your system. The other day for example, I was feeling very flat so I went for a walk and started compiling a playlist of songs where the beats per minute match up to a healthy, brisk stride. Even something like that began waking up the creative muscles and from there I was in a more creative state and moved on to that ambitious project that I was getting nowhere with before."

The first episode of Method Actor can be viewed below, with the entire series available here.

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