Wil Coleman: An Actor With a Craft
Michael Thomas talks to Aussie actor Wil Coleman about Shakespeare, scary Brits and a beard with a personality
We take people out of a mundane experience and take them on a magical ride every night in our theatres.
Whilst the rest of the world is relaxing – the actor is working…
“Actor” is a particularly evocative buzzword in the general lexicon. Most of you will make the familiar Tom Cruise, Russel Crowe leap – shiny media playthings who bring out a big-money tear-jerker every other year, and spend the rest of the time signing autographs and fathering children in different parts of the world. It’s a glamorous, if slightly nauseating image.
Many of you will have forgotten that acting started on the stage and continues to exist there to this day. It is a craft and a discipline and, typically, far removed from the dazzling media representation we’ve become accustomed to. It is a career of enormous highs, but also extreme lows. As such, it takes guts, determination, thick skin and the acknowledgement that, between jobs, you might have to adapt to a diet of baked beans and Ramen. It sure isn’t a career for the faint of heart.
Wil Coleman is an actor, currently treading the boards as Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Rose Theatre, until November 30th. Most people will count Shakespeare and The Globe as a fixed association in their minds. Inextricably linked. In fact, there are several theatres which pre-date The Globe as venues used by the pioneering Elizabethan playwright. The Rose is one of them and many speak of it as Shakespeare’s original theatre.
London is easily one of the most multicultural places in the UK. It is a Kingdom built on the endeavour and creativity of natives and non-natives alike. From Tooting to Golder’s Green and back again, the mark of foreign influence is everywhere and it is a thing of beauty. Traditionalists might argue that Shakespeare remains an incontrovertibly British property. But, as we were taught by the Bard himself, traditions are made to be broken.
It is to the South side of London that I travel to meet a man who hopes to leave his own creative mark on our fair land, having literally travelled from the other side of the world. Meet Actor, carpenter and all round deep thinker, Wil Coleman…
Sitting in Wil’s lounge on a Saturday morning, I’m surprised he has this much energy after six days on the trot as Malvolio, a demanding role. An Actor by night and a carpenter by day, you quickly understand that this man likes to keep busy.
His recent works include a European movie last year, a string of theatre roles, including the touring Twelfth Night, performing in two stints in the west end with new musicals and filming a pilot, which is currently being pitched to the BBC. This Australian Actor is set on building a reputation and doing it fast.
Wil was raised as the youngest of five siblings in the Australian Coastal town of Gorokan, New South Wales.
“When I think back, it was happiness. It was really good. There was always something happening. Mostly fighting for territory as all of us were male.”
“My father retired when I was young and somehow my mother brought us up on a pension. Although I never felt like I missed out on anything. To be honest I always felt in abundance, which I guess is not only a compliment to my parents, but to how easy life is in Australia. Beach, sport and sunshine all at your disposal.”
Wil’s admiration for his parents is clearly the driving force behind his ambitions.
“My late father had an administration block named after him in a Sydney hospital,” he recalls. “So I guess I’d like to be put under his name in small captions ‘Wil Coleman – son.’ If I make a name for myself big enough to be remembered then it would be because I was my father’s son.”
An outgoing character, it’s easy to see why Wil got involved in the arts in the first place. However, as you would expect, it’s not been an easy ride.
Any young actor reading this article will be familiar with the idea that an actor’s life is a life in two parts. With very little money to be made on the stage, and often significant gaps between parts, most thespians will have a second job, some even a second career. Acting is a labour of love.
Wil is lucky enough to have discovered a second love, and a second creative pursuit. By day, he is a carpenter: “There are similarities! They are both creative and both physical, but with carpentry I get to see the end results, whereas with acting, the audience do.”
There has been a learning curve within the trade itself. By his own admission, as a young actor his ego was his weakness.
“For an audition in Sydney many years ago, they gave me the script the night before and I didn’t learn it, as I was a cocky young coastal lad. I didn’t know the lines, I kept stumbling over them, it was horrible. The casting director told me to go away and come back in half an hour. I came back and I still stumbled through it. That was a rude awakening for me to do my homework.”
“My ego. Its been my undoing so many times, yet I’m so committed to it.”
Actors with egos are hardly breaking news. It’s often what draws them to the stage in the first place. Like footballers, the diva behaviour of a sprinkling of famous actors has earned a reputation for the trade as a whole. I suggest this to Wil.
“No, not at all!”, he exclaims, “We are liberating. We take people out of a mundane experience and take them on a magical ride every night in our theatres. Whilst the rest of the world is relaxing – the actor is working. I think people acknowledge this as a humble service.”
A lot of people reading this will be thinking, he gave up beaches and sunshine for rain and tubes?!
“Well yeah beaches and sunshine it definitely was, but I think the natural progression of an artist is to expand themselves, and as a 30 years old I felt like it was time to move on and to really test myself. There’s no better place to do this than London.”
“It sounds like a weird thing to say, but Australia can make people complacent. As an artist, limitation is your enemy, so I thought I’ll move to a place where they value things other than a relaxed conditioning.”
His journey to London was anything but a fairy tale start, as you can imagine. “ I had my laptop stolen. I was living in a dorm with eight other people; there were drunks late at night. It was cold and I was seriously considering moving home.”
The Capital can be a very lonely and unforgiving city to an outsider. Wil was quick to pick this up.
“I learnt from the experience that I am stronger than I thought and I am weaker than I thought. Its amazing how resourceful a human can be and at the same time a helping hand is always good.“
I was both disappointed and impressed to find that Wil has adopted Liverpool as his football team of choice. It’s clear, though, that after two years in London, Wil is a lot more settled.
“My girlfriend in a Londoner and she is definitely a special part of why I love it. Besides my girlfriend, though, it’s the diversity. My favourite place is Southbank. There is something about that area that has always given me a buzz about being in London.”
The location has changed but the mission hasn’t. Finally established in London, he begins the gruelling task of finding an agent, meeting with casting directors and impressing directors. With such a pool of talent in the Big Smoke, competition is fierce.
“A difference I noticed straight away with British actors was how serious they are! It can be intimidating, as most of the time I want to talk gutter talk ( laughs). I try not to major in minor things. I am a perfectionist outside of acting. But, when I act its all about being messy. I guess that’s why I love it so much. I have a license to be a grub.”
Like our American cousins, we share a mother tongue with the Aussies. While the differences, which you will already have noticed in Wil’s conversation, don’t often become an issue in everyday life, when you attempt to pursue a career in the arts, its a whole new ball game.
“There was a lot more Shakespeare [smiles] and more opportunities for different languages. The hardest things were the dialect and the rhythm of the dialect, I hired a dialect coach for starters and soon realised you have got to be true to yourself and find your english accent, not someone else’s. The Australian accent is much slower.”
As I’ve intimated already, the prominence of theatre in society has certainly changed. Arguably, it has slipped further back in our consciousness. However, it’s effect on the people that it touches is still dramatic, if you’ll excuse the pun. It demonstrates and evokes the kind of emotions that we so often pour into a smartphone screen, rather than to another human being.
Theatre always has a message in it. It is there to make us see something we haven’t seen in ourselves or in society. It’s there to educate. Theatre can bring reality to people’s lives. We find it very hard to be face-to-face these days, and not to hide behind some sort of device to explain ourselves, so being there in real time teaches us some sort of social behaviour.
“The first thing is to decide what to do with the beard! It’s been a blessing – people try to avoid me on public transport, so I generally get to spread out on tubes. I’ve had people stop me on the street asking me questions about it. I even had a guy on a bike speeding down the hill the other day, slow down enough to tell me how much he appreciated it.”
“On a professional note, there are a few things in the pipeline and I have started writing a short film so I will get back to that. The company I am working for at the moment – Permanently Bard may be touring this production of Twelfth Night early next year. I would like to do more TV, so hopefully some opportunities will arise there too.”
We end the interview with me asking Wil if he had any advice for the masses… “The best piece of advice I could give, I stole from Stanislavski: ‘Love the art in yourself – not yourself in the art’ (very hard to do on a curtain call)”
Have you ever been starstruck?
Yes, turning up at Sean Penn’s house in LA and meeting his Mum.
Favourite comedian ?
Wombats or dingos?
Favourite seat in the world?
Fold out camping chair
Graphic novels into films are more popular than ever. If you could play any superhero/villain who would it be?
A Character from Thunder Cats!
Anything you would like to tell the world?
There is no difference between us.
Final Reminder – Catch Wil as Malvolio at The Rose before the run ends at the end of this month! Details can be found HERE
WORDS: Michael Thomas