Before we announce the winners of the 2011 My Theatre Awards, we’re proud to present the My Theatre Nominee Interview Series.
Only 3 people received nominations for their work on 2 different productions in this year’s My Theatre Awards. One was designer Ken MacDonald (The Admirable Crichton, Parfumerie), another was director Jason King Jones (Fallujah, The Learned Ladies). The only actor of the group was Jesse Aaron Dwyre, one of the most memorable talents of 2011. As the highlight of Summerworks’ Eurydice and a chameleon in Theatre Smash’s The Ugly One, Jesse played multiple roles in singularly standout productions earning him nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best Summerworks Actor.
Can you remember your first experience with theatre?
When I was about five, I did a show at my local church called Red’s Coat. It was a very simple Christmas story about a kid who gives his new winter coat to a homeless person who needs it. I was always really concerned when I saw folks who lived on the street; it upset me and I wanted to talk to them and help them out somehow So that little play was the first time I felt like I was telling a story that really mattered to me. I guess it felt like I was helping out somehow. My mom still reminds of that play when I’m home at Christmas.
What actors and actresses have always inspired you? Are they the same today.
I actually watched tons of Kevin Sullivan productions like Road to Avonlea, and the Anne of Green Gables series etc. Megan Follows, Jonathan Crombie, Jackie Burroughs, Colleen Dewhurst; all of those performers really inspired me. It was a lot of those CBC shows though the 80’s that first showed me what high-quality acting looked like.
If you’re talking Hollywood- I’ve always loved film noirs and a lot of the silent era. I adore Chaplin’s work, especially his early shorts because you can see him perfecting the ideas that he used in later films. These days I keep my eye on Robert Downey, Joseph Fiennes, Johnny Depp- guys like that. They have done a lot of period film, and they can play romantic leads but are the kind of actors who seem to be most at home in eccentric roles. Those careers are certainly enviable.
If you could perform on any stage in the world, which would you choose?
One of the most interesting settings for a stage I have ever seen was in Lebanon. It’s mostly used for festivals and is built right the shoreline of the sea. The audience bleachers extend out over the waves of the Mediterranean and you can see the city lights in the hills surrounding you- I bet that stage could conjure some really wild performances.
Where did you study/develop as an actor?
After I graduated from National Theatre School, much of my professional development happened in the regional theatres, especially out west in Calgary. I also shot a couple of films in Montreal that helped me figure out some of my own process.
I left Montreal and went to the Stratford Festival’s Conservatory to be immersed in the Classics again, and after a few years in the Stratford Company, an opportunity came up to work with some folks at Canadian Film Centre’s new Actors Residency, so that brought me to Toronto.
Do you have any dream roles you think are perfectly suited to you or something completely against type you’d love to try as a big challenge one day?
Iago would be a blast. Just trying to climb through the maze of his thoughts would be challenging. I really dig roles that have a bit of edge or a criminal element to them.
On the flip side of the coin, I have played Romeo, but it was a while ago and I would like to revisit the role again cause I don’t think I had a clue what I was doing the first time round.
Mozart is also definitely on my list- it’s a coveted role for me –Amadeus is brilliant.
Which directors and actors have had a major influence on you throughout your career?
There are so many people – I’ll to mention a few directors who really helped me in specific ways.
At NTS, David Latham was extremely patient with me. I was 18 when I first worked with him and I had a lot of passion but very little control onstage. He helped me find focus. I still use some of the methods he teaches on almost every audition and every show I do.
Michael Langham was probably the most prolific director, in that he commanded so much obsessive attention to the text while playing Shakespeare. He simply knew how to make the most complex things work. I was lucky enough to be in his final Love’s Labours’.
Also at Stratford, David William was sometimes terrifying to rehearse with, as he was very demanding, but in the best way. I think he taught me about having laser precision. He stressed that ‘We need hot-blooded actors, whose words and actions sear performances into the audiences mind.’ Its not every day that you hear phrases like that- even his vocabulary and his explanations were thrilling. I wish I had had more time to work with him before he passed.
Martha Henry is a wonderful mentor to me in every sense of the word. I could go on for days about her encouragement and her teaching, but I learn so much in her rehearsals. Her halls are really like no other. She allows ideas to grow; yet she firmly controls the room. She has a very subtle way of coaxing her actors with love, humor, and authority all at once. I don’t know how- it’s just Martha’s alchemy.
What’s your favourite role you’ve ever played or production you’ve ever been in?
Right out of school I played Ben in Of the Fields Lately at Theatre Calgary. It’s such a great story. It was my first lead in a big house so that role is very special to me.
One of my favorite productions was Bartholomew Fair at Stratford. On first read, it actually looked impossible. The text was ridiculously difficult, but it was amazing to see the group actually crack it open and watch it grow. It was a cast of over 30 actors and was full of really great friends.
Eurydice’s Nasty Uninteresting Man/Lord of the Underworld is such a diverse pair of roles, how did you land on your interpretation?
Well, – I ‘ll admit – some of things Kristina Nicholl and I deliriously concocted over oysters and bottles of wine on patios in Leslieville. It’s an understatement to say that Kristina’s a pretty fun director to work with. We laughed a lot and threw a lot of ideas around in conversations leading up to rehearsals.
We had a good plan for the Lord of the Underworld and I could tell Kristina was allowing us a lot of room to play, so I wanted the character to feel like he was some little brat who had been left behind by a freaky circus family. We found the idea of this bored kid on his tricycle just looking to stir up shit and we kept going down that road.
I was not as sure about what to do with the Nasty Man role.
Eventually I thought the idea of a seductive-magician-type guy might be a good fit. I started watching a lot of old Houdini films from the 1920’s to see what kind of creepy/fascinating behavior and tricks I could incorporate into the show and I went from there.
As someone who is neither nasty nor uninteresting, how did you make that work for the character?
Oh- we’ve ALL got those nasty and uninteresting parts to us, I just got paid to show some of them off!
I guess you have to find what you do like about those odd character parts and work from there. More than anything, I got a kick out of the sheer audacity that is written into the role.
The first thing he does is try steal a new bride away from her own wedding and takes her to his condo, seduces her with champagne and bad bossa nova dancing– and it’s all within the first few minutes! Sarah Ruhl has written a lot of entitlement and arrogance into the part.
I just wanted to amplify his selfishness so that folks could laugh at it a little bit- cause it’s kind of over the top.
How much fun was the sinister-meets-childish Lord of the Underworld?
I loved it! He’s the Devil!
I couldn’t resist referencing The Joker a little because those unbalanced characters are such a blast and most of the fun comes from being really irreverent in rehearsals.
Things like the roller skates, tricycles, and stilts added to that kind of playfulness. They not only forced me to move in strange ways and contort my body, but they also helped make the Underworld look like it was full of childish extravagances.
Do you have any fun roller-skate or stilt mishap stories from that Summerworks run?
Ha! One night on the skates, I face planted on my entrance in front of a full house!
That was pretty awesome. I think my wheel caught the curtain and I hit the deck. I was disappointed- I think the judges deducted marks from me that night.
Tell me about The Ugly One; it’s a pretty traumatic tale.
It’s a dark play that comes out of Germany, and is a cautionary tale about identity and what happens if you dip your toe into narcissistic waters.
It plays out very much like a nightmare, where characters and scenes bleed into each other. The writer, Marius Von Mayenberg has somehow woven real discomfort into the words of that script. There is an uneasy feeling lingering under it all. I often thought of it along the same lines as an Alfred Hitchcock film- it sort of felt that way as when we played it.
You played multiple parts in that one too, how did you differentiate?
Keeping track of those different characters was initially a challenge. On paper I found it very confusing because there are no scene breaks and very little punctuation- I was happier when we got it up on its feet. I had to try things with my voice or body, just subtle shifts to find the right rhythms.
My main goal was to make sure that David Jansen’s killer work as Lette, was supported and that we got the writers’ ideas across with clarity.
Von Mayenberg is a very meticulous writer, and it took a while for me to trust his script I think. The first week or so I was like- “Who in the hell translated this?” But I slowly realized the script is brilliant. There is an almost a Pinter-esque quality to the scenes. It was a great lesson in precision and a real mental challenge.
The characters in The Ugly One were pretty much omnipresent, settling into the audience or providing sound effects if they weren’t actually in the scene. Was it a challenge to keep a sense of who you were through those transitions (especially with more than one character to keep track of)?
Yeah, I found it really tough to sit in the crowd.
One night I ended up sitting next to my dad, and at a funny moment of the play he leaned over to talk to me about it – but he realized -“Ooops shit- Jess is working!” so he just kind of chuckled to himself and turned back around. It was awkward but we had a good laugh about it later. I think that kind of awkwardness is actually innately written into that show.
Much to her credit, incorporating the audience was a move that Ashley Corcoran our director added. It was risky, but I think it worked because it caused everyone in the theatre to become hyper-aware of themselves, you could feel it when the lights shifted. I think that kind of squeamishness that is the core of the show- it’s that feeling of being uncomfortable in your own skin.
Do you have a favourite moment in either production?
Flying down a ramp at top speed, blasting through curtains on a red tricycle, and while AC/DC is blasting is a hell of a good theatre memory and probably the best entrance any director has given me!
In The Ugly One:
The first Operation scene was definitely one of the show’s signature images. I had never worked so intimately with Flubber and an electric blender before. (Well at least not in public :)
If you could pick one definitive moment in your career up to this point, what would it be?
After I finished at the Film Centre, I wrote and acted in short called Silas & the Tomb. I adapted it from an old ghost story; obtained Bravo funding, and finally walked in to my very own period film set, with a full crew. It was extremely exciting. In the future I aim to do much more of that.
What are you doing now/ what’s your next project?
Nov. 25, 2012- Dec. 16, 2012, I’ll be playing Ken in Red at the Segal Centre in Montreal, directed by Martha Henry.
I also have a couple writing deadlines coming up soon as well that I am working very hard to meet. It’s (hopefully) the extended version of my film.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I was surrounded with awesome people in these two shows: Caitlin, Kristina, Moira, Justin, Elliot, Elley-Ray, David, Naomi, Ashley, and especially Hardee Lineham (who I was in both shows with). It’s just a treat to play with some of Toronto’s finest; they are all wonderful friends and actors of the highest caliber.