The show was a smash hit last year and it’s coming back to a bigger theatre and going on tour. How did you react when you heard the show would be coming back thanks to popular demand?
I remember, during the first week of rehearsals, I went home and told my wife, "We're on the precipice of making something really great here." And it's exceeded that promise. Giving it a second life makes such sense to me. More people need to see this play. It's a great, fun, romantic comedy that also has real guts in regards to political and social issues.
For me, it's like a party. As a cast, we get to be a family again, and this time we get to travel too. One of the wonderful things for me about Black is the New White is that the majority of the players are black, so not only was my voice really heard, but the conversations we had were unlike anything I'd ever had in a predominantly-white rehearsal room. That was empowering. It was an amazing feeling not to have to explain cultural differences, or family differences, that many Indigenous or Tongan families have compared to Anglo-Saxon families. I didn't have to educate anyone. I didn't have to explain diversity on stage or the feeling of being judged out in the world. These are things I sometimes have to deal with in other predominantly-white rehearsal rooms. It's a novelty being part of the majority. I'm thrilled to be doing the show again, to have that experience again.
Nakkiah's play speaks of my Australia. It's a play I can be proud of on every level – entertaining, funny, tear-jerking, eye-opening, thought-provoking, intelligent, robust.
You’ve just been on tour with Bell Shakespeare too. What are the rewards and challenges of going on tour with a play?
The reward is that you get to see the country. Places you might not otherwise go to on your own. Discovering new places, new people. The struggle of touring is being away from home and missing family.
You’ve done a number of shows with STC in recent years, most recently Cloud Nine directed by Kip Williams. How did Cloud Nine differ from the Black is the New White experience.
Working on Churchill's play, my connection to the play is very different. Working on a modern classic by a great writer can be intellectually really stimulating, it can be politically interesting. But with Nakkiah's play, it's all those things, but it also nourishes my soul. I feel a very real, direct connection to what I'm saying and why I'm saying. I feel like I'm playing a version of myself – a kid from the western suburbs. Rather than imagining myself into saying somebody else's words, or an idea of a character that I have to approach more academically.
What was it that made you want to pursue acting as your career?
When I was in high school and got into acting it was about being a fool. Rather than going to detention, I could get an audience and validation onstage. It was also about playing the outsider – I played Othello in high school and I've played him five times since. Theatre gave me the chance to be included and be an outsider at the same time. All theatre people are outsiders in some way or other.
Shakespeare was my entry point. I wanted to learn more about words and history and the etymology of the English language to expand my brain and make me more empathetic.
How would you sum up your character in Black is the New White, Sonny Jones?
Sonny is an ex-rugby union player. The best Indigenous player the game has seen. He's turned into a very successful banker on the back of his fame in sports. He loves his wife. And he's been having a crisis about the meaning of life since his father passed away.
Black is the New White, 28 Feb – 10 Mar 2018, Roslyn Packer Theatre
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