We caught up with Toby Schmitz in the Qatar Airways MTC Lounge during tech rehearsals of Wild.
Name: Toby Schmitz
Coffee: Flat White
What were your first impressions reading the script of Wild?
I realised that I should have been caring more about the erosion of privacy since the birth of the internet. That was one of my first reactions to the play. And then simultaneously I was thinking, ‘this is a ripper of a play’. The amateur writer in me was going, ‘Oh hello, this boy’s clever,’ having only read Cock before and not being aware of the rest of the Bartlett canon, which I’ve now caught up on. At the end of my first read, I was kind of in the audience thinking, ‘I’d love to see that.’
What’s been your favourite moment working on this show so far?
I love watching Anna Lise and Nicholas rehearse. And because of the structure of the play I’m required to. And I haven’t had that much fun in quite a while. I love theatre rehearsals. They’re actually my favourite thing in the world. So on a play like this where the cast and the script and the director are so talented, it’s been a treat in itself.
Do you have a first theatre memory?
My first seismic theatre memory was my maternal grandmother taking me to a production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood in Perth. I’m sure the actors were sublime; I remember the poetry sort of washing over me (I was too young to really get it), but what struck me the most was an element of design. It was a small box theatre in Perth, with the town painted across the set’s walls. And when the play changed from day to night all the little windows in the town had been painted with fluorescent paint and started to glow. And I remember sort of clutching my grandma’s arm. I think I was about six and something in me sort of started to snap. The magic trick of it is what sold me. The poetry – yes, and the being out with my grandma, and the exotic nature of the lights going down, it was all a thrill. But the magic trick that a great scenic painter pulled on me was one of the first things I remember. And Wild is full of magic tricks. They’re an essential part of theatre.
Have you ever had a ‘the show must go on’ moment?
I think the worst ‘show must go on’ moment was the last time I was here at MTC [in The Importance of Being Earnest]. The night of our first preview, we were getting our notes from [director] Simon [Phillips], it was late and it was fun, there was a bottle of red wine, and I got that full body chill where you know that you’re coming down with something serious. It quickly blew out to full-blown pneumonia. And Simon and my doctor and my understudy all said, ‘You don’t have to go on.’ And I did the sort of classic thing, aided by the fact that I was in deep fever, and said, ‘Over my dead body.’ I was sweating buckets. Thank god it was a long season of seven weeks, because I don’t remember the first three weeks of it. I don’t know if I should have done things differently in retrospect, but that’s what happens, you just say ‘let’s keep going’. My poor understudy Lachlan Woods was saying, ‘What does it take for you to step off for one matinee?’
There is a lot of manipulation of thought and reality in Wild. On what occasion do you lie in real life?
I think we do it all the time. You might call them white lies or you might not even know you’re doing it. We all sort of temper the truth. For example if you’re describing what you did to your mother on Saturday night, you might just say, ‘I got in late.’ Or if you come out and see someone putting a ticket on your car, you genuinely believe in that moment (as you’re starting to tear up and you say ‘I’ve only been here for 45 minutes’ …. you’ve been there for two hours meanwhile), but you believe you’re right in the moment. I think that the word lie is a little black and white, but human beings manipulate their own reality all the time, they lie to themselves to get through the day.
If you could play any role on stage or screen, what would it be?
That is actually too hard. All of them.
More generally, if you could work on any production what would it be, whom would it be with, and it what capacity? In other words, tell me about your dream collaboration?
I swap hats between actor, writer and director, purely through necessity. I started doing that way back at the University of Western Australia. No one was putting me in anything and I’d have two months spare, so I’d write something. And I still feel the same way. I have an absolute ambition to surround myself with art; I’m not bereft of ambition there. In terms of who I’d want to collaborate with, I find myself not pitching for the stars. It would be fabulous to be in a Peter Jackson World War II movie, part of me has always wanted to be that – the boyhood dreamer part – but most of the collaborations I dream about are with people I’ve already worked with, or with very old chums I’m yet to work with and desperately want to.
Do you have a hero of fiction?
Yeah and they’re always a bit romantically flawed. I like Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited. I love Dick Diver in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. People with poise on the outside, and normally in some sort of ‘between the wars’ setting in a very good suit, who are tragically, romantically flawed.
Favourite part of Melbourne?
I love that in Melbourne you can walk 10 meters and stumble across an incredible bar. You can fall and land somewhere with great food.
What is your favourite place outside of Australia?
What is your coffee order?
Gin and Tonic. No, I didn’t start on coffee until later in my life. But I’m a one-a-day guy and I’ll take a flat white.
In an 8-show week, what do you do on your day-off?
It depends on the show. It’s different now because I have a two-year-old daughter. So it’s like, ‘right, family picnic, I’m in for tonight.’ But I don’t think about the show first and foremost, that’s always been my thing. It always benefits the day back to just abandon it for a while and let things gestate in the back of your mind.
What’s the most common misconception about working as an actor?
I think one of the ones I always get is people saying, ‘Oh you must be having so much fun up there’. Like it’s sort of a walk in the park. Or if the audience really enjoys it, it seems to indicate that not much work was done. Where as, in fact, it’s far more work than that. Some of the shows that look like a romp, took the most work. Sometimes they didn’t. But the assumption that you’re having ‘so much fun up there.’ I mean, absolutely I’m having fun, otherwise I wouldn’t be in this profession, but ‘so much fun’ is probably gilding the lily. There’s a lot of paddling going on under the surface.
Favourite holiday on the calendar?
Christmas, without a doubt. I’m a huge fan of Christmas. Always have been.
What’s the hardest accent to master?
What song do you know all the lyrics to?
Most of Camelot.
Last film you cried to?
The last Star Wars, when Han and Leia’s theme started playing at the end when Luke was giving Leia Han’s dice and finally the John Williamson song came on. But, I may have been tearing up at the very beginning too.
Do you have any opening night or pre-performance rituals?
My main habit or ritual is to try not to have them. As I’ve gotten older I’ve done a few bits of yoga and breathing, and some NIDA-instilled voice stuff is always part of it. But I suppose if anything, I always make sure I’ve wandered out onto the stage with an empty auditorium, or into the auditorium itself. Even if I’m thinking about something else, or on the phone to my mum, I just feel out the space and remind myself subconsciously of the boundaries. One of the first things about theatre I fell in love with, was being in an empty auditorium with no one else in it. Like the humming potential of it. The ticking lights and the sort of spookiness of it …all those ghosts. That’s a fun thing to do, to remind yourself that it is a sacred space crackling with potential. Maybe there’s just one usher putting programmes on seats, and you. It’s very calming for me.
Wild plays at Southbank Theatre from 5 May.
Qatar Airways is an MTC Major Partner. Genovese is an MTC Production Partner (thanks for the coffee!).