Steve Bastoni was born in Rome, where he lived before settling in Carlton with his family, aged eight. His first taste of life on the stage came at around the same time, when he performed a monalogue in Venetian dialect for a production of Minestrone. His mother was a thespian, and her mother was a vaudeville performer in 1930s New York before her. The bug ran in their blood, Bastoni says, and he was ‘bitten’ way back when he performed in front of a crowd of thousands at Adelaide Festival.
Bastoni grew up in a household that fiercely encouraged a life in the arts. ‘My mum was quite an intrepid character. She was the first woman to travel around Europe on a Lambretta Vespa, solo, in the ‘60s.’ There was nothing astonishing about the young adolescent wanting to be an actor. ‘I grew up in the ‘70s in Carlton where everyone was dancing around naked, smoking reefers. There was lots of sea grass and macramé, so it was a bit of a hippy upbringing.’ Wanting to be a performer, therefore, was not out of the ordinary.
At 16, he landed a role in a short film called Skipping Class. At the film’s premiere an agent approached and signed him, and since then the work has not stopped. In his late teens and early twenties he started working for La Mama and Universal Theatre where he dived into productions such as The Journey, Bad Boy Johnny and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. ‘My apprenticeship was on the job,’ he says, ‘Everything I’ve learnt happened at work.’ Having spent two decades in Sydney’s King’s Cross – where he facetiously claims he was doing research for his role in Underbelly – Bastoni returned to Victoria to live with his young family on the Mornington Peninsula.
It’s been seven years since he trod the boards of a stage, with ‘cushy’ TV and film roles taking up most of his time over the past decade. However, theatre is his first love, he assures me. ‘It’s where I started…it’s my home.’
The role of Eddie Carbone in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge came to Bastoni in a roundabout way. He was working on a TV script with Anthony LaPaglia, who had played the infamous Italian dockworker on Broadway, in front of Miller himself, some years beforehand. LaPaglia claimed it was the best role an actor of their sex and age could embody. Bastoni was a fan of Miller’s work and had either seen or read most of his seminal texts. But A View from the Bridge had slipped through the cracks.
‘When I read it, I couldn’t believe it. I just kept saying, “this role is made for me.”’ The play has all the themes, plot twists and character developments Bastoni relishes. He pictures Eddie as a sort of Russian Revolution caricature. ‘In my mind, he’s made of granite….but granite cracks.’ He doesn’t feel that Eddie’s obsession with his niece Catherine is driven by lust, but in fact, is the complete opposite. It’s all about control, and obsession – yes – but, he sees her as a Madonna figure, she’s the only pure thing in his life and he can’t bear the thought of letting that go. He’s completely torn apart by it.’
Working with Director Iain Sinclair has been a dream come true, he stresses. ‘He is by far the best director I’ve ever worked with; he’s a genius,’ he says, assuring me that in his 30-year career he doesn’t throw those statements around lightly.
As far as actually performing the show goes, the Melbourne actor wouldn’t necessarily use the word enjoy. ‘It’s the most demanding role I’ve ever had. Every Night Every Night was up there in terms of its intensity, but this is 10 times more demanding than that. It takes absolutely every ounce of emotional energy, show after show. There’s no way of scaling it back, you just have to let yourself go there. And it’s a privilege to do so.’
Bastoni is interested in the play’s commentary on immigration, and how a play that premiered in 1946 is still bitingly relevant to a modern Melbourne audience today. ‘It covers the idea of transferring the village. You can move, but your traditions, beliefs, superstitions and taboos move with you. It’s that age old saying, “wherever you go, there you are”.’
Crawling into Eddie Carbone’s skin every night on the Sumner stage is Bastoni’s debut with Melbourne Theatre Company. It’s a great inauguration, he states, and fantastic to have his Melbourne family (minus his two young children) sitting in the audience for multiple performances. ‘The visceral nature of theatre, the fourth wall, the demands it makes of you physically; I love the research and the rehearsal process, its magic, it transcends reality…I just love it all!’
See A View from the Bridge at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner from 9 March to 18 April. Qatar Airways is an MTC Major Partner.
Published on 15 April 2019