I find Paul Capsis hidden in the dark recesses of Self Preservation Cafe on Bourke Street. The celebrated cabaret performer and his partner Will are planning on grabbing a late lunch before this evening’s performance of Victorian Opera’s “pretty crazy” The Black Rider, in which Paul is unleashing his inimitable talent.
With a little bit of cajoling, I tempt them out into the bright spring afternoon, although Paul immediately retreats behind some oversized rock-star sunnies. It’s his only retreat this afternoon as he answers questions, plucked at random from a box, with refreshing, characteristic frankness.
Courtesy of The School of Life Melbourne, I’ve come armed with a Conversation Toolkit, a collection of adventurous questions designed to short-circuit small talk and plunge us into meaningful communion. Usually, it’s the journo who picks the questions. Today, I’m letting Paul choose for himself.
The Black Rider
- Malthouse Theatre
- Until October 8
What makes you envious?
I don’t think I’m envious of very much. In terms of my career, I’m not very competitive. I might have been in my 20s, maybe, but there wasn’t really anyone else [like me]. There were people who made it possible for me to be a performer, but I could never be them because they were from a different time or ethnic background. People like Reg Livermore and Robyn Archer, people who I thought married the idea of theatre and music with originality and were totally themselves. That was an inspiration when I started out, but I don’t know if I’d called it envy. If there was any envy, it was that I wanted to live in a different place. I always thought that, had I been an American artist or an artist from Germany, then the opportunities would be different for me. I don’t feel Australians give a shit about art, mostly.
In what ways might you be a difficult person to work with or for?
There’s a danger when you get carried away with your research. I got a bit carried away with my research when I did Quentin Crisp last year, ridiculously so, spending months in the library reading everything he ever wrote. Then when it came to the play I was like “he wouldn’t do that!” to my director. I was very protective of Quentin. I wanted it to be truthful. If I feel really strongly about something, I will speak up, but at the end of the day I’ll do what my director asks me. Even if they’re wrong.
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Have you ever sabotaged your own success?
That happens a lot for artists. Maybe in the very early days. I mostly went for it when opportunities came up. Sometimes if you feel strongly about something and you speak up about it, that can be perceived as sabotage. Like, “Why would you talk about being a homosexual when it limits you in your career?” I’ve had people say that to me. A long time ago I had a manager say I would be limited in my options because I was out. But I don’t want to do work if I can’t be myself. If it meant I had to be a lie about my real self, I don’t want to be a Hollywood actor or main stage theatre performer. By some miracle, I’ve managed to have a career, so it’s not true.
When do you feel shy?
Never. I get a little self-conscious if we’re in the supermarket buying shallots and someone comes up and starts talking about a production. The one thing I find difficult is drunk people who come up after a show and do inappropriate things. I don’t know what to do.
Are you good at saying sorry?
Yes, I am actually. If I feel I’ve done something inappropriate. I have no problem saying things to people if I feel they’re out of line. I never used to be like that, I was a nice person. Not anymore. Somewhere in my forties, I became an angry, grumpy person. I stand up for myself. And I’m not sorry, I feel really good.
100 Questions: Conversations Toolkit provided by The School of Life Melbourne