The third episode of “Still Star-Crossed” just premiered. It’s the tale that follows Fair Verona after Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, with Prince Escalus announcing Rosaline Capulet is to be betrothed to Benvolio Montague in hopes of ending their familial feud. Wade Briggs, who portrays Benvolio, talks about his most challenging role, playing Geoffrey on Josh Thomas’s “Please Like Me” and the difference between the American and Australian entertainment industries.
What was it like working with Josh Thomas and what was your favourite scene to shoot from “Please Like Me”? There were so many sex scenes!
WB: I had a really great time working with Josh. When we shot the first season – none of us really knew what it was going to be. There was a real sense of family and togetherness during that shoot… everyone just held hands and took a leap.
And Josh was obviously at the centre of it all. It was a lot of fun working with someone from a comedy background rather than an acting one- because there was so much more improvisation and looseness that there normally would be. Continuity wasn’t really a thing on that set. There was a lot of laughter during that shoot.
As for the sex scenes… I dare say Josh was probably more uncomfortable than I was! I think he felt bad that he cast a straight guy that had to kiss him a lot. We did have one very funny evening where we had to do a scene in a car – and Josh had to talk me through how to undo his belt while kissing him… not something I’d ever had to do before. Girls’ clothing is much easier to work with.
I think my favourite scene from Please Like Me would almost have to be the scene I shot with David Roberts, who plays Josh’ Dad, in Episode 3 of the first season. David was so hilarious and such a great presence on set – and I remember having such a good time playing that scene. It was very enjoyable getting to play such a sincere and earnest moment between the two of them – all the while sitting in a hot tub with bubbles splashing everywhere.
As a straight actor playing a gay character, what was your approach playing Geoffrey?
WB: To be honest – Geoffrey’s sexuality really wasn’t a major factor in the way I played him. What I mean – me being a straight man playing a gay one was the least of my concerns. I was more focused on developing a believable and detailed human being. The way I approached playing Geoffrey was to always lean on the thing most important to him – which was just ‘to be loved’. I always imagined him as a small puppy – always eager for attention and affection. That kind of dictated all of Geoffrey’s behaviour – I felt as if he was constantly craving a connection to Josh and those that surrounded him.
It was very helpful for me as an actor – not to be concerned with the fact that it was a man or woman I was playing opposite. Ultimately, being in love is the same regardless of sexuality or gender. That’s something a lot of people in this world fail to understand. I am very grateful for the experience of playing Geoffrey – it gave me an insight I wouldn’t otherwise have in my own personal life.
What were your thoughts on how the show ended?
WB: I think that the show ended well. It felt like it had come full circle. I think it would have become something very different if it had of continued… once (spoiler alert) the character of Mum had died – it changed so many things that it would have been hard to maintain a similar tone for much longer. I think it was the right decision.
I was so glad to be invited back for Season 4. I thought it was really important to show how far Geoffrey had come since Season 1 – and I was lucky that Josh and Todd (the producer) really embraced that.
How has working with Shonda Rhimes been different from your previous experiences as an actor?
WB: I would say the most significant difference working for Shondaland/ABC in the states is that I felt much more valued there – compared to the Australian Industry. There is so little work in this country that a real sense of desperation exists from so many actors. We have to constantly fight to prove ourselves worthy of the work. It is very difficult to work consistently in Australia without some kind of profile.
What struck me about working for Shondaland/ABC was that they were able to cast me as a relatively unknown actor – and their belief in me was very powerful. The amount of support they provided made me feel invested in and valued as an artist. And it makes a difference to the work – when you feel like you have the weight of a team like that behind you. It does great things for your confidence. I think that a lot of actors in Australia rarely get to experience that feeling, so I am grateful to have had it myself.
A good friend of mine once described the difference between the Australia and American Industry like this:
If you use the metaphor of a table and chairs to describe the industry – then in Australia, there is only one table, and very few chairs. And to sit at the table, you need to be ‘important’ enough. Meaning your profile or popularity needs to be at a very high level. There is a feeling of elitism and exclusivity in this industry – at time it all feels a bit like a gentlemen’s club. It stops being about how good your work is, and becomes about ‘who you are’.
In the American Industry, there is also a table and chairs. But if you can’t get a seat at one table…then they will simply build another one. The opportunity is far greater to work. You don’t need to be ‘important’ to sit at the table – you just have to be good at what you do. There are an unlimited amount of tables and chairs. The industry has the resources to be able to invest in new actors and new work all the time.
Did you do any research into the character and the backstory of “Still Star-Crossed” before filming?
WB: I usually like to do a lot of research and preparation for the roles I play- and immerse myself in the character. It was a little harder to do with Still Star-Crossed, as it is a period piece – and so much of the world of the show has to be created on set. I was very familiar with Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet which helped – but aside from that, there wasn’t much I could do in my own time. Most of my preparation and development of the character happened in pre-production. I did a lot of sword fighting and stunt rehearsal – and that helped me find a physical vocabulary for Benvolio. Shooting the pilot was also a great kind of test for a lot of character work. I think most of us kind of found our characters through that first episode – once we were all working with one another, and in those costumes on location. The production of this show is such a huge part of it all.
I also spent a lot of time drinking wine… for… ah… research purposes 🙂
What was the audition process like?
WB: The audition process for Still Star-Crossed was relatively simple and I consider myself very lucky that it happened the way it did. I audition for the pilot in Australia, and did my recall via skype with the director Michael Offer. They then used this recall as my test as well. Usually you would have to fly to L.A. to test in front of the network, but because they cast this show internationally, they allowed each actor to test from their home country. This is a huge benefit – it certainly allowed me to focus purely on the work, and not get distracted by the stress of travelling or the nerves involved when testing in the room.
Tell us a little bit about the film you’re attached to, “Reaching Distance”.
WB: Reaching Distance is a psychological drama written and directed by David Fairhurst. I’ll just insert the synopsis here – because it articulates the film much more succinctly than I can.
“Logan, a cynic with a photographic memory, follow’s his sister’s killer onto a night-rider bus. As the line between past and present begins to blur on the journey, Logan uncovers he has a complex relationship with more than one passenger”
So, I play Logan – and we’ve just wrapped filming. The shoot was 4 weeks in Sydney. One of the most interesting elements of the film is almost the whole story takes place on the bus. So we spent 3 weeks in one location – the bus – filming the majority of the piece. It was a great challenge to try and orchestrate my performance in only one environment. I think what it did do is concentrate and intensify my character’s emotions – and it forced me to be extremely clear in each and every moment. I hope it will make for compelling viewing. The film is visually ambitious and full of plot twists, and the director David had an extremely detailed vision which I think he achieved.
When you’re not acting and when you’re not working out, what do you spend your time doing? Drawing?
WB: When I’m not working as an actor, I like to try and keep creating in different ways. I work for the Starlight Children’s Foundation when I can – as Captain Starlight. Basically my job is to help distract and entertain kids while they are in hospital – to try and help make their experience a little less overwhelming. I get to spend my days face painting and playing games and doing arts & crafts. I adore kids – I always have. I generally get along better with people under the age of 16. We have similar interests and attention spans.
Visual art is also big part of my life when I’m not working. In the last 12 months I have really concentrated on trying to develop my own aesthetic and build a body of work. I try and collaborate with other artists as often as possible – mostly through illustration. I play around with clay and wood sculpture at home too. I’m very lucky that I get the opportunity just to create art for the sake of it… it doesn’t have to mean anything or be a source of income. One of my favourite quotes is: “Sometimes it’s just good to do something for no reason at all”
That’s what art is to me. Just the joy of creation.
Do you have any other exciting passion projects we can look forward to seeing?
WD: I have a few things I’m working on at the moment. I have written a series of children’s stories that I’m also illustrating, and I’m looking in to getting one or more of them published. They are kind of whimsical and a little twisted – I kind of describe them as ‘kid’s stories for sad adults’.
I’m also doing a series of woodcut sculptures – which is not something I’ve tried before… it will be an enjoyable process whatever the outcome.
Do you have any plans to write or produce your own content anytime soon?
WB: I have always enjoyed writing… there is one short film script I have been working on for a long time that I’d love to make in the near future. I developed the idea with my little sister many years ago, and have just recently had time to re-visit it and work through a few more drafts. I now just have to do all the boring things like talk to a producer and figure out how much money it’s going to cost me.
Other than that I have a solo piece for the theatre that, again, I have been developing for a few years. If it looks like I will be in Australia for a little while – I will aim to get this piece off the ground for the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Is there a genre that you haven’t tackled yet that you hope to one day?
WB: I would love to do something in the world of psychological thriller or crime drama. I am an avid reader of crime fiction novels – so I’m drawn to material that’s confronting and that looks at the darker side of human behaviour. I would love to play a highly intelligent criminal or psychopath. The piece that I have written for the theatre is based on Charles Manson – a man I find fascinating. He constantly walks the tightrope between deranged psychopath and enlightened prophet. Any kind of character like that – I would love to play.
What role to date has been your most challenging and why?
WB: I would say my most challenging role so far was in the theatre – it was a play I did in 2012 called ‘Blood Pressure’ written by Mark Rogers and directed by Sanja Simic.
The play was about two brothers – one whom had donated an organ to the other. It was set in a hotel room in real time over the course of 90 mins. The character I played was the organ recipient, and his body had started to reject the transplant. The play is all about mortality and brotherhood and the lengths that we go to for family. It is certainly the most emotionally rich and demanding role I’ve ever played.
Another reason the role was so challenging was that the character I played actually suffered from a disease that is in my family – polycystic kidneys. The playwright Mark based the play on his Father who suffered from the disease – as did my Father. My dad actually received a kidney from my mum two years ago. She was his live donor. I did the play before that happened – but even back then my Dad’s health was declining rapidly because of the disease. The role resonated with me very personally.
I also lost a lot of weight for the production – which was a great physical challenge. It was a great test to try and muster up the energy to perform the play every night – because physically I was so exhausted all the time. I’ve attached a picture from the production so you get some idea of what I looked like. Physical transformation is one of my favourite parts of the work – and something I take very seriously.
Not many people know much about your personal life. Has that been a purposeful choice to keep that aspect of your life private and separate from your professional work life?
WB: Yes – that is a very conscious choice. I think there are some very unhealthy and damaging aspects of the entertainment industry – and the notion of celebrity is one of them. I have never understood the reasoning behind one person’s private life being more important or ‘news worthy’ just because of their profession. I think society elevates actors to such delusional heights – that people lose perceptive on what it us we actually do. Get payed money to play dress up and put on funny voices. I think a lot of actors forget that too.
I am of the opinion that my private life should remain just that – private. Sharing intimate details of my life doesn’t make me any better at my job. And I don’t consider popularity a necessary part of what I do. I would rather be respected as a performer than liked because I post pictures of my breakfast on Instagram.