"I find [intelligent characters] very challenging, but that's why I do them as well."
Josh McConville doesn't seem overly eager to give much credence to the conception of acting as art; for him it's a job, something to "put food on the table". At times it seems like he views his occupation as being no different from that of a cab driver or dentist. The thing is — whether playing the giddy Garry Lejeune in Noises Off or the brutish Brett Sprague in The Boys — McConville brings an absolute artistry to his acting, even if getting him to talk about it can seem like pulling teeth.
If the artistry is evident in his acting, the means to an ends conception of it is as obvious in his work ethic.
"In my opinion Hamlet is the smartest character written and in the English canon..."
Including rehearsal time McConville spent just under six months in the title role for Bell Shakespeare's production of Hamlet last year, directed by Damien Ryan. After touring the country he got just two weeks off in December before starting work on Arcadia. Nine days after that wraps McConville will return to the Opera House's Drama Theatre for a six-week run of Noel Coward's Hay Fever. In September he returns to that very same stage to play Bottom in a Sydney Theatre Company production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Kip Williams directing.
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"More time off would've been nice, but you've got to put food on the table...
"It was awesome to part ways with Hamlet, it was good... but also sad, there is a lot of memories with that play and, you know, this is sounding a bit wanky, but it was sort of life-changing in terms of what it taught me and the confidence I gained as an actor, my technique developed, things like that... And that play, you can never get right, to do it every night, you could do it for three years and never nail it, so it was exciting but sad at the same time."
Ahead of the life-changing role McConville spoke of the daunting task of tackling a character of such intelligence, not that he's any less capable of playing smarter characters, from the lovelorn inventor Dean in 2014 time-travel romcom The Infinite Man, or the pompous scholar Bernard in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.
"In my opinion Hamlet is the smartest character written and in the English canon and playing someone like that, with his philosophies and ideologies and existentialism, you can never fathom the ideas that he comes up with, whereas Bernard is not really on the same level as Hamlet I think."
With a hefty dose of mathematical theory, Arcadia deftly links two stories separated by two centuries and encompasses some of humanity's most important scientific discoveries, all while simultaneously being a romance, comedy, and thriller.
"I find [intelligent characters] very challenging, but that's why I do them as well," McConville explains, before checking himself. "But also, you know, it's a job at the end of the day, and they're roles that I am offered and I take them."
The theory, according to McConville, is that simple. But still, something of the artist emerges as he explains the current job.
"With Stoppard it's a linguistic, sort of dexterous battle, and if you get your tongue around that — you know, 'trippingly off the tongue', as Hamlet says — it sort of does the work for you."