True Liaisons

4 April 2012 | 6:46 pm | Dave Drayton

James Mackay and Geraldine Hakewill talk love, lust, and dangerous liaisons – on and off stage – with Dave Drayton.

Cruel Intentions, in high school,” says James Mackay, recalling his first interaction with the story of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, first an epistolary novel by Frenchman Choderlos de Laclos in 1782, and later adapted for stage, and in varying forms and guises for film. “Oh yeah,” concurs Geraldine Hakewill. The two will perform as the young Cécile de Volanges and her music teacher, Chevalier Danceny, in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of the play, to be directed by Sam Strong.

“Sarah Michelle Gellar making out with Selma Blair,” Mackay jokingly recalls of the viewing, “Which was awesome! Don't get me wrong…”

“Clearly he didn't have any idea that it was related to Les Liaisons,” jokes Hakewill.

“The next time probably would have been at drama school, when we did the play in the third year, at WAAPA [Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts],” says Mackay. “Valmont and Tourvel,” says Hakewill, indicating each in their roles, “So, Hugo Weaving's character and Justine Clarke's character in this production.”

“We weren't together then,” says Mackay. That's right, these two actors, romantically linked in real life, will portray two characters unsuccessfully chasing one another's affections in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, as pro/antagonists Valmont and Merteuil (Pamela Rabe) use them as pawns in deviant games.

“It's quite remarkable actually,” Mackay says of the coincidence. “We did the play at WAAPA, and then months later after we graduated we got together and then when the auditions for this came around we were given auditions for each of our respective characters, completely independently through our respective agents, through the casting director here and were cast in each of these roles on the back of the auditions.

“And Sam [Strong, director], he had no idea that we were together and it was only after he'd put us in the show that someone said, 'Oh you've cast Geri and James, that's great,' and he was like, 'What do you mean Geri and James?' And of course, our characters in the show are trying to get together,” Mackay explains.

And while the love and lust felt off-stage could well and truly serve to inform the longing of the characters on stage, both Mackay and Hakewill point out that that distinction – 'informing' rather than 'becoming' – is at the crux of all their work as actors.

“That's one of the dangers of doing something where your job is to be open emotionally and mentally, and spiritually, if you like, pretty much all the time,” Hakewill admits. “You want to have boundaries between your life and the rehearsal room, or set – your craft. You don't want to be bringing in baggage all the time in order to get yourself to that emotional place. You've got to be able to play and be curious and create a performance from the script to serve the story, not to go through therapy.”

“That's often what can separate a good performance from a bad performance,” offers Mackay, “or a truthful, three-dimensional, multi-faceted performance from just a good 'performance'. It's performance versus an inhabited reality. But it's always in the interest of the story, I think that's always what has got to be served.

“It's not an indulgent thing, or personal therapy, or vanity. Ultimately it's got to be Danceny on stage. It's got to be Cecile. It's not James and it can't be, because you're not in the world, you're not in the same play as everyone else.”