BILLY SUTER talks to award-winning singer-actor PAUL DU TOIT, star of stage, TV and film, who fills the title role in the audacious Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a highlight of the forthcoming Hilton Arts Festival. The globally acclaimed rock musical tells of a fictional rock ‘n’ roll band fronted by a transgender East German singer. The Hilton Arts Festival, offering a feast of theatre, music, art, crafts, food and other fun, runs from September 15 to 17 at Hilton College. See other posts under ‘Theatre’ on this site to find out more about festival events.
WHAT CAN THE HILTON ARTS FESTIVAL ANTICIPATE WITH “HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH”… AND WHAT ABOUT IT IS LIKELY TO SURPRISE AND/OR DELIGHT AUDIENCES?
It tricks the audience into thinking they’re watching a trivial drag show with some pretty cool, rocking tunes. And just as the audience drops their guard, the play goes for the jugular… ripping hearts out, or stomping on them with a glittered platform shoe. All to the tune of ’70s punk rock. The play changed me forever. I’m sure it’ll do the same for you.
HOW DID YOU COME BY THIS ROLE – AND DID YOU HAVE ANY INITIAL CONCERNS, WORRIES OR OTHER EXPECTATIONS ABOUT IT?
I have been in love with the piece since I first experienced it in Canada in 2001. I loved the music straight away. It has always been one of my favourite albums to listen to.
I had no concerns about the piece itself. I’ve always thought it was a brilliantly crafted piece of theatre. My only concern was being able to give a performance that would do the piece justice, as well as measure up to the high bar set by the sublime interpretation by John Cameron Mitchell (the show’s creator).
HOW DO YOU SEE THE TITLE CHARACTER?
The role is deliciously complex. Hedwig is a collection of paradoxes. Man and woman, victim and perpetrator, both charming and despicable. Truly yin and yang… but with a lot of glitter.
WHEN WAS IT STAGED AT GATE 69 IN CAPE TOWN – AND WHAT AWARDS DID YOU AND THE SHOW RECEIVE?
It ran at Gate 69 in Cape Town during October and November last year. I won the Fleur du Cap prize for Best Actor in a Musical and my co-star, Genna Galloway, won the award for Best Actress in a Musical.
WHERE TO FOR THE MUSICAL AFTER THE HILTON ARTS FESTIVAL?
There are very exciting plans in the pipeline that I can’t talk about yet… all I can say is: “Jozi, stand by!”.
HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU BEEN IN DRAG BEFORE –AND WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST REWARDING (AND CHALLENGING) ABOUT IT?
I played Frank in The Rocky Horror Show for about 19 months so am disturbingly comfortable in a wig and heels!
For this character I don’t focus too much on the drag aspect. I think his humanity is what makes the story hit home. We must see him as a real person. He is everytihng but a panto dame.
I interviewed transgender people as part of my preparation, and their stories helped me a lot to get inside Hedwig’s head.
The hour-and-a-half make-up job is also a great focus to connect with him/her.
WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN – AND AT WHAT POINT DID YOU REALISE YOU WANTED TO PURSUE AN ACTING CAREER?
I was born in Durban in 1974. I didn’t even consider acting as a career. It was just something I loved and changed my varsity modules to once I realised how boring I found law.
WHERE AND WHEN DID YOU STUDY, WHAT MARKED YOUR PROFESSIONAL DEBUT AND WHAT DO YOU MOST RECALL OF THAT EXPERIENCE?.
I went to Stellenbosch University, where I started studying law, but soon replaced those subjects with ones that facilitated my habits more effectively. After four years I walked out with an Honours degree in drama.
Technically, my first professional gig was singing the Chappies bubblegum jingle for radio and TV at the age of six. I got paid 180 bucks. That was a lot of money back then for a kid. I remember thinking ,”So this is what rich and famous feels like!”.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME CAREER HIGHLIGHTS?
Playing Biff in Death of a Salesman is one. Also, playing Hedwig has been a dream come true. Another highlight was my lead debut playing Jack in Into The Woods for Capab, and singing with the Cape Town Philharmonic in the orchestra pit.
WHAT NEXT FOR YOU?
Melk en Vleis, directed by Marthinus Basson and starring Ilse Roos. It is a reimagining of Medea, set in 1994 on a farm in the Eastern Cape. We open at Aardklop Arts Festival in October. I am also about to wrap shooting on Die Waterfont for Kyk=Net and Showmax.
WHAT FIVE WORDS THAT BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
I am irrelevant. My characters matter.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I still have my appendix. I love cooking. I live in Onrus in the Cape. I can tie a bowtie without looking in the mirror. I did my own stunts in TV’s Rough Or Smooth… and knocked myself unconscious wiping out on a snowboard.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
I had a wardrobe malfunction in a show called Offbeat Broadway, and my pants actually fell down to my ankles. We literally had to stop the show while the rest of the cast overcame their apoplectic laughter fit.
THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET?
I got to shoot Arnold Vosloo on a movie recently (with a prop gun) and recently completed a sci-fi flick with Michael Gross (from Family Ties and the Tremors franchise). He is awesome – really humble, genuine and just plain nice.
HOBBIES, PASTIMES AND FAVOURITE THINGS?
I live for the time spent on my surfboard and paddling a canoe. I also try to do the Dusi every year, if work allows.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND PHOBIAS?
I’m pretty phobia-free… that probably explains why I’ve had as many stitches as I have.
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?
There was a late-night incident in my varsity days involving Tassenberg, a shopping trolley and the Stellenbosch constabulary… but I think that’s all I need to say on the subject.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED – AND WHO GAVE IT?
I was understudying every male role in Into the Woods at Capab while playing an invisible bit part. I was really despondent about all the work I had to put in for no reward.
Then Pieter-Dirk Uys gave me sage advice: “Be ready. You never know…”.
Luckily, I took it to heart. The guy playing Jack walked out of the production a few days later and I was more prepared than just about anyone in the cast. Management had no choice but to give the role to an unknown. That was how I got my first lead role.
THE MOST FRIGHTENING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
Becoming a father. I was attacked by a shark too. But I found the shark easier to control than my kids.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’? AND WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTE NO-NOS?
No-nos: single-use plastic, shopping malls, incompetence, well-done meat and men in Speedos.
Ab fab: my hair as Hedwig, growing one’s own vegetables, surfing with my kids, Thai food and trail-running in the mountains with my dog, Lucky.
FIVE OF YOUR ALL-TIME FAVOURITE SONGS?
Still Standing by Tim Parr, Perfect Day by Lou Reed, Black Dog by Led Zeppelin, Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash and Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix.
THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER HAD? AND THE WORST?
Best: “You’re so vain to wear coloured contact lenses”. (I don’t).
Worst: “I don’t care what anyone says, I thought you were fine.”