Emily: How are you being pompous?!
Brandon: I don’t know, sometimes I think I can gab on a bit sometimes.
Emily: You’re just fine!
I spent an evening with Brandon McClelland finding out about his current work in theatre and on screen as an actor and producer. But our conversations pushed far past the line of artsy chatter and reached the realm of the deeply personal. He shared with me about his own difficulties managing mental health in the past, his creative mentors, and even faith and spirituality. He also told me about fortuitous opportunities on Hollywood film sets and his opinions about the bastardisation of the Method, amongst many other issues. Through all of this, he displays deep conviction and yet simultaneous humility. It’s a wonderfully fascinating interview, read below.
PART 2: Mentorship Minus Idolatry (featuring Kip Williams and Cate Blanchett)
Emily: When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?
Brandon: I don’t know. The only thing I know is that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be, which is strange because it’s a career that’s built upon imagining that you’re someone else. Other than wanting to be a police officer, which I had applied for. If I didn’t go to NIDA I would have gone to Goulburn for ‘police academy’.
Emily: This time, with Midsummer, you’ve worked with Kip three times now.
Brandon: Yes this will be the third.
Emily: Suddenly Last Summer, then The Golden Age, and now A Midsummer Night’s Dream. How has it been?
Brandon: It’s been great. I have a wonderful relationship with Kip. He’s very clear about the production that he wants to make, and he lays that all out for you day 1. But he also allows you as an actor to come in and completely play. It’s co-operative and you explore and you play, and be as crazy or as timid as you want to be. And he watches everything and says this could work, this doesn’t serve that part well. He’s wonderful. He’s extraordinarily bright too. He’s older than me, and I know I shouldn’t really say this as his junior, but he’s wise beyond his years and I look up to him quite a bit. I have a great friendship with him but I also look up to him.
Emily: Do you have any mentors? Is Kip one of them?
Brandon: Yes I suppose he’s probably one of them.
Emily: Will he get a surprise if he reads that?
Brandon: He might. He’ll shrug it off though because he’s extraordinarily modest. I don’t think I’ve met anyone more modest than him. I am really quite vehemently opposed to the idea of having ‘heroes’. A lot of actors go, I love such and such, and I’d love to be them one day, imagine being them. And I really admire the works of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, these amazing people, but I wouldn’t say I have any adulation or worship of them. Because if you start thinking, well at 24 they did this, maybe I should be working towards that – that’s not your path. The path that they beat out is the path that they beat out. And you can admire that they had their own personality and conviction, but you need to have your own conviction and your own path and pursue that as far as it takes you.
Emily: That is very difficult, I think a lot of young people really struggle with that, especially with age landmarks, which is an arbitrary indicator of where you should be at in your life.
Brandon: They are. Well I had worked with Cate before then, funnily enough I did a feature film that she shot in Australia called Truth. It was about George W Bush in the lead up to the 2004 election. My agent called me up and said there was a table read and they needed someone who could do a heap of American accents for all the different characters that hadn’t been cast yet. So I said yeah sure, and I rock up and in the room is Dennis Quaid and Cate Blanchett.
Emily: That’s amazing!
Brandon: Yeah! And I was just thinking ‘I wish someone had fucking told me about this…’ (laughs) and they give me the script and I hadn’t read it before, and had to play multiple characters from different regions in America from ages 20 up to the age of 70. So I just treated it as if it were an SNL audition and I just did all the voices I could do. And I did get quite chuffed because Dennis Quaid came up to me at the end of it and patted me on the back with a very firm hand and said “that was really great, you got a really great accent”. And I just said ‘thank you thank you thank you, you’re Dennis Quaid that’s amazing, and Cate Blanchett was down the table, that’s amazing, that’s the closest I’m ever going to get to her!’ Later I got a call from my agent telling me they wanted me to be the off screen reader, which means that basically any time someone’s on the phone or someone is on a television screen and the actors are meant to respond, you just read the lines to them. After working as the off screen reader for a week they offered me the role of the lawyer - shooting took a day and I got a little trailer. All I did was hand Cate a folder and walk off.
Emily: How cool! So you worked with her there, and then you worked with her in even closer proximity with The Present.
Brandon: She’s amazing. Everything you think of when you think of a dedicated craftsperson to acting, that’s Cate Blanchett. She works tirelessly and she’s constantly interrogating and investigating. That was the greatest thing about working on The Present was watching actors like her, Richard Roxburgh, Susan Prior and Jacqueline McKenzie, really interrogate these people.