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 3: Brandon's Natural Voice, Arrogance, and Religion + Faith
Emily: You have a very authoritative voice. It always strikes me when I see you act.
Brandon: I have a strange voice. Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t comment on my voice. People say ‘you’re from England!’ or ‘you’re a private school boy’ and I say, no I’m neither. I’m a public school boy from Bateman’s Bay, well I was born in Penrith. It’s extraordinarily strange, I don’t know where my voice came from. Probably from movies, I don’t know. But even in high school I got bullied a lot for my voice.
Emily: And now you’re picking up the acting jobs and the tables have turned!
Brandon: Well it helps with the acting. When I was at NIDA they tried to drum my natural voice out of me, they wanted a more neutral voice – but I don’t think that exists. One teacher in particular said I’d never be hired with a voice like that, no one can understand you. I was determined to prove her wrong.
Emily: You’ve talked in passing about garnering a bit of a reputation for yourself amongst the Sydney arts community.
Brandon: Yes, I have a reputation of being a bit of a boozer. It’s not a reputation I plan on shaking any time soon! (laughs) Alongside a reputation of being brash, arrogant…
Emily: Wow, I don’t think that’s true!
Brandon: Well I guess it’s not for me to say. I guess I can be arrogant. If I have an opinion that I feel is backed up by enough empirical evidence and reason, I will pursue it to its death.
Emily: To its death?
Brandon: That’s probably an ill-term of phrase.
Emily: It’s very dramatic.
Brandon: It is (laughs). I regret saying it!
Emily: Is that arrogance if you believe it’s the truth?
Brandon: Well I’ve never really considered myself to be arrogant because if it’s backed up with enough evidence to sway me to the opposite side of my argument, then I will absolutely switch. I’m not afraid of losing an argument. But I am afraid of not committing to one, which in a way is arrogance. Sorry, I’m talking your ear off on this stuff!
Emily: No you’re not, I asked!
Brandon: Good, good. (laughs)
Emily: So is religion one of these things you have strong opinions about?
Brandon: It is.
Emily: I can see it in your eye!
Brandon: Are you religious?
Emily: Yeah I am, I’m a Christian. I’m a Protestant, but I don’t have strong affiliations to any particular denomination. I feel like we’d have good conversations about it.
Brandon: So do I. I think the King James Bible is one of the most beautiful texts I’ve ever read. I think it is fascinating, but for me, there is not enough evidence to explain to me that we have a purpose here – not that I think we have a purpose, I don’t think we do.
Emily: So what do you believe?
Brandon: I think we’re quite happy accidents, we’re made of stardust. I take quite a lot of solace in the fact that we’re born of chaos. I can’t pretend to know how we came to be, why we came to be. I don’t have any solid evidence for me that explains that we’re here because of this, for this reason. I’ve read the King James Bible, I went to scripture lessons, I really immersed myself in it because I was hoping, like most people, I was hoping. I thought it was such a beautifully crafted text – for the most part. So I really dived into it, but found that there were too many contradictions within it. To be told that I am born sick, and thus commanded to be well, seemed to me to be a rather cruel indictment from a creator. To say, you are the product of original sin, before you were born, you were born into sin, and you have x amount of years – I’m not going to tell you how many – of trials, tribulations, suffering, but by the end of it, good God you better come around to my way of thinking and respect me. And I hope I don’t offend you by saying this –
Emily: No no it’s fine! I’m having a very similar ongoing conversation with another friend actually who thinks in a similar way to you, I think.
Brandon: Oh interesting. I do feel envious of some people who can surrender to faith. But I know my brain is not wired to that. But I don’t hold anything against anyone who does believe in it, as long as they don’t dictate that they should all follow the same moral path.
Emily: Of course, we live in a pluralistic society, that’s fine.
Brandon: Absolutely, I believe in a secular government. In a law that doesn’t discriminate against any particular faith or any particular lack of faith. I think the law should apply to us as humanists.
Emily: I think we could have some fantastic conversations ahead of us.
Brandon: I think we would! I always find that my favourite conversations on faith are with people of faith. Never with other atheists, because then you’re just going ‘yeah you’re right, yeah I’m right, okay let’s have another drink’ (laughs). If someone could present to me an argument that I deemed valid enough, and there was enough empirical evidence to support that there was a creator, then I would absolutely jump ships. And that’s not to say that I’m anti-deist. I can’t claim to say how the universe was created, but I am not convinced by any theology that exists, be that Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity – whichever wing of Christianity you choose. I’m sorry to kind of go on about this, but I think there’s something extraordinary if you look through the images in Hubble telescope, or even in the telescopes out at Parkes, there’s this vast, seemingly unending space. And to know that in the context of all of that, in the context of all the known universe, you are but a pinprick, not even that. We are miniscule particles of a pinprick; I think that is beautiful. And for me, I think that lends itself to a sense of, well, I am just as important as the next man, and I am just as unimportant as the next man, and we’re all in this together, and one day it’s going to end for every single person. Don’t know what’s on the other side, most of me believes there is nothing on the other side. That provides me with a lot of solace, where I go, lead as good a life as I can, because it’s probably the only one you’re going to get. End of lecture! (laughs)
Emily: Thank you for sharing that with me.
Brandon: I get into a lot of arguments with people because people think with me being an atheist, people say you have no spirituality – they ask, how does music sound to you? And I say it sounds exactly the same to me as it does to you.
Brandon: No I genuinely have people ask that, they ask how can you truly love someone? And I say, because I’m human.
Emily: I think that’s quite a cruel question.
Brandon: Yeah it’s an arrogant question. To say that you’re not fully human because you don’t have a ‘belief’. And I don’t take anything on faith, and I think that’s perhaps my problem with religion is that it requires a huge amount of faith.
Emily: It does.
Brandon: As they say, it takes a leap of faith, and I’m not willing to make that. Because everything in my life is based on fact, or reason and evidence. I hope that doesn’t come across as smug.
Emily: No it doesn’t. I think there is a certain extent where you can research, and you can examine the historical reliability of the bible, and you can consider whether the religion contradicts science. I’m not a seven-day creationist if you’re wondering.
Brandon: Good. (laughs)
Emily: I think you can look into these things absolutely, and you should, but I doubt that you’ll ever be presented with a neat little empirical package that will definitively convince you to become a Christian, because it inevitably requires faith – exactly what you were saying.