You might recognise Peter Rowsthorn as Brett Craig, the often distressed hubbie of Kim Craig (nee Day) on the very hilarious ‘Kath & Kim’ series. But Rowsthorn’s acting CV is packed with oh-so much more.
Where most actors begin their career on stage then end up becoming drama teachers when the work runs dry, Rowsthorn actually started his out as an acting teacher, moving into the entertainment industry when an opening became available (oo-er) in the very popular ‘The Comedy Company’ in 1989.
Since then, he has enjoyed stints in television and theatre – from the comical to the deadpan, and has even enjoyed occasional appearances in film.
A regular with the Black Swan State Theatre Company, Peter now calls Perth home and recently appeared in two of the company’s most successful productions, ‘The Importance Of Being Ernest’ and ‘Laughter On The 23 Floor’. Next up, Rowsthorn plays more of a serious character in David Mamet’s real estate epic, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, which opens this week at the Heath Ledger Theatre.
But wait, there’s more. Well, at least another real estate connection in Peter’s CV… He regularly presents on the television show ‘The West Real Estate Program’ – talking about real-life real estate issues in and around Perth.
Here he speaks with Rock Candy about letting go of the comical mask on occasion, his admiration for local talent, and of course, the modern epic that is ‘Glengarry’.
Interview by Andrea Manno / Photography by Robert Frith
Before we get on to the serious stuff of Glengarry Glen Ross, we’ve got to talk a bit about ‘Kath & Kim’. Was it enjoyable to play Brett Craig on the show?
It was. In fact it was a gift from heaven for me. We did ten years of that show. Every second year, we made another series. I knew all those guys from Melbourne and it was a bit of a hand-picked cast. It was good for me to play something that’s really flat and straight and doesn’t pull faces and doesn’t try to be funny. I was just the reactor, kind of like the audience, reacting to Kim, Kath, Kel and Sharon ’cause they were doing big things so I could be just a [sidekick] character. But it was a really, really enjoyable job.
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS:THE SYNOPSISWhen an office full of New York City real estate salesmen is given the news that all but the top two will be fired at the end of the week, the atmosphere begins to heat up. Shelly Levene, who allegedly has a sick daughter, does everything in his power to get better leads from his boss, but to no avail. When his co-worker Dave Moss comes up with a plan to steal the leads, things get complicated for this bunch of tough-talking salesmen.Do your family like watching re-runs of TV shows you’ve appeared in?
They watch bits and pieces. ‘Thank God You’re Here’ is back on Foxtel so they like watching that, especially the episodes I was in.
Tell me about your character in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’?
Well, the play is about real estate. It’s about competition in the workplace; because all these guys are working on commission. Management have organised a leader board, if you’re not on the board for a certain amount of time or you haven’t raised enough money, you get given the ass. Or you just get given really shitty properties to sell; stuff that’s really hard to sell. So my character is in that position.
Your character Shelly ‘The Machine’ Levene is the oldest one there, yes?
Yep, he’s old and he’s just really desperate to keep his job. My first scene is with another guy sitting in a restaurant trying to save our jobs. There’s a lot happening that’s really fun and interesting. And there’s plenty of drama. There’s a robbery and we have to work out who it is; so it’s sort of a ‘who dunnit’ as well. It’s a whole lot of guys trying to have one up on each other, playing high status, dissing each other, but also backing each other up when it’s called for. It’s fun playing characters like that because it gives you something to hang your hat on.
Did you view the film for acting tips?
I haven’t seen the film but I’ve heard it’s a very good one. When I got the part, I made a point not to watch the person who was playing me in the film because you start to adapt things to how it was done before.
Some people see it as a comical story for the most part; others see it as quite serious…
It’s not super-funny. There’s a lot of F-bombs in it [indeed the film version featured the word ‘fuck’ more times than any other movie at the time of its release]. There’s drama and there are moments of laughter but, really, it’s more tragic than it is comical. It’s very testosterone-filled too; very blokey. And it’s a great piece of writing. David Mamet won one of the big playwriting prizes, and as you know it was turned into a big film.
Does the play show the hardship of feeding a family?
A bit. They don’t talk about family much. Sometimes you make up a bit of a back story. My character does mention a daughter and he hints that she has some sort of disability. Basically, if I lose my job, my daughter will die or something terrible like that. But you don’t know if the character is just saying that to keep his job or if it is true. I know he’s broke ’cause he seems to live in a hotel-come-motel. Shelly was like the ‘top of the pops’ at the top of his game; wearing chunky jewellery and shouting everybody drinks ’cause he’s trying to be a big-noter. But now he’s buggered and has nothing. He is unskilled and he’s finding commission selling is scary. It’s a bit like me going out as an unknown comedian and saying ‘Come to my comedy night’ and I’m just praying that people arrive. It’s hard as you take your risks and sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t.
How do you find it working with the Black Swan State Theatre Company?
The Company is a well provided-for venue and it has great rehearsal facilities. The sets are always good. Everyone there strives for perfection, and works hard. I just like the rehearsal process, nutting out why things are happening and then getting it up on its feet and making it come to life. I’ve done a few plays but I learn so much every time I do another… and I really like it for that reason.
You’ve also done ‘The New Rocky Horror Show’…
Yeah, I did that ‘Rocky Horror Show’ for years; I reckon I did about six hundred shows of that. I like though to mix it up a bit, do different characters for a bit. I don’t know how but I don’t have the mental capacity to do the same thing for two years so I like to take some months off and then come back to a play. I have had some really great opportunities like that. I did ‘The Importance Of Being Ernest’ with Black Swan; I normally do one a year. [Director] Kate Cherry used to work with me in Melbourne a little and now she’s the Creative Director, and she’s a really great director; she gets the best out of me I think. The actors in Perth have often worked all over the world but, like most people, they want to come back to WA. The people in Perth are really talented and the standards are pretty high.
Do you do a lot of stand-up comedy in between television and plays?
Yeah, that’s my bread and butter. In the corporate sector, I go out and host events, awards nights, functions. I’m an MC but also do comedy during a night of that or sometimes I will just go to a function to do some comedy for half an hour or more. I do that all over the country. That’s how I make my cash really ‘cause showbiz doesn’t pay very well but comedy does. [Laughs].
Have you ever considered going to the US to get into more film work?
Well, I’m not Brad Pitt. And with my kids [Peter has four children], I have a different lifestyle so I can’t get them with the nanny and just go and do a film. You can work from Australia quite easily I think. Guy Pearce does it, and Eric Bana. But they’re established. At fifty-two, you sort of think I might have missed that film boat. I’m happy being a character-actor doing bits and pieces on telly here and in Australian films, like ‘Paper Planes’, which I was in recently and which did really well at the box office. I’m just happy that I’m making a career out of something that’s so much fun and that I love. Happy to get up on stage and make people laugh.
Do you believe humour is healing?
Yes. Laughter is an energy; it’s a complete release, and it’s euphoric. I think if you don’t laugh, you’re having a terrible life. Then there is laughing so hard that you can’t stop and you’re crying. If I can get people to do that, and I’m in the right mood, it’s a really great thing to watch. It’s a beautiful thing to do and I’m happy I can do it. People need to laugh; it’s like a community service.
Can you recount or tell a joke in everyday life sitting around with friends or are you more serious in your private life?
It’s definitely mood-driven, like you are, like we all are. If you get the right group of people, and you’re in the right mood, you can. Other times, I can’t; you don’t feel like that. I err on the side of humour to get something going, like if we’re touring in the car. Obviously, I’m good at picking moods and shifting them. I’m good at breaking tension, so if there’s something going on, I can shake the mood. Sometimes people expect you to be funny; I can’t stand people who go ‘well, c’mon, tell us a joke!’ It’s like telling you ‘well, write an article about me, go on’ and you go ‘well, shut up, I’m not ready!’ I find that I’m hilarious in the shower and that I get funny thoughts at different times. Often, when I’m with my wife and I just bang on about stuff and annoy her. I do the same joke or jokes to her for years and years and still make her laugh with a similar thing.
What is the most embarrassing moment in your career or life?
It’s so hard to think of one right now… I’ll probably come up with 20 later on. It’s always very embarrassing when you have to explain yourself to someone, like someone will say ‘I know you, where are you from?’, and I’ll say ‘Kath & Kim?’ But no. Maybe it was ‘Thank God You’re Here’. Nope. ‘Can We Help?’ Nope. ‘Paper Planes’. Nope. But that’s just an example of an awkward conversation…
‘GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS’ IS ON AT THE HEATH LEDGER THEATRE FROM MAY 23 TO JUNE 14.