MEET RHYS WAKEFIELD. On the process, the arts, Australia and more, including the business of being an entertainer. And you know, not taking it all so seriously while managing to take it seriously. Read on…
BY ERIN WALSH
Erin Walsh Hi Rhys! Thanks so much for joining our little creative collective. Would love to get into your process and projects and what is moving and shaking you these days. Tell me a bit about your beginnings. Where you grew up, when you got the acting bug and why…
Rhys Wakefield I grew up in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. My brothers and I lived near a video store in the late 80s to 90s and we would rent movies quite excessively. I was really obsessed with Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg’s depiction of America – they presented it as this mythical promise-land. I wanted to exist in one of the worlds depicted on screen and understand how it all worked. I started taking acting classes because I figured that was the fastest way for me to get on a set.
EW Why act? You started rather young- I find many kids use the arts as a great RELEASE so they don’t end up either with too much energy or getting into trouble. How was it helpful (or not) for you?
RW My household consisted of my mom, dad and three brothers – two of which were adopted. My dad serves in the Australian navy and spent many years away at sea, particularly post 9/11, which is stressful for a family. I think the arts was a release from whatever was or wasn’t going on at home. It was also a means to rebel against an otherwise sportively inclined household and culture. Australia is sports driven, which is great– but the arts just became a way for me to explore a different form of expression.
EW I believe in the arts in terms of soul-shifting, powerful realms that we can transform the world and ourselves. There is of course a giant commercial side to things, and many actors, artists don’t really see the vocational, higher calling of it all. Where do you sit on this spectrum?
RW It’s all art versus commerce which is kind of like oil and water, isn’t it? Navigating the business element is about being able to judge the viability of a product based on either its artistic merit or potential commercial merit. I always hope my commercial projects help to feed my artistic ones. You seldom get to have both at once. Therefore, I think it’s smart to separate yourself into two components – one that’s your craft/artist-self and one that’s your business-self. If you’re playing the long game, you should probably lean toward the artistically inclined projects first and trust the commercial ones will follow. Having now produced a movie, I understand that money means time and time makes for a higher quality product. So I respect the commercial side, as a means to drive the artistic side and vice versa. In other words, historically speaking you can’t have one without the other and you’re naïve to think you can. Both elements need to fundamentally be respected because they feed each other – this is an ‘industry’ after all.
EW Australia for dummies. I have never been and am dying to go. What do you miss most about home? Any challenges in being an ex-pat? And do you find yourself involved or interested in American politics living here now?
RW I miss Australia terribly. I miss my family there. It’s a beautiful country and you should certainly visit. I miss the beaches there. Being an ex-pat is a privilege but it’s not without its challenges… I have no family here. I knew two people when I landed into LA ten years ago. Trying to gain a US work visa, and social security number, new driver’s license, taxes, finding/understanding health insurance without a support network here was challenging at first. I’m definitely interested in American politics but I think the whole world is now, especially given how global our economy has become. I was here when Obama became president and here when the latest became president… Quite a dichotomy in a short period of time.
SUIT David Hart SWEATER David Hart SOCKS Uniqlo SHOES Bobbi Day
JACKET Tibi TURTLENECK Baracuta
EW Rhys, tell us what you are up to these days.
RW I’ve been promoting my new TV show Reprisal since its release on Hulu. It’s been well received and I’m so proud of how it came together. Our creator, Josh Corbin, built an incredibly intricate world with the assistance of Hulu, A + E and The Littlefield Company. It’s such a colorful, fast-paced ride. The cast and crew really nailed it. Beyond Reprisal, I’m in pre-production on a Qcode fictional podcast series I’ve written and will direct in Feb. The writing process on that has been very enjoyable because of the podcast medium. I used to love radio plays growing up and even acted in a few so this is an enjoyable return.
EW What have you seen lately that has really inspired you? (Theater, film, etc)
RW I watched Train to Busan and Roma yesterday and thought they were both excellent.
I also loved Parasite. Despite bamboozling or breaking the rules, all of those characters are still good people whom just want the best for their family. It felt very unifying. The human condition is shared and does not discriminate age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status.
JACKET Ermenegildo Zegna TURTLENECK Ermenegildo Zegna
EW Typical day for you?
RW I tend to wake up at around 6am to workout for an hour then write four to five hours. After that I start the remainder of my day with whatever that is. Shooting, meetings, auditions. On the weekends I’m the polar opposite of this.
SHIRT David Hart PANTS David Hart BELT Stylist own
EW Tell me about your working process, both physically and mentally. How do you find a character?
RW Choosing an animal for a character helps simplify the process for me. Once you’re basing the character on an animal you’re able to ask – what instincts guide them? How fast do they move? How reactive are they? How ferocious do they need to be to survive? How aware are they of their own power, if at all? These things are certainly helpful tools for finding the physical and mental elements of a character.
SHIRT David Hart
EW How do you approach projects differently as a director?
RW I love collaborating with actors and cinematographers as a director. Capturing the story through shots and choreography. Directing is obviously more hands on than acting. You have to trust your hiring abilities and producers. Leading up to the shoot, I tend to shot list my script in fine detail then meet with each actor or department head separately, essentially giving them the character or job title to own, as theirs. For context, I’ve been on sets where tensions run high and you feel like you’re going to do something wrong… but between action and cut, there is no wrong. Humans are unpredictable and impulsive in ‘real life’ –we all know this. When I directed my first feature film, Berserk, I wanted to create a safe space by empowering my cast and crew to take risks or feel like they’re ‘allowed’ to try something different. ‘Failing’ is just another word for ‘innovating’ so when people offer up their strangest or most timid ideas, it only stands to make the project better. Then it is my job as director to funnel that expression. Everyone on set is an artist who wants to feel ownership or recognition for their work. I know this because I want both these things when I’m on a set acting.
EW What do you find most humorous about your occupation?
RW Some people in my occupation can take themselves so seriously. The solipsism of Hollywood is humorous. Of course, it’s important to have a strong work ethic, but there’s never an excuse to be impolite or unprofessional. We’re making entertainment. How can you expect to tell a truthful story, if you consider yourself to be the center of the universe?
EW What makes you cry?
RW Little Women made me cry! When she was gifted that piano… I was trying not to sniffle too loud in the cinema. Roma made me cry yesterday.
SHIRT David Hart
On the weekends I’m the polar opposite.
‘Failing’ is just another word for ‘innovating’
SWEATER Sebango PANTS Ralph Lauren
EW Favorite place in the world?
RW Palm Beach, Sydney.
EW What do you wish people ( interviewers) would stop asking you?
RW “What was the funniest thing that happened on set?’
EW Preferred footwear?
RW My Adidas slides, Nike sneakers or RM Williams Boots.
EW Any charities or causes you would like to bring attention to?
RW The Mirabel Foundation – they’re an amazing Australian foundation that helps support children who have been orphaned or abandoned due to parental drug use. They facilitate a community and support network for both children and their legal guardians. I think they’re special and doing groundwork where it really matters.
Red Cross Australia – for the bushfire relief fund. The fires are devastating and I feel for everyone and every animal directly or indirectly affected by their destruction.
EW Any particular piece of advice you harness when work becomes particularly confusing or trying?
RW “Be so good they can’t ignore you” – Steve Martin said this.
I also think on Cassavetes from his book ‘Cassavetes on Cassavetes’ where he poses that the whole job of the actor is to be impulsive. To explore and discover something new every take. The director should ideally be facilitating a space where this is possible. However, sometimes a new set can be trying, nerve racking, or behind schedule – all of which can hurt the actor’s performance… I think back to this for both directing and acting. It helps me identify which challenges I need to overcome and when.
EW Do you intend to have a legacy? And if so, what do you hope it will be?
RW I just want to be remembered as a good person who occasionally told great stories.
EW What advice do you typically give to young actors?
RW Take acting classes and watch as many movies and plays as you can. Like anything, it’s about practicing your craft, your patience and your persistence. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
EW Any mantra? Could even be a routine that is helpful most days to ground yourself…
RW If I’m feeling anxious, I visualize everything around me moving in slow motion. It helps steady my thoughts.
SHIRT Morse PANTS David Hart
EW Favorite films and why?
RW Back to the future 1 and 2. I love their tone and how they compliment each other. Back to the future 2 might be the best sequel ever made. The themes of time, fate and family revisited from different angles based on the timeline Marty’s in is excellent.
Jurassic Park Directed by Spielberg – Because it’s perfectly executed in every way.
A Woman Under the Influence –directed by John Cassavetes – Gena Rowlands’s performance is one of the best ever captured on film. The fact that she and Cassavetes were married at the time and shooting it in their own house, budgeted with their own money. I think that kind of tenacity is very inspiring, particularly given it was released in 1974.
The Burbs – where the American dream turns into a nightmare. I love Tom Hanks in this film.
EW Rhys, what’s your SBJCT? That is, what really moves and motivates you?
RW Bold, entertaining stories. Stories that make me feel less alone in some way. I find what I do therapeutic to my own life, it helps me work through certain experiences, both positive or negative. Story allows us to alchemize a solitary, terrifying, or horrific experience into something tangible, positive and shared. That’s a gift. That’s what motivates me.
POLO Baracuta SHIRT David Hart