Caroline Brazier, one of Australia’s finest actresses, is soon to tread the boards at The Heath Ledger Theatre, starring in the play Mary Stuart, a star attraction of this year’s Perth Festival.
Perth-born and raised, Caroline moved to Sydney in the mid 90s, but when Covid hit the east coast, decided to move back home to WA for a spell..
She had expected it would mean her career would be on hold for a while; but as it turned out, she’s been busier than ever.
Caroline landed a key role alongside Sally Phillips and Erik Thomson in film How To Please A Woman, a comedy about women and sexuality, filmed in Fremantle. She also landed a role in a movie with Liam Neeson, and more. Lately, she’s busy rehearsing with co-star Kate Walsh, (pictured above with Caroline) for Kate Mulvany’s adaption of the play Friedrich Schiller penned in 1800.
The Starfish caught up with Caroline at her old school, PLC, where rehearsals have been taking place.
What’s Mary Stuart about?
It’s the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her cousin, Queen Elizabeth had her executed because she was a threat to Elizabeth’s reign; she actually had a more direct line to the throne. Mary had been incarcerated for 19 years by Elizabeth; she’d come to England thinking Elizabeth was going to help her.
Mary had had a bad trot, hadn’t she?
She’d married a couple of terrible blokes and Scotland had turned against her because her third husband had murdered her second husband. She went to England wanting Elizabeth’s help. And Elizabeth put her in prison for all that time, and was strongly encouraged by her advisors to have her executed. It had never been done before; a sovereign had never been executed. So that’s the story we’re telling. It’s kind of, the last days.
You’ve done the play before in Sydney, to acclaim. Does that make it easier the second time round?
Yes, because I have a ‘muscle memory’ of the play. It’s a great privilege to be able to do a thing a second time with a few more experiences of life under your belt. So often as actors, we do a scene on set or a play, and then a couple of weeks go past and then we think ‘oh that’s what that scene was about!’ To be able to go back and revisit it and finesse, and solve some of the bits that mightn’t have gotten solved, is such a luxury.
And I think because I already have an experience of it in my cells, that is always there, there’s an ease already. I already own it! Now it’s just a matter of, inviting her back and finessing the foundation I already have.
Memory-wise, do you know all the words already?
Apparently. I had to read it a couple of times, but then it was back. it’s so strange because most things you forget immediately. Because you don’t need to remember them. But they are kind of there. It’s like a song that you knew all the words to..
Are there a lot of words?
Yes, 90 minutes worth of words.
Is your role about the same size as Kate Walsh’s?
They are pretty equal, as it’s about Mary’s death and Elizabeth’s decision. Elizabeth’s just as involved. Her role is perhaps even a little bit bigger.
Is it quite a harrowing role?
Yes. It’s got big emotional obligations. Big historical obligations. I mean, I have my head cut off on stage. And there’s the moments before my death before I’m speaking to God. In terms of going there and imagining that and putting myself in her shoes, there’s a big emotional obligation to get that moment right and true.
When you were asked to do the play again did you hesitate for a second?
No! It’s one of the best work-outs I’ve ever had acting-wise, you know.
What did Kate Mulvany do to Schiller’s very old play?
She’s made it seem much more contemporary, and she gives it a woman’s perspective. I only read the Schiller play once, back in the day and I’ve never re-visited it.
There are some feminist statements throughout this work, about two women in two incredibly powerful positions when there’s such a lack of space for women to hold power in the world.
Yes even at that level they still have such constraints!
They were sort of manipulated to be pitted against each other. There’s a line in the play where my jailer says to me, ‘it’s a pity you two women couldn’t have worked something out.’ And I say,’ well perhaps if you men made some room in this world there’d be some space for the both of us.’ And that exchange, I think, is at the heart at what Kate Mulvany’s exploring.
How is it working with Kate Walsh?
Had you met her before?
I’d met her, like, around. But I hadn’t had a proper sit down and get to know you, until we did this.
I imagine it’s a completely different energy, working with a different co-star?
Well, all the voices are different. Every cast member is new! I’m the only one from the original production. Suddenly it’s all new voices.
But primarily it’s the two queens on stage together, is it?
No. The fact is, these two women never met in real life. In one scene in the Mary Stuart plays, like the Schiller and various other adaptations, and Kate’s adaptation, there’s always an imagined meeting scene the playwright has written. There’s one in this, but it turns out to be an hallucination or whatever.
So my main relationships are with my jailer. We meet Mary in her cell. That’s the first scene. The second scene is Elizabeth in court with all her men. And then there’s an imagined scene of them meeting, which is the only time we see the two women together.
That’s the third act?
Yes. And then there’s Elizabeth back at court, then my final scene with my jailer and my confession and execution. And then Elizabeth’s reaction to that and then the end of the play. It’s not like a two hander, with us two. There is one big scene in the middle that is a two hander.
Though you are West Australian, you’ve lived away for most of your career?
I left in 1995, something like that! And went to NIDA.
When Covid hit, I was working on a play in Sydney and then suddenly, around March 2020, all of the productions in town were getting cancelled. We’d turn up at rehearsal and you could tell, it’s just a matter of time till this gets shut down.Then all the television productions got shut down, everything got shut down. And I thought, ‘I don’t want to be living in Sydney in this uncertain time where I could get locked down, or whatever. With no industry to make money.’ And all my family and everyone I love is back here. Not everyone I love, of course I have my friends in Sydney, but you know what I mean!
So when you came back in early 2020, you didn’t know what lay ahead, career-wise?
And all of the sudden you get a phone call, and you’re asked to be in the movie What Woman Want?
Yes. And I auditioned for a Liam Neeson movie which I got so I went and did that in Melbourne. I played the boss of the young female lead. I was just there for a week.
Also NBC in America are doing a series on Joe Exotic the Tiger King with Kate McKinnon (US actress and comedian) playing Carole Baskin and I got the job on that playing his lawyer!
Then I did another series on The Gold Coast for ABC and then I’ve just come back from doing Mystery Road in Kalgoorlie. Last year turned out to be a really crazy year!
So being here hasn’t mattered at all, you’ve kept up your connections in the artistic world. And hardly had to wear a mask!
Hardly had to wear a mask! But I have done four home quarantines. Which I think has given me a greater understanding of Mary’s frustration of being incarcerated!
Could you see yourself staying here indefinitely?
Yes. It’s bright though isn’t it, very windy and bright! But I have a hat! I mean, yes, I could. I have been house hunting, even, to buy something. What Covid has kind of revealed, is that whole notion that you have to be in Sydney or Melbourne to work in my industry, well it’s not true. All my auditions, I do them online. I film them on my phone and send them over. And then they put you on a plane and you go to work!
How funny that you and Kate Walsh have both done a Liam Neeson film.
Kate Walsh and I have a tremendous amount in common actually. Adapting in a town which isn’t where we’ve established our careers.
Well we look forward to seeing you at the Heath Ledger.
It’s such a great play. I’m so thrilled to be having another go at it.
Mary Stuart is on at the Heath Ledger Theatre from February 9 to 25.
How To Please A Woman, which screened recently as part of the Perth Festival’s Lotterywest Films line-up, will be in cinemas later this year.
Photographs: Jess Wyld and Daniel Grant