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Interviews > Stephen Lovatt

He's played Ramsay Street's Max Hoyland since 2002 and, while he was over here in August, performing at the Edinburgh Festival, Wendy Lloyd caught up with Stephen Lovatt for a chat...

So here we are in Edinburgh, tell us about your play The End of the Golden WeatherÖ
Itís a modern classic that was written back in the 50ís by New Zealandís greatest playwright, or certainly one of the greatest playwrights weíve ever produced, he (Bruce Mason) came back from Europe in the late 40ís to New Zealand and there wasnít any literature that he could see that was really speaking with our voice, most of our stuff was post colonial British information and thereís nothing wrong with that, but he wanted to do his own story so he pretty much wrote an autobiographical one man show for himself and played all the characters. He took it out to the country side and when he began he was doing it in peoples lounge rooms, which in rural New Zealand theyíre pretty big lounge rooms, because theyíre old sheep station houses, theyíre pretty huge Öyou know youíd get all the shepherd and the shearers in and stuff like that youíd have like 30 people sitting there of a night, and he just took it around the country and took it to the people and the people fell in love with it, and him.

And thereís also a version with multi-cast?
Yeah, thereís an ensemble version which I was involved with as well, but I personally donít feel that thatís as successful as the one man show, because the magic of the piece is that the storyteller is everybody and youíre drawn into the storyteller because of that. Itís a story told by one man or I donít know maybe it could be told by a woman on stage but its that singular person and the audiences growing and deepening relationship with that performer throughout the piece which leads to that moment at the end which I think I so sort of tender, between the storyteller and the audience.

And this was the last performance of the run at the Edinburgh festival, so how many times have you performed it since starting back in New Zealand?
I did it in New Zealand for 2 weeks over there so that was probably 14 performances there, and I only did 7 here so thatís only 21 performances and he performed it over 1200 times, and he (Bruce Mason) used to come in and save theatres, and Iím not joking, thatís not an overstatement. Iíve had older guys who knew him personally because he only died in 82 this guy, my fathers in the theatre if you will, one of them in particular came up and told me about what he saw. Itís a genuine fact that has now gone into legend and myth in the theatrical world of New Zealand, but it is actually true that in the early days of New Zealand theatre that when the theatres were going into the red and getting close to being closed down theyíd call for Bruce Mason and heíd come in and do Ďthe end of the golden weatherí and the public would turn out, it was that well lovedÖ

Youíre looking to stick with the play and take it as far a field as you can as many times as possible as you can?
Yeah, well itís sort of in me now, I donít dispute anyone elseís right to perform it, but I feel I have it in me now, there are bits that had to be cut for the Edinburgh season because by the time I got to booking the space there was nothing that was long enough because it actually runs at about an hour and a half. So Iíve had to cut quite brutally, but I was just running them in my head to keep them alive this morning and theyíre still there. Because itís a self perpetuating script, it has this internal rhythm, and it took me weeks to learn the first paragraph, there were serious under pant issues going on there! But then I got the rhythm of the piece, itís like when youíre learning Shakespeare you know, the more you do it, the more that pentameter just kind of keeps you ticking along, and Iím not saying Bruce is as good as Shakespeare or anything like that but this piece does have Bruceís personality so deeply buried in it that it has a really unique rhythm and that rhythm once I got it in me started to propel me through.

How do you think youíll feel going back to something like Neighbours after such an experience?
Fantastic, absolutely fantastic, this was such a good thing for me to have done, because itís like touching the lightning rod again.

So when do you get back to your normal filming schedule?
Monday week. I arrive back, in Australia Sunday night and Iím back on set Monday morning. Which I did on purpose, because I think its gonna be Ďfuní! Iím going be pretty shabby on Monday morning but there you go.

Your family arenít here with you are they?
No, it wasnít worth bringing them over for the week, it's too hard on a 4 year old girl to do that flight and be here and get on a plane and go all the way back home and there wasnít going to be any kid adventure going on really. That would have driven my partner, our daughterís mother- she would have gone up the wall because she would have loved to have been going seeing everything, but you can't go and see theatre with a 4 year old. We took her to see the show in New Zealand, well my partner took our daughter to see me in the show, and we said to her for days Ďwhen dad comes on, donít say ďdad, hello dadĒ well you know, it was just so full on, so bad, at the end of it my partner was just sweaty with worry, sheíd been doing everything she could to manage this 4 year old girl, who all she wanted to do was scream out ďdad! Iím here!Ē

Howís life changed for you since being in Neighbours - do you get recognised much, have your everyday activities become more awkward?
Not at all, that whole thing with fame, Iím not sure why it is but for me it has almost no impact, it really doesnít bother me at all, I get people coming up and saying hello and do you want a photograph and I know that some people find that a bit confronting, and you know. Iím only talking about people who are at my level of fame but at my level of fame I just think itís a bit churlish or peevish to find that stuff confronting, because it really isnít that bad. The only thing thatís confronting is paparazzi and you know Iím not at the level where they are a problem for me, but at the few openings I have been to, they can be really quite - well, just a pain in the bum, but the general public are really cool.

49 countries, how do you deal with something like that, I mean students in the UK are pretty intense and they all seem to love Neighbours, Iíd imagine itís the same for the other 48 countries itís aired to?
Well I donít know, I think its biggest in the UK, it has a following all across Europe but itís not as dedicated as the British following. And I was told before I came here, other members of our cast whoíve come over have said Ďoh you wont be able to walk down the street, you try walking down Oxford Street!Ē Iíve got no problem, Iíve only been recognised maybe three times in the two days I had in London before I came up here. Maybe people do recognise me but its not like Iím that thrilling to see! (Laughs) Coz Iím just Ďdadí on the show, they never give Max any kind of, you know, heís always taking care of his kids so you know - heís a nice guy, he does some dorky stuff from time to time but thereís no sort of 'wahoo' about him, and thatís probably because thereís not an awful lot of 'wahoo' about me I suppose!

So I have to ask you, what happens with Katya? When she was introduced to the storyline I definitely noticed a spark between Max and Katya, prolonged eye contact and I thought is that between the actors or the characters, is there something coming? And from what Iíve read - itís the reason youíre here!
Yeah, Katya is very tightly wound up with the reasons Iíve been allowed to have the two months off, and the long looks between me and Katya were just us, I mean thereís absolutely nothing going on there itís just we like each other I suppose. I donít know. I really like her, sheís a really sweet person, Dichen, who plays Katya. I donít really have any strong feelings about Katya but Dichen's quite cool. I donít know it just kind of happens, and often that sort of stuff writers pick up on anyway, but I mean good god the girlÖ that whole Neighbours thing where you get the crinklies like me going out withÖ its all a bitÖ I donít find that stuff very interesting, to watch or to play because I find it sort of dishonest of television and film to do that.

Isnít Max a little naÔve over Katyaís interest?
No I think thatís a little bit harsh. Maxís understanding of whatís going on with Katya is I think very credible. Thereís this thing that happens in soap quite often where we all get quite wise about people. Itís very easy to get objective about your characters but actually people live these weird fumbly, rumbly, nonsensical lives. Chaos is out there and we do these ridiculous things and within soap there is a certain level of ridiculousness, like Iíve just been talking about a 23 year old woman going out with a 45 year old man - and it working out, you know that to me is beyond the bounds of reality, but okay thatís a function of soap - I can deal with it. But itís stuff like Max going away for the weekend with Katya, I donít think that is ingenuous. I think objectively you can go Ďthatís ingenuousí and if he was a mate I'd be going Ďmate?!Ē you know, but I can also see from inside of him how heís not able to objectify himself like that. You know - we do stuff like that! Otherwise marriages would stay together, people wouldnít treat their children appallingly, all the stuff that goes on, wouldnít go on if we were all able to objectify our lives.

Okay so itís already starting to air in Australia so Iím sure you can give us a bit of a hint - Steph and Toadie?
Oh yeah, I donít actually know- I chose not to know about that, I suspect, as like you do, but I donít actually know where that storyline is going, because its not useful for me to know, itís actually better for me to be in the similar area to Max of not being sure which way thatís gonna play out.

Click here to read a full biography of Max.

Interview by Wendy Lloyd c/o Flashpoint Media. Added on 21st October 2006