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Playing Josh Jarman, a slightly nerdy character, gives Marcus Graham the opportunity to tackle some gently physical comedy, which he loves, as he tells Andrew L. Urban.

Writer /director Pip Mushin originally offered Marcus Graham the role of Jarman’s flatmate, Russ, “because I didn’t think Marcus would like to play the Josh Jarman character … you know, for his image.” But when he suggested that Graham take the title role instead, “I grabbed it with both hands,” says Graham. It’s the sort of character role that he feels is far more interesting to play than a cop (a reference to his tv work).

All this is a little strange, though, considering that Mushin and Graham have been friends for 22 years; you’d think they’d know each other better. But in Mushin’s defence, there have been films made about our lack of deep knowledge about even our most intimate friends and family.

"The question is how far dare you go"

Graham and Mushin are seated next to each other in the lobby café of Sydney’s W Hotel (W as in Woolloomooloo) and as we discuss the character of Josh Jarman, Graham swings a thumb at Mushin next to him; “Josh is actually Pip…” And there may be an element of truth in that, considering that Josh Jarman is a conservative and shy struggling Melbourne playwright sharing a flat with Russ (Damien Richardson), a struggling actor. They live next door to talented cellist Maxine (Daniela Farinacci).

Then one happy day, high profile producer Stan Billows (Kim Gyngell) agrees to produce Josh’s latest play – so long as he keeps dating Billows’ feisty daughter Sasha (Kestie Morassi) and keeps her out of harm’s way. But when Billows brings in director Alex Menglet (Sebastian Thoman) to sex up the play for commercial audiences, Josh is faced with a conflict of conscience. Does he go along with this corruption of his work for the sake of glory, or does he pull the plug? Meanwhile, Russ is taking drastic steps to feed his gambling habit, and Maxine is having orgasms while playing Brahms Hungarian Dance No 5.

The film offers Graham a chance to use physicality as a tool. “I’m a big fan of physical comedy,” he says, citing the likes of Buster Keaton. The challenge, of course, is how far to go, especially when playing a character who, at least on the surface, is very different to Marcus Graham. “well, as always, you do use yourself, or parts of yourself to create a character. The question is how far dare you go. I never want to rip off an audience, I want them to believe in the character.”

Among the tools that make his job easier (apart from 20 years of experience) is the physicality, and the hair, make up and wardrobe. “I kept the green corduroy jacket after filming,” he says with a big grin, “and when I put it on I feel like Josh again.” But he doesn’t wear it much. (Pip Mushin interjects to say he’s kept the brown jacket from the film. He wears it more often.)

Graham had just finished a season on stage in the celebrated play The Blue Room (with Sigrid Thornton), in which he appears naked at one point. He had lost weight for that role, and stayed slim for Josh Jarman. “We were shooting so mucvh I hardly had time to eat, so that helped, too, because I was always feeling a bit wired, a bit highly strung. …and emotional,” he says laughing.

Since making Josh Jarman, Graham has completed another season of theatre, this time in Brisbane, where he worked on the famous ancient Greek drama, Oedipus. “This two and a half thousand year old play seemed in many ways so incredibly contemporary,” he says, still astonished. “It’s as if we hadn’t changed at all.”

"I love the communication aspect, the connecting with ideas"

Clearly in love with acting, Graham deosn’t have a glib answer for why he acts. After a second’s thought, a slight smile spreads across his face, a self conscious look: “It’s the only thing I can do…And my father was an actor…” For all that uncertainty, he admits he was devlish ambitious, especially when he left acting school (WAPA, where he first met Pip Mushin).

“But I think that was more to satisfy my ego. I’m still ambitious, but in a different way. I love the communication aspect, the connecting with ideas. And it doesn’t matter which medium it is. But probably above all – these days – it’s all about the people. When I started I didn’t think like that, but these days I do.”

Published November 10, 2005

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Marcus Graham as Josh Jarman


Graham and Kesti Morassi in Josh Jarman

MARCUS GRAHAM ON OEDIPUS and how Freud hijacked the play:

Graham blames Sigmund Freud for mangling the story of Oedipus for modern generations. Yes, Oedipus did kill his father; and, yes, after that he did marry his mother. But Freud perverted Sophocles's original story, written 2500 years ago, by drawing a connection between the two.

The conventional belief is that Oedipus murdered his father so he could sexually pursue his mother. But, as Graham, who plays the famous character in the Queensland Theatre Company's new production of Oedipus the King, points out, Oedipus was running away from his adopted parents after he had been told his future -- that he would kill his father and marry his mother -- when the sorry saga began.

A man stopped him. He was aggressively rude, but Oedipus refused to budge and a struggle ensued. Oedipus, in an early instance of road rage, lashed out and killed the man without knowing that he was his natural father. Later, Oedipus solves a riddle and becomes king, marrying his mother and having children with her, although he does not know that his queen, Jocasta, is also his natural mother.

“Freud completely hijacked the play,'' says Graham. “Oedipus doesn't do what he does because he's secretly attracted to his mother.”

(Extract from an article in The Weekend Australian, by Andrew Fraser.)

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