The piano-pounding comedy/music/TV/theatre/everything else now brings the role of Judas to Australia
Tim Minchin is a worldwide comedy star, an enormously successful musician, has recently conquered prime time telly (with a regular gig on Californication), as well as having written the songs for the musical version of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book Matilda. It’s a wonder the man’s not dead, says Andrew P Street.
Last we spoke you were in the midst of work on Matilda, so that was a slab of time away from the stage…
Yeah, and when I was writing Matilda I was also writing the orchestra show at the same time, so it was a pretty hairy time. It’s amazing actually how the time has passed since then, really. The orchestra tour went for a year or whatever, and then this year I wanted to do a bit of acting, which then completely took off. So I’ve been filming in LA and touring around with Jesus Christ Superstar, and kind of doing everything I’ve always wanted to do.
Which presumably means comedy has taken a back seat?
Yeah, it unfortunately means no comedy touring, which actually sits very comfortably with me because I was an actor and a musician before I was a comedian. But it is a bit weird, since I came to people’s attention as a comedian.
You’ve traditionally done your own solo shows, but it seems with Matilda, Californication and Jesus Christ Superstar you’re doing a lot more where you’re a cog in a much larger machine: is that liberating or frustrating?
It’s pretty tiring being the sole generator of everything. I absolutely adore doing solo shows and definitely will do it again, but it kind of turns you into a bit of a nutter. Really, you’re in this kind of loop of self-congratulations and self-loathing: you come off stage feeling great, and then you doubt yourself, you know? Matilda reminded me how fantastic it is to be part of a collaboration. I really loved it. It was challenging in different ways, but it did take me out of that narcissistic mood.
So you're marking things off at this point?
Well, I got into comedy because I couldn’t get an agent, basically. I made my first cabaret show by way of trying to show people that I had some skills, because I wasn’t managing as an actor. Jesus Christ Superstar is something I’ve always adored. I did the show as a young guy in Perth and understudied Jesus, and told anybody who has listened for the last ten years that I’ve always wanted to play Judas, and one day I’ll do it. It’s sort of a joke, you know, because it’s such a huge role that I didn’t know if I actually physically could do it vocally. It’s just so much fun that I can’t believe it.
As a very outspoken atheist, did the director enjoy the idea of casting you as Judas?
No one cares what an actors’ personal beliefs are. That’s another difference between comedy and acting, you know: what I think doesn’t matter, it’s whether I can pretend to think what Judas thinks. I don’t think there is anything about being an atheist that means you don’t know how to pretend. Although, the way some people ask questions you’d think that.
I find it very easy to distinguish between stories and real life, and maybe that’s less clear for someone who believes in Jesus as a magic person. [Laughs] But I don’t have a problem with the idea that the Bible is a work of literature and 'The Passion of the Christ' is an amazingly dramatic narrative. I’ve had people say, “You don’t believe in psychics, how was it writing a musical about a little girl who’s magic?” and I’m like “Well, it’s a story. I believe in stories, I don’t believe they’re true.”
Your wife must love having two young kids in London while you’re running all over the shop…
The good thing about having a partner has been that on the journey all along is she knows everything: the failed auditions and the knockbacks, and when something like that comes she’s like, “Yes, of course you have to do that.” I say to Sarah, “I can’t go on tour for a month, I’ve been away doing the orchestra tour, I’m basically not being a father or a husband,” and she’s like: "No you can’t go on tour for a month, but it’s Judas so you’re obviously going to do it, so what are we going to do about it?” So I kind of just stumble on saying yes to shit, and Sarah supports me in doing it.
Jesus Christ Superstar, Rod Laver Arena, 14-15 Jun