Time Out Sydney

The piano-pounding comedy/music/TV/theatre/everything else star talks Homebake, Matilda the Musical and playing Judas

Tim Minchin is a worldwide comedy star, an enormously successful musician, has recently conquered stage (in Jesus Christ Superstar) and screen (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.

Given how busy you are, it’s lovely to see you’re popping down for Homebake.
Yeah! I always love coming back. There are weddings and family stuff to do anyway, so it worked out very well this year. And I’m getting to spend some time in Sydney which is awesome, and getting to play Homebake is ridiculously fun. Especially off the back of this year: I’ve done quite a few outdoor festivals in the UK, and got used to playing with a four-piece band.

So it'll be the rockin' Minchin experience?
Yeah, which is lucky because I haven’t written a new show or anything. The good thing with musical comedy is I get to reinvent the old stuff and change the way I present it and people still seem happy. In fact, people seem to want to hear songs they know, just like with a normal band. So it works out fine.

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.

How so?
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 that has been 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.

It seems like next year’s looking just as insane as this one for you.
Yeah. I’m in Sydney for over three months in the middle of next year doing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead [for the Sydney Theatre Company] which is yet another thing of me going back to my past and thinking of what I wanted to do when I was young, and what I can now do if I want to.

And you’ll be staying in one heck of a town.
I’m really looking forward to that because I love Sydney, and all my actor friends are there. The idea of turning up to the Wharf [Theatre] everyday for work is a start. It’s another dream that I’m sort of forcing to come true: the thrill of going to the Wharf and rehearsing this stuff with my mates is so, so wondrous. I can’t wait.

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Updated on 2 Jul 2015.

By Andrew P Street   |  
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