West Aussie actor and playwright Kate Mulvany discusses her award-winning portrayal of Shakespeare’s Richard III, pouring champagne on Tobey Maguire in The Great Gatsby and starring in the upcoming Foxtel mini series, Fighting Season.
Sitting comfortably within the dark ambience of the New Hayman Theatre, actor and playwright Kate Mulvany still fondly remembers the early days of her career.
Back then, as a Curtin Bachelor of Arts student with a double major in theatre arts and creative writing, a young Mulvany would write her scripts in a classroom under the guidance of acclaimed writer Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Jolley, then trudge up the hill to Building 102 and ask the Hayman Theatre staff if she could stage her plays.
“They would give me an $80 budget,” Mulvany recalls. “I’d audition actors and direct them. I then put on a couple of those plays at The Blue Room Theatre in Northbridge and after I graduated I took those same plays to Sydney.
“That’s where my career snowballed. So it all started at the Hayman.”
Kate Mulvany in the Bell Shakespeare production of Richard 3 (photo credit: Prudence Upton).
Portraying Shakespeare’s most wicked villain
This year has been a triumph for Mulvany’s career in theatre, with her so-called ‘gender-bending’ portrayal of Shakespeare’s Richard III for Bell Shakespeare earning her a Helpmann Award for Best Female Actor in a Play and her own stage adaptation of Jasper Jones being a nominee for Best Play.
“It kind of felt like I was coming full circle,” reveals Mulvany, who goes on to explain that her first role in a Shakespearean play was as another male villain, Claudius, in a production of Hamlet at the Hayman Theatre.
“I still consider myself a novice when it comes to knowing all there is to know about Shakespeare, but the fact that what started at Curtin has now blossomed into a career playing Shakespeare’s characters is amazing. Richard was the ultimate part to play; I don’t know where to go after him.”
Back to the Jazz Age in The Great Gatsby
If you’re a non-theatregoer, you may recognise Mulvany from her brief appearance in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, playing the role of the yellow garbed Mrs McKee in the Manhattan apartment party scene.
The opportunity, which allowed Mulvany to bring to life the ‘shrill, languid, handsome, and horrible’ woman described in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, brought her face-to-face with Hollywood stars Isla Fisher and Tobey Maguire, as well as her ‘old mate’, actor Joel Edgerton.
“I loved working with Baz and it was great to work with actors of that calibre and to know they’re as normal as anyone else,” Mulvany says.
“You’re all doing a job, which in my case was having pillow fights with Tobey Maguire and pouring champagne all over his head. It’s weird, but that’s what we do: we’re professional imaginers.”
Foxtel’s Fighting Season and the repercussions of war
While Mulvany may not yet be a household name in film and television, that may change with her starring role in the upcoming 2018 Foxtel mini series drama, Fighting Season.
Also starring New Zealand’s Jay Ryan from the 2012 modern remake of Beauty & the Beast, Fighting Season will follow a group of Australian soldiers who return home from the War in Afghanistan in 2010 – one of the most disastrous years of fighting for the Australian Defence Force, where 65 personnel were wounded and 10 killed in action.
Mulvany, who plays an army captain and wife of one of the returned soldiers, was drawn to the series because of her father’s involvement as a soldier during the Vietnam War.
“I’m a Vietnam War veteran’s daughter and some of my most successful plays [such as The Seed] have been dealings with the repercussions of war so I was absolutely drawn to it. It felt very right and it was a beautiful gift of a role, but it was also amazing to be working with the young actors in the cast, who I think are going to be the stars of tomorrow,” Mulvany says.
“I can’t reveal much about the series, but I can say that it’s a kind of mystery thriller as well as a deep exploration into what it means to be serving in the ADF.”
Receiving an honorary doctorate from Curtin
Mulvany says it was during the filming of Fighting Season that an email came through from Curtin asking if she would be interested in being awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in recognition of her contribution to performing arts in Australia.
“I actually asked someone if they thought it was spam,” she jokes. “I didn’t expect to ever receive an honorary doctorate.”
Mulvany braved a 19-hour flight and 15-hour time difference from Los Angeles to receive the award on 3 September. She then crammed the following day touring Curtin with staff from the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts and taking part in Q&As with theatre arts students – much to the delight of all involved.
“To be honest, it felt like I was accepting it on behalf of all of my peers that I’m still in contact with from the Hayman and all the theatre arts students I talked to, because I think it’s rare that artists get recognised as doctors for their work,” Mulvany says.
“I’m always drawing on the lessons I learned at Curtin. I had the best of the best here. I remember the exact moment when I was on stage and started speaking Shakespeare’s words and I just loved the feel of them in my mouth. And in terms of writing, I remember Elizabeth Jolley liking how dark I could be as a writer and saying to me in that very polite, old, twittery English voice, ‘You must always remain my “Malevolent Mulvany”’.
“Curtin has given me this beautiful gift and what I’ve got from that has been unexpected but completely wonderful.”