Bille Brown appeared at HMT in the Australian premiere season of Monty Python’s Spamalot, playing the role of King Arthur. The musical was based on the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and was adapted for the stage by Eric Idle. The show ran in Melbourne from November 2007 to April 2008.
HMT: You play King Arthur in Spamalot. What is the best part about playing this character?
Bille Brown: Being in a musical. Like me, Arthur is uncertain about everything, except that he is supposed to be King and on his quest. I am new to a big musical and playing the last scenes where it all comes together, being King and being me in this show is a joy.
HMT: As well as the role of ‘fearless leader’, Spamalot also features King Arthur in a romantic role. Can you tell us about it?
BB: Considering I am old enough to be Lucinda’s dad! But the legendary Arthur did marry a much younger woman but not The Lady of the Lake. I usually play villains or crazy tragic bastards. It is never too late in one’s life to find love. It is touching and Lucy’s parents said the relationship seems real – I admire her so much, no acting is required. Interestingly enough, a good musical comedy needs a love story to underwrite the romance. I think there is a three-way love story. Arthur certainly “gets the girl” but he grows into his role enough to recognize the love and devotion of Patsy. That for me is the true part of the romantic – both the Lady and the Squire bring Arthur, all wrapped up in his quest, to realize who he is and that he is loved and can love.
HMT: You are a renowned ‘classical’ actor with years of work and many triumphs at the Royal Shakespeare Company under your belt. How does that experience compare and prepare you for a major musical?
BB: It reminds me of the great days in those big classical companies at Stratford-upon-Avon and in London. Preparing for a big Shakespeare play is very similar. Though this work reminded me of a movie set where there is a family or community of creative endeavour.
HMT: Did working with John Cleese (in the movie Fierce Creatures) and your subsequent friendship with him give you any help when it comes to tapping into the world of Python?
BB: I was a Python fan in the 60s. Cleese’s lesson was don’t try and be funny, you are. Trust that. Eric Idle and Mike Nichols said much the same. Arthur is the straight man, the heartbeat, and the pulse and that needs me to be in it, not doing an impersonation of Graham or anyone else.
HMT: You are extremely well known within the entertainment industry. Have you found Spamalot has done anything to boost your public profile?
BB: I think of myself as a plain clothes actor – not really known for TV or film but distinguished for my stage work. So when a group of kids in St Kilda started following me around and saying I was the King, it was nice. The littlest one told me he knew I was Monty Python!
HMT: Why do you think Spamalot works?
BB: Sheer glee, generosity of spirit and it is genuinely, theatrically funny. There are wonderful individual comic talents but it is the writing and structure of the show that has such quality.
HMT: Are you enjoying playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre?
BB: I love it. It’s a real theatre and the play lives in here, partly because ‘theatre’ – the actual theatre building (the house) is a character in the show. Arthur discovers he is in a musical.
HMT: Can we expect to see more musicals in the future featuring Bille Brown?
BB: Well! A friend said it is sort of a Pythonesque joke that the leading man of a musical is not really a singer or a dancer. I have had two offers of interest since, one in a very famous show and one to workshop a new work. So singing and dancing lessons. It is such a wonderful gift to be starting a new venture and learning new things after nearly forty years!February 2008