David Wenham on The Seagull
THE dog did not eat David Wenham's homework because the actor barely hit the books to prepare for The Seagull.
''I tried to come into rehearsal on day one for the first reading pretty much with a blank slate,'' Wenham said. ''I didn't read terribly much beforehand. I didn't want to come in with too many preconceptions.''
Two weeks into rehearsals for the play by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov and Wenham said he had fallen flat on his face quite a few times searching for the essence of his character Trigorin.
''Sometimes you can be completely elated that you've found the key, and then you try it and you fall completely flat, and it's terribly embarrassing.''
It is hard to imagine the actor, 45, flunking rehearsals. Wenham's long list of acting credits includes SeaChange and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
But then, it is easy to imagine the pressure of performing opposite the rather intense Judy Davis.
Wenham said rehearsing did not get easier with experience.
''Why do we put ourselves through it?'' he asked. ''It can be a really stressful situation knowing that you have a finite period of time and at the end of that time there's an expectation from the people who pay money that they're going to see a fully rounded production with fully rounded characters and they're going to be entertained and moved and stimulated.''
The Seagull, which opens at Belvoir on June 4, deals with the romantic and artistic conflicts between Trigorin, a writer with a chip on his shoulder, a renowned actress Arkadina, her son Treplev and his young lover Nina.
Wenham said Trigorin longed to create a great piece of art. ''He's a very successful author but he is constantly churned up about the fact that he's never written a great novel.'' He was also a pantsman whose eye is caught by the aspiring actress Nina, Wenham said, ''obviously because she is extremely beautiful but also because he can see the potential in her to create a great story''.
Offstage Wenham has received critical acclaim for his performance as Len, one of thousands of British children transported to Australia, in Oranges and Sunshine.
The film, which screens on the opening night of the Dungog Film Festival on May 26, tells the story of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham who uncovered the forced migration of British children systematically snatched from orphanages and shipped to Australia.
Wenham can also be seen on New Zealand television playing the disgraced Melbourne lawyer Andrew Fraser in Killing Time. But not in Australia, where screening of the true crime series has been postponed indefinitely to avoid possibly prejudicing the retrial of Peter Dupas, who is accused of murdering Mersina Halvagis in a Melbourne cemetery in 1997.
Wenham said Fraser was ''an unbelievable character''.