Jonny Pasvolsky, actor, North by Northwest

Once the show starts it’s like a freight train that can’t be stopped ...

Alfred Hitchcock’s ground-breaking piece of cinema North by Northwest is often listed amongst the greatest films of all time – and for good reason. The tale of mistaken identity and government intrigue boasts some of the most iconic shots ever captured on film, so any stage adaptation would have large shoes to fill. North by Northwest’s interpretation for theatre first premiered to great acclaim in Melbourne in 2015 before going on to enjoy successful runs in the UK and Canada. The show’s director Simon Phillips, playwright Carolyn Burns and their team have used every technical resource to convey Hitchcock’s signature style, and now Brisbane audiences get to experience the performance at QPAC until December 9. To glean some insight into what you can expect from the show, we’ve cornered cast member Jonny Pasvolsky for the scoop. You might recognise Jonny from his work on beloved television shows McLeod’s Daughters, Underbelly, The Moodys and even a spot on HBO’s Westworld. Now, taking a turn as North by Northwest’s villain Vandaam, Jonny is bringing his imposing presence to the stage for what will surely be a thrilling performance.

To start, we’d love some insight into your beginnings in the dramatic arts. Did you always have a dream of becoming a performer?
The short answer is yes. However, I thought that you couldn’t make a living being an actor so I became a film editor, which is just as difficult! What it did give me is an insight into the film industry and the dramatic arts from behind the camera. Working behind the scenes gave me a great pathway back to acting, and a return to the idea that I wanted to be a performer.

Can you remember your first time acting in front of a crowd?
Yes – it was in a caravan park in South Africa in a place called Blue Crane, where all the children put on a show. I dressed up as ‘Annie’, sat in a chair and put my arms behind me, while a girl hidden behind me used her arms to animate. To this day I still I can’t work out why she wasn’t playing ‘Annie’ while I did them arms!

What would you say was the definitive moment when your love of performance became a career rather than just a passion?
It was after I graduated from drama school, when I hit the reality of being in the actual industry and coming up against all the things that I hadn’t thought of – agents, auditions, branding yourself, your point of difference. It was a reality check to start to understand that sometimes how you see yourself is not how you are seen from a casting perspective.

North by Northwest is undeniably an iconic piece of cinema. What initially sold you on the idea of being involved in the stage adaptation?
I have always wanted to work with the director Simon Phillips, so I was excited to hear about this adaption. Once I had seen all the multimedia aspects and how the theatrical devices and puppeteering were used, then I was sold. The idea of an Australian Christmas after being in Los Angeles for five years also helped! 

What do you think it is about Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of intrigue that makes it resonate nearly 60 years since its release?
It’s a thriller and a comedy all at the same time, which is a timeless combination unique to Alfred Hitchcock.

Much like Hitchcock pushed the technical boundaries of film while making North by Northwest, we hear the stage show also tests the limits in its own right. What can we expect from the show?
You can expect twelve actors doing everything from acting to any technical aspect you can imagine in the theatre, working as an ensemble with a fabulous crew. Once the show starts it’s like a freight train that can’t be stopped.

What is the hardest part about pulling this show off every night?
Staying on that freight train!

What is the best part?
When the actors and the crew are working in synch and the flow of action, whether it be a classic scene or a transition between them, is seamless. It’s a real thrill.

What do you love most about performing on stage as opposed to roles for screen?
There’s nothing like the immediate response of an audience, and with this show in particular there’s a role that the audience plays. The live interaction of an audience becomes an intrinsic part of the show. 

You’ve accumulated an impressive body of work in your career so far, are there any roles you’d love to tackle in the future?
Yes – plenty. The roles that do interest me are the ones that have a really interesting arc between the beginning and end of the story – those that make a big change.

Finally, what are some words of wisdom that you live by?
Work to become yourself. There is never a need to emulate others.

You can catch North by Northwest at QPAC until Sunday December 9. Act quick and get your tickets here.

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