If you see Caroline O’Connor on the stage you are immediately struck by her energy and bold stage presence. Her performances are a little like catching white light; all movement and energy. Caroline is the first major stage performer I have interviewed, but it was her amazing performance in the Bombshell series of monologues and filmed for ABC TV where I first saw her perform. It takes a special force of nature (and Joanna Murray-Smith’s brilliant script) to capture an audience in the manner in which Caroline wows her audiences in these six witty bites of what it is like to be a woman in this fickle world.
However, Bombshells, great as it is, is merely an entrée to the scintillating works of this fresh new Broadway babe. Sydney journalist, Bryce Hallett recounts the story of one Japanese girl who had seen the New York staging of Chicago over 100 times and still appeared stage right for Caroline’s autograph.
Spending her early life between Australia and England, Caroline began training as a ballerina, but a close friend advised her that her personality demanded as much of her mouth as her feet. Caroline has been appearing in musicals ever since. She even enjoyed some of the best lines in the film version of Moulin Rouge as Nina Legs-in-the-Air: “This ending's silly. Why would the courtesan go for the penniless writer? Whoops! I mean sitar player!” or “Don't worry Shakespeare, you'll get your ending. Once the Duke gets his end-in.” Ah yes, Caroline can do naughty and nice; often at the same time!
The history of the musical has its roots in the Roaring 20s and Caroline has flapper girl written all over her. So it comes as little surprise that many of her roles playing Mabel Normand and Fanny Brice have a spiritual basis on these authentic characters from this period. Her haunting portrayal of Edith Piaf epitomises the depths that she can reach to portray both humour and tragedy. The contrast between these larger than life women with the minutiae she brings to the everyday women of Bombshells shows why Caroline O’Connor is one of the finest international actors currently working. Soon we will see Caroline playing Ethel Merman in De-Lovely in her second film appearance and no doubt we will see much more of Caroline on the screen and perhaps starring in Bombshells in London’s West End during 2005.
In the meantime you can catch up with Caroline at her great website:
Here you can check out Caroline’s fabulous career, see some great photos and buy her cds. In time you will also be able to obtain her autographed photos. Over the years Caroline has signed thousands of photos and programmes across the globe with most of them being at her many performances. I have included some great examples for collectors.
I caught up with Caroline recently to share a few words about her career and autograph experiences.
David: Was Caroline O'Connor the child a whirling dervish?
Caroline: Absolutely! My Mother told me: I sang the entire score of ‘The Sound of Music’ on the way home from the Cinema. On the Bus!
I would perform all the TV commercials – in front of the Set.
She says I was born to perform. I was always dancing and singing.
David: What was the funniest or most difficult moment for you as a young woman starting out in show business?
Caroline: Realising on my first professional job that I would actually get paid! It was cash. In a brown envelope. $175. And I felt like a squillionaire.
David: Can you tell us about your very first autograph request?
Caroline: I don’t actually recall the first time. But it must have been in the early days when I was working in London.
David: Your work and your life to a mere mortal looking on, reminds one of Halley's Comet. You flash past at a million miles an hour, yet leave such an effervescent glow that everyone in your wake is so entranced by your passing that it's akin to being touched by an angel. How do you contain this wonderful fire and passion without burning yourself out?
Caroline: Wow! I could only dream of having that kind of impact! But the work is what fuels my energy. I have always been in love with theatre. It’s my passionate love affair. I suppose people can sense your enthusiasm.
David: How have you found it adjusting to the confines of celluloid compared to the physical freedom of stage work? Do you find yourself pleased sometimes that you can move on from scene to scene, or do you prefer the minutiae, which allows you to bring something different and fresh to each stage performance?
Caroline: It’s not so very different to the stage when you are doing a movie musical. They both have their Pros and Cons. On a live stage you can constantly strive to perfect on a nightly basis, on celluloid you have to live with it forever. I always think it’s sad when a show closes and there is no record of it for people to see in the future, as in film. I loved the film experience because it was all new to me and I was like a sponge!
David: You have recently completed a role as Ethel Merman in a movie about Cole Porter. While the leads are seasoned actors, Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, most of the supporting cast have musical backgrounds. In fact the cast is sublimely eclectic in its make-up. What were some of the best moments for you during filming?
Caroline: Having always been an Ethel Merman fan it was an honour to get the opportunity of playing her. Kevin Kline said he thought I had a ‘direct line’ to Ethel, but I’m sure that’s only because I’ve been singing along to her in my lounge room since I was 11. Best moment? Probably shooting on the Old Vic stage in London, recording at Abbey Road studios (that’s always a buzz) and getting to work with Kevin Kline who I think is an incredible actor. Have you seen his Pirate King? It’s brilliant.
David: Moving quickly from the sublimely eclectic to the sublimely
Magnificent; “monologues” predate the Magna Carta, and unless one has the wit of Oscar Wilde or the skills of a Noel Coward their delivery can be the stuff of nightmares. However, we have BOMBSHELLS. I discovered this gem on the ABC in Australia and was simply blown away. What was your first reaction when you read Joanna Murray-Smith’s script?
Caroline: Honestly? Terror. The play was commissioned for me by the MTC. And it was to open their season, so I felt an enormous amount of pressure. But when I finally got to read the finished product, all 96 pages, I knew that I was in safe hands. Joanna Murray-Smith is an extraordinary writer. Each of the 6 monologues is so diverse. It is like a gastronomic feast. And Simon Phillips Directing? Fantastic.
David: I’ve rarely had the joy of watching a performer so easily traverse the fine line between humour and pathos without fear of losing an audience. In each 20 minute performance you take the audience on a journey pockmarked with laughs and tears without ever sinking into sentimentality. Do you find yourself reaching a physical high during a performance? And is the "high" due to you being able to nail such a complicated work emotionally or knowing that you have taken the watcher somewhere very special? Do you ever find yourself feeling depressed and detached from yourself when you finally settle down to sleep the night after these performances?
Caroline: You learn SO much from performing a ‘One Woman Play’. There is no one to play ‘with’, for starters. Initially I couldn’t imagine keeping an audiences attention for 2 hours. But it’s the material. The “high” is incredible.
No Not depressed. Exhausted. It takes a while to come down after a performance. And of course, once again, there’s no one to ‘play’ with afterwards, so if anything, it sometimes feels a bit lonely.
David: Here is a quick quiz.
1. If you could only sing one song, what would you sing?
C: Oh, that’s hard. ‘Imagine’. But I’d rather hear John Lennon sing it.
2. If you could only perform one play what would it be?
C: Probably “Bombshells”. You get to do a bit of everything.
3. If you could only appear in one theatre which one would it be?
C: The Opera House.
4. Who is your favourite singer?
C: If I had to choose one? Ella Fitzgerald
5. Who is your favourite muso?
C: Apart from my husband, Barrie Shaw…..It would have to be my MD/Pianist Julian Kelly. He’s extraordinarily talented. And Bernstein, Sondheim, Kander & Ebb, Herman…too hard!
6. What actor from the last 80 years would you pay the most to see?
7. What movie brings you to tears?
C: Terms of Endearment
8. What is your all time favourite movie?
C: The Quiet Man
9. What is your all time favourite play?
C: Talent. By Victoria Wood
10. What movie makes Caroline laugh?
David: You have worked very hard for more than two decades to earn the kudos and awards that have come your way in the last few years. What single role is your personal favourite, and which one represents your very best work?
Caroline: I have Loved all the shows I’ve done. But Bombshells was by far the most challenging. Each production has been a learning, growing experience. Piaf...I had to learn French! Chicago...The Fosse technique. New skills. Very important.
David: As a person who sings, dances, acts on stage and film and travels a great deal can you tell us about your experiences with autograph hunters? Do they ask for you to sign photos, cds, pieces of clothing? And what has been the funniest or strangest experience you have ever encountered from a fan?
Caroline: Yes. Yes & Yes. I really don’t mind signing autographs. It’s a compliment to be asked. Funniest request? To sign a man’s chest! With Texta! It must have taken day’s to come off.
David: It is apparent to everyone that you live, work and breathe your performances and that this is your first and most intimate love? However, when you cannot be on stage, what are the little (or big) moments or activities, which bring joy to your daily life?
Caroline: Would you believe cleaning out cupboards? I’m on the road so much that I love to be as tidy and as organised as I can. It’s the Virgo in me! And catching up with friends & family…
David: Before we leave you, to glimmer and glow on some foreign stage, could you tell us what the future holds for Caroline O'Connor?
Caroline: Another season of “Bombshells” in Melbourne and also in Sydney this year, which I’m really thrilled about. And a couple of interesting projects are in the pipeline for 2005.
David: And are there any messages or thoughts that you would like to share with your many fans across the globe?
Caroline: Persistence is what makes the impossible possible, the possible, likely, and the likely, definite.
(C) ARTICLE & PHOTO MONTAGE DAVID PRIOL 2004
PHOTOS COPYRIGHT TO THEIR VARIOUS OWNERS