20 Questions With...Mark Little
Date: 19 January 2004
Actor-comedian-presenter Mark Little, whoís currently playing Leigh Bowery in the tour of Boy Georgeís Taboo, explains why he loves doing one-man shows, discusses his penchant for the absurd & insists that heís really not Joe Mangel.
Having started as a comedian in his native Australia in the early 1980s, actor Mark Little went on to play Joe Mangel in Neighbours on TV as well as other parts in shows like Flying Doctors, for which he won the Australian Television Society Best Actor Award.
Little took six self-devised comedy shows to the Edinburgh festival - including Spontaneous Human Combustion and Mark Little is a whinging POHM -all of which later toured the UK.
After settling in Britain in 1992, Little went on to present The Big Breakfast for two-and-a-half years. His dozen feature film credits include An Indecent Obsession, Short Changed, A Cry in the Dark, Nirvana Street Murder and, most recently, Mel Smith's Blackball.
Little made his West End debut in 1999 with the one-man show Defending the Caveman, for which he was awarded an Olivier for Best Entertainment. His other theatre credits include Loveís Labourís Lost, A Chorus of Disapproval and The Temple.
In 2002, Little took the part of the late Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery in the West End production of Boy Georgeís Taboo. He is currently reprising the role in a national tour.
Date & place of birth
Born 20 October 1959 in Brisbane, Australia.
I was classically trained at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, part of the University of New South Wales, and I graduated in 1980 - a long time ago now.
Lives now in...
I live in Brighton. Well, itís called Brighton and Hove City now, I'd better give it the right name. I've lived there for 11 years.
Why did you want to come & work in the UK?
Australia is a long way away from the rest of the planet. I wanted to come and be in the thick of it for a while.
First big break
I haven't really had it yet... well ... no, I haven't had it.
Career highlights to date
A low budget feature film called Nirvana Street Murder. The making and completing of that was a love, sweat and tears job - you know, we filmed at the weekends and stuff like that. Winning the Olivier award was thrilling, too, because that was part of the move to the UK. I came here to play with the big boys, and itís nice to play with the big boys and win.
How important are the awards you've won?
I won the Olivier, as I said, and a Penguin award for TV and I've had film nominations. You don't act to be awarded, though. The rewards are to do with what happens on the night. But the prizes are nice when they come your way.
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Nirvana Street Murder and a lot of my one-man stuff. I try to create an atmosphere in my comedy so anything can happen. When youíre in a play with a cast, you can't muck the other actors about. That's why I enjoy my solo comedy work Ė itís unpredictable and changes each night. The Big Breakfast was a great time too. There's nothing like that any more. People try to reproduce it, but they can't. It was crazy.
Oh my goodness. Bob Hoskins, Meryl Steep, Max Cullen. They are all similar actors, exciting and dangerous and I learnt a lot from them. Also, Bruno Lawrence, who's an Australian actor, and Sam Neill.
Alexis Vellis, who directed Nirvana Street Murder, and Ben Lewin who did Dunera Boys (the Bob Hoskins film). Also a bloke called Esben Storm, who I'm working with on a film about the war in Iraq. I'm playing the producer of an embedded film crew. Weíre set to shoot in Australia and Afghanistan. Itís a year into development but who knows when it will come out, could be two, five or even eight years, you never know. Itís a really good project, though.
It's a bit old school, but I like Bertolt Brecht, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. I'm a bit of an absurdist.
What roles would you most like to play still?
Any Pinter. Beckettís Waiting for Godot is a good play, too, but I've never seen it done properly. I'd like to give that a go.
You've worked in many different fields, on television & stage, as an actor, presenter & comedian. How would you define yourself?
It says actor on my passport, and film acting is my joy. I love the whole crazy notion of making a film and getting it on the screen. It's a scary and wonderful process.
What's the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed?
Gosh, it was a long time ago. I think it was an aboriginal piece, done by some mates, which toured over here. It was called The Lost Generation. It had five actors with hardly any set or props, and it told of that period in Australian aboriginal history. It was a very strong piece of theatre.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Oh my god, that's too hard. Fund, give the arts more money, give people more art.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
I'd be Eminem for a day. I'd go and buy a couple of cars, then offend some people, then hit some reporter. It sounds like a good day out! Oh, itís nothing personal about reporters Ė letís make it a cameraman I hit. Obviously, it'd have to be one of Eminemís good days or a day when he's performing. I'd like to be able to talk that fast. I mean, I can talk fast, but not as fast as him - that's impressive.
Favourite holiday destinations
The South Pacific I suppose. The Fiji Islands - letís go to Samoa!
The Outsider by Albert Camus. I read it once a year at least. I'm also a big fan of Hunter S Thompson so I read all of his work.
Why did you want to accept the part of Leigh Bowery in Taboo?
Bowery is an extraordinary figure, a Melbourne boy who went to London in the early 1980s. He had extraordinary ideas about art, design, performance and fashion. He died far too young and wanted to be remembered as a performance artist not a victim of AIDS. He was one of the most incredible performers of the 20th century, and yet no one knows about him. Also, as he was an Aussie boy, I feel a lot of affinity with him. It was an exciting proposition to play this crazy superman.
Are you a fan of designer clothes?
No, I'm not; I'm a fan of individually. Bowery only designed for himself, he never made clothes for any fashion labels. He died poor - which I feel I might do myself. He was a big influence on Vivienne Westwood, Gaultier and Galliano, though no one mentions this - his designs paved the way. We are in conservative times now, so doing this show now is really exciting. I hope we can turn things around and get rid of all this blandy blandy blandy fcuk nonsense.
And are you a fan of Boy George?
Well, the songs in Taboo are beaut. George is a great wordsmith, and these are pretty songs, sung well. I was never a fan of Culture Club, but I did liked what Boy George had to say, I liked his politics.
What are the best & worst bits of touring?
The best is, it's a job - it's a hard job though. My kids are older now, so ití not as difficult as it used to be in that respect. They can come and visit me now when I'm on the road. This is my eighth tour of this country. Touring is really the only way to make a quid on the live stage as an actor.
What's your favourite number from Taboo?
Can I say my favourite costume? Thatís the polka-dot fop, itís beautiful. As for numbers, I do love the Steve Strange Fade to Grey piss-take. It makes me chuckle every time.
What's the most notable thing thatís happened during the West End run or tour to date of Taboo?
You know Leigh Bowery really was so extraordinary, and with each performance I do, he becomes even more of a rat bag. I'm going to be fit by the end of this, though, with all the odd poses I have to get into. I tell you, it goes beyond that Shaolin Monks show. When I get into that costume, it makes me laugh. He was the gayest man on earth, with the green tights and tutu and false eyelashes. I just look like a sick budgie.
What are your plans for the future?
Make more films and keep acting. It took a while, but people are finally realising I'm not actually that gardener Joe Mangel from Neighbours, but just an actor! It does happen, I can't pretend it doesn't. But Joe Mangel in green tights and lippy sorts people out. Let them be confused.
- Mark Little was speaking to Hannah Kennedy
Taboo is currently touring nationally. Mark Little plays Leigh Bowery from Manchester through to Northampton. For a full tour schedule, see listings.