Q & A
TOM CANTON talks about the challenge of bringing Oscar Wilde’s ‘Dorian Gray’ to the stage
Tell us about yourself first of all.I’m 22 years old. I’m from Kent. My old man is a Dubliner who left Ireland looking for work in the 1980s. He met my mother in England and settled there, but I have lots of relatives in this country. I’m not from a theatrical family, but acting is what I’ve always wanted to do.
Your only IMDB credit is a film called Shitkicker. Tell us about Shitkicker. . . and feel free to reference the title as often as you like.Well, as you said, it was called Shitkicker. It was made by one of the directors from my college. It did well. It was shortlisted for best short at the London Short Film Festival. But I was only in one scene.
Shitkicker aside, you haven’t really done a whole lot else.I graduated from Rada, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, about five weeks ago. So Dorian is my first paid job, yes.
How did you get the part?There were three auditions in London. Each was about an hour long. It was the first audition I’d ever gone for, so it was all a bit of a train ride for me. I’d managed to read the book and fortunately I got the part. I’m very excited.
Playing Dorian Gray, do you feel under incredible pressure to be handsome?Oh, I don’t know.
Virtually every other character is in love with this guy. You can’t just walk in and start tripping over on your own shoelaces!Yes, I see what you mean. I’ll try not to bump into the furniture.
I mean, don’t listen to me, a bumbling Dorian Gray could be a funny for all I know . . .Eternally young but constantly tripping on his own shoelaces . . . I’m intrigued! To be honest, if the other characters have to love me, that’s their job, not mine. It’s a great cast. My job is to understand Dorian and not to play him like a pantomime villain. I have to understand what has happened in his life to make him behave this way.
Doesn’t he behave that way because he knows he’ll get away with it?He does. But then the novel asks the question, wouldn’t we all do these things if we could get away with them? Is morality something society has invented? Or do the soul and the conscience really exist? The other interesting question Wilde asks is: if sin could be represented physically, what would it look like?
Yes, presumably someone somewhere is painting a series of extremely unflattering portraits of you for this production. Have you seen them yet?Er, no.
Are you looking forward to seeing them?That’s a tough question to answer. The picture is the biggest character in the play.
It’s not just any old prop.Right, the play is called The Picture of Dorian Gray. So I’m not going to tell you how it’s done. But I will say that it’s done in a very interesting way.
Is it a hologram?Sorry, I’ve been told not to say. But I can tell you that the design team have a really, really exciting idea.
Your character is a murderer, amongst other things. What’s your process for playing a scene like that?All actors work different ways. For me, I have to work myself up into a murderous rage, or as close as I can get to it. When I’m killing Basil, I literally have to hate Frank McCusker, who plays that character, with all my heart. Dorian is a very complicated character. He’s a heroin addict. He’s a murderer. He follows his impulses and lives for the moment. What does it do to him eventually? Especially if he’s enjoying every second of it?
On the plus side, he has a very snazzy wardrobe. Are we talking bow ties? Are we talking canes?Yes, I have seen a cane in rehearsals. But I’m not sure if I’ll get to use it. I’ve been tailored for all sorts of suits. There are seven or eight costume changes. It’s very, very decadent, which is great as I’ve never worn a tailor-made suit in my life! [Publicist interrupts. Tom is due back at rehearsals.]
One final question. You’re at the outset of what will hopefully be a long career. If you could play any role in the years ahead, what would it be?Oh God, what a hard question to be asked right at the end. I really don’t have an answer.
You’d have been a decent Milky Bar kid once, but that ship has probably sailed.No, I’ll tell you. I’m wrong for it, I know. I’m completely wrong for it, but I’d love to play Heathcliff. Or maybe Fagan when I’m a little bit older. Heathcliff or Fagan, either of those two would be great.
T he Picture of Dorian Gray, adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett, premieres at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on October 3rd