Cate Blanchett and Hugh Jackman have each been quoted on a number of occasions that their success on screen, and their award-winning performances, are attributable to their early careers in the theatre. And while it’d behove many young actors to follow their advice, it’s rare in today’s age to meet a successful TV or film actor who treads the boards much like Blanchett and Jackman, particularly with the current rise of Instagram and YouTube stars.
This week’s feature about acting and craft is on Australian actor William Prescott, a commanding thespian originally from Melbourne who has come to show no signs of slowing down.
William represents something of an anomaly in today’s industry, as this actor – who started out in the Australian theatre scene in 2015 with his acclaimed performance in a Melbourne production of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” at Q44 Theatre and now commands a high-salary across many different mediums – proved his worth on the stage prior to his current success on screen, silver and small.
“Training in the theatre has been key to developing my skills across all other acting mediums. Theatre forces you to be in the moment. There are no retakes save for the following night’s performance.”
William, who received acclaim for his role as Phil, a suicidal bully, in a stage production of Q44s “Hurlyburly”, is adept at explaining in detail the benefits of acting on stage.
“I went from fearing something going wrong during a performance – a spilled drink, a dropped line, a missing prop – to praying for it. These moments are often the most true (and still most terrifying!)”
When asked about what theatre has taught him, and how it has undoubtedly informed his success that can be seen in Netflix series Glitch, upcoming series The Next Big Thing and other shows like Movement and Beat Bugs, William is quick to keep bringing back his observations to the craft.
“A lot of the time in TV for example, you need to create a relationship to your character and the world that character lives in very quickly, because you might only be doing one scene. Why are they here? What do they want? How can the other character(s) in the scene help them get it? If you can answer those questions, you’re halfway there in creating something real for the audience.”
In many ways it’s not a shock to learn of William’s success, as it’s to be expected that someone with such an ardent appreciation of art, as he shows, would want to have explored every facet of performance on his way to moving through the ranks to be among the top of the acting field in Australia.
“Hugh Jackman is a huge inspiration of mine. Of course he’s a fellow Australian actor but it’s the way he carries himself through the industry that I admire. He did a talk for us at 16th Street Acting Studios where I began my training. He was meant to be there for 45 mins and stayed for over 2 hours taking questions.”
William elaborates on the movie star’s generosity.
“He’s as generous and honest as you hope he’d be. At one point a student asked about whether he fears going to dark places for disturbed characters such as the one he played in Prisoners. He answered, “no, it should be FUN! I’m lucky that I GET to go to dark places and explore that side of myself” I couldn’t agree more…it kind of works like free therapy!
There’s a running joke from my acting friends that I think Hugh is my best mate because he gave a group talk once. I refer to this Q&A… a lot.”
William’s ability to speak articulately about other performers is as much a lesson in history as it is in acting, as he also offers great tidbits about those who cross between the comedy and acting fields.
“It’s no surprise to me that some of the greatest contemporary actors seem to have come from a stand-up comedy background. I did stand up for 2 years before I jumped into acting. There is honestly nothing more terrifying and vulnerable than being in front of a silent audience with one task – make them laugh. If you can survive that (and there were some bad ones) you can survive anything.”
William’s recent starring performances in the TV shows Glitch and The Next Big Thing are in many ways a culmination of his earlier work on stage, given how he effortlessly traverses between drama in Glitch and comedy in The Next Big Thing. As Cate Blanchett exclaimed when winning her Oscar for Blue Jasmine in 2014, her work in that film represented a synthesis of her time in the theatre, and William’s compelling work in the Netflix and other online hit shows reveal similar signs of a revered sense of acting.
Adding to his repertoire is William’s experience in voice work, as another leading Australian actor Hugo Weaving himself has suggested on many occasions, has granted William a reflexivity and adaptability on any set to keep filming past a 12-hour day.
“I’m really fortunate to regularly work as a Voice Actor in Melbourne. It’s a lot of fun and it teaches you to survive under high pressure set/studio environments. When you have 8 clients and a sound engineer staring at you through the glass and you’re on take 10 having not yet given them what they need, the voice in your head needs to be a supportive one – “breathe, take a sip of water, think about what you want to deliver in this next take and smash it”.
William’s comedic work in series The Next Big Thing particularly showcases this remarkable skill.
“TNBT was a blast to film. It’s my first time playing multiple characters in Jeremy (an overly gentle, uncoordinated boxer) and Jack (an arrogant rock star with little to boast about). They’re kind of two sides of the same coin. It’s being produced by Bravada Films, directed by Dean Codrington. It’s basically been a huge improv fest and heaps of fun.”
William’s work is one of many examples from his career that shows why he’s now in demand by the US market. We’re quick to ask about his role in an upcoming project shooting in the US, and his strengthening relationships with an array of US producers.
“I can’t quite give details just yet, but I’m very excited about that project.”
For this versatile performer, it’s a deserving reward for hard work done, and a sign for what’s to come.
“A lot of people ask me “how long will you give it? The acting thing?” My aim is just to stay in the game, any way I can. If I’m in it, I’m happier than if I’m out…Just so long as I’m a part of it somewhere, somehow, that’s a life win for me.”