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Barring one character, pretty much everyone in the musical Sunset Boulevard is not a nice person as they go about fulfilling their own agendas.
Odd then that Mr Nice Guy himself, Jonathan Roxmouth, finds something to empathise with the character he plays, Joe Gillis.
Roxmouth laughs when I suggest that Gillis is despicable for using the Norma Desmond character in the way he does: What does the woman do?
“I’m quite defensive about it, because he does have a humanity to him, deep down in side.”
Based on the 1950 film of the same name, Sunset Boulevard, of course, revolves around faded star of the silent screen era, Norma Desmond, who is living in the past in her decaying mansion when young screen writer Joe Gillis accidentally crosses her path.
She sees in him an opportunity to make her comeback and he sees an opportunity to change his fortunes. Romance and tragedy ensue.
“He represents something that is so particular to my business, crushed dreams, not fulfilling your potential, not being seen the way, perhaps, you see yourself.
“He’s a talented writer who once was a golden boy and just never really quite made it. It’s sort of that thing of having a lifetime of being up and coming,” explained Roxmouth.
“That eats away at a person and he’s on the brink of giving up when he meets Norma. So he doesn’t do it for the evil reason you might think. Not that he’s justified, but there’s a method behind his madness.”
The Gillis character reminds Roxmouth of a speech he once gave while performing Noel and Gertie, about living a lifetime of arriving or being on the brink of success: “I suppose Joe is close to me in that... I can understand the concept.
“it’s the idea of, and this is true of all artists, there is no such thing as arriving. The minute you think you’ve arrived, you should go work at the post office.
“It’s an ongoing business, you never stop learning.”
Roxmouth recognises that he has been fortunate in his career to meet the right people at the right time, so he’s never been as desperate as Gillis: “People who have slaked my ambition.”
He started off in a Barnyard production of Grease in 2006 and moving on through bigger musicals until the Fleur du Cap and Naledi nominated performance in A Handful of Keys in the same year he won prizes in both awards for his breakout role as Gaston in Beauty in the Beast.
Since then he’s alternated bigger roles in bigger musicals like playing the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera with critically acclaimed solo work or revue performances like Noel and Gertie.
The 26-year-old says his policy is to never do the same type of work twice in a row, so as not to get bogged down in a pattern. One big “blueprint musical – it’s like a sausage factory” and then something on a smaller scale, maybe even one he’s written himself.
“Writing something to perform is more fulfilling ‘because you know how to write for yourself’ but the ‘rigid freedom’ of a huge musical has its uses.
“It’s the reason no Phantom is every the same, no Grizabella is ever the same. You always bring your own flavour to it.”
Joburg-born, Cape Town-based Roxmouth is a bit of a workaholic, he likes to keep busy. So when he does have a free day when working on a theatre show, he can be found writing his own material.
Earlier this year he started working a new one man show – Call Me Lee – about Liberace, in Durban, which is in the process of morphing into a three-man show directed by Ian von Memerty.
But, this Gillis role is certainly the most physically demanding one he has ever done – as opposed to the emotionally demanding Phantom of the Opera role – so free time right now is spent at the gym or getting a massage.
Coming off a very succesful run in Joburg at Monte Casino, he thinks Capetonians will be just as enamoured of the show, even if they may not be familiar with this particular musical.
“It’s a very serious musical, with an in-depth storyline. But, who hasn’t failed and been bitter about it? Who isn’t wanting more?
“It’s the universal themes the audience recognise, rather than the character.”
“Joe is a man of words, so there’s a vague sophistication to him. He’s the guy who was the man on campus, but ten years on he’s running the corner cafe. But, he’s still got the brains.
“That’s what I like about the character, the brains. He knows he has something to offer, but no-one wants it. There’s almost a noble purpose to him.”
• Sunset Boulevard runs at the Theatre on the Bay from October 28 to January 4.