James Millar is best known to Australian theatre audiences as portraying the villainous Miss Trunchbull in the 2015-2017 Australia and New Zealand Tour of Matilda the Musical. He has also performed in the Australian premiere of Grey Gardens in 2011, Noel and Gertie at the 2013 Adelaide Cabaret Festival and most recently in the 2019 production of Australian musical, My Brilliant Career.
What you may not know however is that Millar is a talented writer and director who wrote the book and lyrics for The Hatpin and LOVEBiTES, wrote and composed a musical theatre adaption of Rosalie Ham’s novel, The Dressmaker and has recently established HOPE. A New Work Development Initiative.
We sat down with James Millar to ask a few questions.
LIVING THE LIFE OF OF A CREATIVE
James, you have studied both writing and acting at University, what was the experience of attending University like for you and what advice would you have for people who wish to study creative subjects?
Both were so different! I studied writing at UTS (the University of Technology Sydney) straight after year 12! I had always loved creative writing at school and had also been a child actor on TV since I was 12.
An incredible pair of English teachers at my school, Mrs Mattinson and Mrs Connell, zoned in on short stories I wrote in English classes. They both, together said something amazing to me which was “You’re very gifted at this. You have a book in you.” No actual book, yet. But that excitement from them, from age 15-17, really made me feel like my creative expression was something to legitimately pursue.
So I studied writing first- an insular, desk bound, screen-focused, typing and reading three years! Creatively engaging, but not physical or particularly interactive. Except for Monday nights in writing tutorials when everyone read your work and discussed it in a room together. Then, straight after that degree I went to WAAPA to train my performance muscle.
Though both were about creative expression and learning techniques to creatively express- writing was about written language; Performance was about standing, owning the space you stand in and using your voice and physical presence to express it. Which was brand new to me.
So they both came from the same place: authentic expression but one couldn’t have been more different to the other, both make a nice and unique fusion together.
What is the best advice you have received?
There is enough pie for everyone, also “give it a rest!”
Not a specific one, but my dad and mum (strangely for them) took me to the theatre from a young age (in the hope, I think, of finding me SOME extracurricular interest).
I have a collection of inspiring moments about these adventures: dad bought me “The Sound of Music” on cassette tape (the actual MARY MARTIN one!), my mum took me to an acting agency (the Sydney talent company) every Saturday, they both took me to see things like “Joseph”, “Return to the Forbidden Planet”, “Les Mis”, “A Little Night Music” and Spud Murphy’s magical theatre restaurant shows at The Burning Log Restaurant in Dural…just around the corner from where I grew up!
I just loved, as a kid, that there was a service in society that was specifically about adults entertaining adults, a service that wasn’t the TV and I thought “grown ups like stories, too! I want to do that!”
Many. Many many. But the most humiliating was being in a musical as a teenager. “The Pyjama Game”. I played “Prez”. It has a very strange song in it called “Her Is”. It reprised multiple times in the production.
One night (of only four) I just got so confused (or comfortable) with it …I completely forgot which reprise I was doing. And the words. So I sang “la lala la la” throughout the entire thing and, given I’m not a dancer and only knew the basic steps according to the words, I also then made up the choreography accordingly. Which, needless to say, was terrible.
When you play a character, do you prefer one that comes with an already in-depth character background or one that you can create a background story for?
Either. No character, whether performed before or never performed before, should be exactly the same to an actor: a brand new person to discover. Information from the writer and director (or in the case of an adaptation- the source material) is invaluable for the building of a character but if it is not mine to discover from the inside out or the outside in, then it shouldn’t be mine to discover.
If you had an unlimited budget for a show, what innovation would you create?
The ability to enter or exit without walking on or off! I dream of writing or reading a stage direction that says something like “He miraculously evaporates into vapour” or “without any reason, he appears in many pieces that the other characters are forced to build like a puzzle throughout the following scene”.
Are you a sporadic or a detailed plan kind of person?
Sporadic. I think when Im responsible for other people I do a good and noble job of planning. For myself: sporadic.
Facebook, everyone is there.
Edamame beans and water. Isolation has treated me with too much food.
It would be a sincerely annoying film and boring but I’d like to cast later-years Matthew Perry. I think he’d do a good job.
I like to tell my fellow other aliens stories about themselves to make them enjoy being aliens, too!
The COVID 19 period has unleashed a new wave of creative projects, for you this is the Hope New Works Development Initiative, can you tell people about the initiative and how it all came about?
I put up a Facebook status saying “our theatres are dark, we can’t create, writers still can, who wants to help?” …in the hope that some actors might want to fill the creative hole in themselves by helping other creatives develop. They did.
Read about it, watch the highlights. Research the writers and the actors involved…follow them. Stay interested in their careers and works once this is over!
Two words that I’m going to need therapy for in the New World: ANIMAL CROSSING.
Going outside and enjoying the earth and my community in a much more grateful and engaged way.
Don’t worry if you’re worried and don’t worry if you’re not worried.
Thank you James!
Speaking of following writers and actors, you can follow James on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/jamesmillarhooray