AN ACTOR’S PERSPECTIVE – ED DEGAETANO

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Who is Ed Degaetano in the eyes of Ed DeGaetano?

Ed is a man on a journey, who tries to live a simple yet passionate life. If I had to dig deeper than that, I guess I’m someone who strives for balance – going out and seizing opportunities whilst also enjoying simple pleasures, like reading quietly on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I see myself as a lifelong student, constantly curious and always asking questions, sometimes too many. I want to understand more about everything, especially science. I also see myself as one who loves, laughs, cries and makes mistakes, which in turn makes me both vulnerable and strong at the same time.

What is your earliest memory of being on stage?

It was while I was at Stella Maris College. I must’ve been about 12 or 13 years old, and I had very courageously took on the only female part in our Christmas school production where I played smoking puppy-happy Cruella De Vil. The play had been a mash up of various Disney films, which was hilarious and probably very confusing to watch. Nonetheless, we were all eager and somehow made it work. I can’t remember if I wore heels or not… What I do remember is walking on stage in a tight-around-the-waist dress. It was my first time in a dress and I realised only too late that there was more on show then I had thought.

What characters do you like exploring in your work?

I’m greatly intrigued by characters that have a place in history and who affect change or who are challenged by their circumstances. I think it’s the learning around these characters’ difficulties and triumphs faced as well as endured that informs me about history and all that’s led up to where we are today. Working with a character that I can easily relate to, whether because of ethnicity, education, social or moral values is something I’m drawn to. However, I’m more excited by characters who deal with issues or subject matters that are far removed from my sphere of immediate understanding or experience – the dark, the fantastical, the supernatural.

A good script is a precious gift that you slowly unwrap and enjoy as it draws you in, and you can see yourself playing the character. On the other hand, an underdeveloped script is a gift you’re wary of unwrapping, because you’re not sure what you’ll find. Characters may be vague and relationships unclear which leaves lots of doubt in an actor’s mind. Anthony Sher says: “To an actor, dialogue is like food. You hold it in your mouth, you taste it. If it’s good dialogue, the taste is distinctive.” With regards to Shakespeare, “the taste will be Michelin-starred”, because its richness of text and clarity of thought gives an actor ample to play with and explore.

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You’ve recently completed a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the UK. What was the process like for you?

This was one of the most challenging yet equally liberating performances I’ve done. When I auditioned, I was offered the part of Theseus who also was to double up as Oberon. Sheer panic kicked in when I realised the task ahead of me in terms of line bashing. I’ve already taken on similarly challenging jobs within tight time constraints, but Shakespeare is a different beast altogether.

I think my main nightmare was having to confidently recite perfect Shakespeare in front of a British audience. I was very nearly going to give up. It was only after much deliberation and belief in myself through the support from my loved ones that I finally accepted the roles.

I had three weeks until rehearsals began, and from that moment I restructured my life with Shakespeare at its fulcrum. I knew I had to live and breathe him and get the text into my body. I’d wake early to line bash and then in the evenings, I’d go for 2/3 hour walks while learning my lines out loud. People walking past must have thought one of two things – nutter or actor.

Someone once said that ‘if you think you know your lines well, you’re only halfway there.’ Although I thought I was ready, as soon as we got the play on its feet, my lines were all over the place. It’s the process of fusing movement with text. It wasn’t until the last few nights of rehearsals that things began to gel together for me and settle into my body.

This experience has furthermore showed me that Shakespeare’s text is extremely efficient and invigorating. Every word propels and holds weight. It’s addictive on the tongue and sharp in metaphor. I enjoyed every single moment and till this day, Oberon’s lines are burnt in my head, which comes in pretty handy for auditions.

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Who would make up your dream cast?

There are too many actors I’d love to work with. Every performance I watch at the National, off West End, on the fringe and in films just adds to a collection of people I want to work with and learn from. Nevertheless, if I had to be really picky this bunch would make the cut – Ralph Fiennes, Indira Varma, Edris Elba, Kirstin Scott Thomas, Benedict Cumberbatch, Meryl Streep, Anthony Sher, Eddie Redmayne, Robin Wright, Cillian Murphy and Charlotte Hope.

You currently reside in London. Is there a special spot for you in the city?

The Southbank is one of my favourite go-to places for quick bites, meetings and general merriment. It’s alive with festivals, food markets and it’s home to the National Theatre and the BFI, among other wonderful art spaces. There’s also one spot I love going to where it’s usually quiet and away from the madding crowds and tourists – a little garden at the National Theatre on the third level. It’s open throughout most of the day and thankfully, people seem to miss it. You can read a book, learn your lines, and if you’re lucky, you can enjoy some sunshine or simply watch life pass by.

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