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Darren Weller, Julian Assange in Man in the Middle - Interview

20 January 2012 Anita Mistry

Ron Elisha’s ‘wikiplay’ Man in the Middle has come to London, and here London Calling catches up with Darren Weller, who plays the lead role…

London Calling: The Man in the Middle was originally named Stainless Steel Rat and there have been some changes made to the content of the play. How do you feel about these changes that have been made for the UK audience?

Darren Weller: I feel the changes that have been made have helped to focus the play much more firmly on Assange.  The version we did in Sydney was very different and aside from heavily featuring the Aussie PM Julia Gillard (who has been cut from the English version and replaced with David Cameron) was also set on a film set and told through the eyes of a film director who was making a film about Assange. The English version is much leaner.

LC: Where have you sourced your inspiration for playing Julian Assange?  

DW: I have based him on Mr Humphries from “Are You Being Served”...That’s not true, but as an interesting side note, when you do an image search for Julian Assange you will inevitably come to a picture of a mincing John Inman (aka Mr Humphries) who does bear a striking resemblance to JA.  Obviously my inspiration for playing Julian Assange is the man himself, for whom there can be no substitute.  There is such an ENORMOUS amount of information about JA, and I really have read every book and watched every interview to try to gain as much insight into the man as possible.

LC: How does it feel to play such an infamous character, and someone who is so current in the media?

DW: There is a certain responsibility that comes with playing a real person; to get it right!  The characters actions should not only be justified dramatically within the world of the play, but also justified in terms of who we know this person to be in the real world.  And with a character like Assange who is by his very nature very enigmatic, and for whom so much has been written about- some true, some false- and much of it quite subjective, it takes a huge amount of research to get to the nub of the man.  But at the end of the day, despite devoting huge swathes of time to researching him, and getting as much right as I can, there is a part of this character that will always remain my interpretation of JA.

LC: You dyed your hair white for the show. Has this helped you get into character? Have you had any responses to this from the public?

DW: I did a sketch comedy show back in Australia a couple of years ago that involved heaps of different impersonations of famous people.  I learnt very quickly that looking the part was a huge key for me in being able to get inside those characters.  Because of this, when I was first cast in the role I went out and got my hair dyed which somehow made it easier for me to imagine myself as Assange.  Sometimes you build a character from the inside out and sometimes from the outside in.  It certainly turns heads on the street and I am often being told by strangers that I look like Julian Assange- so I guess it’s working.

LC: What kind of reception did you receive for the play in Australia? How do you think this will differ to the reception here?

DW: We have been open a week now and the audiences are responding very, very warmly as they did in Australia.  The play begins as a political satire and turns into quite a gripping drama and our audiences come with us every step of the way, from having a good chuckle at our leaders to being on the edge of their seats as they discover the huge life threatening consequences for Assange and Bradley Manning.  Everyone I speak to after the show has been genuinely moved and is inspired to go home and find out more about the man and his work.  The critics have been less enthusiastic and it is baffling to see such a huge disconnect between the tepid critical response compared to the enthusiastic response we receive from the paying public.  

LC: What is happening next with the show? Is it touring?

DW: There are no plans as yet to transfer or tour the show.  So get along as it may be your only chance to see it.


LC: Is this your first trip to London? What have you enjoyed so far?

DW: The last time I was here I was 21 and was working for a month in a dive bar in Soho- a popular Aussie pilgrimage.  My boss, a drunk old governor married to a woman with no teeth who smelt like stale fry oil, punched me in the face after I confronted him for syphoning half drunk beers back into the kegs at the end of the night. So I quit and went to Paris. Despite that rather Dickensian first impression, this time round I have very much enjoyed your pubs.  There seems to be one for every ten people and they all serve food that is very, very good.  Will try to get round to them all.


LC: Where would you like to visit but haven’t had a chance to yet?

DW: Buckingham Palace to have tea with our Queen.  She hasn’t returned any of my calls.  Is this normal?
 
 
You can see Darren Weller playing Julian Assage in 'Man in the Middle' at Theatre503 until 4th February. Click here to buy tickets.

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