Geraldine Hakewill has a history of being seduced by bad, bearded, older men. In her two first professional theatre roles in Sydney, Baal and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, she played young virginal victims of testosterone-fuelled monsters.
“I often get auditions for those kinds of characters,” Hakewill says. “I do seem very young… and innocent,” she adds slyly.
But the other running theme in Hakewill’s theatrical career is getting to work with the most high-profile theatre-makers in Sydney – who, come to think of it, also happen to be bearded men: Belvoir resident director Simon Stone, ex-Griffin artistic director Sam Strong and Belvoir artistic director Ralph Myers. Next, she joins the cast of Fury under the direction of (refreshingly beardless) STC artistic director Andrew Upton.
As an arts student at Macquarie University, Hakewill spent more time performing in drama society productions (occasionally even sleeping at the theatre) than studying for her degree. Realising this, she found her tribe – her “family”, she says – at WAAPA. In Perth, without the glare of agents coming to every show, “You could fail. And fail gloriously.”
After graduating, and roles in feature films including the lauded Wasted on the Young, she took part in theatre-making workshops in the UK with innovative theatre company Complicite. By the time she returned to Australia, she’d developed an appetite for daring, inventive theatre.
Baal fit the bill. It required her, in her first major theatre role, to play a character who was stripped naked, brutally beaten and finally dragged off stage by the titular anti-hero and killed.
Time Out suggests it was a case of being thrown in the deep end. “Absolutely like being thrown in the deep end,” Hakewill says. “With no clothes on.”
The whole cast was nervous about the nudity, Hakewill says. “There wasn’t anything sexy about it. It was all kind of sad nudity. But because we all did it together it actually became quite fun. And then very, very cold. But being physically vulnerable helps you to be emotionally vulnerable as well. It was liberating – there’s not much more that will freak you out after that. It makes you a lot more confident the next time you go to a rehearsal room.”
The next rehearsal room turned out to be that of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The décor was lusher, but the character journey was still harrowing. Hakewill played the sheltered Cecile, who is virtually assaulted on stage by Hugo Weaving’s character.
“Of course it gets you down, playing a character that is brutalised in some way. But theatre is a safe place to experience those fears and cathartically release them, whether you’re an audience member or performer. You’re serving that, and you can detach yourself from it.”
Currently, at last, Hakewill is enjoying performing in a less traumatic production, as the maternal ten-year-old Wendy in Belvoir’s playful, pyjama-clad Peter Pan. The children’s bedroom set is well stocked with board games for play between matinees and evening performances – as if the performers weren’t already having enough fun on stage.
“It’s actors playing at children playing at being in Neverland,” Hakewill says. “We’re not trying to mimic six-year-olds but the essence is there. And it’s nice exploring that with a really fun group of people who enjoy being silly.”
Hakewill is looking forward to playing a fully-grown adult in Fury in April. Beyond that, she’s keeping her options open.
“I’d like to do theatre for the rest of my life. It’s the most satisfying thing you can do as an actor: that momentum, that immediate gratification of having an audience there. Film’s amazing in a completely different way – I love the experience of being completely transported by a film. And in TV you can get lost in a character’s story for years and years. I’m open to doing anything I possibly can. But telling a good story – that’s the most important thing.”
This interview originally appeared in Time Out Sydney in January 2013.