Ian Darling didn’t have what it takes to become an actor, so he turned his attention to a handful of Australia’s – indeed, the world’s – best. His documentary, In The Company Of Actors, is a behind-the-scenes look at the Sydney Theatre Company, where Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Aden Young, Justine Clarke and others are preparing to take a new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler to New York.
It’s a film "about them turning up to work and five weeks later producing this world-class production". Despite the presence of one of the world’s most sought-after leading ladies, it steers well clear of celebrity fluff.
Darling says it took a great deal of discussion with management and the actors before they agreed to allow him access. "One of the things with documentaries is trust and I guess they trusted me. The overall intent of this film was the education market and they could see I wasn’t trying to make a glorified blooper tape."
Blanchett’s profile didn’t hurt in getting the film into the market but Darling says that is only one element of the equation. He points out the increasing visibility of the other cast members and the fact that the production, a contemporary adaptation by Blanchett’s husband, Andrew Upton, had been invited to the influential Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Despite myths about temperamental actors and the hothouse environment of the rehearsal room, Darling discovered the contrary to be true.
"The interesting thing for me when we got into the rehearsal room was just how normal all the actors were. Theatre is a very grounded and levelling industry. While they are big stars with their names in lights in films, when you get into the rehearsal room … everyone is just there doing a job.
"When we screened at the Sydney Film Festival, one person said we were too soft and [asked] why we cut out all the conflict. I had to say in actual fact it was such a professional room there wasn’t any conflict."
Darling always wanted to be an actor but admits he was "a very bad one". The documentary gave him a chance to go inside a rehearsal room. "I guess it was coming from the point of view of childish curiosity and the more I got into it, the more I saw how collaborative it was and how normal and hard-working they all were."
He believes Blanchett’s global success is a combination of her natural talent, "incredible energy" and hard work. "She will rehearse and rehearse and rehearse until she’s got it right. You see in one of the scenes of the play where she’s playing the piano, every little element of her performance, she is an absolute perfectionist. Plus she’s a very decent and normal person, people actually like dealing with her. I think that helps, too."
In The Company Of Actors airs on the ABC on Thursday at 8.30pm.