The odd couple: Amadeus stars Michael Hurst and Ross McCormack

by India Hendrikse / 01 May, 2017
Photo by Stephen Langdon

Michael Hurst (rear) and Ross McCormack channel their Amadeus roles of Salieri and Mozart.

“When you come to a character, you have to measure the distance between you and that character, and then fill that gap with truth,” says Michael Hurst, reciting a quote from Dame Diana Rigg he came across a few days ago.

It’s a line that couldn’t be more pertinent to the acting veteran right now, as he takes on the formidable role of Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play, Amadeus.

The Auckland Theatre Company production, directed by Oliver Driver, raises fresh challenges for Hurst. Known for a fierce energy on stage and screen, he has the task of paring things back to subtleties rather than chaos. For Ross McCormack — playing Salieri’s musical nemesis, Mozart — the challenges are even greater. One of New Zealand’s foremost contemporary dancers, he’s making his first foray into acting. Needless to say, he found the cast’s first read-through of the script fairly daunting. “Watching Michael and Oliver and seeing the craft come through the words just like that, it was not only inspirational but it was incredibly scary and also just a reflection of how real this is,” he says.

I get very angry at the injustice of religion, the ridiculousness of it all. All this shit is happening and it’s all over fairy stories.

Channelling their characters for Metro’s photographer, Hurst morphs into the livid and brooding Salieri, while McCormack comes over all melodramatic as the energetic Mozart. In a nutshell, Salieri hates God for gifting Mozart with such musical prowess, which he will never achieve.

Hurst is an atheist and taps into that to create his character. “I get very angry at the injustice of religion, the ridiculousness of it all. Sometimes I just want to scream at the fact that all this shit is happening and it’s just all over fairy stories; it’s crazy.”

Meanwhile, McCormack is trying to empathise and relate to his character. “He [Mozart] being the kind of incredibly outspoken, unfiltered type of person… you become almost envious of it, because there’s that part of you that would love to be able to act like a child to the extent that he does, but you don’t; you pull yourself back and hold onto it. So there’s some wallowing in that.” 

It’s an intense relationship, but Salieri’s feelings should first be interpreted as much more than pure hatred towards Mozart, Hurst says. “It’s not that he goes, ‘Here’s Mozart’s music, fuck the music.’ He actually weeps at how beautiful and how shattering it really is, how it is the voice of God.”

Rehearsals would have been intense even without already hectic schedules. Hurst’s just wrapped directing the four episodes in the third season of TV series Westside and is about to dive back into directing episodes of 800 Words, an Australian-New Zealand co-production now in its second season. McCormack is finishing up projects relating to the Creative New Zealand Choreographic Fellowship he received in 2015 and preparing to premiere a work in Singapore the day after Amadeus closes.

Driver can't afford to waste any time. Says Hurst:
“It’s not about talking, it’s about doing. Oliver’s always been like that. One of the best notes I’ve ever been given was in a play called The Goat by Edward Albee. Oliver said to me, ‘Stop acting, Michael. Just stand there and fucking take it.’ It was brilliant.”



This is published in the May - June 2017 issue of Metro.

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