You may recognise him as Oscar Stone from Stingers, or Mike Flynn from Sea Patrol, but Ian Stenlake also has a love and a phenomenal talent for musical theatre, having performed in productions such as Cabaret, Oklahoma! and They’re Playing our Song. Ian brings his fabulous voice to the Glasshouse this month, in a show that’s a tribute to some of the best theatre music ever written.
I read a story once, that said acting found you – rather than the other way around. How did that happen?
I’d been accepted into university to do Commerce/Law, but I still really didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I deferred for a year and went backpacking, and while I was in Rome, I ended up staying in the same hotel that Francis Ford Coppola’s parents were staying in – and also a number of actors from The Godfather: Part III. Out of a chance encounter with Franc D’Ambrosio, who played Al Pacino’s son, I managed to get an invitation to the set, and I became an extra in a very big Hollywood film!
I took away from that experience a very clear notion of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life!
You’ve had many roles, ranging from theatre to television. Do you have a preference for either live or television performing?
No, I absolutely love both of them. Even though they require the same foundational techniques, they’re both very different disciplines. One is a discipline of 8 shows a week doing the same thing, and the challenge with that is making the audience feel as if your 400th performance is your first – and I relish that challenge!
Compare that to television, which is different lines and a different story every single day. The discipline there – especially across Sea Patrol, where it was a format of working right across the thirteen episodes, rather than sequentially … there were two weeks where I was doing perhaps 72 scenes in one week and 68 the next; that kind of discipline is almost like working up to run a marathon, and somehow getting to the end!
How do you bring out the best in each character you play?
I try to identify what parts of the character are within me and therefore are what I can bring to the role quite easily; and then, I identify what is really different to me and try to own those parts … for Mike Flynn, the captain of a ship – well, I hadn’t been captain of anything for a long time (laughs)!
For me, it was quite extraordinary to inhabit an authority role, one with a position of rank and needing to have a voice people will listen to. And having an ensemble cast as good I was working with, it was an extraordinary experience to have on a daily basis – all the while knowing it’s not real!
When did music enter the scene for you?
I’ve had an interest in music all my life; I’m a Preacher’s kid for a start, so in churches there’s always music. I played piano as a youngster, I learnt the trumpet, and I can play the guitar. My very first acting job, when I came back from overseas, was in a musical – and I had a go, not knowing if I could sing.
I auditioned as an untrained singer, and I was lucky enough to be chosen. Singing has been part of my acting life since I started, but it certainly kicked into gear when I met Rachael Beck (now my wife). On my 30th birthday, she gave me 5 singing lessons! Other 30 year olds are probably getting golf sets!
I know you play golf as well, so I guess the set of golf clubs would have come in handy too?
(Laughs). Exactly! I’m still waiting for a set of golf clubs!
So, tell us about the show you’re bringing to the Glasshouse.
I’ll be singing songs from shows I’ve done, from shows like Oklahoma!, Pajama Game, Guys and Doll … songs like Oh What a Beautiful Morning, Never Been in Love Before. I’ll be telling stories along the way too, about how I got into acting, stories from the jobs that I’ve done – and I’ll also be singing some brand new songs – songs that have never been heard.
In fact, for the very first time live, I’ll be singing a song called The River, which was written for me by a really interesting guy from Brisbane called Martin King. He’s in his sixties and has kind of reinvented himself as a songwriter. He wrote five songs, all brand new, and got Rachael and me to record them. The album’s called The Martin King Project. So the audience in Port Macquarie will be introduced to a completely new song!
Best of luck with the show, Ian – and I hope you’ll have time to squeeze in a round of golf too!
Shamefully, that hadn’t even figured in my thinking (laughs). I think I fly in on a Sunday and I’m back out on the Monday – so not a lot of time. Maybe 9 holes! This will only be my second time ever in Port Macquarie … so I’m looking forward to having a look around.
Interview by Jo Atkins.