Josef Ber questions his masculinity in Savages

In her play Savages, currently showing at the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst, Patricia Cornelius brings us face to face with a segment of society that is all too familiar these days – the violent man. Inspired by the death of Diane Brimble aboard a cruise ship in 2002, Cornelius takes a look at what drives men to behave in a way that most would consider socially unacceptable. The AU Review sat down with one of the actors grappling with this dilemma, Josef Ber (pictured above right with Troy Harrison), to get his take on what it’s like to play an unlikeable character…

You play Rabbit, one of the rowdier, rougher members of the pack. Did you have any reservations about taking the role?

I actually did, because when I auditioned it wasn’t for a specific character. There were still a couple of roles to be cast and when I went in and read for Tim (Roseman), the director, he asked which one I would prefer. I said I was leaning towards one particular character, which is the ‘nicer’ guy out of the four, and Tim said: “Everyone says the same thing. Everyone says they feel they can ‘relate’ to him more.” I think we (the cast) were all trying to steer clear of the other guys – they’re probably not the kind of people we really want to be.

Do you prefer to play ‘good guy’ characters?

There’s definitely something challenging about playing someone who’s more complicated or flawed; maybe it’s just that they’re more human. No-one is perfect all the time. Every villain thinks that they’re the good guy.

How did you prepare mentally for taking on the character of Rabbit?

It was a very unique challenge. I’ve played the bad guy in a cop show before, and I’ve taken on characters that have cheated on their partners, but this did push me. To say some of things that Rabbit says in the play, and to be okay with that and even to laugh about it – yeah, it was a real shift in the brain.

Some of the actions these guys take just aren’t things that I myself find acceptable. But you’ve got to try to understand what they’re thinking about. Why do they think that it’s okay to go this far?

It became apparent in about the second or third week of rehearsal that I was struggling with a few parts of the play because I was relating it back to myself too much. I couldn’t understand why he (Rabbit) did these things. In his mind, the way that he treats women is totally acceptable, while for me it’s not appropriate to disregard anyone to the extent that the men in this play do. It’s so amazingly selfish.
These were the things that I had to get my mind around, in order to be able to go that far. To think that nothing else matters but my happiness and that’s it.

Have you come across this kind of character in real life?

For sure. If you saw a bunch of these guys walking along the street, even if they all looked happy, you’d probably still cross the road and get out of their way, because you’d know what potentially could happen. There’s just this type of guy that goes too far and they have this sense of entitlement. It’s selfish – they believe that they can do what they like. They feel they’re owed certain things in life, and so they go and get it. It’s the mentality of: “I work hard, I deserve to go out on Friday night and have a good time. You can’t tell me I can’t buy a drink after a certain time. You can’t tell me what to do. I’m going to do it.”

Do we need to deal with this subculture?

In a way we probably do. It’s that whole thing of what makes a man a man? Is weakness manly? Or is hiding weakness the manly thing to do? I think the conversation does need to be had. Especially now, in the 21st century, where we don’t have to behave like we did hundreds of years ago.

It’s a question of whether it’s a problem with this type of man, or men in general. You look at that incident a few years ago with James Packer and David Gyngell fighting in the street. Really – that’s acceptable? We should put up with that? I don’t think enough was made of that. We, as society, should have been saying, “This is unacceptable behaviour and it’s not on”. Instead we just kind of laughed about it and took it as just men being men.

It’s been three years since this play was written and first performed. Has there been a change in society’s approach to men and violent behaviour?

I think there’s been a change in that we’re definitely talking about it more. Which is where it all begins, really. You’ve got to acknowledge the problem as the first step of dealing with it. Yes, we have started down a path which will improve us all as a society, with regards to our treatment of women and what is acceptable behaviour. It’s a slight improvement, because it wasn’t spoken about before, but now there’s an awareness there.

I hope that this play prompts people to really question this element of masculinity.

You can catch Josef Ber in the Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s production of Savages at the Eternity Playhouse until 1 May 2016. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/