Tim Draxl has been enchanting audiences both onscreen, for his roles in A Few Best Men, Swimming Upstream, A Place To Call Home and the new tele-movie, Molly – as well as on stage, with his one man shows, Freeway – The Chet Baker Journey and Cabaret, since the tender age of 16. Now at 34, he returns to the stage with his new show Once Upon Another Time.
You recently returned from America – what were you doing over there?
I try and go over once or twice a year. I have a green card, so I have to keep it active and I have lots of friends over there, because I used to live in (Los Angeles) – I lived in LA for seven years. I went to LA for a couple of days, then Aspen, then New York and then back again. It was a bit of a quick trip. I was only gone for two weeks, but it was good fun.
What is it about traveling that you enjoy so much?
I was born in Sydney but I grew up in Jindabyne – it’s in the Snowy Mountains (South-East, New South Wales). I lived half the year in Australia and the other half I lived in Austria, because my dad is Austrian. We used to follow the winter back and forth because my family was in the ski industry. I think it was because of that, as a child, we only stayed put for six months and [then] packed up and left. I get like this feeling every once in a while where I just need to get out, away – I reckon it’s partly to do with my childhood that I love to travel so much.
I like to move around. I don’t like to stay put for too long. I think lately, certainly over the last couple of years, I’ve had a real hunger for experiencing different cultures; even just travelling by myself it broadens your mind, you meet some really interesting people and there’s so many incredible places in this world that I don’t think you could ever see in one lifetime. I love being somewhere different, somewhere new that I don’t know.
Part of growing I think, as humans, is putting yourself into situations where you’re not in control, or where you’re out of your comfort. I used to travel a lot where I was very comfortable and I still do to some extent, but I really try to put myself into situations where I am out of my comfort zone. I just love it. You just get that buzz, that feeling.
Does Australia still feel like home?
Yeah, absolutely. Even when I was living in LA, every time I came back to Sydney it always felt like home. I always love coming back here. No matter how much I wanna leave, every time I leave I always love coming back. It’s an amazing city that we have. It’s a pretty special place.
You’re back in Australia for your new show, Once Upon Another Time, named after the song by Sara Bareilles. Why were you so inspired by the song, and does it sum up the whole theme or idea of the show?
Yeah, in some ways absolutely. I actually heard it in a yoga class the first time, and it was during Shavasana, at the end, where you’re laying in darkness, and the teacher played this song, and there was something about the lyric and having my eyes closed that inspired all kinds of memories. If you listen to the lyrics there is beautiful kind of imagery of vast space, so it spoke to me on different levels: a) travel-wise b) memory-wise.
I love creating new memories, but I have really beautiful family memories and different experiences, so it evoked my childhood a little bit. But then there’s also this lovely sense of what’s yet to be and being in the right place at the right time, and everything happens the way that it’s meant to happen, and it gave me this lovely sense of security, almost.
I wanted to start the show with that because it kind of sets the tone for the rest of it. Because I do go into some stuff from recent travels, from past travels, childhood memories and then also the kind of imaginative side of myself. If you interpret the title of the song of “Once Upon Another Time”, imagining what could be if you lived again and had a chance to do it over.
Take me through the process of what starting a new show like this is like.
It’s really quite agonising for me, because I’m the most indecisive person that you’ll ever meet in your life! Once I’ve made up my mind about something then I stick to it, but it takes me a long time to arrive at a decision – certainly where song choices come into it.
On one level, it’s actually very organic because I collect songs all the time. If I’m out somewhere and I hear a song, or I’m at a performance and someone sings a song, or I hear anything anywhere, I have this long list in my phone of songs to look over and use as possible material for shows. So I start with that – and it really depends on what kind of head space I’m in and what I feel like kind of saying or the message that I want to put in the show. But it is quite laborious.
What’s the preparation like for you now with the show only days away?
This is kind of the fun part. I mean, it’s all fun but it is work. I’ve started rehearsals with my musical director, Daniel Evans. Some of this material I’ve sung before. Daniel was the musical director on Strictly Ballroom and King Kong, so working with Daniel is a new experience. We’ve never worked together before, and this is the kind of collaborative stage where we go into a rehearsal room and play through the songs. It happens naturally, because you’re working with someone differently, and he plays things differently than my last musical director, and you discover new things about the songs, and he will suggest doing this – It’s a very collaborative process at this stage. It’s a lot of fun to rediscover music and also discover things that you haven’t kind of picked up on before.
In terms of song choice, you’re tackling some beloved favourites. I hope I’m right in saying this, but songs like this is usually more about that raw emotion of the lyrics, more so than hitting all the notes perfectly.
Ever since I started singing, I don’t consider myself a very gifted singer. I think I have a nice voice but I’m not an amazing singer, if you know what I mean? What I have always had is an ability to tell a story, and to be truthful about what the song or the lyric means to me. I’m very honest about displaying that in front of people. You’re right, it’s not about the song being perfect because I can’t do that. My voice is more of a crooner and I like to convey the message and tell a story.
It’s more about keeping everything simple, right?
Exactly. It’s very simple, it’s pared back and that’s the way I like it. That’s what I’ve always loved about cabaret and what I think gets lost in a lot of cabaret these days and why cabaret has got a bit of a bad rep in a sense. A lot of people think about cabaret and they think that it’s really cheesy and over the top. Cabaret to me, is the most pure kind of medium for singing a song and telling a personal story because it is just you and a spotlight and there are no theatrics – just you and putting yourself into the music and being honest.
It was a music teacher from high school, and I remember the lesson so well. She was helping me rehearse a song for one of our performances nights or something, and I was singing a song and she said to me, “Think of somebody. Think of someone that you want to sing this song to and don’t be scared to be honest with the audience”. I remember that lesson so vividly, it’s always stuck with me and it stayed with me.
In comparison, what do you think about the music of today?
I think there’s some amazing music today. I’m actually singing a version of a Sam Smith song in the show. The “Once Upon Another Time” song only came out last year or something. There are still some beautiful music being written today. I tend to be drawn to the jazz-kinda standards and those beautiful old classics. There’s something melodically and certainly lyrically that speaks to me somehow. I’ve always connected with that.
I connect to music. Anything that has heart to it. Anything that has some kind of soul. Even if it’s just a song for the sake of getting your groove on and it being a happy moment, there’s some awesome music and with all my travels and everything I’m constantly listening to music. It becomes such a part of your life and a very important, integral part, I think.
Will you be releasing Once Upon Another Time on CD?
It’s funny that you should say that, because we’ve actually just started conversations about recording an album. That is a very real possibility, yes.
You’ve done music, acting and theatre – do you find that a lot of people only know you from one of the three?
Yeah, absolutely. Which is funny to me because, I mean I started as a singer and then moved into acting, so I guess it’s not that strange that people only know me from one or the other. But certainly when I’m around other actors or when I’m on a film set or something, people always are surprised to find out that I’m a singer as well. Which is kind of nice, (to) have that element of surprise. There’s another string to your bow that people didn’t know you had. But, generally people do know me from one or the other.
You’re currently in the tele-movie, Molly, about the life of Molly Meldrum, that’s on television at the moment. What was your experience like being a part of that show?
It was awesome. It was funny, when they offered me the job, I really didn’t know that much about Molly. My knowledge of Molly was from Hey Hey, It’s Saturday and that’s just a purely generational thing. Once I got involved with the project, the importance of Molly and what he has done for the Australian music industry is unbelievable.
He (has) lived such an incredible life and (was) such an influential person for so many different music careers. Not just Australian, globally as well. It was just a really lovely group of people. It was a lovely place to go to work everyday – the kind of place that you look forward to going to. Really great experience and really can’t wait to see next week’s episode.
I think with everything that has happened to Molly lately, no matter what generation you’re from, everyone seems to feel this heartfelt connection to him.
Yeah, it’s quite amazing and also evident in the ratings. I think the ratings last Sunday were like 2.6 million people or something – which is massive! For Australia, that is unheard of. I think Australia is actually really proud of him and they do have this kind of connection with him. Which is really lovely to see.
So apart from Molly, what else can we expect to see you doing this year?
There’s a couple of things on the ball but nothing I can sort of talk about just yet. I’m doing the show Thursday, and then I start shooting season four of A Place To Call Home the week after. I just got the first two scripts last night actually and I’m really excited. We’re not finished (shooting) until the end of June/July. It’s a long shoot because season three was the number one rating show on pay TV, so we’re doing more episodes basically. It’s nice to be on a show that’s doing well.
Catch Tim Draxl’s Once Upon Another Time at the SLIDE lounge on Thursday, February 18th. Tickets available at http://slide.com.au/shows/timdraxl.