Just weeks ago, local actor Anthony Brandon Wong was packing up after a holiday back home in Sydney with his family, and was preparing to return to Los Angeles.
One day, Wong was handed a script that stopped him in his tracks. Suddenly, he was changing his flight plans to begin rehearsals for a play about the diversity of lives in the Bankstown area of western Sydney.
Over the recent weeks, Wong has been absorbing the script for Fast Cars And Tractor Engines, in which he plays five very different, but real-life, characters of the Bankstown area.
The characters include an Aboriginal hip-hop artist, a buffed Lebanese 20-year-old, a sassy African schoolgirl, a Samoan heavyweight boxer and the mayor of Bankstown, Helen Westwood.
This play was too good an opportunity to pass up, as we play against type, gender, class and race, Wong says during a break in rehearsals for the play, which opens at the Parramatta Riverside Theatres on 3 October.
Our director Roslyn Oades went out to interview these citizens in the Bankstown area and sourced a broad section of characters. Their stories form the basis of the show, and we use their text verbatim.
One of the techniques used in the play is the actors wear headphones with the actual interviews of the people they are portraying being played into their ears. It’s an unusual way of working, based on a London theatre company technique, and so we recite their dialogue with all their inflections, exactly as they are, he explains.
While Wong, who actually grew up in Ryde and Turramurra, says he finds all his Bankstown characters endearing, he admits he has a special fondness for mayor Helen Westwood, who was the keynote speaker earlier this year at the Mardi Gras Launch.
Westwood, a long-term advocate for gay and lesbian rights in south-western Sydney, tells through the script of her experiences growing up and living in the area.
She has really been brave to express so much of her story in this play, Wong says. While she has not talked about her private life, she does talk of her childhood and her relationship with her dad. It has been revealing.
I met all the people I am playing, but I really connected with Helen. She really cares about making a difference and the diversity of the area, which is something I do too. I also watched a lot of her body language, and I have tried to bring that into the performance. She uses her hands a lot! he laughs.
Once Fast Cars And Tractor Engines is over, Wong will return to LA, where he is attempting to break into the Hollywood acting scene. In recent years, he has appeared in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, as well as The Flight Of The Phoenix and Little Fish.
I began my career as a journalist first as there were no [Asian-Australian] role models for me on the screen, he says. But when I gave up journalism and got into acting in 1988, I have been working ever since. I want to see what I can do in LA, but I love working here at home, telling Australian stories and acting in my own voice.
Fast Cars And Tractor Engines opens Tuesday 3 October at Parramatta Riverside Theatres. Bookings on 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au.