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The Australian actor on playing ‘shit-stirrer’ Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and ‘lightweight’ David Cameron

What did you learn about Julian Assange through playing him?
It is difficult to get material on what he is like, how he reacts to situations. When he is angry, he is very metered, still and calm, and he’s fiercely intelligent. He does like his own privacy in terms of who he is because he doesn’t see his personality as being important. He is full of contradictions, saying one thing and thinking something completely different. He has a great sense of humour and is a terrific shit-stirrer.

What sort of preparation did you do?
I watched videos of Assange incessantly because I want people to think, “That looks and sounds like Julian”. I didn’t want the audience to be thrown by an interpretation, so I bleached my hair, got the voice right, and studied his mannerisms, because he is quite kooky and there is a clownish quality to him. I haven’t met him or sat in a room with him, but who knows now that we are on the same continent. Although, he probably has more pressing issues, like the US Supreme Court.

How has Man In The Middle changed from its original Sydney production under the title of Stainless Steel Rat?
There was a plot in the earlier version that a film director was making a movie about Assange and Wikileaks. The whole play was told from the director’s point of view, which was a large distraction, so that has gone.

How is the story told now?
It needs to be told from someone else’s point of view so all the characters are being recorded or taped, all these devices appear and you are never quite sure in which medium it’s taking place. We’re using technology to refract the story, as that’s how we receive information these days.

Are there any other new characters added into this version?
Mark Zuckerberg is in the new story, meeting UK prime minister David Cameron at Number 10.

Is this meeting fact or fiction, or both?
All of the play is based on known meetings, except for maybe one. Zuckerberg and Cameron had a meeting, and the Cameron and US president Barrack Obama scene is about the diplomatic cables released saying Cameron was a lightweight. The conversations are imagined but the information contained within the scenes is not – it is all out there in the public record. But there is a very strong sentiment of satire, especially with the public figures.

Does the story unfold chronologically?
The story is very complex. You could spend three hours explaining how Wikileaks works, and then there’s the personal drama, the extradition stuff, so we have tried to keep it flowing chronologically. The first half plays out on a larger political scale, we see Obama talking to Cameron, we see [Australian PM] Julia Gillard, even [Russian president] Dmitry Medvedev putting Assange up for the Nobel Peace Prize. Then the second focuses on Assange and his legal battle.

What does it tell us about Julian Assange’s early life?
It is referred to, but there are not flashback scenes or anything. His backstory is fascinating – we’re both from Queensland – that he was on the run throughout a lot of his childhood from his mother’s allegedly abusive ex-partner, who was a member of a cult, with connections within Australian government departments. He learnt from a young age to be looking over his shoulder, which bred into him, for better or worse, this sense of paranoia. He brings people close and then cuts them off, which is a pattern with most people – his break up with The Guardian, with his legal team. He always isolates himself, whether it’s about trust or this messianic thing where he thinks he’s right.

What do you think about the freedom of information?
I can’t say whether I am for or against Wikileaks. I admire what they are trying to do, but dumping a whole pile of documents online is irresponsible, there needs to be some very stern journalistic principles engaged within the process which is problematic if you are Assange and idealistic – you want people to make up their own minds.
It is horrible what has been done. I was living in the US when it blew up, especially the diplomatic cables, after which they were calling for his execution. And then about him being a rapist, even though he hasn’t been charged with anything. They want to extradite him to investigate him on potential charges, and that then becomes how he is branded.

Man In The Middle runs until Feb 4
Theatre503. £14.  The Latchmere,
503 Battersea Park Road, SW11 3BW
Web:  theatre503.com 
Station: Clapham Junction


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Interview: Darren Weller on playing Julian Assange and 'lightweight' David Cameron
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