I had watched Christen O’ Leary tread the boards long before I met her in person. You might remember her marvellous turn as the exotic Magda in the hit stage musical ‘Ladies In Black‘ and I was astonished at her bravery as she plays the usually male role of Malvolio as the female Malvolia in the Queensland Theatre production of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night. Her energy and joy were palpable in each play and so it was upon meeting this lovely actor in person. I was lucky enough to speak to Christen ahead of her turn in the 2019 Queensland Theatre season, where once again director Sam Strong has asked her to move out of her comfort zone to play the male role of Creon in Antigone.
Brisbane born and bred Christen seems happy to be coming home once again for such a unique role. She told SheSociety of her initial reluctance to play Malviola last season as it was a real risk and certainly took her out of her comfort zone. Christen said , “Some roles you just know you can play and play them well. It took me a long time to say ‘yes’ to that role. I knew it would take a lot of hard work and I really wasn’t sure about doing it. It was my husband who convinced me to do it and I’m glad he did.”
After seeing the play I can absolutely say that Christen nailed it. Her portrayal of Malvolia stayed in my head long after the play finished. Who could forget her energetic performance of ‘ Lady Ho Ho’? Her exuberance and comedic timing were perfect, although Christen says modestly that comedy is not as natural as dramatic acting for her. She has, however, worked with some of Australia’s great comedic talents and says she has never been afraid to ask some of our best-loved comedians for advice.
“I’ve worked with Gary Mc Donald and remember going to his dressing room and asking why a certain joke was falling a bit flat when I knew it could be better. He was always so generous with his advice. I’ve worked with other great Australian comedians like Robin Nevin and many more, so I’ve learnt from them all.”
Antigone, the third of the Theban plays written by Sophocles, will be the final play for Queensland Theatre’s 2019 season and Christen is grateful for the time to read up on the topic and delve into the rich history of this beloved Greek play.
Antigone tells the story of the daughter of King Oedipus of Thebes and Jocasta. In the play Oedipus has just passed away in Colonus, and Antigone and her sister decide to return to Thebes with the intention of helping their brothers. Christen’s character is Antigone’s uncle, Creon. Christen says, “ His main interest is in preserving his rule. He is world weary and suffers the burden of his rule. This practical man firmly distances himself from Oedipus and his line. His only interest is in the preservation of the political and social order. “
It will be interesting to see how Christen will play such a strong , misogynistic role in today’s society. She will no doubt be just as brave and fearless as she was when playing Malvolia.
We talked of family and bringing up children , as most Mums do, and about being women pursuing our own careers in today’s world. We spoke of our feelings as we age and how lucky we are with the great opportunities that are still coming our way. We also spoke about nurturing a new wave of women artists both in acting and writing. Nakkiah Lui and Anna Mc Gahan are both young playwrights who have blown us away with their talent.
Brave was a word we mentioned a lot and there is no doubt that Christen is brave in the roles she takes and the career she has chosen. She is also a very open and extremely beautiful person, who just happens to be a supremely talented actor as well. We could have talked for hours.
The cheer from the audience at the Queensland Theatre Launch when her role was announced bore testament to this well loved actor’s popularity. Christen O’Leary will be playing her ground breaking role in Antigone next year, the last play of the Queensland Theatre Season for 2019. The play will be performed at the newly refurbished Bille Brown studio. She’ll be teaming up once again with Jessica Tovey in Mervyn Tong’s lyrical adaptation of this timeless tragedy with a modern twist.It promises to be a performance and a play not to be missed.
She Society is a site for the women of Australia to share our stories, our experiences, shared learnings and opportunities to connect.