When Philip Quast accepted the role of Artist in Residence at the National Institute of Dramatic Art this year, he had a dual motive.
The first was to impart as much knowledge as he could to his students, drawing on nearly 35 years as an actor in stage, film and television. The second was to learn more about the mindset and motivations of aspiring young actors and directors.
“As older artists we have not necessarily come to terms with the fact that, for us, language revolves around form while for the younger generation it revolves around function, “said Quast, who graduated from NIDA in 1979.
“Shakespeare is not being taught properly in schools any more, grammar is not being taught in the same way. Younger people tend not to ask questions because the answers are already being given on things like Facebook.
“Yet the students at NIDA learn much faster than we ever did and they can communicate so fast. They are under tremendous pressure, working longer hours than we ever did.
“I see a lot of older actors, the generation above me, struggling in the rehearsal room to deal with younger actors. For a lot of those older actors the wealth of experience doesn’t mean anything to a younger actor necessarily.”
He’s found NIDA’s students have a whole range of ambitions, while they accept that only a few will get the chance to be famous. Some want to make their own films; others aspire to be writers, to teach, work in the theatre for young people or political theatre.
This Saturday night Quast will perform in a cabaret show with his musical theatre students at the annual NIDA Foundation Trust Gala in NIDA 's Kensington premises. Among the drama school graduates who will attend the fund-raiser are Miranda Otto, Sarah Snook, Harry Greenwood, Josh Lawson, Heather Mitchell, Ryan Corr and Hugh Sheridan.
Quast has had a distinguished career on stage in London and Australia. His breakthrough was playing Javert in the original production of Les Misérables in Sydney and New Zealand in 1987, which led to him reprising the role on the West End.
He acknowledges his theatre engagements have limited the time he can spend working in films and on TV, but in recent years he’s appeared in Bed of Roses, Silent Witness, Midsomer Murders and the movies Clubland and The Caterpillar Wish.
In Lee Tamahori’s movie The Devil’s Double he played Saddam Hussein, with Dominic Cooper in the dual roles of Hussein's elder son Uday and his hapless double Latif Yahia. He’s never seen the completed movie, confessing, like many actors, “I don’t tend to see anything I’ve done.”
Last year he toured Australia in the stage adaptation of Yes, Prime Minister, playing Sir Humphrey Appleby. In November he’ll be back on the boards playing Pozzo in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Waiting For Godot, alongside Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh.
At some point he’ll need to find a new agent as International Casting Services, which has represented him since 1979, is closing its doors. “I feel a bit like a dog without a home,” he said.