Nicholas Hope on fame
Eighteen years after the release of Rolf de Heer’s cult classic Bad Boy Bubby, the name Nicholas Hope is still associated with the image of the agoraphobic 35-year-old with bush-like hair, walking tentatively at midnight in Adelaide with his large suitcase. His performance won Hope the AFI Best Actor award in 1994. It also introduced him into a world of celebrity, where fame is not always as intoxicating as it seems.
Constantly being recognized as Bubby used to bother Hope. But now it seems to have become something positive.
“It is a performance and film I’m very proud of. I think for a period of time it held me back so no people could see me outside of that role, but now people can. So now this role just complements anything else.”
Hope recalls the day when he was watching Argo, which stars Bryan Cranston. He thought to himself, “Oh that’s Bryan Cranston who did Breaking Bad!” For Hope, it was a moment when an actor is recognised not as a character, but an artist who is remembered for his performance. That is what Hope expects of himself. “People used to think I am Bubby. But now I think it has changed. I hope that when people see me in another role, they do not think ‘that’s Bubby’. Instead, they might think, ‘that’s the guy who plays the role Bubby’."
Nevertheless, Hope does believe that in a good performance, the character and the actor can never be separated.
“There is always a sense of self. Other people may disagree but I do think that you, at times, achieve a state within the acting when nothing else is happening apart from the scenes you are doing. At that time, you will be flowing along these scenes. Put that in a sporting analogy: if you are doing a sport, it’s always you that are doing it. But at certain points, your body has taken over and you are doing things without thinking about them. You are partly aware of the audiences and the things going on around you. But essentially you are doing your job to the top of your skill. I believe that’s what happens with acting.”
For Hope, the “self” of an actor is always essential for great performances. “When you see Bubby or the Major Metcalf from The Mousetrap, you are seeing me. You are seeing the different perspectives of me.”
Besides cinema, Hope is active in many other fields. He now performs the role Major Metcalf in the play adapted from Agatha Christie’s classic The Mousetrap, which will be touring Sydney in December. He is also a published writer, lecturer and scholar who was awarded a PhD in Performance Studies at the University of Sydney. Most recently, Hope was named head of acting at The International Screen Academy Sydney (ISA).
For Hope, teaching does not necessarily indicates the end of one’s acting career – it is instead another way to be involved in the industry.
“I see the role more as a mentor. Rather than taking a purely ‘I’m-the-guru’ kind of role, what I hope is to help and guide people through. While teaching, I am actually refreshing and building on my own skills. It is rather like taking a refreshing course myself.”
Hope does not feel much difficulty in switching the roles between teacher and actor. “Teaching is acting anyway,” he laughs. “Most teachers are very good actors.”
Being asked which role he enjoys the most, among actor, writer, lecturer and others, Hope answered without hesitation: acting.
“I love acting. It’s challenging, creative, and when I am going to either rehearsals or filming, I mentally have to let every other responsibilities go. It’s a little like entering a child-like state, which is very rewarding. While in all the others like writing, teaching and directing, I am responsible. That’s good. It’s lovely. I enjoy it. But what I really enjoy is the sense of freedom, where I am out of restrictions.”
In 2004, Hope published his memoir, Brushing the Tip of Fame, where he gives a playful portrayal of the film industry and his career, as well as the various embarrassing moments he encountered after Bad Boy Bubby.
“Part of me loved to be famous,” Hope says. “But I’m not entirely sure why. I think fame means that you are highly successful. It means millions of people like you. It means you are probably financially secure and you are perceived as very good at what you are doing. All those things are important to me. But the other side of it is that you have no private life. You cannot actually be yourself. The ‘self’ becomes a performance anyway. You could argue that we are always in a state of performance since we are always being put in certain roles. But as a celebrity, you are photographed anywhere you know. So you become a performance, a major performance. I don't know how you could escape that.”
Since he started acting in 1989, Hope has tasted both sweetness and bitterness. For Hope, the word “fame” contains too many ambiguous feelings.
“The brief fame tip which I brushed was very enjoyable at that time,” he laughs. “But it is only because at that time I was deeply egocentric. And I am sure if I’m given that chance one more time, I will get there again. I’m not sure whether that’s good for me. But I’d love to give it a go.”
The International Screen Academy Sydney is open for auditions until November 23.