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The Sydney Morning Herald

There's method in his sadness

Author: Richard Jinman
Date: 20/03/2004
Words: 474
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News And Features
Page: 2
Garry McDonald claims to be the inventor of a new acting technique.

``It's called the rhythm method," said the former star of television's Mother and Son. ``It's when you go into a production very excited, but you pull out at the last minute."

McDonald's joke is a response to a particularly painful episode. In June last year he quit his starring role in the Sydney Theatre Company production Howard Katz, claiming his performance as a showbiz agent suffering a mid-life crisis threatened his own mental health.

McDonald, 55, has long suffered depression. He endured a public breakdown in 1993 while trying to reprise his television character Norman Gunston. When he quit his role as Katz last year he said: ``When I started working on it I all too easily slipped back into what I knew was the beginning of a descent that I could not easily return from."

Bille Brown took on the Katz role a couple of weeks before opening night and McDonald returned to therapy and his home in Berry.

``I found it [recovery] a bit harder this time," he said. ``The first time I was so hungry to fix what was wrong I lapped it [therapy] up. It took about three months this time."

McDonald was back at the Sydney Theatre Company's wharf headquarters this week rehearsing for David Williamson's new play Amigos, which opens next month. Looking relaxed under a fedora hat, he said depression was the main reason he quit Howard Katz. But he revealed he had also been unhappy with director Michael Kantor 's interpretation of Patrick Marber 's play.

``I wasn't crazy about the concept, but I didn't voice that," he said. ``I was acquiescent all the way."

McDonald said informing Kantor of his decision was difficult, but ``once I'd done it I felt tremendous relief".

McDonald said Brown's experience of the Katz role vindicated his decision.

``I've since heard that Bille Brown walked the streets for hours after opening night because he couldn't wind down," he said. ``It was an extraordinarily huge part."

McDonald is looking forward to the opening night of Amigos.

``The real thrill is that it's 2 1/2 weeks into rehearsals and I'm still here," he joked. McDonald plays Stephen Ryan, a member of an Australian rowing team dubbed ``the four amigos", who won a bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics. They're all comfortable in middle age when Ryan, a reclusive writer, re-enters their lives and threatens to ``throw the cat among the pigeons".

McDonald said he has related to most of the characters he has played and Ryan was no exception.

``Even Norman Gunston started to get me down because I started to identify with him," he said.

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