No wonder Louis Negin’s been cast as larger-than-life types like Noel Coward (in Linda Griffiths’s The Duchess) and Truman Capote (in Jay Presson Allen’s Tru). He seems to belong to another, more glamorous era. A frequent actor in Guy Maddin’s genre-busting films, the always watchable Negin unveils his semi-autobiographical play The Glass Eye as part of Luminato. It’s a collaboration with Montreal poetic sprite Marie Brassard. See Openings.
What’s your show about?
It’s about someone wanting to be a celebrity and eventually finding out it’s not what it’s cracked up to be.
How did you and Marie Brassard hook up for this? You seem to be from two entirely different worlds.
I’ve known Marie for a long time, as well as Robert Lepage. I go to all their shows. Marie could perform the phone book and you’d watch. She saw a reading I did of an earlier version of the piece and said she wanted to work on it with me.
What was the process like?
She brought over old movies I had made, which brought back memories. We watched other films, went out for dinner, talked and talked. And out of that came a show.
Is it a veiled memoir?
It’s layered. In the theatre you can have one thing and then lift it and show something underneath. But it’s not all true. People are going to say, “Did this or did that happen?” I think sometimes if you want something to happen, there’s a truth to that.
How far does the piece go in chronological terms?
Someone once said a film should have a beginning, a middle and an end – just not in that order. That’s the play – it’s a collage of stuff. There are things about growing up here, going to Europe, a whole section of just dropping names. It’s about the quest for love.
If you could have lived in any era, what would it have been?
Hollywood in the 40s. I still get chills when I see where Mae West bought her hotdogs and hamburgers. There’s no glamour today. Sure, I feel sorry for Britney Spears. But everyone looks the same.
What’s your secret to longevity?
Cod liver oil. It helps a lot. As a kid, I loathed it. I thought I was going to throw up when I took it. But I’m taking the pills now.
How do you feel about the fact that you’ll always be known as the man who did the first nude scene on the London stage?
There’s a whole section in the play about that. Every paper in the world reported on it. I think we’re all show-offs, everybody in the world – even if you’re an accountant.
You don’t deal with AIDS in the show – how come?
We would be doing Gone With The Wind or Mourning Becomes Electra.