BWW Interviews: Mike Ross Talks Soulpepper's TRUE WEST

Mike Ross has been a highlight at Soulpepper for many years. His vast talents stretch beyond just acting: he's a musician, musical director, sound designer and composer, alongside being an incredible actor. His various skills have been showcased in many productions over the years at Soulpepper.

As the second play in their 2013 season, Soulpepper is currently staging Sam Shepard's "True West".

The play is about two estranged brothers: Austin, a screenwriter, and Lee, a drifter (who are played by Mike Ross and Stuart Hughes, respectively). The night before Austin is about to pitch his newest screenplay to a producer, Lee pays Austin a visit at their mother's home, which turns Austin's life upside down. Sam Shepard's black comedy delves into the relationship between two estranged brothers and the duality of the two characters.

Mike sat down with BWW to talk about his character in "True West", rehearsing for both "True West" and "La Ronde" at the same time, and taking on multiple roles at the Soulpepper Theatre Company:

BWW: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me, Mike. How does it feel to be a part of Sam Shepard's play "True West"?

MIKE: It feels like being a part of an adventure in great storytelling. It's one of the great plays of the 20th century. I think Sam Shepard is one of the great playwrights of the 20th century. He's able to tell large large stories inside the shell of smaller stories that comment on big problems in the world - big issues and themes that we all face with our families and with our lives. And so he finds these ways to tell smaller stories that can expose that, and so when you're part of plays that are really trying to see a bigger picture within themselves, it's exciting because you think: "Oh! Maybe I'm really part of something that might shift something in someone that's watching this." That's exciting to me, and not all plays are like that - not all productions are like that. You might have a play that does that but the production just falls short for whatever reason - for intangible reasons. But on this one, it feels like a pretty true production of the play and it's funny, if you read the play itself, you see that he [Shepard] has very specifically asked that the set and costumes not be something that is a stretched or magnified version of what it should be because that just takes away from the exposition of the characters. Whereas other plays like "Parfumerie" or something like that really is enhanced by a set that is somewhat not naturalistic in some way because it's helping to sort of make a certain theme clear; whereas his [Shepard] stuff very specifically asks that you don't do that, which I find very interesting because he wants you to be sucked into a real domestic situation that is very believable and sometimes those things that are unnatural can put a little bit of a barrier between the audience and the production because the audience is thinking: "Ok, this is something that is not quite in the realm of what I know to be real life so therefore maybe I'm not going to engage as much - doesn't mean I'm going to get less out of it - it just means that I can sort of observe it as opposed to fall into it." And "True West" is a play that you really want to fall into.

BWW: Tell us a bit about "True West" and about the character you play (Austin)

MIKE: Yeah! Well, "True West" is a play about two brothers who are estranged and they have sort of coincidentally arrived in their mother's house at the same time - both with pretty clear objectives of what they need in life. My guy, Austin, is a screenwriter and he's on the verge of selling a screenplay to a producer - via a producer in Hollywood. Lee, my brother - like I've said before, they both have clear objectives - I'm not sure if that's true for Lee - you'd have to ask Stu [Hughes] about that - but Lee is an animal and he's operating on sort of animal instincts. And so we are polar opposites of one another; because of the way we were brought up and the relationships we had with our parents, more specifically our father - we had decided to carve out our lives in a way that protects us from maybe facing who we really are. I [Austin] have gone the conformist route - I'm the guy who wants to fit in to what we know as "success" in the realm of writing - in the realm of Hollywood - and that is the way I'm kind of trying to carve out my life and create an identity around that - that is definitely not true to who I am. He's [Lee] the same except he has gone the other way: he's become a drifter. He lives on the desert; he's a cowboy - and these are all aspects of his life that he has created - an identity that he's created that's not true to himself. And so the word "true" comes up a lot in the description of the play and the play itself - "True West". What is the West now? We know what it was then - we have these iconic views of what the West was, and now what is it? What is it? What is a showdown in 1980? The play was written in 1980. And it really holds true for today. What is a modern day showdown? What is a modern day fight-for-your-life? It's not dust and deadwood anymore, right? It's a different set of rules, but the stakes are just as high because people are people, right? And lives are lives. So Sam Shepard, he's created a new version of the West and there's aspects of the old West in this play and aspects of the new West, and it's a pretty exciting statement of the current affairs of things in California, United States, Canada, and the world.

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Frances Fong-Lee Frances Fong-Lee is a Honours graduate from York University with a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies. Her career path changed a bit during the summer of 2007 when she saw “Jersey Boys” on Broadway for the first time – that was the moment when Frances realized she wanted to be a theatre director! She made her theatrical directorial debut in April 2011 with Harold Pinter’s “Victoria Station” at Glendon’s Fridge Festival. In October 2011, Frances directed a scene study from Keith Huff’s play “A Steady Rain”. She also had the pleasure of directing “Inside”, her first comedy at Glendon’s 2012 Fridge Festival. And, just this past May, Frances took on the challenge of directing a playlet from Howard Barker’s “The Possibilities” in a Directing Course led by Richard Rose at the Tarragon Theatre. Most recently, Frances directed and produced her first big production: Yasmina Reza’s play “Art” at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. She is thrilled to join the BWW team and cannot wait to share with her readers the continuously astounding theatre shows playing here in Toronto!

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