Arthur Miller takes on All My Sons

TOM CARDY
Last updated 05:00 01/06/2012
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MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

Actors Richard Dey (green shirt), Jessica Robinson (rainbow dress), Emma Kinane (red/white pinnie) and Jeffery Thomas (red shirt) in Arthur Miller's version of All My Sons.

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"Everything I do is pretty much gut instinct," says Jeffrey Thomas. "I'm completely untrained as an actor. I've studied the work of actors I've admired."

Instead, Thomas has learnt on the job and it has made him sought-after for years in New Zealand theatre, film and television.

This weekend, he takes the stage as the star of the Arthur Miller play All My Sons. But while rehearsing for the play, Thomas has had to juggle another role - that of the dwarf king Thror in Sir Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, while filming on the big budget movie continues in Wellington.

Thomas, whose most recent work on television includes Spartacus, can't discuss the film or his role. But he was already a familiar face at Jackson's Miramar studios.

While starring as a foul-mouthed stamp dealer in the play Mauritius at Circa Theatre in 2010, he took to the stage at night after spending hours during the day performing multiple roles for the computer-generated The Adventures of Tintin. Thomas was the motion capture basis for several supporting characters.

"I spent 10 hours a day in a motion capture suit. It was really strange. You could look at the monitor and touch your head and - wow - it's you but whatever they've dressed you in. You could be a sheik or a street vendor or an opera singer. Then I would leave there about 4.30 in the afternoon. Peter would say 'I hope we haven't kept you too long'. I'd go the theatre and sit in front of a mirror and put on makeup and a costume and watch myself physically transform into a character.

"They were very different branches of the same job."

Arthur Miller is best known for Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. But the earlier work All My Sons was Miller's first big hit, winning him a Tony Award and a New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1947.

Thomas plays Joe Keller, who falls out with his business partner Steve Deever, who he blames for supplying aircraft parts to the United States military. When Keller's son Chris (Richard Dey) proposes to Deever's daughter Ann (Jessica Robinson), he unleashes a swag of family secrets.

Thomas starred in the acclaimed American play August Osage County at Circa Theatre last year and he sees parallels with All My Sons.

"It belongs to the same literary tradition. I thought that August Osage County epitomised 'the great American play' and this play All My Sons is part of the tradition that August drew on," says Thomas.

The actor had also recently seen Miller, who was married to Marilyn Monroe, depicted in the film My Week with Marilyn. "I love that period and Arthur Miller is an interesting person. He attracts me in a way. I did try to read his autobiography once and found it hopelessly impenetrable."

Thomas is clear on his understanding of All My Sons, which later had Miller appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s.

"Miller's attack is on capitalism and the means to profiteer in capitalism. He makes Joe Keller a businessman, but he's an ordinary bloke. He's come from a very ordinary background. I haven't read why he [Miller] made him a common man and not [like] a second family to the Rothschilds. But I think it's very effective. It's really good that Keller's values in a way are so 'socio-primal'."

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The Details

All My Sons, Circa Theatre, June 2 to July 7

- The Dominion Post

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