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KÅRE CONRADI: AN ANGEL AMONG US (2001)

IT ALL STARTED IN THE 5TH GRADE...
... when a classmate wanted him to write in her school diary. Under "What do you want to be when you grow up?" the ten-year-old wrote "Actor".


- I think that was before I knew what I wanted to be myself, but it's always been in the back of my head. Wagstaff tap-dancing studio - where I learned how to tap-dance - worked with Kirsti Skullerud, and that's how I started getting parts in her plays. Among other things I was a part of “The Flower Festival” that was filmed and aired on NRK TV. I was a tap-dancing peapod, he laughs.


- I still like working with her, so when she called me up and asked if I wanted to join in on "Magic Shoes”, I said yes. It gives me a lot because she's so creative, and it also takes me down to a normal level where I'm reminded that it's just as much fun working in amateur settings as professionally.


Even though he had already had fun on a stage a couple of years, it was when he was 16 that he got his first part in a "real" theatre: Oslo Nye.


- I went to an audition, and was jumping for joy when I actually got the part. After this, things kept happening all the time. I was called up for small shows and roles. I also played the lead role in “Peer Gynt”, which was a big thing.


FROM SCHOOL DAZE TO THE NATIONAL THEATRE
Conradi was supposed to go to the military, but when he got into theatre school after ending High School, he didn't go as had been planned. While he went there, he had meetings with many theatre leaders around in Oslo, and as time passed he got a number of letters with a contract offer. Since he hadn't heard from the National Theatre, he guessed they weren't interested, but wanted to call anyway.


- I called Ellen Horn and said I had got offers from other theatres, but that I wanted to work at the National Theatre. She said she hadn't heard that they had started offering already, but wanted to meet. At the end of the day I got a job.


He had his stage debut at the National Theatre in '96 with Espen Skjönberg, and admits that it was scary to be a freshman with such an experienced actor. Of course, he felt he had to prove that he had a reason to be there.


- He (Espen) sat very quietly and looked at me during rehearsals when I acted out my part with way too much energy and tried the best I could. We made eye contact, and I saw he was about to say something. I stopped in the middle of my sentence and thought "But you're not supposed to say something here, I'm the one who's supposed to talk..." He draw his breath and said: "I think it's about time you just relax and take one thing at the time!" After that I relaxed more.


FROM THE NATIONAL THEATRE TO TRØNDELAG THEATRE
After staying at the National Theatre for two years, he left for Trøndelag theatre where he did a number of big things, such as Tony in West Side Story and the role of Hamlet. One might think that especially the role of Tony would be the start of a strong focus around his appearance.


- No, no, it wasn't THAT! It was just that I started getting so unbelievably cute! he jokes.


He still experienced a slight focus on this in Trøndelag, where there was a large number of young girls going to his shows. Of course, papers and magazines heard of this, and started writing about his "boyish charms" etc.


- A compliment, but nothing you can work from. You don't become a better actor with a brand like that. Fortunately I've done enough roles that people on the inside don't have that attitude - they know what I'm good for. There's a difference between what happens inside the theatre and how the press understand it.


While he was in Troendelag, he decided to go to England to study. Next stop was London, and RADA "The Royal Academy of Music and Dramatic Art".


- I forced myself back to school, and since I'm very fond of the English theatre and the way they work, I wanted to experience that on my own. I was also looking for an agent, and took a break from everything to reflect on things. I think it's important to withdraw and get a perspective on things to be reminded of what the job is really about.


"I HIRED A CONTRACT KILLER"
After his studies were completed, he went back to Norway, and after spending yet another year at the National Theatre, he moved on to the Torshov theatre - an independent part of the National Theatre. The first play they did was "Circus" in the beginning of 2001 and later "Vi Er Ikke Kaker". The most recent is "I Hired A Contract Killer" - a play where video is used.


- It's hard to combine theatre and video, as film is in a way dead even though it's alive - as it's just a recording of the actors. You have to know exactly how the mood will be like between the actors to know how to put in the video, so you know it won't break up the mood.


- It's a strange way of doing it, and very strange for me as I'm not in on she show every night. People come up to me on the street and say "I saw you at the theatre yesterday!" and I wasn't even there.


The reason why Conradi ended up as a tango-angel on film instead of being physically there were just coincidences. He decided to go to London for three months, and since he was forced to not be a part of the play because of it, the director played with the idea of using video so Conradi could be a part of it anyway.


- He wanted me to be in it, and started thinking about using video and ended up with the idea for an angel. If I'd stayed in Norway and not gone off to London, the play may have had a totally different perspective. I may not even have been an angel on stage, maybe I'd ended up having one of the other roles.


For the last scene, Conradi was placed on the roof of the Torshov Theatre wearing angel wings and an old coat, while singing “Love Is In The Air” – in Norwegian. It was filmed from an apartment on the other side of the road, and from the street all you could see was a guy standing on the roof with his arms out – with wings – singing. This resulted in the neighbours calling the police and said there was “a disillusioned man with wings on top of the theatre”. What did Conradi think when he stood there singing and saw the police coming?


- “Don’t forget the lyrics!” While I was standing there, miming to the track, I looked down and noticed that there were cops in the streets pointing upwards. I thought, “Okay… something’s wrong here…”, but knew I had to finish the take so I kept it up. I didn’t look awfully well in that outfit, so I can’t blame people for starting to wonder what on earth was going on.


“STONES IN HIS POCKETS”
“Stones in his pockets” premieres at the Torshov Theatre 6 November. There are about 17 roles to be divided between Öystein Röger and Conradi. The play is about two down to earth, simple men who are extras on a Hollywood movie set in Ireland, and how they experience being shoved and pushed around. Another local guy has ambitions to become an extra, but as he’s got a problem with drugs he wasn’t included. This is the last drop for him, and he decides to kill himself by filling his pockets with stones and drowns himself. Therefore the title “Stones In His Pockets”.


- Öystein read about the play on the Internet and ordered it before certain other theatre executives got hold of it. There’s a lot of text and a lot of characters to get into, so I’m excited to see the final result. Maybe this will be one of my biggest challenges thus far.


- I play the American diva, her lifeguard, the director, the director’s assistant, the diseased boy’s best friend and an old priest, amongst others. There is literally nothing on stage besides the two of us and no costume change, just body language and use of voice.


Conradi has already seen the original play in London. What’s the biggest difference between this version and the original?


- It’s still set in Ireland, but instead of variations within the English/American language, we use variations within the Norwegian language. Not dialects, but ways of using the language that shows that there is a character difference. So I guess that’s the biggest difference. Let’s hope it will be better than the one in Britain, so that could be a difference as well, he laughs.


LIFELONG CONTRACT
When Conradi was offered a contract with the National Theatre until he retired, he accepted. But what does it really mean to have a theatre contract?


- They can use me as they wish, but I can say I don’t want to do it, that I’m too tired or want time off. I can be asked, but usually I have to snoop around a bit on my own to find out what I’m going to play and when. It’s nice not to know what’s going to happen until there is a list put up by the reception – cause that means it’s been finalised. So they make the decisions, but you can have a say.


What do you want to play next?


- Ooh, there are many roles I want to play, he sighs. – Commercial musicals, light entertainment, strong tragic plays… I also want to play “Hamlet” again, but in a different way than last time. John Gielgud said you’re not really a good actor until you’ve done “Hamlet” three times. It’s been three years, so maybe it’s about time I do it again soon.


- It’s incredibly good fun when people become devoted and caught up in a play. We can stand up there and do our thing, but if it doesn’t entertain people, then there’s really no use, is it? We’re not acting for ourselves. Some do, but that’s not the point. Culture, I think, is to take people out of a context.


What’s the most challenging and the most developing role you’ve had?


- It’s a bit different what’s challenging and what’s developing. The most developing has to be “The Youth Association” last year. Not because it was the most challenging or because it’s the best I’ve done, but it was a very hard role.


- “Vi Er Ikke Kaker” was very physically challenging where I was sweating, screaming and doing the weirdest movements and grimaces. It’s almost like getting undressed in front of the audience, and I can’t say I’ve done that a lot before, he grins.


- “Hamlet” was great and a lot of other things have been fun, but the nicest I’ve done has to be the “Glass Menagerie” which was an incredible play. Some shows have been just fun and no nerves, which is always nice, but when I did “West Side Story” I felt it was very developing and I was scared shitless every single night. Imagine that, doing 90 shows with premiere nerves every night.


FRANK SINATRA
Last year on "Beat for Beat" Conradi sang "New York, New York", done by artists such as Frank Sinatra. As a child he used to listen to Frank Sinatra, his father's band - Monn-Keys - and various jazz artists. While the other kids ran around singing "The Final Countdown", Conradi sang "Fly Me To The Moon"...So, what influence has Sinatra had on him?


- He hasn't just been a musical inspiration, but also when it comes to theatre. Not necessarily because he was a marvellous actor, but because he knows how to tell a story. He tells the story through the lyrics and his songs, and this he does in the same way a Shakespeare text is supposed to be done: There has to be a flow, it has to be good and there has to be movement, continuance and you're not supposed to stop before the meaning or thought is done.


As an additional note to that, he proudly announced that he had just finished a round of auditions for a part in "High Society" in London. This was for the role Bing Crosby used to have. His eyes were shining as he told about weeks of auditioning, and at the end it was down to him and another English actor. Only between them it lasted for several weeks before they made up their minds, and he thought just that was impressive.


- I have an English agent that wanted me to come and spend some time in London, so I came over and tried out for a couple of things. The character in "High Society" was American, so they had to get a language couch to work on my American accent. Then it was back to do more auditions. They chose the other guy, but he spoke American fluently already, and when it was between me with an English accent - and him with a flawless American accent, it's quite natural that they chose him. Apparently he was a coming star in England, which made me even prouder having come as far as I did!


PRINCIPLES
He rounds off with saying he's turned down a number of shows on TV that has nothing to do with him as an actor, but more a celebrity/appearance thing.


- At times it's been tempting, but why I say no has a lot to do with respect for the profession. I don't think you should do a lot of commercial stuff, because if I want to do a serious role later it wouldn't look too good if I had just done a "This is our home" or "Welcome to our cabin" in a gossip magazine. I don't want any of those on my conscience.


- It is not part of the job that everybody has to know everything about your private life, and I don't want anything commercial to ruin people's views of me as an actor.