PLAYBILL.COM'S CUE & A: Romeo and Juliet Star Conrad Kemp

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08 Oct 2013

Conrad Kemp
Conrad Kemp

South African stage and screen actor Conrad Kemp, currently making his Broadway debut as Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, fills out's questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.

Kemp began his career on the stages of Ireland and made his West End debut in Marie Jones’ Stones in His Pockets.

Recent film work includes "Winnie Mandela" and "Zulu," which also features his Romeo castmate Orlando Bloom.

This is Kemp's first visit to the United States.


Full given name: Conrad Peter Kemp
Where you were born/where you were raised: Born in Cape Town and raised in Johannesburg. Both in South Africa.
Zodiac Sign:Leo
What your parents did/do for a living:My mom was a cook, who hated being called a chef. My dad was an attorney.
Siblings:One older brother, Marc. A really good guy.
Special skills:I am handy in the kitchen, and at accents too. And at accents in the kitchen. I write nicely. And I’m pretty good at the physical stuff. For now.
Something you're REALLY bad at:Ironing. Phones.
First show you ever saw: I’m sure it must have been some mustachioed magician at a toddler’s birthday party, but the first play I remember was my brother’s first grade showcase in Johannesburg. He played a prince. He had a sword! I was four.
If you could go back in time and catch any Broadway show, what would it be? The Abbey Theatre’s 1907 production of The Playboy of the Western World by JM Synge. As much for the emergence of genius as the social and political consequence.

Or the 1973 performance of The Island by John Kani, Winston Ntshona and Athol Fugard at The Space in Cape Town, performed under the title Die Hodoshe Span to avoid the censors and cops. I saw the original cast perform this many years later and it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of storytelling and truthtelling I have ever witnessed.

Did you have any particular mentors or inspirations as a young actor? My Latin master at high school, Hugh Wilson, was the man who lit the flame early on. At a sports mad school, he drove dramatic arts to prominence. He also taught serving the story above all the frilly bits.

And then I saw Kenneth Branagh do Henry V in the cinema. My dad had an ornamental sword. I borrowed it and unleashed St. Crispin’s Day on my mom’s flowers.

Current show other than your own you have been recommending to friends: It’s not up yet (as I write this), but Harold Pinter’s Betrayal at the Barrymore has got me all in a flutter. I am recommending it blindly.
Favorite showtune(s) of all time: "Don’t Cry For Me Argentina." Or "I Loves You, Porgy." Or "My Man’s Gone Now." Or anything else from Porgy and Bess...
Favorite musicals: I saw Starlight Express in London when I was ten. It blew my little mind. We bought the music cassette tape and my brother and I sang to it in our touring car until our parents threatened to leave us somewhere in Scotland amongst a herd of highland cows. I think I still have a small crush on Ashley.
Some favorite modern plays: Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker; Brian Friel’s Translations; Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca and The Island and Sizwe Bansi Is Dead with John Kani and Winston Ntshona; Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horsemen; Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West; Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ask me again in an hour.
Some favorite modern playwrights: Martin McDonagh; Harold Pinter; Sarah Kane; Samuel Beckett; Peter Shaffer; some Lara Foot; Soyinka, definitely; Joe Orton; Sam Shepard. Ask me again in an hour.
Stage or screen stars of the past you would most have loved to perform with: Zakes Mokae (Tony Award winner in 1970), and, although he is not yet of the past, I would love to tread with Winston Ntshona (Tony Award and Drama Desk co-winner in 1975) some day. And Vivien Leigh.
The one performance – attended - that you will never forget: Conor Lovett performing Beckett’s First Love at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown in 2009, and Lara Foot’s Tsepang at The Beckett Centre in Dublin in 2004.

Actually, it must be Handspring Puppet Company’s Faustus in Africa at the 1995 National Arts Festival, Grahamstown...

Just one? Seriously? Okay, then it’s The Island.

Music that makes you cry, any genre: Lyrics get me. And Sting knows lyrics. So does Bowie.
You personal acting idols: Conor Lovett; Antoinette Kellermann; Winston Ntshona... there are many... Anne-Marie Duff...
MAC or PC? This is being typed on a MAC. So.
Most-visited websites: Ummm... my home page is the BBC. So I’m claiming that marginally above Netflix.
Most played song on your iPod: Probably "All the Things That I’ve Done" by The Killers.
Last book you read: "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel
Must-see TV show(s): "Bored to Death"
Last good movie you saw: "Argo"
Some films you consider classics: "Withnail and I"
"Let The Right One In"
"District 9"
"The Piano"
Performer you would drop everything to go see: Conor Lovett
Pop culture guilty pleasure: Genre fiction
Three favorite cities: Johannesburg, Paris, New York
First CD/Tape/LP you owned: Michael Jackson’s "Thriller." On tape.
First stage kiss: Aine NiLaoghaire in Leo Butler’s Devotion. What a play.
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living: Changing into costume for Hyde and Jekyll in an ornate Prague stairwell at the Prague Fringe, 2003. It was thrilling chaos and a wonderfully, imaginatively told story. Full of risk.
Favorite pre-/post- show meal: (note where) Anything Christian Camargo springs for...
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