Award-winning actor Ian Stenlake stars as Sam Carmichael, one of (lead character) Sophie’s unsuspecting Dads in Mamma Mia! The Musical.
Ian has sustained an extensive career in television over the years, including starring roles in Sea Patrol (as Lieutenant Commander Mike Flynn), as well as regular stints in Stingers, Murder Call, and Dance Academy.
Theatre, too, is close to Stenlake’s heart, having appeared in Cabaret, Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma and, most recently, Around the World in 80 Days.
Cream catches up with the man to talk all things ABBA and acting.
Interview by Annette McCubbin
Hi Ian! You’ve just finished the Sydney run of ‘Mamma Mia! The Musical’. How did that go?
Sydney has been a great success, a great season. [While] Canberra and Brisbane were huge successes, Sydney is a more competitive market, as you can imagine. It’s thrilling to see so many people come back and see Mamma Mia!
I was reading through your bio, and I could barely keep up with your extensive list of television, film and theatre credits.
Yeah, I think I’ve had a fortuitous career so far, and hopefully I’ve got a long way to go. I feel really blessed. Every single job I’ve done, I’ve absolutely loved, and working with awesome people. For that, I’m very thankful.
You’re certainly very well-known and well-loved, so it’s no surprise you’re cast as the amiable father of the bride, Sam Carmichael. What have you relished about this role?
I think the best thing about Mamma Mia is the musical itself. I haven’t see the film yet. But I saw opening night in Melbourne about 17 years ago. I didn’t remember too much about it, except for the fact watching Nicholas Eadie was incredible. I thought, You know what? When I grow up I want one of those roles!
And here you are all grown up and playing the father…
Yep, so there’s a certain serendipity about that. Coupled with the fact I created my own karaoke machine at my house in the ’70s and sang along to ABBA Revival!
You were destined to be in this, then.
Absolutely. [Laughs]. It’s been thrilling to get to sing SOS… Knowing Me, Knowing You… Absolutely iconic songs. And to have them in the context of a really lovely story is a joy.
You’ve worked with award-winning director Gary Young on ‘Georgy Girl’ and also with some of the stellar cast members. What is it like working with such a spectacular team?
Well, with every role you go and audition and put your best foot forward. One of the things that drew me to this project was the fact that it is a new look at it; new set new choreography and just a reinvention of the same script. To that end, I’m not plugging into something that was already done. We get to create and we get to give it our own flavour. That was an awesome process. I remember the end of week one of rehearsals, watching what the ensemble had put together… I think it was Dancing Queen… Just watching them and thinking, Wow, what have I got myself into? This is going to be amazing.
You are a NIDA graduate success story in so many ways: a highly sought-after performer of TV, film and stage. But you also sing…
Yeah, singing is something that I find is a real honour; to get up and sing in front of so many people. It’s great that even Sea Patrol fans might come along and see my name attached and then they’re, like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you can sing’. That [surprise] is always great.
And you can dance.
Well, you know, I’ve done several musicals over the years. All of them have required choreography at some point. I’m lucky NIDA training provided me enough movement and dancing ability to do most of these roles. I may not look like Rudolph Nureyev, but I’ll give it my best! For me, it’s always about character. Let’s face it, Sam Carmichael isn’t meant to be the best dancer. He’s just an architect who gives everything a red-hot go.
How do you transition from one process of performance to another?
I think at the heart of acting, it’s the same. Funnily enough, if you get it wrong on television it’s worse than if you get it wrong on stage. [Laughs]. You’re on big screen format the whole time, but with different lenses and different shots to bring the characters and stories to life on the screen. The transition for me is not too hard; you work with a director who is on the outside and can help you gage how big or how intimate you can get on a stage that’s trying to hit thousands of people… I think I’ve developed a good set of lungs and enough projection to be able to achieve whatever I need to.
I’m keen to know how you choose your next project considering you must have multiple offers.
Ha ha! Multiple offers sounds good, but it’s not always the way it goes. It’s actually such a competitive industry. To be fair, the talent in Australia is awesome. I think whenever I get a job there are at least six other guys who could have been doing exactly the same thing. It’s about timing sometimes. Generally, if there’s a good job, I’ll take it. [Laughs].
Final question, Ian. What is your favourite ABBA song?
It’s been changing a lot for me lately. When I was young, I liked the more obscure songs, Disillusion was one; and My Love, My Life. I think about them being more melodic. The mastery and musicality of Benny and Björnwere steeped in classical training and they were able to fuse pop with a classic [sensibility]. Of course, now being in the show, I love listening to Waterloo. And Dancing Queen is a cracker.
Is there any star you would particularly love to act with?
Uhm… Great question. With the amount of amazing television series coming out, there’s a whole lot of actors, I don’t even know their names, but they’re churning out some terrific shows. When I started acting it was all about Al Pacino and guys like that… Meryl Streep! To be in anything with Meryl Streep would be incredible. And I wouldn’t mind playing with Robert Downey Jr.
‘Mamma Mia! The Musical’ is on at Crown Theatre from May 17, 2018.
Tickets are available through www.crownperth.com.au.