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June 23, 2024

Interview: Paul Capsis on A Resident Alien

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Paul Capsisas Quentin Crisp

RESIDENT ALIEN By Tim Fountain Starring Paul Capsis as Quentin Crisp | NORPA at Lismore City Hall | Wed 23 May – Saturday 26 May | 7.30pm | $25/$44/$49
 Five-time Helpmann Award winner Paul Capsis reprises his role as Quentin Crisp in Resident Alien, a show that tells the story of his early years as an androgynous nude model in London to finding fame as the first to speak so openly about life as a gay man. There was no-one like Quentin Crisp.

Paul Capsis agrees. ‘He was quite a character. Playing him is like crawling back into his skin; he’s not an easy person to play. He walked in a particular way. He spoke in a particular way. So now I have to change my vocal tone and say things in the way he would have with little twitches and the way he used his mouth. I wanted to get as close to him as I could. To his vulnerability and sweetness. He was a sweet sweet man…’

Although he was known for his quips and dark wit.

‘I think he thought a lot,’ says Capsis, ‘He was an outsider since he was a child in school; he was an outsider in his family; and until he went to New York, which he discovered it in the 1970s when he was in his 70s.

‘For him that was when life finally made sense and there was acceptance. He didn’t acknowledge he was a transexual until he was 90 – it was still the beginning of people understanding what it meant to be inside the wrong body.

‘Crisp liked the way women talked, and what they talked about; he found men uncomfortable, they didn’t talk about things in a broad way in the way of women. Men still have that problem in a way.

‘I think he is right when he said that modern man isn’t rejoicing, he is complaining or in therapy or both!’ says Capsis.

Later in life living in New York Crisp did a lot of interviews. Capsis says he was asked, ‘Why on earth did you choose to make yourself so difficult? You were a homosexual, you hennaed your hair red and wear nail varnish. Crisp said, ‘It was important that before people saw me, they could see who I was across the road. I was a one-man protest.’

His father didn’t speak to him at all ever. He was the youngest; he had two brothers and a sister. The father worked incredibly hard, had another mouth to feed. As time progressed the father couldn’t cope; his mother was close to him but petrified for him, but did’t understand him at all. Her concern for Quentin wasn’t how he presented that he could never work or be paid but his appearance prevented from being employed…

Crisp didn’t have any success until1968 until he wrote The Naked Civil Servant; he was 60. It didn’t sell well but someone came across the book and thought he sounded interesting and they were doing a documentary on men in London who live alone and so they approached him. It was the first time people in the UK met this person called Quentin Crisp.

‘He showed himself as he truly was,’ says Capsis. ‘He was living in an apartment in Chelsea that he hadn’t dusted or cleaned for 30 years. The documentary captures all that and prompted someone to make a film about his life. When they made the movie it was 1975 and John Hurt played him. America became obsessed with him and he became obsessed with America. He fell in love with New York and never went back, well until he died in Manchester, one month before his 91st birthday.’

In Resident Alien we are in New York. ‘We see him in his filthy apartment,’ says Capsis. ‘He has lived there for 18 years and not cleaned. He lives in an extreme way. In one room. His bathroom and toilet down the corridor. He had one little electric stovetop. He had his name in the phone book so people would ring him almost daily and he’d say if you purchase my lunch then I’ll meet with you. That would often be his only meal. Otherwise he’d use his burner and cook a potato or an egg or baked beans. That would be it.

‘When he died they discovered he had $1.5 million in the bank. He had lots of books and a few basic clothes that were given to him. Shoes that were handed to him. He didn’t drink or smoke, and I recently discovered an article when he was 88 and the interviewer went to his apartment and spent most of the article talking about the filth he lived in and said he found it difficult to be in the room, and couldn’t understand why this celebrated man was living in these conditions.’

Ninety-eight per cent of Resident Alien is the work of Quentin Crisp, glued together by Tim Fountain and brought to life by Paul Capsis.

‘It’s an amazing piece. It was a challenge last time I played the role, but it is a challenge again… We get to play it to a new audience. I have more authentic wrinkles since two years ago. It’s very rare when you do a piece you get to revisit it. I am very fortunate. I believe this will be the best version and I wanted this to be more nuanced, to be more light and shade, to play with things more.’

Bookings: www.norpa.org.au or call 1300 066 772 | Patron Advice: Recommended for ages 15+

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  1. Hi Paul,

    Listening to your fascinating interview on Conversations I was thinking of my old friend in London, Bette Bourne, who, as you’d know, premiered in Resident Alien, with Quentin Crisp’s full endorsement, that opened on the day he died.

    I enjoyed hearing you talk of your background, your Maltese grandmother, and the bullying you had to endure at school and thought of the parallels with Bette’s early life in London, enduring his father’s contempt and other prejudice, and moving from being a ‘straight’ gay actor into the Gay Liberation scene in the 70s, and founding the acclaimed Bloolips theatre group, which is when I first met Bette, when we lived in the same area of West London.

    I now live in Adelaide, and have done for many years, and I would be interested to correspond with you.

    All the best,



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