Learning from luminaries

Troye Sivan and John Cleese in Spud.

TROYE Sivan first came onto our radar a few years back when he landed the plum role of the young Wolverine in the blockbuster X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Sivan was discovered by a Hollywood producer, who spotted a YouTube clip of the now 16-year-old singing on his webcam and brought him to the attention of the world.

Now he finds himself starring opposite legendary British funny man John Cleese in the South African film Spud.

The film, currently in limited release, is based on the best-selling South African novel by John van de Ruit and is a coming-of-age story about a young boy trying hard to fit in during his first year at a private boarding school. Set in 1990, the country is in a state of transformation, with the release from prison of Nelson Mandela.

“I’ve been really lucky with how things have worked out,” says Troye, who was born in Johannesburg but moved to Australia at the age of two.

After a global search, he beat out other South African hopefuls for the lead after the producer’s uncle in Australia sent him a newspaper clipping about Sivan in Wolverine.

Rising star … Australian actor Troye Sivan.

It was a slightly controversial move at the time to go with an Australian, instead of homegrown, talent. But it appears to have paid off in the end.

“I was really grateful that the South Africans embraced me as this character,” says Troye. “In a way, because I was born there, and I’m so connected to the place, I think they embraced me as a South African and as someone almost coming home.”

In some ways, Troye says he identifies with his character John Milton, who is nicknamed “Spud” because he is a late bloomer and struggles to deal with the trials of young love and teenage angst.

But in other ways, they are complete opposites. “Spud just wants to fit in and cares what other people think. But I’ve always been doing things a little bit differently,” says Troye, who used to attend Carmel College in Perth but is now homeschooled. “While all my friends are writing exams, I’m off in China singing [or making a film]”.

The film was shot over several months in KwaZulu-Natal in 2010. Many of the film’s scenes are set in the actual locations where van de Ruit went to school, and where his books are set. “It was a cool experience. By the end, I was using South African slang,” says Troye, who also got to meet the author, as van de Ruit was on set during most of the filming.

He also valued his time working with veteran actor Cleese, best known for his roles in the seminal British comedy troupe Monty Python and the uproarious sitcom Fawlty Towers. Cleese plays “The Guv” in the film. “He was constantly giving me advice, and taking me under his wing. We still keep in touch and email back and forth. He’s the absolute nicest guy in the world,” Troye says.

The film has already screened in South Africa and received rave reviews. And Troye is also hoping that will be the case here in his home country. “I really hope Australians enjoy it. Maybe it’s because I’m from a predominantly South-African community, but I feel like Australians and South Africans are so intertwined. I don’t think there is anything specifically ‘South African’ about the film. The themes and humour are universal.”

And if the film’s producers get their way, the sequel could be on its way. There are four books in the series, and Troye is hopeful they will begin filming the second instalment in July.

In the meantime, however, he’s keeping himself busy focusing on his other love – singing. He has just returned from a trip to China, where he sang on a popular Chinese television show, and he is still recovering after managing to pick up swine flu along the way. He’s also been shooting commercials.

Still, Troye is determined to live the life of an ordinary teenager. He’s currently completing year 12, and he still likes to hang out with all his friends from Carmel. He even got the chance to attend his end-of-year formal, something he was worried he would miss out on.

“It’s been pretty hectic,” he admits. But he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Spud is currently screening in select cinemas.

This article originally appeared in the Australian Jewish News.

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