Boiling Point is an amazing choral piece about the hi-strung competitive world of cooking. How was your experience surrounded such top-notch actors?
It was great to watch them work. Matthew McConaughey has a great quote, which is: “Be less impressed and more involved” and I just kept reminding myself of that. I was just focusing on being involved with the team and the process instead of constantly being impressed with who was in the room.
What about the pressure of doing everything in one single take?
I do a lot of theatre, so that bit I was fine with. Just do whatever you can with what happens on each take. That’s all you can do. If it goes wrong, use it to your advantage and make something special out of it.
What is your relationship with food and cooking?
My relationship with food and cooking is a nuanced one. I originally come from a Mediterranean country, so food is part of the culture in a very strong way. I always loved food and cooking. But through my early twenties I went through some pretty severe eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia. And so I had to completely emotionally detach myself from food to get through it. For those who have had those disorders or even the ones going through it in some way now, you soon learn that it’s not something you can ever fully get rid of once you’ve had it… The best you can hope for is to manage it. And I do now. I’m proud of how far I’ve come in handling the demons that pushed me into the disorders in the first place. And now with Sanji I get to reconnect with food in a way that’s about finding the joy & pleasure in feeding others. Making sure that everyone is well fed. And finding new ways to even make the food I’ve been used to eating myself, taste and look better. Gordon Ramsay made a really good point in his masterclass which was, and I paraphrase, cooking is a skill that everyone should learn… it’s one of the only skills which you can literally use every day, three times a day (or more, depending on how often you eat). And I love how Anthony Bourdain put it too: “Everyone should at least know how to chop a fucking onion”.
And now you are playing the legendary cook Sanji himself, in a live adaptation of the classic anime opera one piece. Feeling any pressure?
I wasn’t at first… Then I went through a few months leading up to the announcement where I did start to feel the pressure and the anticipation build up in a negative way. There was also just a lot to juggle. I was in Hamlet at The Young Vic whilst also doing two to three hours of Tae-Kwon-Do training a day + chef training after the show in the evenings and it was a lot to handle whilst also trying to keep my centre of gravity as a human… But now, I’ve reached a point where I’m just kinda like… “You’re just gonna do your fucking best bro” and whatever happens fucking happens. If I walk on to set thinking “how are people wanting me to play this” I’m bound to fail… If walk on to set thinking, “this role is mine now and I’m going to rip it to shreds and pour my heart and soul into it” I’m always going to be proud of it. Letting the pressure of expectations from the huge fan base mess with my head isn’t useful. Again the quote, “be less impressed and more involved”. I’m over it (the pressure that is), I’m just getting my head down and focusing on enjoying the training, the experience, the character, the source material, the new continent I’ve moved to for the shoot and the new family that’s just welcomed me in. The fanbase has been incredibly welcoming, don’t get me wrong… I have thousands of super sweet and lovely messages, filled with excitement for the show. And I’m immensely thankful for each and every one of them, but again – be less impressed and more involved… All I can focus on is what’s in front of me and all that’s in front of me is the task at hand.
Sanji’s character is shaped by a very traumatic past, how do you relate to him?
Sanji’s a person who had to fend for himself from a young age and did so by becoming a master of his trade. Weirdly I’ve lived a similar life… I left home when I was fifteen and became an apprentice to surfboard builders. All of which resemble Sanji’s mentor Zeff in some way or another. And I learned to fend for myself through trial and error. This was all before I started acting and writing. His trauma and his reasons for leaving are the thing that drives his behaviour in adulthood… I have my own things I was running away from and which drive my own behaviour now… But we won’t go into those, that’s a whole other story.
Trauma and its after effects seems to be a recurring theme in most of your work, especially your acclaimed play Warheads. Can you guide us through its impact on your artistic process?
It does seem to recur a lot. I don’t really have an answer. I think you can choose what to do with trauma (to a certain conscious degree). You can let it cripple you… Or you can turn it into the best thing about you. I think I just do my best tot turn it into something that pushes me, instead of holding me back.
Do you think this has influenced your passion/attraction for extreme sports?
I don’t know if trauma is the reason I’m into extreme sports. But it probably has something to do with it. I have a very desensitised adrenalin response to most things. It takes me fifty jumps from a plane to have the feeling that most get from just one jump… All I know is that when I do get that buzz from a jump or that feeling of a flow state from something like surfing or climbing, my mind gets silenced and reset to it’s neutral position, giving me the base from which to re-evaluate problems and come up with solutions.
Do acting and writing helping you cope with this?
Very much so. I haven’t had much time to write lately and I definitely miss it. Acting and writing, when it’s going well, are the only two non life threatening activities that also have the ability to silence my mind. When I’m in the zone, I can write for twelve or sixteen hours straight, without even thinking about it. I forget to eat. Same with acting… When you’re in a play and you’re having a great show, everything else around you stops.
Where is Taz Skylar going next?
Emotionally, hopefully to a slightly more stoic place. Artistically, I wanna bleed on the jeans of my next character. Personal projects?There’s a couple of films I’ve written that I’m praying to god get a green light.
Interview and photography by Andrea Vecchiato.