The comedian-composer on his childrens book, Australias same-sex marriage vote and why hes glad to be leaving Hollywood
Australian composer and comedian Tim Minchin, 42, was born in Northampton but raised in his parents native Perth. After an award-winning comedy career, he wrote the music and lyrics for the Royal Shakespeare Companys global hit musical Matilda, followed by the stage musical adaptation of Groundhog Day. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sarah, a social worker, and their two children.
Tell us about your new childrens book, When I Grow Up, which is based on the lyrics of the song from Matilda.
Its awesome I didnt even have to do anything [laughs]. Thats the incredible thing about Matilda, it keeps manifesting itself in different ways. Its profoundly gratifying to have something else beautiful put into the world that was sparked by something you wrote eight years ago.
Did you test the book on your own children?
Ive shown them it, but my kids are pretty unimpressed by me. Theyve never seen me do comedy or a concert. All they know is that I do quiet work or loud work. Quiet work is writing, loud work is performing. Theyll ask: Are you going out, Dad? and I say: Yeah, Ive got loud work tonight.
Do your kids know youre famous?
Not really. The horrible F-word doesnt get used in our house. If someone recognises me and the kids ask why, I just say they know my work. One of the reasons we moved to LA four years ago to make an animated film [musical comedy Larrikins, which was recently cancelled by DreamWorks after Minchin worked on it for several years] was to arrest any chance of me becoming too well-known. And that really fucking worked. It worked too well. I screwed my own career. I sometimes think: What have I done? Id just done an orchestral tour and couldve spent the last four years being a rock star rather than talking to studio execs.
Im guessing your Hollywood experience hasnt been good?
You could say that. Im slowly recovering from the slings and arrows of outrageous Americans. The film getting shut down was awful. It really knocked me sideways. Im grieving the loss of time and art. Dont worry, though I know Im banging on, sounding bitter and spoiled, when Im actually the most privileged person in the world.
So youre swapping America for Australia?
Yes, were moving to Sydney at Christmas. It was always the plan to go home for when my daughter starts high school.
You played some live gigs in London this week. Do you miss it here?
Very much. Londons my favourite place. I lived in Crouch End for years and come back as much as I possibly can. I miss touring, too. The plan for next year is to get back into it and create a new live show. Im interested in how the worlds changed since I last properly did comedy in 2010.
Whats been your view of that from over in LA?
Pretty bleak. It feels a bit post-jokes. Maybe Post-Jokes Jokes should be the name of my next live show. In this post-factual era, the horse called evidence seems to have bolted. That horse is in the knackers yard. California is obviously a liberal heartland but I really have a problem with this country. They call it populism, but its just nationalism. In a global world, nationalism is a fantasy and its poison. It used to be appropriate but its not any more and we havent learned that lesson yet. Trump is a nationalist. Brexit wouldnt have got across the line without nationalistic philosophies. Even Australias stubbornness about gay marriage, which is as upsetting as everything else at the moment, is a sort of nationalism.
You recently posted a song on social media titled I Still Call Australia Homophobic. How would you feel going to live there if the law doesnt change?
I have to believe it will get passed, but the plebiscite has already done its damage. The stupid fucking postal survey [to gauge public opinion] is just the prime minister trying to placate these idiots who are on his back, but its indistinguishable from deliberately trying to hurt the LGBT population. Families with same-sex parents have spent six months with this bigoted shit coming through their letterbox. The whole disgusting circus makes me want to scream. Whichever way the vote goes, these people have revealed themselves. I dont think theyre evil, it just means weve got a long way to go.
Is there still a film version of Matilda in the pipeline?
Yeah, but its a pretty thin pipe, so well be squeezing our way through it for a long time.
Bertie Carvel, who played Miss Trunchbull in Matilda on stage, is currently causing a stir in BBC drama Doctor Foster
Berties an incredible actor. He can go from evil headmistress to sexy bastard. Now hes Rupert Murdoch in Ink. Hes a rare creature who takes his parts very seriously and makes careful decisions about what hell do next. It takes strength to run your career like that.
Your Groundhog Day musical just closed on Broadway. Is it heading back to the West End?
Its my favourite thing Ive ever been involved in. Im very proud of it. Hopefully itll be back there soon and we cant wait. It went down well in New York critically acclaimed, nominated for seven Tonys, ran for six months on Broadway but its a tough town at the moment. Theres a post-Hamilton bottleneck so its a slaughterhouse of competition, like the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones.
Arent you also about to join Robin Hoods Merry Men?
Im playing Friar Tuck in a crazy big Robin Hood reboot that comes out next autumn with Jamie Foxx and Taron Egerton. Thats going to change my life again. Or maybe itll sink without trace (laughs).
What else are you up to at the moment?
Loads of bitty things. You take meetings in LA and Ive been taking meetings about acting gigs. I wanted to stay behind the camera for ages but now Im considering some sort of comedy vehicle. Im writing a new, non-comedy album. Im about to shoot a still-embargoed TV show in the UK, which I cant tell you about or Id have to kill you. Theres some films Im writing songs for. So Ive got my fingers in more pies than a Bake Off contestant. Ive always been like that. One of the great heartbreaks of the last few years is that I let myself get sucked into this massive project. All my eggs were in one basket, whereas my favourite thing about my career is its variety.
I saw you described recently as the worlds favourite ginger. Are you?
Trouble is, Im not a real ginger. Im just a ginger-bearded, pale-skinned, strawberry blond. I have a ginger vibe about me but cant put myself in the Damian Lewis/Ed Sheeran/Rupert Grint league. Id feel fraudulent. I dont reckon Im in the top 20, if for no other reason than a basic lack of red pigment.
When I Grow Up by Tim Minchin, illustrated by Steve Antony, is published by Scholastic (12.99). To order a copy for 11.04 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99