Up Close with Byron Coll

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We caught up with Koko to talk opera, comedy and G&S

Actor Byron Coll is probably best known as All Black super-fan Tim in the MasterCard ad; this summer, he joins New Zealand Opera to play the comic role of Ko-Ko in The Mikado which opens in Auckland next month before heading to Wellington and Christchurch. Experienced on screen and stage, Byron is taking on a new challenge by singing in Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic masterpiece.

You’re mostly known for your acting work - what is your musical background?

I've had about 20 years of musical experience. I started playing piano at a young age and still play today. I picked up the guitar as a young boy too when my brother was getting lessons at home. I used to sit outside the room with an old broken guitar we had laying around and tried to learn how to play from what I could hear through the walls. Eventually I got quite good and ended up teaching my brother a few things. 

I've composed scores for film and theatre and I have sung on stage before in a couple of shows, but this will be my first professional operatic gig. It's very exciting. 

Rehearsals have started for The Mikado - how are you finding it working alongside opera singers?

On the first day of rehearsals I heard everyone singing the numbers for the show and I was in complete awe! These people have incredible singing voices. I'm learning so much from just being in the room with some of the best in the business. I was nervous for the first week, but that all went away when I got stuck into the work. No time for nerves when you've got a job to do. 

Ko-Ko is a role that’s been taken on by some great comedic actors including Eric Idle. What do you think this role/work offers that appeals so much to comedic actors?

The script is expertly written for great comic moments, and it is a gift given on a plate to any good performer who can spot the opportunities hidden in between the lines. It also gives the performer absolute freedom to create their own version of the character. With Ko-Ko, there is lovely pathos and truth to him that the audience can see, but the other characters around him don't. So if played well, one of the appealing gems to the character, is the audience hopefully being on your side. 

How is your “Little List” coming along?

Wow! There are some fantastic versions of 'The Little List'. We are still working on it. I think it may be a list that changes every day! 

You’re originally from Christchurch - what are you looking forward to while you’re there?

I'm most excited about performing to friends and family again. In my 10 years as a professional actor I've only ever performed once in Christchurch and so am looking forward to adding another show to the list! I'm also looking forward to helping my parents settle in to their new home. The home I grew up in was demolished, like many others, due to the earthquakes. Finally after a long and arduous wait a new family home has been built in its place.