Joshua Sasse On His Role In The Musical Drama ‘Monarch’, His Passion For Poetry And Environmentalism

·12-min read
actor joshua sasse
actor joshua sasse

An actor of immense talent, Joshua Sasse also boasts a diverse range of interests.

First noticed for his breakout role as Galavant on the Emmy nominated, ABC series ‘Galavant’, Joshua has lent his talents for leading roles on series such as ‘No Tomorrow’, ‘Rogue’ and ‘The Neighbors’. On film, his credits include ‘Frankenstein’s Army,’ and ‘The Big I Am.’ This year, Joshua Sasse is one of the big names starring in FOX’s epic, multi-generational musical drama ‘Monarch.’ The series created, written, and executive produced by Melissa London Hilfers, revolves around America’s first family of country music.

‘Monarch’ centres on the reigning King of Country Albie Roman (Trace Adkins) and his insanely talented but tough-as-nails wife, Dottie (Susan Sarandon).  Joshua shines as Luke Roman, Albie and Dottie’s smart, charming, straight shooting, high-flying son who also happens to be the CEO of the family’s business, Monarch Entertainment. The series, which premiered on 11 September, features original music and covers, adding to its appeal.

In this exclusive interview with August Man, Joshua reveals more about his latest role in ‘Monarch’, his life in acting, love for poetry and his passion for both adventure and environmentalism.

Tell us more about the character of Luke Roman in Monarch?

Luke is the only son of two of the most famous country artists of their time, and he is the only ‘non-artist’ born into a family of musicians and singers. He is the CEO of their record label ‘Monarch’ and lives a different life out of the spotlight everyone else is seeking. He is a confident, intelligent and jocular guy who is very adept and forward thinking but he is a leopard in a den of peacocks, and the struggle of being nothing like the rest of his family is his great challenge.

Monarch
Monarch

What attracted you to this role and the character of Luke specifically?

Actually I auditioned for a smaller role, who didn’t exist and they came back asking me to go for Luke – but I so nearly didn’t do it. We got the call the night before my wife was due to go into hospital and give birth to our daughter Delilah Darling, and so I stuffed that into my backpack and forgot about it.

It wasn’t until the next day when we were in the recovery room; my wife had our daughter on the breast in one arm and the other elevated with drips and monitors coming in and out and she said, rather groggily, ‘didn’t you have an audition to do?’.

I sort of scuffled and said I wasn’t leaving her in hospital…well, if you knew my wife – so I pulled the script out and learnt the lines in hospital and then drove back to the hotel and stayed up with her sister Pippa filming and singing with some Irish coffee to stay awake until midnight. I’d been up for 24 hours straight, so I have no idea how I got the job – I guess I was so tired I was past cared and just relaxed.

My only parameter for picking a role is ‘is this something I haven’t done before’. If you’re not learning as an actor, you’re not growing and I’ve always admired actors who are chameleons, it stops you, as an audience member, anticipating their choices and I’ve always felt that lends itself to one being able to be lost in drama rather than seeing an actor.

Joshua Passe Monarch
Joshua Passe Monarch

Monarch has some impressive talents. How was it on set and did you learn a lot from your co-stars?

I started out in reparatory theatre in England and I remember in particular once Performing Ibsens Peer Gynt to a ladies knitting group and a shepherd with a dog in a village hall in Wales, and I think the dog was the only one awake, so I consider myself profoundly fortunate (laughs). I will say it staggers me how many different routes there are to the same end.

Fortunately, I think Susan (Sarandon) and I have a very similar approach to our work which feels like speaking the same language – but to see her perform in the flesh was simply mesmerising, every take is different, every thought is reconsidered and re-explored. Trace (Adkins) is technically the Polar opposite; yet his performance is equally as honest – brutally so – and when you act with him the world drops away.

Trace is this ultra-cowboy – I mean he survived being shot (with his own gun) in the heart and both lungs and still chain smokes Marlboro reds. So, I just tried to absorb the stillness of his uber-machismo. Anna (Friel) and I both come from the same root of play in England and every day we challenge each other to do better and reach higher – our technique is very different, so it’s fascinating to see how she approaches this hurdle were both aiming for in a different way; her emotional intelligence is remarkable.

FOX has put together a very special group of people, it’s just funny how awful the characters are to each other when we’re all such close friends off set. One of my strangest days at work in my career was working with Shania Twain because she was playing herself in the show so I was just…in character with her! I couldn’t help but corpse the entire way through the scene because she was just being herself and I was trying to corral her in my Texan accent – too weird for words, she was so wonderful.

You grew up in Nepal. When did the acting bug bite and what convinced you to follow through with it?

I was blessed beyond words to have grown up in the Annapurna’s. Nepal 30 years ago hadn’t changed since the middle ages and I had a fairy-tale life. There was no electricity, we went everywhere on horse or donkey, no TV, no school, no shoes – we had a Snow leopard as a pet for a while. I never had the acting ‘bug’ to be honest, I’m not sure if I do now. I just like storytelling and I understand people I think, I’m very empathetic so I don’t find it difficult to slip into a state of mind and I love doing accents so it’s all just a game.

Really I think it was a form of catharsis for all my anger and confusion and pain after my father was killed in a plane crash. I was at an old English Catholic boarding school and a teacher, now a great friend and actor Timothy Harker – saw what was happening with me internally and pulled me aside and said, ‘you’re going to be an actor’. I was twelve and from the minute that conversation ended I dedicated my life to it.

We understand you took a break from the entertainment industry in 2017. What was the inspiration behind this hiatus?

The Welsh poet W.H. Davies wrote a poem that starts ‘What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stop and stare’. I had to get off the merry-go-round for a bit – there were a plethora of reasons whilst there being none at the same time; I wanted to stop and smell the roses for a while without people looking over my shoulder, so I did.

I wrote a book about my time away which will hopefully get published in the next year – I lived on a Greek Island, I built an eco-safari lodge in the middle of Zambia from the ground up, I worked in a car garage, managed a guest house, opened a café and ran a bar. I just said yes to everything and dove in; an actor is only as good as his experience and my experiences up to that point had predominantly been over a decade of touring theatre, musicals and TV productions. It was hard but it was grounding and I learned a lot about who I was and what I was capable of. It renewed my appreciation for being able to make a career out of my art.

During this period, did you entertain the thought about permanently leaving it all behind?

Of course. But I missed the creationary element and the camaraderie. I wrote two novels and two screenplays which I’m working to produce and publish but it’s a different thing. It’s very difficult to walk away because you’re labelled ‘the actor’, and with that comes some version of pity for you that you are not employed, and you can feel like an outsider.

I got married and had children and I moved to Australia – and having a big family changed my perspective. As did the Australian ethic. My wife and her extraordinary family have changed me and my life immeasurably for the better; I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am without them.

When did you discover this love for poetry?

My father was a poet so it’s always been an enormous part of my life. It’s my lens on the world; my version of a nervous tick, or my therapy – my madness, whichever you like. The French poet Paul Valéry said that ‘using the strict form of a poem prevents you from saying everything’ – it requires the poet to use his language like a pianist chooses his notes – and that concision is the purest form of the art I think.

In comparison, having written two novels, which took me six months a piece – the poem is like a devilishly difficult sudoku. You can fill 15 pages about a sentiment with a novel but with a poem the undertaking is to try and encapsulate a single emotion or thought or experience in a few stanza’s and in as much, the poet has to be fundamentally and entirely honest or it will fall. But if it works it will last forever – poems are things we use for the greatest occasions in our life.

Tell us more about your projects in this poetry sphere?

I have a Podcast and am developing an App at the moment so people can access poetry in an easier way. Schools have totally failed in that department, and I’ve just been asked to be the poetry professor at this wonderful Didactic-based school here in Australia. Kids are fantastic poets and they listen to so much music and rap that they already have an extraordinary rhyming capability.

I have three books ready to publish so that’s exciting. As many people stop me on the street for my poetry as my acting which is interesting – that’s thanks to my Instagram I think. Poetry has become a therapy these days and that is a beautiful thing. It’s a cure-all for me and I just want to pass that on – I just try and steer people away from free verse which is more of a diary entry.

You are a big advocate of environmental issues. Your expedition to Antarctica this year will highlight those problems, can you tell us more about this adventure?

I couldn’t call myself that. Not yet. You see my wife, did the math and figured my doing this job has put about 18 tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere. It takes 3-5 trees 20 years to lock in just 1 tonne of carbon from the atmosphere and that realisation changed my life and I’m making my work carbon neutral by planting over 1300 trees as a consequence.

Sadly, I missed the boat to Antarctica this year; my Godfather is the Polar Explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan and the plan is to walk to the south pole next January and make a documentary with National Geographic – in 2041 the international treaty protecting Antarctica is up and that means drilling rights and mining expeditions can begin.

Antarctica holds 70% of the earth’s fresh water, and if the melting rates continue and the Western ice shelf, which sits in the sea, melts – then global water levels will rise over 50 ft. I have children, I’m in my 30’s and I want to use my voice, however small, to highlight how much we’re cocking things up, the shift is easier to make now more than ever.

You also plan to climb Chimborazo in Ecuador. Do you have a time frame for that and why specifically are you looking to conquering this peak?

Really this is me just putting my money where my mouth is. In 1802 Alexander Von Humboldt climbed Chimborazo and predicted climate change from the data he collected. My plan is to repeat the trip Humboldt made and repeat his measurements and scientific tests and highlight what we’re doing to the planet – hopefully it’s the start of a bigger documentary project, we’re in talks about it.

Chimborazo’s summit is nearly 7000 ft further from the centre of the earth than Everest and incredibly treacherous; if cloud cover comes in there’s 100% chance you won’t survive so it’s not something I’m doing lightly. I love challenging myself and my hope is that seeing me struggle up a mountain in silk breeches with an antique barometer strapped to my back might make people stop and think or at the very least just make them want to plant a tree or not keep buying leather from farms that cut down rainforest to grow cattle.

My wife is not the biggest fan of me risking my life and having lost my own father at a young age I am being very cautious. But the world is dying and we’re the ones killing it and what kind of person would I be if I didn’t use this voice I’ve been given to better the world, even just a little, for my children.

Catch Joshua Sasse in the country music drama series, Monarch on FOX and HULU.

(Main and featured image: Kevin Scanlon)