Hot ticket

Australian actor Ewen Leslie.

Drowning slowly … Ewen Leslie stars as the conflicted Brick. Photo: James Brickwood

Preparing to play Brick, the drunken, former pro footballer in Tennessee Williams's 1955 drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, actor Ewen Leslie immersed himself in films set in the deep south: In the Heat of the Night, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Mississippi Burning, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and A Streetcar Named Desire. ''I thought it might be helpful in terms of getting into the world of the play,'' Leslie says.

The only film he avoided was the 1958 classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. ''Prior to being asked to do the play, to my shame, I'd never read the play, never seen a production of it, and to this day I haven't seen the film,'' Leslie says. ''I assume Paul Newman is amazing as Brick and he was without a doubt one of the most beautiful men on Earth, so it's probably for the best that I don't watch it.''

Directed by Simon Stone for Belvoir, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is set in the home of a wealthy, cotton-planting southern family, over the course of one night. Big Daddy (played here by Anthony Phelan) is celebrating his birthday. He's dying of cancer but doesn't know it. His son, Brick, is expected to have children to carry on the line, but he has not slept with his beautiful wife, Maggie, (Jacqueline McKenzie) for some time. Maggie is concerned Brick's brother will end up with Big Daddy's inheritance, while Brick hits the bottle, cut up about the suicide of his friend Skipper.

Leslie says Brick is one of Tennessee Williams's most ambiguous characters. ''We don't get too many answers about whether or not Brick had a physical relationship with Skipper,'' he says. ''We don't know if he's gay, or if Skipper was gay and his feelings weren't returned. Or whether Brick did have feelings for him but wouldn't dream of having those feelings for any other man. As an actor, I'm choosing to keep the character ambiguous and not feel a huge responsibility to clear anything up … Brick keeps his cards close to his chest.''

As in Stone's Death of a Salesman, this production will dispense with American accents. ''That doesn't mean it's set in Queensland,'' Leslie says. ''It's still Mississippi, but we're all using our own voices.''

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF

February 20-April 7, various times, Belvoir , $45-$65. Transfers to Theatre Royal, April 10-21, 9699 3444, $60-$90.