When actor Bert La Bonte sat down to tell his most harrowing personal story, he didn’t need a script or a prompt.
The Melbourne-raised The Book of Mormon star just sat in his car, started recording, and it all poured out: the stillbirth of his daughter 14 years ago, the heartbreaking loss that still tears at him.
“It’s probably the most raw, vulnerable version of Bert La Bonte you’ll ever hear,” La Bonte says.
“There was nothing performative about it. All the details just started coming back to me. I found myself in the middle of some episodes getting really emotional when I’d realise I was telling this thing for the purpose of a podcast then I’d completely forget that again. I never stopped recording.”
The podcast, which launches on Monday, is called In All Honesty. It’s the brainchild of producer Liza McLean, who is behind some of the biggest theatrical tours in Australia: she has brought Dame Maggie Smith, Brenda Blethyn and David Suchet to our shores, and hopes next year to mount her production of the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie here.
When the pandemic struck and theatres closed she felt lost, she says. So she decided she wanted to create something entirely new.
McLean contacted 12 people in the industry she particularly admired – actors, writers and directors – to suggest they meet on Zoom twice a week.
“First I proposed they all work for me two days a week to help put food on the table and in the meantime to see what happens, with no expectation we’d come up with anything in particular,” McLean says.
“I just knew if we came together something good would come of it.”
Dubbed The Twelve, they include La Bonte, Christie Whelan Browne, Gillian Cosgriff, Mike McLeish, and Amber McMahon.
They collaborated to tell deeply personal stories in In All Honesty, with the hope of breaking down stigmas.
La Bonte’s story, Meg, makes up the first series of the podcast, told over eight episodes. Out of work in the first lockdown, La Bonte started working in a tea factory and went to his car at lunchtime to record. He sometimes wondered if he could cope relaying his loss, particularly when his vulnerabilities were already heightened during lockdown.
But he gradually felt like a weight was lifting, he says.
“I don’t think I would have approached this in a normal year,” he says.
The rawness of the story inspired Cosgriff – best known as Delphi in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – who is also a composer.
She spent hours listening to La Bonte’s voice and came up with musical accompaniment. “All the music you hear … is taken from Bert’s spoken pitch,” Cosgriff says.
“I listened to him say a phrase over and over. I took his spoken phrases and broke them down in a way that is still creative but also let me be quite technical, which I enjoyed.”
The first two episodes of In All Honesty are now available on Apple, Google and Spotify.