TORONTO — Stars frontman Torquil Campbell thought his acting career was behind him, but a new creative venture is bringing the musician back to his theatrical roots.
Some 15 years since he last performed as an actor — with screen credits for the likes of "Law & Order," "Sex and the City" and as the voice of Bill Badger on the animated series "Rupert" — the singer-songwriter is now starring in his own one-man show "True Crime," playing at Streetscar Crowsnest in Toronto.
The play explores the life of Christian Gerhartsreiter, a notorious German con man who masqueraded under several aliases, including as an heir to the famed Rockefeller family. He has racked up a considerable rap sheet. He was sent to prison in 2009 for kidnapping his own daughter during a custody dispute and in 2013 was convicted of first-degree murder in a California cold case dating back to the mid-1980s. He faces the prospect of life in prison.
As it turns out, Campbell has his own real-life connections to the Rockefellers. His mother was a nanny for the family and lived with them for several years, and his grandmother was also a childhood friend of the late Peggy Rockefeller.
Campbell, a self-described true-crime addict, first learned about Gerhartsreiter from an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" in the '90s.
"I remember thinking: That guy looks like me," recalled Campbell, who added he was further intrigued by learning he and Gerhartsreiter shared a love for novelist Patricia Highsmith, Alfred Hitchcock movies and film noir.
"I thought: Wouldn't it be interesting if this guy — who was trying to play me essentially — if I tried to play him, and if we could get some sort of mirror happening?'
"Then, I wrote a letter to him, and the consequences of this are played out in the play — or maybe they're not. The whole thing gets murky after that."
Focusing on crime in art allows for explorations of different aspects of society, Campbell said.
"It's an easy way to talk about bigger things. But I also think it's really central to most narratives in Western history ... whether it's 'Oedipus Rex' or it's 'Hamlet' or it's Dickens or it's Faulkner. A moment of transgression is often what makes a narrative go from being something ordinary to something extraordinary to something that grips you," he said.
"I think that there is a kind of natural human impulse to go in search of the moment of change, and crimes change things. They change people's lives for the worse, and they change the person who commits the act's life forever."
Campbell was a stage actor in New York at venues including the Lincoln Center and The Public Theatre, and appeared in an off-Broadway show alongside the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Within his own family, Campbell also has a rich theatrical pedigree.
His late father, Douglas, was a founding member of Stratford Festival's acting company and a 50-year veteran of the festival. Campbell's mother, Moira Wylie, is an actress and director, and his wife, Moya O'Connell, is a stage actress and a company member of Ontario's Shaw Festival.
"I think that incredible childlike risk of the theatre is unlike any other kind of art form," said Campbell of what draws him to the stage. "Here I say, 'I'm not Torquil, I'm someone else.'
"It's the reason why people are scared of the theatre, and it's the reason the theatre can be so powerful and so unique — so I love that aspect of it."
"True Crime" runs through April 15.
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Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press