Activists + > Celebrity Interviews

I met up with Richard Gere look-alike Josef Brown at the café at The Wharf in Sydney – home of Graeme Murphy's Sydney Dance Company. Josef has been dancing with the Sydney Dance Company for the past 3 years and before that he was a soloist with the Australian Ballet for 6 years. He's also a committed member of Animal Liberation.

Josef is 30 years old, (but looks 22) he's 6 feet tall (183cm), extremely fit and healthy and he's been vegetarian for 7 years. I found him to be a totally down to earth guy because I must confess that I was a bit nervous about meeting him. I had a stupid preconceived notion that he might be a bit 'stuck up' or 'arty farty' .... but he was nothing like that and he very quickly put ME at my ease! He was very articulate and very chatty – in fact I could barely get a word in – which is highly unusual for The Birdster!!!

 

Interview by June Bird, April 2000.

June: It's great to hear that you're a vego Josef – but what about veganism?
Josef: Yes, that's the next step for me definitely. I haven't drunk any milk for years let's put it that way, and I love my rice milk! I just care for animals so much that I would do almost anything to raise the awareness in people about the unnecessary suffering of animals.
June: We're all conditioned to live and eat a certain way – my father was a butcher when I was growing up so meat and two veggies was my staple diet. Sunday was a big roast day and we all looked forward to it. I've been vegetarian for 13 years now and my Dad still can't see what I'm yammering on about! He'll never change – my mother has come around though. But I came to see that eating animals was wrong and I have had to discipline myself.
Josef taking time out from rehearsals to have a chat.
Josef: Exactly. Some people just say "I can't do it" and that's that .... umm .... maybe they could try harder! A lot of people seem to struggle with what I call 'the seafood issue'. They just can't seem to give up their prawns and lobsters etc. My girlfriend is one of them but I don't push it – she'll just come to her own conclusions in her own time.
June: Have you noticed that just about everybody says "But I don't eat MUCH meat!"
Josef: Ha ha ... yes .... people do say that don't they!
June: Gee – you look so sickly and undernourished Josef it's a wonder you have the strength to even pull on your leotard! Nah, only kidding, you look so incredibly fit and healthy – seems like the vego diet is doing you a power of good. Do you take vitamin supplements?
Josef: No way! Why would anybody need to? Being vegetarian is totally natural and if you eat correctly you don't need any supplements at all. You don't need extra iron or protein – or anything, that's ridiculous. I'm in good shape and I work hard with my body – my diet is perfect for athletes – I suppose I consider myself an athlete – and there are so many top athletes that are vego these days.

June: Do you keep your animal rights beliefs quiet or are you 'out there' promoting the compassionate way to live?
Josef: I am constantly doing "press" stuff and always try to push the vegetarian issue, though sadly and unbelievably – it rarely comes to print at the end of the day. I was greatly influenced by Professor Peter Singer and became vege for ethical reasons. The bottom line here is – if I could be of any help promoting the vegetarian cause I would love to do so. I just did a photo shoot for a top Australian magazine and I made sure that my book 'Ethics Into Action' was lying across my chest!
June: So what 'turned you' ... what helped you decide that you'd eaten your fair share of animals?
Josef: I was walking out of a supermarket one day in Melbourne and I came across a stall where some people were handing out leaflets and selling animal rights stuff – books and whatnot. So I bought a few books and that put the seal on it for me ... I just decided there and then that I wasn't going to be a part of the cruelty anymore. For instance, nowadays when I am watching a sheep truck going past I feel that I'm watching something from the holocaust – whereas before I wouldn't have thought anything at all – it was just ... .a sheep truck going past. I have changed so much in every way since I altered my diet. There are so many things that we use animals for – things that we take for granted – and suddenly you start to see things in a completely different light.
June: Any trouble finding good vego food either here or overseas?
Josef: No, no trouble at all really. Though it used to be hard, people would look at you strangely when you asked for vegetarian food – now it seems that every menu in every restaurant has a list of good vege fare. But when I travel, which is nearly 8 months of the year, I have found that it can be really hard in some Asian countries. I actually learnt how to ask for vegetarian food in a Chinese, Burmese and Turkish. Just don't ask me what they are now – because I can't remember!
June: Have you got friends and family that are vegetarians?
Josef: A few of my friends have turned vege and so has my girlfriend. I'm also very happy to say that my mother and brother have also now 'turned'! I don't ram it down anyone's throat, I just like to show by example. I did though, show them a couple of books and they decided to read them to see where I was coming from – and I'm very happy to say that they changed their outlook completely.
June: What about attending BBQs? I ask this question because in Australia we love our BBQs but it's a party atmosphere where copious amounts of burnt steaks and sausages are consumed! It's a sort of Aussie ritual isn't it – where carnivores stand gleefully grilling the charred bodies of animals!
Josef: I go to quite a few BBQs but I always take my own vegetable patties .... so I don't have problems there at all! I am always amused when I see people raving how much they love animals or how much they love lambs for example while tucking into a lamb roast!
June: Yes! When people say to me "I love lambs!", I reply "What ... with mint sauce?!"
Josef: Mind you I never talk about my beliefs at the dinner table anymore! If people want to talk about vegetarianism, which they invariably do when they see what I'm eating – I just say "Can we talk about it after dinner?" – it just ends up ruining MY meal if I have to get into a big discussion about it.

June: Having any problems getting rid of your leather gear? I just bought a pair of black PVC trousers and they look great – luckily plastic is really 'in' now and as a woman I don't have any problems buying non-leather alternatives when it comes to shoes and handbags etc.
Josef: The only problem I have is with parting with my motorcycle jacket. I have an old leather jacket which I intend to wear until it falls apart – and I do know that you can buy great non-leather shoes but at the moment I'm just wearing canvas and rubber tennis shoes which are really comfortable and they suit me just fine. I also just bought a doona for my bed and I specifically looked for one that didn't contain feathers – I found there are lots on the market so really there's no need for anyone to use animals in any way whatsoever.
June: What about cute 'n' furry friends ... do you have any? You can see that I'm owned by cats ... look at the scratches on my hand!!
Josef: No, no pets at this stage in my life I'm not able to look after an animal as I travel so extensively .... even a plant would die with my lifestyle at the moment! My father lives near the bush and he has possums that come onto his verandah every night and they're great ... they just take the bread out of your hand, gently curl their tails around your finger then go back into the trees when they've had enough of you! That's what I'd like; not to own an animal, but to live somewhere where wild animals, kangaroos and wombats etc, come to eat some of your food occasionally but then go when they want to. Wombats in particular – I love 'em!
June: Zoos, animals in circuses – what's your thoughts on these?
Josef: Oh they're both terrible and totally redundant nowadays. There's just no need whatsoever for zoos for instance. I mean, if you want to look at a wild animal go on a safari – or go and see a movie or look in a book. To keep an animal in a cage or enclosure for our pleasure is just totally wrong – outdated and cruel – a thing of the past and not a thing of the future. I went to the zoo in China the last time I was there and it was appalling. All of these magnificent animals suffering from 'Zoochosis' ... they were just swaying and walking backwards and forwards – in a stupor – they'd gone totally crazy.
June: So we can see little vegetarian or vegan Brown children at some stage?
Josef: I would definitely bring my kids up to be vegetarian or vegan. There's no doubt in my mind about that. It's the right way to live and I would want that for them – absolutely.
June: Will I be seeing you at an animal rights protest in the near future?
Josef: Oh yeah, you sure will! It's not something that I've had a lot of time to do in the past but I know that I've got to get out there and make my presence felt.
June: What's the main thing you want to tell people about being vegetarian, about being compassionate towards our friends in the animal kingdom?
Josef:

It's necessary – it's definitely the future – it's got to be an inevitable part of the human species if we're going to survive well on this planet, and it's not as hard as you think. Going vegetarian really ISN'T difficult at all. That slaughtering animals for food or clothing etc. is wrong, that going vegetarian is just the right and proper way to live, that it's extremely healthy for you, that you'll have more energy plus you'll also be helping the planet.

People who say they're environmentalists make me laugh – you just CAN'T be if you're part of the destruction of it – and raising cattle instead of crops is certainly not the way to go.

June: Thanks Josef ... great to meet you – and please, please keep spreading the vego message far and wide.
Josef: Yes, I'll certainly do that!
Josef Brown – Body Of Work

1989 - International Opera Company
1990 - The Australian Ballet Company
1994 - Promoted Soloist
1995 - The multi-media production, "In the Body of the Son". Darwin
1996 - Modern Dans Toplulugu. Ankara-Turkey
1997 - Sydney Dance Company

Principal Roles
"Onegin" in Onegin, Lescaut in "Manon", Pinkerton in "Madam Butterfly", Soldier/Lover in "Nutcracker", Danilo in "The Merry Widow", John the Baptist in "Salome", The Prince in "Beauty and the Beast", Jardi Tancat, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, Las Hermanas.
Nominated in the "Best Male Dancer" category in the 1999 Green Room Awards.

Choreographic
Created "3 + Distraction" for an Australian Ballet Workshop. Created "Hala" for a Sydney Dance Company workshop. Created "The Step Beyond Dreaming" for the C.G. Jung Society.

What's critics have said about Josef's performances

"Josef Brown's strongly athletic grace is evident even in moments of stillness."
– Jenny Stevenson The Dominion New Zealand

"More than anyone else Brown had grasped that Cranko tells the story, conveys the emotions of his characters through every inch of the body, at every moment of the piece."
– Michelle Potter Dance Australia

"The brutal sharpness of Brown's movements convey a real sense of menace."
– Daily News Ankara. Turkey

"Only the darkly handsome Brown, who is eaten up with frustration and rejected love looks as if he is being swayed by dangerous passions."
– Judith Mackrall The Independant London