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Brad Balfour

Brad Balfour

Posted: June 10, 2010 04:04 PM

Exclusive: A Tony Nominee Quartet Reflect on the Coming Night

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With the Tony Awards taking place Sunday, June 13, 2010, the Broadway award season will be over -- so nominees Valerie Harper, Jude Law, Montego Glover and Eddie Redmayne spoke about their expectations and insights, both in their respective shows and in the season in general.

And, this season has a few wrinkles. For the musicals, it has been the overwhelming impact of pop music on Broadway's new productions, and that has made for a very different sound to be judged. As for dramatic works, the necessity of casting seasoned film and television actors as leads or featured players to draw in audiences has re-shaped the nominee pool.

So, with this night almost upon us, here's a quartet of short interviews garnered from stars nominated for various awards in both the musical and dramatic categories.

Valerie Harper: Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play | Looped
 
Q: What were the particular challenges of doing this show?
 
VH: Tallulah Bankhead's a real person and an extravagantly bombastic, huge, big personality with an extremely affected way of speaking. To make her a real human being, that was a challenge, especially because she's been imitated so much -- for so many years, by so many. So that was the key and I had wonderful help through a piece of tape that was from an actual looping section.
 
It's about a looping session, and there is a 45 minute-piece of tape that somebody has of the looping session, probably unbeknownst to Tallulah. It's great because she's yelling at the director, schmoozing with the crew; she's living. "Hand me my purse darling."

But she's in life, not a performance. There are tons of performances; there are 46 entries over at the Paley Media Center. And watching her do The Lucy Hour is helpful, but it is not the same as hearing her in life, and that was helpful.
 
Q: Is it frustrating to be talking about a show that's closed?
 
VH: No, not at all. We're doing 10 weeks in Toronto, and the tour's not set up yet. But there's probably going to be a national tour with me in it. But since we've closed in New York, you'll have to tell people to see it in another city.
 
Q: When you go and reflect on another actor or actress's life that you're playing, what do you learn about yourself as an actress?
 
VH: I learned what a hard worker she was. She did 50 plays in her lifetime, and she picked this party girl thing that she liked to put out there. My mom used to listen to [the 1950s NBC radio program] The Big Show.
 
Q: It's amazing that you have such energy. Where does it come from?
 
VH: I don't know; 70 is the new 40. I eat well, exercise and I live with this wonderful man who's so healthy. I would be much tubbier than I am if he weren't the food police. I have to sneak stuff.
 
Q: Also when you're in a relationship, it helps.
 
VH: Exactly. And Tony is the lead producer of Looped. So this nomination is lovely for him and for everybody I've worked with.

Eddie Redmayne: Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play | Red
 
Q: Did you expect that this was going to kick in like this?
 
ER: Absolutely no. I read this play about a year ago. I had a meeting with Michael Grandage, who, in London, is one of the great directors of this generation. It was just a general meeting and he said, "I wanted to meet you for a general, but here is a script that arrived in our office a couple of weeks ago and I'd like to do it."

I read it and it was about everything that I'm interested in -- it's about the arts, the arts mattering. I studied art history at university, so it was one of those dream jobs that appeared. And then when I was told Fred [Molino] was doing it, it was properly the stuff that dreams are made of.

I'm a pessimist, so at each step I was like, "Well clearly this play is wonderful; clearly rehearsals are going to be a nightmare." Rehearsals were joyous. I was like, "We're not going to be able to prime the canvases and look like proper artists," and [yet] we did. And then I was like, "Well then reviewers are going to hate it," and they didn't.

When they started talking about Broadway, I started going, "Of course they'll get an American actor." So at each step it's been this thing that's kept going, and it's been really dumbfounding for me. And the fact that it's something I'm really proud of, so I'm pleased to be a part of it.
 
Q: Do you find a difference between American and British audiences?
 
ER: Absolutely. The play is written by American playwright John Logan, and it's a New York play about a New York artist. What was so extraordinary when we brought it here was the moment when I came downstairs for the first gypsy run -- which was a terrifying event in which all the other actors from all the other shows are there -- so it's a trial by fire.

But outside you would hear the sirens of the police cars firing through, and consequently it felt like this New York play was in the fabric of the city. You really felt like it belongs here. Also the audiences, they just get it more in the sense that they know the Four Seasons, they know the Seagram Building. They understand the references. So many people here have met Mark Rothko, or worked with his assistants, so it's been a real sense of the community.
 
Q: Does this make you want to move to New York for the rest of your life?
 
ER: I've been lucky to work here. I shot a film called The Good Shepherd here a couple of years ago so that was seeing it through the film side. And seeing it through the theater side has been wonderful.

I love living in the city. What's interesting about the actor life is that it's incredibly nomadic, and whether I end up living here or spending a lot of time here, it's certainly a city where I feel I have a wonderful time when I'm here.
 
Q: Has the show transformed you in any way?
 
ER: I'm not sure it's transformed me but it's wonderful to be able to do something that you really care about every night. Often with jobs, whether they're for theater or film work, it's very rare that you find yourself really believing in the words you're saying. So it's a wonderful thing. I'm not sure if it's transformed me; it's made me very happy.

Montego Glover: Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical | Memphis
 
Q: Everybody's been raving about you as the surprise charmer of the show.
 
MG: Oh is that right?
 
Q: Everybody. How rooted are you in the real music that inspired the show?
 
MG: Very much rooted. I grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My family is from the South; we are Southern folks through and through. So the texture and the sound and the feeling of this music are very central to our lives as Southerners and as African-Americans in the South.
 
Q: In light of that, what have you learned in doing the play?
 
MG: What I've learned and what I'm learning, is that people see themselves on the stage; they see themselves in the telling of the story. So it's reaching them and they're coming to us and we're coming to them and we're really meeting in the middle, and it's making this wonderful, combustible excitement.
 
Q: This show has had a long journey. How much did you really get to hone the character? How did it change from the beginning to now?
 
MG: The heartbeat of Memphis has always been the singing, from the very beginning until now. And that's six years of development; it has always been the sound. There's a man who loves this music who loves a woman who is in this music. He wants to bring her and this music to the forefront, and this music is the root of rock and roll, which is a very American creation.

So it's always been the same, always. What we've gotten better at over the developmental process is the storytelling, how to best tell the story -- the locale, the feel, the texture, the sound, the look of the play and the function of it.

That's the best way to make these character arcs and the real thrust of the story come through clearly. We've gotten really good at focus, so what you see is what that is.
 
Q: What do you think about this change in the direction of musical theater? Look at the four plays that are nominated; it's not your mother's Broadway show. They're all based in pop and rock music.
 
MG: I think that there is room for variations on a formula and variations on a theme, but we have a formula in the music theater that works, and Memphis takes full advantage of it. We have a very traditional sort of Broadway play that has completely original trappings and original essence, and that's the part that makes Broadway stay, but also makes it move forward.

What's great about Memphis is that we use the formula and it works. So there's an opening that's incredible; there's a first act that takes off like a rocket. There's some place to go from the end of act one to the beginning of act two, and we close the play in a way that has wrapped our story.

We tell a full circle. That's the formula that works; it's always worked. It worked for Rogers and Hammerstein, it's still working now. Memphis is a clear example of how to be new and use what you know, use your knowledge to get you where you're going.
 
Q: The producers hinted at film possibilities. If they offered you the role in the film would you take it?
 
MG: Sure I would. I created her; she's very close to me. Of course I would.

Jude Law: Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play | Hamlet
 
Q: How does campaigning for the Tony Awards compare to campaigning for the Oscars?
 
JL: I'm not campaigning for anything. We're here to talk about what it's like to be nominated, but I don't know about campaigning. It's really, really thrilling to be nominated.
 
Q: Were you surprised?
 
JL: I was because I thought we were on the wrong side of January, to be honest. Basically, to survive the run, it became a very personal and physical journey. We were thrilled to do well in London and then thrilled to do well in Denmark and really thrilled to succeed here.

But we were done and dusted and sort of put the thing to bed in December, so now all these months later to be recognized is really, really good.
 
Q: How does it feel to have your name amongst the amazing list of actors who have played this role, including Sir Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh?
 
JL: I don't know; I've never really thought of it like that. I suppose there are an awful lot of awful actors as well probably in there that have played Hamlet.
 
Q: And one woman, actually.
 
JL: Yes. Well no more than one. Frances de la Tour played it in London, and whom are you thinking of?
 
Q: Diane Wiest, right?
 
JL: Diane Wiest played it here. There you go, two women.
 
Q: What part of your personality did you bring to Hamlet?
 
JL: You have to be Hamlet. Hamlet isn't a role; he becomes you. And I think that's why each version is ultimately very different, because he kind of demands of you that you open yourself up to him.
 
Q: What effect did he have on you?
 
JL: I think what I loved about him was ultimately his complexity between loving life and hating it all at the same time.
 
Q: What were the particular challenges of playing Hamlet in the 21st century?
 
JL: For me personally it was always physical. It was eating the right things, sleeping the right amount and being able to just get through eight a week for six months.
 
Q: He's such an intense character; is it hard to leave that kind of struggle when you leave the theater for the day? Do you bring it home or do you leave it?
 
JL: It's like a purge. You go to work and kind of get everything out, and then at the end of the day you've actually got nothing else left to give. And what you miss when you finish doing the run is that purge. You suddenly realize that you've got all this stuff in your head you've got to carry around with you that have you've got no outlet for it.
 
Q: Is your family excited about your nomination?
 
JL: I called my dad, and he kept asking, "Tony? Tony who?"
 
Q: When was your first time in a theater?
 
JL: My mom and dad used to be very involved in an amateur dramatic society in Elton, South East London.
 
Q: So your parents brought you backstage as a child?.
 
JL: They were both teachers, but they were involved in amateur dramatics all their lives, and then when I got to the age of 10 or 11, my mom stopped teaching and ran a theater company. Theater's always been very much a part of my childhood.

Q: What are the differences between doing theater and film?
 
JL: Always the audience -- just the exhilaration of an audience and being at a live event, part of a live event.