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From Russia, With Love: A Short Interview With Doctor Zhivago's Tom Hewitt

05/04/2015 03:01 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2016

Doctor Zhivago, playing at The Broadway Theatre on Broadway, transports you to a different time and place, early 20th-century Russia. It's a remarkable journey full of compelling twists and turns, and a lasting impression that combines sadness with kindness. Here, Tom Hewitt, the actor who plays Viktor Komarovsky, responded via email to some questions:

This play covers an important era of world history, but it's not something I'm sure many theatergoers will come in with a rich knowledge. How'd you go about preparing for and researching your role as a Russian aristocrat in the early 20th century?

A: Komarovsky is actually bourgeoisie and has attached himself like a leech to the aristocracy. Paintings and photographs can be great for researching a role. There's a lot of beautiful photographic representations of the Russian nobility and peasantry, but not many photographs of the middle class. Of course, Pasternak's beautiful and detailed novel is plenty, believe me.

Your character, Viktor, seems complicated. It's hard for the audience to know what he will do -- and feel -- at any given moment. What drew you to this particular role?

A: The characteristics you just described. His predatory, opportunistic duplicity is interesting to explore. Our book writer, Michael Weller has done a brilliant job adapting those sensibilities from the novel to the stage. The role of Komarovsky is not large, but it's very dense.

Viktor comes and goes at key times in the story, sometimes as an effective illusion serving as a reminder that he's lurking in the background. Are there any of your scenes that stand out to you as supremely powerful?

A: I like the "Dream Ballet" where Komarovsky appears during a song Laura sings to her new husband, Pasha, about her less than virtuous past. I have no dialogue, we just waltz together. It's the kind of story telling that can only happen in a musical.

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Photo by Matthew Murphy

The music in this show is really fantastic, considering that it's such a sad story during a turbulent era. How do you think the haunting music helps set the mood for the show?

A: Lucy Simon's tunes are beautiful and timeless, but when joined with Michael Korie and Amy Powers' lyrics they're magical. There's a song called "Watch the Moon" where Zhivago is leaving for war and he and his wife, Tonia, tell each other that they'll "watch the moon and know you're there." The scene shifts instantly, Zhivago is in the throes of war and sings how the moon "floats above the battle field impassive and immune to row of men the battle felled, their open eyes compelled to watch the moon..." I'm haunted by the image of the moon reflecting off the eyes of the dead soldiers in the night.

The wardrobes for the entire cast are incredible to gawk at, looking nothing like today's fashion styles and preferences. Viktor's stature and grandiosity definitely comes through in his costumes. Did these take some getting used to?

A: A good costume can do a lot of the acting for you. Paul Tazwell's costumes are so beautiful and informative. I think my shoulders are padded more than they would be for the period to make Komaravsky more imposing. Paul has made him more stylish than he is in the novel, which is fun. The show opens with a scene at a grave site. During dress rehearsal, Paul came onstage and adjusted my top hat to a jaunty angle. At a funeral. I was like "Okay, now I totally get this guy."