By Andrea Cuttler, Vanity Fair
Ben Walker with his wife Mamie Gummer; Fairchild Archive
From Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson to Inherit the Wind to his newest role, in Tennessee Williams's classic American play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the painfully handsome Benjamin Walker is already a big-time Broadway vet at age 30. And, as husband to Mamie (daughter of Meryl) Gummer, he's also newly minted Hollywood royalty--with a leading turn as Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer under his belt, as well. He fills VF Daily in on working with leading lady Scarlett Johansson, his character Brick's massive alcohol consumption, and what it's like to walk around onstage in front of a thousand people eight times a week . . . wrapped scantily in a towel.
So your entrance onto the stage was very . . . well, let's just say there's not much left to the imagination.
Ben Walker: [Laughs.] I know. It's like I just got out of the shower!
For those who haven't seen the show yet, it should be noted that you walk around in nothing but a tiny white towel for the majority of the first act. Do you ever have anxiety about it falling off? Because I feel like I had anxiety for you.
How thoughtful of you! It actually fell off once and so now we have some clamps on there to make sure that doesn't happen again.
I read that this show was first performed onstage in 1955. It seems like a pretty contemporary subject matter for the times.
Yeah, I guess you're right. But that's what is so compelling about it--that no one would just say what they were actually talking about. And I think that's why the play holds up so nicely. These issues, mendacity, love, and connecting with one another, were troublesome long before the 50s and will be a struggle for a long time to come.
I'm not sure that it actually matters, but what is your take on Brick's sexuality . . . which is, I would say, the most prevalent theme throughout the play.
I think that Brick struggles with love and communicating that love in the same way we all do.
Why do this show?
I was drawn to the project by [director] Rob Ashford and the wonderful cast. This is a dream project with amazing artists that I learn from every time we delve back into the sweltering heat of the South together.
The show is long--close to three hours. What do you guys do during intermission? Do you have any pre-show rituals?
During intermissions I usually have to "partake of the facilities," thanks to Brick's excessive consumption of bourbon. Before the show, Scarlett and I also like to make a point of talking and connecting as actors and as friends.
How much does the audience's reaction affect your performance?
I think it has to be about the audience's reaction, because if you didn't let it affect you, what would be the point? Then you might as well just perform it alone in your apartment.
I have to ask--there were a lot of props, and I couldn't tell what was real and what was fake: the cigarettes, the booze, Scarlett Johansson's hair . . .
If you insist on dashing the magic for yourself, then the cigarettes are herbal, the bourbon is tea, and somewhere there's a once-redheaded woman walking around with a bald head!
I knew the booze couldn't be real--you wouldn't be able to remember your lines by the third act.
By my count, Brick probably consumes about 10 drinks throughout the duration of the play. So that's not a lot for one night, but in the course of three hours . . . it's a lot.
What kind of Method prep did you do for that?
I feel like I've done enough life preparation for the drinking in this role. It's actually something special I list on my résumé now.
O.K., I have to ask--you're married to Mamie Gummer--do you ever get acting advice from your mother-in-law?
No! And surprisingly she will never take tips from me. But really, they have just been a wonderful, beautiful family to be a part of.
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