Interpreting Tennessee Williams (Working In The Theatre #331)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to “Interpreting Tennessee Williams.” It was the night after Christmas, 1944. Outdoors, the weather was brutally cold and
stormy, even by Chicago standards. But in the old Civic Theatre, a working-class
poet stepped from the shadows and said, “I have tricks in my pocket. I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion in the disguise of truth.” “As the appearance of truth,” yeah! (LAUGHS) “I give you truth, in the pleasant disguise
of illusion.” With those words, Tennessee Williams emerged
from the shadows of the American theatre and into the bright spotlight. Today, we have with us five brilliant talents
of the stage and screen, who will share with us their experiences and their lives in the
theatre. Let me introduce them to you, and we’ll
start first, from my far right, with Chris Bauer. Chris Bauer is currently playing Mitch in
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE on Broadway. He’s a regular at Atlantic Theatre Company,
for THE NIGHT HERON and MOJO, and many know him from his television work, on THE WIRE
and THIRD WATCH and many other things. Next is John C. Reilly. John is now playing Stanley in A STREETCAR
NAMED DESIRE. He has in the past played Mitch for the Steppenwolf
Theatre Company. This is his third time on Broadway – recently
in TRUE WEST, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and also he played in THE GRAPES OF WRATH,
some years ago with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company production. Next to John Reilly is Jessica Lange, who
has made a career, over twenty years, of playing the women of Tennessee Williams, starting
with Maggie the Cat in 1985, and then later in the 1990’s, playing Blanche Dubois in
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and now she’s Amanda in THE GLASS MENAGERIE. To my immediate left is Natasha Richardson,
who is currently playing Blanche Dubois in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. She was also in the Richard Eyre BBC production
of SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, in which she played Catherine Holly. And [she] comes from a family of theatrical
royalty, as well, by the way. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And next to Natasha is Christian Slater. Christian is now playing Tom, the narrator
and the hero of – well, maybe not the hero! – of THE GLASS MENAGERIE, and he will soon
be appearing as Chance Wayne in – SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. And Christian has a long Broadway history,
going back some twenty-five years. Recently in SIDE MAN, playing the lead in
SIDE MAN for more than 500 – well, that ran more than 500 performances. And also, starting out with THE MUSIC MAN,
many years ago, as Winthrop, right? “Gary, Indiana!” (LAUGHTER) Yeah! What I want to start with – I want to start
with Chris Bauer, but what I want to do is engage a conversation here today with all
of the actors who have blessed us with their presence today. But one of the things I want to get started
with, as we think about Tennessee Williams, who is someone who’s always concerned with
truth and illusion, with beauty, with ugliness, with cruelty, and how those elements work
together in American life and in human life. I’d like for Chris Bauer to start to talk
to us, and others join in, on how you first encountered Tennessee Williams, as you were
growing up. What’s your first encounter with Tennessee
Williams? How did he inspire your imagination? Oh, well, that happened well after, you know,
I inherited, I think, the iconography of Tennessee Williams via STREETCAR, between its reputation
for Marlon Brando’s performance and the classic lines here and there, and the mythology
of that, adjusting and changing our experience of modern theatre, modern acting after that. Years and years and years of reading the play,
and reading all the other plays. Quite frankly, prejudiced with sort of that
inherited iconographic, massive, exploded, you know, reputation. Which was curious, because when it came time
to working on the play, it took forever for me, personally, to continue to drift through
the reputation of these plays, the reputation of him as a writer, the reputation of these
characters, and distill it down further and further and further into, finally, knowing
them as human beings, you know? That was something that really surprised me,
because when it comes down to, you know, constructing a character to a series of actions, it’s
just all about “What are they doing?” And you know, “Who are they?” comes after
that. But when you have this sort of inherited impression
of who they are, before you begin to explore these actions, it creates a distance and a
gap. And he’s such a fine writer and so immaculately
deliberate that if there’s any gap there, it doesn’t work. You can feel it not singing the song that
it wants to sing, which I think is a tribute to how inspired and how specific his ambition,
his inspiration is, I think. Christian, how does that work for you? That was beautiful! (LAUGHTER) He clearly got some sleep! (LAUGHTER) Whoo! My Lord, man. It’s that Yale School of Drama degree. I have to follow that, now! Oh, good God. So, yes, you were asking? Well, about your early encounters with Tennessee
Williams and how that shaped your theatrical imagination, and how it inspires your own
work? Those early encounters, I mean. Well, I’m trying to think. I mean, my earliest encounter was probably
seeing Jessica in STREETCAR. I think that was probably my first experience
with a Tennessee Williams play. And yeah, just being drawn into it. And like you were saying, learning it – he
is an amazing writer. I mean, incredibly specific, and there is
a particular rhythm. I find, like, certain nights, finding that
rhythm is really exciting. You know, when you’re right there. Because you know, sometimes you go through
it and you just feel like, “Oh, this line, was this really necessary? Was this beat really necessary? Was this moment really necessary?” And when you start the play on the right note,
you know, it just has a natural flow to it and a rhythm that just works. And you can so feel when you’re just the
slightest bit out of that groove. Yeah, it’s really interesting. I mean, yeah, to be right in between that
moment is great, you know, when you really do nail it, it’s very exciting. But of course, there are moments when you
feel, “Ooh, no, could – ” You know, you keep working on this. Yeah. Or, you know, making little adjustments here
and there. But yeah, it’s really phenomenal. John, how about you? How did you encounter Tennessee Williams in
the early going, in your life and your career? It was completely by accident, actually. I grew up in Chicago, on the south side of
Chicago. And I’ve been doing plays since I was about
eight years old, but they were all musicals, because that’s all anyone ever wanted to
see in my neighborhood. No one was doing, like, “Ibsen at the Park”
near my house, you know? (LAUGHTER) You have some early musical theatre experience,
as I recall. Yes. It was BRIGADOON and PAJAMA GAME, you know,
all of ‘em. I’ve done so many musicals as a kid. And then, as I was finishing high school,
I realized, “You know, I want to try to be a serious actor,” you know? And so I applied to this place, the Goodman
School of Drama in Chicago, and they said, “You have to prepare a monologue and you’ll
have to do some other things at the audition.” So I went to the library and started looking
through [books]. And I really was kind of an ignoramus about
dramatic theatre. You know, I knew a lot about musicals (LAUGHS)
at that point, but – So how old are we talking here, about? This is like towards the end of high school,
you know? And I really didn’t have really any mentors
that were telling me, like, “These are the important ones! Get to know these playwrights,” you know? And I would just go through the – I remember
picking up this anthology of theatre, and flagging through it, and just looking for
big chunks of dialogue. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Really! That’s literally what I was doing. It was like, (MIMES PAGING THROUGH THE BOOK)
“No, no, no, someone else is talking there … someone else is talking … ” (LAUGHTER
FROM THE PANEL) “Here’s one that’s just by himself! Oh, and it’s a young guy, Tom!” And it was, you know, the whole speech to
Amanda about where he goes that night. Oh! And he has this rage towards his mother, which
I was feeling a little bit of that, getting ready to leave the house (NATASHA LAUGHS),
seventeen. And I thought, “Oh, this is a good one! This makes sense to me!” And so, I memorized that, and I went in. And you know, that writing just kind of takes
you over, like the rhythm and the poetry, you know. It’s like you were saying, Chris, he has
such a natural poetry to what he writes, but if you get caught up in the poetry, that sort
of leads you down the wrong path, you know? It’s very realistic, very impassioned, very
human, very real writing. And so, that was my first experience with
it. And then, I realized what I had stumbled across. You know, once I got into this school – I
was, thankfully, accepted – and I realized, you know, (LAUGHS) I stumbled across the greatest
American playwright of the twentieth century (LAUGHTER) by looking for big chunks of dialogue! (LAUGHTER) And yeah, then, you know, I went on to do
Mitch in STREETCAR at Steppenwolf, and that was – like you say, you know, for all the
cultural baggage that comes with these plays – in a way, the Tennessee Williams fame
and the fame of the plays has been a bit of a disservice to the material itself, you know? Because they’re so rooted in the human experience. Oh, completely, yeah. This is not camp stuff. No! It’s very basic, human, beat by beat, the
way people really talk to each other. The genius of them is that he was able to
capture it and structure it in such a way that it’s also a beautiful piece of art,
you know? It’s not just throw it up there, the way
people talk, and maybe someone will get something out of it. It’s so carefully constructed, and that’s
something I came to appreciate. I remember when I was doing STREETCAR in Chicago,
on the good nights, it felt like an opera. It felt like, “This play has a power that’s
bigger than any one of these characters or any one of these actors.” Completely, yeah. If we all start working in concert, this storm
starts to gather, and it just takes over and sings, like music, you know? Yes. But, like, only if you root yourself in real
human detail, you know? So anyway, long story short, that’s how
I came across Tennessee Williams. Well, it’s a great story. Natasha, tell us a little bit about your early
encounters with Tennessee. Yeah, it’s funny, because until you asked
this question, I never really thought of it before, and I think it actually comes in different
parts. I guess, at first, I really started to fall
in love with his writing through, you know, the early films of STREETCAR and CAT ON A
HOT TIN ROOF. And I was just completely drawn to these women
and their passion and their sexuality and their pain, and just kind of fell in love
with his writing, initially, through that. However, I have to say that I met him, Tennessee
– I wish I could come up with a good anecdote, I can’t – I met him when I was a little
girl, through someone who – I know Jessica also knew – who’s this very strange lady
called Maria St. Just, who was one of Tennessee’s best friends, and she became the executor
of his estate. And she was this very bitchy, ex-White Russian
ballerina, who was married to an English lord, and they lived in this sort of decaying stately
home in England. And she sort of adopted me. I was like the sort of poor relation. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but
my mum must have been busy working or something. And I’d be taken to this house at weekends
and sort of humiliated by this woman, (JEFFERY LAUGHS) if my cuff was frayed or because I
was overweight. Or you know, she’d say, “I’d give you
five dollars if you can do two pirouettes before dinner!” I mean, it was like … (LAUGHTER) Oh, yeah. But there, at this house, frequently, at weekends,
was Tennessee Williams sitting there having cocktails and smoking. And you know, I think we were brought in and
quickly brought out again. So I can’t – I wish I could remember anything
he said. So that must have been the very beginning. And then later on, really, through drama school,
really digging into his work. And I haven’t seen that much of his work
on stage. Of course, I saw, you know, Jessica playing
Blanche, and that was an astonishing, breathtaking thing to see. And I don’t know. I just sort of have jumbles of moments. But just really, just a feeling of incredible
connection and understanding of what he says about the human spirit, really. What do you think that connection is? How do you feel connected to that? I don’t know. It’s just empathy, I think. I just feel nothing but empathy. And I don’t know if I can put it in better
words than that. Anyone who has a touch of the poet in them
identifies with Tennessee Williams, because he was such a pure poet. You know, he was such an archetype of what
that was, that kind of gentle person in the world, you know? I think anyone who’s even touched by it
a little bit can identify with it. Yeah. I mean, particularly in THE GLASS MENAGERIE,
I mean, it is an autobiographical play. And it’s completely relatable. I mean, he’s human, frustrated, trapped
in the situation of obligation and commitment and wants to get out of it without removing
one nail, you know? Without hurting anybody, without, you know,
having to hurt his sister or hurt his mother. And eventually, you know, inevitably, it just
comes to an explosive point and, you know, he’s gotta go out and have his change and
adventure. Now, Jessica, you’ve constructed a great
deal of your stage career doing Tennessee Williams, first with Maggie and then with
Blanche and now with Amanda. How did you get on that path? You know, what were your early encounters
with the work of Tennessee Williams? How did it happen? I had an early encounter, not dissimilar to
John’s. I was in some remote little town in northern
Minnesota, in junior high school, and we had to, as an assignment, do a monologue for speech
class. And I had never thought about the theatre. I had no exposure to culture of any kind (LAUGHS)
up there in the woods! So it was completely – like John, I didn’t
even know where to look, you know? And I think that they kind of handed out,
you know, mimeographed copies of different monologues to all the students and said, “Pick
one.” And the very first one I read, I thought,
“Okay, well – wow! This is something! I’ll do this one.” And it was the jonquil speech from GLASS MENAGERIE. So I’ve come kind of full circle, forty
years later. (LAUGHS) Now I’m actually doing the character! But I think that was actually the first time
I ever came upon Tennessee. And there is something about his poetry, and
what Natasha was just talking about, that thing where – I think what touches you,
on the most human level, is this universal sense of human loneliness that he writes about. I mean, he says he was pursued by his entire
life, and it’s in all his writing. You know, I mean, it’s just that thing of
– I mean, no matter, you know, how large a family, how loving a family, there’s that
loneliness that just like – that he captured, I think, so brilliantly. And then, that is what I think touches everybody
in the audience when they watch Tennessee. And the sense of loss, you know? I remember hearing a story. He went one time, I guess it was to a therapist,
psychoanalyst or something. The man started off by saying to him, “Now,
Mr. Williams, to what do you attribute the anger in your plays?” And Tennessee said, “I don’t think you
mean anger.” (LAUGHTER) I always thought that was so beautiful. Didn’t he say some wonderful thing – I’m
going to get the quote wrong – what was it he said? “Happiness is insensitivity.” Yeah, yeah. Or you know – it’s not quite that. That’s reductive. But the notion of, you know, searching for
this state of us all being in perpetual happiness means you absolutely can not be sensitive
to the human condition. But we’re all sounding very serious! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And the other important
thing to say about him is how funny he is! Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Yeah, I have to say when
we were rehearsing the play and, you know, just doing it in the rehearsal hall and tech
and everything, the first time – because I have never seen THE GLASS MENAGERIE on stage. And I probably saw an early film of it, you
know, so many years ago I don’t have any recollection of it. And the first time we took it up in front
of the audience, we were all stunned at the laughter! I mean, it was like – because you’re working
in a vacuum for so long, and you have no idea. You know, (LAUGHS) you’re doing Tennessee
Williams! It’s really fuckin’ sad, you know? (LAUGHTER) And then, suddenly you’re in
front of an audience, and everybody’s laughing! There’s so much humor in it. Oh, God, yeah. Well, that’s an interesting thing, I think,
that we should explore here a little bit, is this notion of expectations. You know, because Chris mentioned this earlier. We were talking about, you know, Brando putting
his imprimatur on Stanley and sort of screwing it up for everybody else later, you know,
in a certain way. (LAUGHTER) Not necessarily! Let’s hold on a moment there! (LAUGHS) But everyone else thought of him that screwed
it up! Because he himself – This is what I think we should engage in. And you know, of course, actors are being
sympathetic for another actor here. But you know, how does has that affected your
own work? And how do you get around those kinds of,
you know, particularly filmed expectations? Christian? Yeah, for me, with this particular situation,
‘cause I mean, I found out about it, you know, so rapidly, you know – Right. That I didn’t have a lot of time to think
about anything else other than every line of the play, you know? By that, what you mean – just to clarify
– is that you stepped in at the last minute as a replacement for someone else who left
the production. Yeah, exactly, exactly. So I had about, I guess, about ten days to
kind of get it all together (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) and throw myself on. And no rehearsal! I mean, jumped right into tech! Oh! You’re a very brave man! Yes, yes. Wow, that’s nice. (LAUGHTER) Yeah, so that was really – so
yeah, I just kind of jumped, you know, dove right into it. And I mean, when I first read the play, well,
I thought it was hilarious. I mean, I was reading it, and I thought, “Well,
this is pretty funny!” And funny all the way through until the end,
you know, when it just, I mean, it ripped my heart out. You know, I mean, it just really really got
me, and I remember reading it – I was taping it, you know. And I still have the recording of myself bawling
my eyes out, you know, as I’m reading this incredible play. So it was something that I definitely couldn’t
pass up. And yeah, getting to do it on stage, you know,
with Jessica is phenomenal. And the humor is a wonderful, beautiful element
to it. I mean, there is so much humor in the sadness
and in life, in reality. I mean, life is pretty freakin’ funny, you
know? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And even in its
great tragedy, it’s very humorous, and I think he does capture that rather beautifully. And I think you were saying something about,
you know, the plays have been around so long that people have a certain idea of what they
are. And in a way, that is a little bit of a disservice
to it. Because you know, sometimes you get audiences
that come in and they think, “Okay, we’re going to see THE GLASS MENAGERIE,” you know? And “It’s gonna be heavy! It’s gonna be, you know, this.” And they’re sitting there and then they
start to go, “Oh, wait! Oh, I can actually relate to this!” And you know, I mean, it is a classic. It is a beautiful piece of work and literature,
but it’s just so chock-full of humanity and relatable elements. I mean, certainly for me, I mean, this mother-son
relationship, it just kills me. It makes me laugh all the time. Yes, it’s like the humor of recognition
that you hear from an audience. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. But he definitely has wit and irony and sarcasm,
you know, all those things, those kind of literary things. But there’s also just when people, the shock
of the familiarity of it hits them, they laugh, you know? Yeah. “Oh, I’ve been there!” And I think he was very clever, Tennessee
Williams. I mean, all great playwrights, I think, know
this – that if you can make ‘em laugh, you can make ‘em cry. Yeah. And it’s a lot easier to make ‘em cry
if you can make ‘em laugh. I mean, STREETCAR is full of contrasts. Yeah. Just as soon as you think, when a scene ends,
you think, “Oh, God, I know what’s gonna happen! Something terrible!” – someone comes in
in a good mood! Or like, it’s very cruel, almost sadistic
that way, subverts your expectations, you know, over and over again. You know, the net effect in STREETCAR, I think,
is one of total confusion as a spectator, you know? He starts scenes the way you would expect
them to end, too. He flips that around all the time. Right. Oh, yeah! It’s incredible, isn’t it? So he begins a scene with what the sort of,
you know, predictable, clichéd ending would be, you know? What do you mean by that, Chris? Can you give me an example of that? Oh, man! (LAUGHTER) I’m sorry. Put you on the spot! He didn’t get that much sleep! (LAUGHTER) I gotta say – I don’t know about you guys
– but what is slightly, you know, challenging about this to me is that the experience of
being in the play is so encompassing and so sort of profound that it becomes the experience
you’re having. And I find it really hard, actually, to talk
about it or even relate, yet, to it as something – Outside. I mean, you know, you guys have had more experience
with it than I have. But I feel like, you know, once you’re enveloped
in it, it’s something that happens to you. And I feel like – So you feel as though you’re living in it
as you — ? You’re living in it. And it’s not like a behavior immersion thing. It’s that – I guess, you know, it’s
the elemental experience of a masterpiece, where it’s so much bigger than you that
when you submit and surrender to it and make your connections to the people, you know,
that you’re in the scene with, it’s sort of – you know, it’s this pleasure of selflessness,
which is, you know (LAUGHS) like almost impossible to achieve in performance. But the play is just so immaculately rendered,
and you recognize so quickly that any temptation to deny that submission wrecks it. You know, it’s the absence of poetry. And I think with Tennessee – I mean, I’ve
had this sense when I’ve done – I did two productions of STREETCAR, one in New York
and one in London, and now this one of GLASS – you get a sense – I mean, I always had
this kind of visual image, like, you know, whatever is happening backstage, you know,
you’re getting ready, you’re doing this, you’re doing that. And the moment you step on stage, it’s like
you’re being like enveloped by this freight train that just comes up behind you – Yup! Yes! And like, just picks you up, and until the
play is over, you are on this track! You are on this ride. And all you have to do is, like, open your
heart and give yourself up to it, and it’s constructed in such a way – I mean, if you
want to look at it from, you know, like a technical point of view, or the poetry, or
the universality of the human emotion or whatever it is, it like just encompasses you and takes
you there. And as long as you don’t resist it – Yeah. It delivers you where you have to go! Yeah. That’s it. How many other plays do you feel where you’re
picking up the play every night – Yeah, yeah! On your back and carrying the play across
the field, you know? (JEFFREY LAUGHS) I think that’s the only danger with it,
is when you try and put the brakes on. Yeah! As soon as you go, “Oh, I’m not sure. Hang on, hang on, but don’t tell this, right
into myself, I’m going to ground this, I’m going to find it!” – suddenly, it’s like, “Pbbbbbb!” You just have to trust it and hold onto the
reins desperately. And it’s like, I think his language – I
haven’t done that much Shakespeare – but if you do try and make Shakespearean verse,
if you try and make it like “real talk,” you know, how we all go around talking, it
absolutely doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work when you start (DOES
THE “CLASSICAL” VOICE) speaking the verse and the poetry, then you know, it just dies
on you, too. And this is, you can’t ignore the florid
beauty and choice of his words. Yeah. You can’t try and make it T.V. with it,
but you can’t go the other way either. And I think that for me – I don’t know
what you all think – but finally, what it boils down to, for Tennessee or for any writing
that you do in the theatre, the end of the day, it’s just listen and respond, and listen
and respond. And then, it’s exciting for the audience,
because they’re seeing something that might not be perfect, but is actually happening,
as opposed to a rendered version of some perfect take on it. And I think that’s what he gives you and
that’s what he demands of you, to do that, stay in that moment. Well, I had an experience, too, that, you
know, speaking just for myself, that was really different from other work that I’ve done,
in terms of process, where as we began to rehearse – I always feel this temptation
at the beginning to be sort of over-prepared, you know, to enhance my sense of security
and belonging and whatnot. (NATASHA LAUGHS) But you know, and some of
the obvious sort of versions that would take would be like biographies of character and
just sort of playing around with all that gestural physical exploration, whatever it
is, right? But in this case, I just was sort of struck
dumb by it. I couldn’t come up with anything. It was as though there was no place in my
creative appetite to attach to that. And instead, it all just kept going back into,
what was it like to be in the scene? What was it like to experience the connection? And that, and the consequence of that, slowly
and organically created the experience, and then the experience created the character. That goes back to that thing of the famous
performances that went before you in this thing. Right, right. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Like, the play has these demands, and the
demands are very personal of you. So I couldn’t be Marlon Brando if I tried
to! Right. And Marlon Brando wasn’t – he was just
doing what I’m doing, I assume. I never met the man, but you know, I’m in
awe of him, like most actors are. But it just requires this personal commitment
to the material and a real, you know, surrendering of yourself to what it is you have to do. And yeah, I mean, it would be a disservice
to the play to try to turn it into, or deliberately make it something different so that it wouldn’t
be like this actor who went before me. I mean, you’re so far off the game if you’re
doing that! Yeah! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) You’re dead, you know what I mean? And also, I think we can all – you know,
we are who we are as individuals. We’re bringing ourselves to it. But I think you can learn from prior performances. Pinch whatever! And you take from the past and then move on
to now. I remember my mum [Vanessa Redgrave] did a
very, very famous Rosalind, and she listened to the recordings of Edith Evans playing the
part, because she knew that she’d figured out the speech patterns, the way through. And in my consciousness, I know playing this
part, I saw Vivien Leigh in the movie several times, I saw Jessica. All of these things have somehow trickled
into me. I’m not doing the same thing, but they’re
part of the fabric, and you can’t ignore that. You want to embrace it and be thankful for
what you’ve been given in the past. And I also think, you know, with Williams,
because his canvas is so huge and the portraits he has created, unlike a lesser playwright,
they allow a multitude of interpretations (GENERAL AGREEMENT) that can still make the
play absolutely vital and, I mean, exciting and alive. And it can encompass, I mean, a huge variety
of interpretations, and it will still work! Yeah, particularly with THE GLASS MENAGERIE. In my opening speech, you know, I’m saying,
“The play is memory.” Right. You know, “It’s dimly lighted, it’s
sentimental, it’s not realistic,” you know? And so, for me, as I’m doing the play, everything
is kind of materializing around me, is how I interpret it, do you know? And like, the sense of touch and the sense
of smell and all that stuff, the play is memory! So it’s all coming back to me, you know? It’s all coming back to me, and I’m getting
to relive it. And it feels like such an honoring of Tennessee
Williams. I mean, that’s really why to do the play,
‘cause the play is so beautiful, and it’s a lovely play. And to get to do it, you know, watching Amanda
come to life again, you know, and watching Laura come to life again, and just seeing
them, who these people were, it’s such an honoring of somebody’s life! It’s really a remarkable experience. You know what’s astonishing about – in
line with what you just said – there is, once I started to approach the material, I
realized, “Wow, there’s so much room in here for me! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) So much room for me to
find my own way through this character!” Yeah. But at the same time, he’s dead-on specific. Mmm-hmm. I mean, at first I thought, “Well, I’ll
just throw it all away and I’ll walk in!” But then you read, like, “Oh, but I’d
have to be near the door here.” Or “I have to have a cigarette in my hand.” I mean, he’s so specific about the behavior
and what happens in the scenes. Specific, extraordinary. And yet, you still feel like, “I can bring
everything of myself to this guy!” Yeah. You know? Like, it’s a real trick, and I wish I was
a more intellectual person, (LAUGHS) I could discern what it takes to do that! But that’s the interesting thing about his
plays. I think if you intellectualize it too much,
it might evaporate on you. Definitely. You know, if you’d start to analyze it a
little too much. But it is so specific. I mean, my God! And I mean, learning the speeches, they’re
just – yeah, they really are! I mean, they were so hard to learn! I mean, it was just complicated, ‘cause
of the repeating, and – The repetition stuff. The repetition stuff. But then, once you do learn it, you see the
reason for it, and you appreciate it. When you’re learning it, you going, (SHAKES
HIS FIST AT THE HEAVENS) “Oy!” you know? (LAUGHTER) And resenting the guy like crazy,
you know. But once you do get it down, it’s like,
“Oh,my God!” The beauty of it is so worth it. And it’s all deliberate. It’s all deliberate, exactly. He repeats things for a reason. Yeah, yeah. Exactly, exactly, exactly. I think it’s quite funny, too, you know,
and you talked about the beauty of it and the poetry of it. And I think sometimes, the extraordinary thing
about him is that the poetry and the beauty is so muscular and three-dimensional. Yeah, it’s very muscular. It’s not airy-fairy at all. No! Nnn-nnh. And that is just flesh and blood, and pain,
and sex, and (LAUGHS) all of those things! And that’s what is amazing for such a poet. Absolutely. See, I think one of the problems with Tennessee,
because he is so revered and so represented – I mean, there have been so many productions
of him – that people, even though they may not have read the plays in the last thirty,
forty years, think they know it. Yeah, definitely. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) So they come in, thinking that they’re going
to see their idea, their version (GENERAL AGREEMENT) of THE GLASS MENAGERIE or STREETCAR. And it unsettles them, but the interesting
thing is that – and I’m sure in your production, it’s the exact same thing – you’re going
to do something that’s never been seen before, the same way we’re doing something that’s
never been seen before, but it’s all on the page! So really, it’s not like you’ve just stepped
out there arbitrarily and invented something that doesn’t exist. Nnn-nnh. Right. You might be doing something that’s never
been seen before, but he’s written it. He’s absolutely written it. Sure. I think that’s a concern. I think it’s something that John Reilly
was talking about a moment ago, when he was saying, you know, when I was talking about
Brando and STREETCAR and that sort of thing, it’s that there’s this American cultural
possessiveness. There’s this sort of “This is the way
it has to be, and I have it in my head that way, and so, it has to be that way every time.” And yet, when you’re doing – and I think
that comes from film representations of the plays. Because you know, Laurette Taylor’s performance
in 1944 and ’45 of Amanda, you know, echoes only in the halls of memory. But these other productions, you know, they
– the productions that are live, it has to change every night. It changes every night, the audience changes
every night. And it’s tough because that is one of the
hard things for all of us. We’re taking on these classics, like this. As Jessica said, you know, whatever you do,
you can be like white hot and (LAUGHS) giving it your very, very best, but somebody’s
going to come there with their own particular baggage and go, (DOES A PINCHED LITTLE VOICE)
“Well, I think you should have been like this!” (LAUGHTER) But just to address – or can
we put to bed the Brando thing? Because I just don’t think it’s as important
in our discussion as all the other things that we should talk about. Sure. And I don’t quite know how to put this,
‘cause I don’t want to do a disservice to Marlon Brando, who’s, you know, one of
the greatest inspirations for us all. I think at that moment in time, there was
some extraordinary thing [that] happened. This actor who re-invented the face of modern
screen acting arrived. I think it could have been in this, as Stanley. I think it might just as easily have been
in another part and in another play. And I don’t think, even though it was a
mind-bogglingly great performance, he is not the imprimatur for the Stanley that Tennessee
wrote at all, I don’t think. He is one, a version of it. Exactly. Sure. So, that’s it. I’ll agree! (HE AND CHRIS BAUER BOW DOWN TO JOHN; LAUGHTER;
JOHN SHAKES HIS HEAD) But also, I think you have to, you know – I think that there was an imbalance, you know? Yeah. I come to bury (PH) Brando! (LAUGHTER) It took the – well, that’s what I meant,
to finish up, was it kind of took the focus away from the play and these characters. Yeah, that’s what I was meaning to address. Yes. And Williams said that, which is good. (PH) I go into the theatre every night, thinking
that he’s smiling down on me. That’s what I think! Tennessee, right? Because if you look at his life and the things
that he talked about, he was a real actor’s actor. Yes, sure. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And I’m sure he’s up there, saying, “Kid,
give it your best shot!” That’s all I did, you know? Right? I mean, absolutely. I feel like, if he were to see our show, he’d
be really happy. He’d be like, “Aw!” (JESSICA LAUGHS) I do! I just feel good about that. It’s a really nice feeling. But I also think times change, you know. And that’s the great thing about Williams,
is because his plays are really timeless. They are, yeah. So that, you know, a production that was done
in 1945, the whole emotion and mindset and kind of, you know, this universal subconscious
– Even the political environment. Yeah, everything is completely different. So the performances they were crafting then
had to do with everything that was, you know, 1945. Well, now it’s 2005, it’s sixty years
later. Yeah! And the great thing is – it’s interesting,
because Anna Deveare Smith came to see the play, and she gave me the best compliment
that I’ve had, doing Amanda. And she said that she saw Amanda, she thought,
“This could just as easily be a black mother in the projects in 2005.” Mmmm! So it really does – you know, the way he’s
written it, and I’m sure all of these actors find that, you know, you bring your experience
of this time to the play. And that’s what makes it vital. Yes! Not that you’re trying to recreate what,
you know, the performances were back in 1949 or 1945. Because your whole life, environment, subconscious,
consciousness, everything is different than it was then. Yeah. And it has to change every day, even, though,
doesn’t it? I mean, doesn’t the performance continue
to evolve? Oh, God, let’s hope so! (LAUGHTER) Right? We got a long run, man! If you want it to or not, I guess! Because one of the recurring, shocking things
of theatre to me, and I always forget it somehow, almost every night I forget it! – is that
the crowd brings their own energy! (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And you walk out thinking
like, “Oh, they’re gonna – oh, wow, this is a whole new group of people!” (LAUGHTER) “This group’s nuts, man!” (LAUGHTER) Yeah! I’m surprised eight times a week by it,
you know? Sometimes pleasantly surprised, you know. (JESSICA LAUGHS) Yes, it’s crazy. You know, we talked a little bit about the
poetry of Williams, and you know, it’s interesting to me – We talked a lot about the poetry! (NATASHA LAUGHS) Well, what I’m interested in here is how
you – he’s really the Poet Laureate of the American Theatre, you know? Whereas O’Neill is sort of the guy who creates
“American-ness” in theatre, and Arthur Miller is sort of the conscience of America
in a certain way. I’m sure they would all disagree with you! Yes, yes! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Yeah, I’m sure they would. Well, that’s okay, it’s okay. Disagreement is good. What I want to get at here is how you work,
specifically in some ways, with the poetry and the text. I know you’re trying to play the moment-by-moment
elements and let the poetry do its thing, let it sing in its own way. Now, how does that – does it just come out
of the moment-by-moment work? Well, Stanley’s not all that poetic. (JESSICA LAUGHS) But there is something. I mean, whenever you nail the way people really
talk, it becomes poetry, I suppose. I think there are actually – I saw you a
couple of days ago, and I think that there is a poetry, actually, in what you’re doing. Yeah. Thank you. So to be fair to Stanley, I think that there
is that. Yeah. Well, I mean, not in the “poetry” like
– you know what I mean. It’s a different kind of poetry than Blanche’s
poetry. Sure, sure. But it’s a rough, vulgar poetry. Yeah. And in that play, there’s this vulgarity
and this coarse, common world coming into contact with this gentility, this old way. The Old South is this sort of corrupted element
of something or other – (TO NATASHA) don’t listen to what I’m saying! (NATASHA LAUGHS) But the Old South is encountering
the Industrial North in a certain way, through Stanley. Right. Well, that’s like, there’s like fifty
different levels that the play is working on. Sure, sure. That’s one of ‘em, certainly. In terms of how I work, specifically, every
night on something, it has to change, you know? I think any time you have some kind of dogma
about the way you’re gonna do something, before you even hit the material, you’re
in trouble. Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm. Because then you’re trying to turn the material
to the way you work, as opposed to surrendering yourself. Right. Nice! Like we were all saying, especially in Tennessee
Williams, he requires surrender to the material. Surrender to the material, yeah. So I don’t know. I had to kind of invent a lot of new ways
to work on this, you know? Even having done the play before, as Mitch. (GLUMLY) Which I saw! (LAUGHTER) Oh, that’s right! So I don’t know. I’m still discovering how to work on this. I mean, you learn little tricks about how
to keep yourself in shape, or how to get through a big speech or whatever. You always have your little bag of tricks
you use. But in terms of, like, an overall dogma or
something – I like a flask, incidentally (PH). (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) On how to work as an actor, it’s an evolving
thing for me. You know, I have the benefit, in a couple
of places in the play, where I am standing and listening to Blanche, where some of the
more sort of ornamental, what, you know, you might describe as sort of poetic parts of
the text come out. And I have to say that the alchemy between
– before we began rehearsal, when I – You’ve got to do it tonight, don’t forget! I know. I’m getting psyched to do it tonight! (LAUGHTER FROM PANEL) I’m stocked (PH)! But you know, again, that thing, on the page,
the experience you have reading something. That’s when I personally was very aware
of the sort of metaphor and poetry and all of that. By the time we’ve gotten through rehearsal,
into performance now, when we hit those parts of the scene, I feel like somebody is talking
to me, trying to get something from me, using the only words they can find for that moment
to get what they need to get. And the experience of poetry, or the sort
of being even slightly mindful of it being poetic, evaporates. It’s not there at all. I feel very wary of even using the word “poetry,”
in a way. I feel it’s “language,” you know? Sure. I think it’s language in its choice of words,
and I don’t think there is – I don’t know, I can’t – I don’t think there’s
a method. But I do think that it is important to try
and remember that you are talking to someone else, that you’re explaining something to
them, not that you’re delivering an aria or a speech. Yeah, I think that’s the most dangerous,
if you start thinking in terms of arias. Then you really are sunk. I think, you know, what we’re talking about,
“poetry” is probably a misnomer. I think what we’re talking about is the
musicality of his language. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And he writes it very
specific, and if you vary from the way he’s written it, you’ve lost it. I mean, you have to pay attention. You can’t paraphrase, you can’t flip words. You can’t, like, ignore punctuation. Yes. I mean, it’s dangerous to do that, it really
is, because he had such a sense of music. Now, it might not be – you know, I mean,
Sam [Shepard] has a sense of music, but it’s a rock-and-roll music. Williams has a sense of music, and it’s
very specific to him. And you have to honor that. I mean, I don’t think you have to be conscious
of this so-called poetry, but you have to honor the music of his language. Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) But it’s like Natasha said, it’s very
muscular. It never lets you down. I mean, it’s like it’s just right down
there in the bottom of your gut. So it’s not a question of kind of, like,
creating something. All you have to do is honor it. It’s true, sometimes, I’ve caught myself
once in a while, like, a line like, “me and Stella” is supposed to be the line. And I flipped it, “Stella and me.” And with the same intention, the same energy,
right in the same place, and I said it the other way, and I was like, “Why doesn’t
that line work any more? (LAUGHTER) All I did was – they’re the
same words, I just put them in [a different order], and they’re so close to each other!” I know. Like, it makes a huge difference. I mean, he was a deliberate playwright. Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Now, I think Chris Bauer was talking a moment
ago about preparation for his role and, you know, sort of doing character histories and
that sort of thing. Do you spend any time thinking about Williams’
own family? I mean, all of his work, I think, is autobiographical. Certainly, GLASS MENAGERIE is, but so many
of his plays, the autobiography seems to come up again and again. And he had those difficult family relationships. You know, an interesting relationship with
his mother, and then the sad relationship with his sister, who was, you know, mentally
ill and was one of the first people ever to have a frontal lobotomy. Is that relevant? Does it matter to your work? Does it inform your work? Does it influence your work? Do you think about that or what? I think that all great writers are very personal
writers. It just so happens that Tennessee Williams
was a man of letters and wrote, wrote, wrote, so there’s all this stuff out there to read. I felt like, when I was doing TRUE WEST, that
it was a very personal play, you know what I mean? You know, I haven’t read an autobiography
by Sam. And you never will! (LAUGHTER) I felt like this guy was talking about stuff
that really meant something to him personally, you know? The difference, there’s an intellectual
quality to writing that’s not personal, that is immediately apparent, you know? Sure. Yeah. So yeah, I’ve been going through this book,
“Tom,” you know, the real Tennessee Williams [“Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams”]. Oh, yeah, Lyle Leverich. It’s a good book. (JESSICA LAUGHS) You have to kind of take it in doses – (LAUGHS) Yeah, truly! Because as much as he celebrated life, and
as much as he really sucked the juice out of the fruit of life, it was counter-balanced
all the time with this horrible dread and despair, a real despair! And that loneliness that Jessica was talking
about. Yeah. He was a very lonely person. And some of the events of his childhood and
family are just crushingly depressing. So yeah, that informs it. It just makes you feel like this guy knew
what he was talking about! That’s how it informs, you know, my understanding
of it. Yeah. Christian, have you used any of that? Well, yeah, that book, “Tom,” has been
very, very helpful. My mother bought me a picture and a letter
that he had written, and so, I have that hanging up in my dressing room, and I kind of, yeah. And he’s just got this great expression
on his face, in the picture, you know? He just kind of like (DEMONSTRATES, LEANING
ON HIS HAND WITH A SMALL SMILE), you know? It’s very casual, very relaxed. You just kind of get a sense, a little bit,
of who the guy was and sort of what his attitude and posture was like. And then we all say a little prayer (LAUGHS),
really! (LAUGHS) The Wingfield Shuffle! Yeah, the Wingfield Family Shuffle. (JESSICA LAUGHS) And then we go out there
and we do the show. Before the show? We get down on our hands and knees every night,
and we just like – Yes, we do a little – (NATASHA LAUGHS) “Doo-bee-doo-bee-doo-bee-doo … ” (DEMONSTRATES
HOLDING HANDS IN A CIRCLE AND SMILING; LAUGHTER) Exactly! Ah! A cast secret from THE GLASS MENAGERIE! Now, you’ve met – of course, as you said,
you met Tennessee Williams. Well, yes. Sort of. I don’t know. Yes, I have read a lot about his life and
his memoirs and that autobiography. And I don’t know, I just think we all – you
just try and look for little things. They can be a piece of music, they can be
a pebble, a photo like Christian said. A piece of transparent glass! All these things that just are little talismans. Things that aid our imagination in making
it really live and constantly be alive for us. And sometimes, that’s plain old homework,
background, or just like one line of a poem that somebody loved that absolutely pierces
your heart. So I don’t know, all of those things. Well, you know, the last four productions
we’ve had on Broadway of Williams have all been directed by British directors. And I’m wondering why that might be? Is there a – do you think maybe that – It’s a conspiracy! (LAUGHTER, ESPECIALLY FROM NATASHA) But, I mean, it’s interesting to me that
we’re not seeing – I don’t know if it’s because – An American directed JULIUS CAESAR! It’s like a counter attack! (LAUGHTER) It’s art! It’s art! You look for good stuff, and you try to direct
it or act in it. It’s like, I don’t know, I’ve found
– you know, there was an article recently written about that. I found it, frankly, kind of ridiculous, you
know? Like, you just look for good stuff to do. And everyone wants to work on good material,
and Tennessee Williams is great material. Well, it’s just interesting to me – I
don’t know if it’s because the producers are hiring those directors. I’m wondering if those directors have a
more interesting cultural sensitivity to the work? Oh, no! You know, I mean, I just don’t know – I think we’re in a very patriotic age, and
that’s one of the reasons that this is even coming up, is people are so identified nationally. Personally, there’s a – “Freedom Fries”? Yeah, Freedom Fries and the rest of it. Personally, as an Englishwoman, there’s
also an American – We’re livin’ in a strange time! I thought the one good point that they brought
up in that article I referred to was that there is a bigger subsidized base for theatre
in England. Yeah. Exactly. And I think that’s something we could really
learn a lot from, you know? Our government ought to be giving a lot more
to this art form than they do. It promotes young directors. We ought to have a National Theatre, we really
ought to. Yeah, yeah. I agree with John. And you know, I sort of feel like, okay, I’m
English and I’m an American citizen, so I just find this kind of talk just, ughh! It makes me sick! ‘Cause there are really good, talented directors
of all sorts of nationalities, and there are bad directors of all sorts of nationalities,
and that’s just how it works. And I whole-heartedly endorse, there has to
be some kind of a national theatre in this country, subsidized arts, the right to fail. The right to fail does not exist in this country,
and it thrives in England. (LAUGHTER) I love it there! It’s great. And it does create a lot more of a nurturing
environment for directors to explore a much wider variety of work than in the commercial
theater. Do you think that there’s a difference between
the way audiences over there receive these works, as opposed to the way they’re received
over here by the audiences? Is there any difference between those audiences? You know, because – well, it was part of
this thing about expectations that we were talking about, you know, and that sort of
thing. Do you think there’s any difference, or
are the audiences – and you just came back from [London]. Yeah. I mean, I wasn’t doing Tennessee Williams
there, but I was doing ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. No, you were doing, right, CUCKOO’S NEST. Yeah. But yeah, that was – I mean, they’re,
you know, obviously very different plays. But the audiences were a blast. I mean, it was a party every night! (JESSICA LAUGHS) In the theatre, you know? (NATASHA LAUGHS) It was great, you know, we
just had a really, really good time. It was a lot of fun. I mean, there were some nights, of course,
where – well, it seemed whenever I was on stage doing a scene with the Chief or something,
like a really quiet, intimate moment, one night these two guys started to get into an
argument in the theatre. That was pretty exciting! I mean, like screaming, cursing at each other,
in the middle of this thing! Something out of the nineteenth century. How un-English! I know, I know! It was really, really kind of exciting. So yeah, there was always – They were Americans. (LAUGHTER) They were probably Americans! Exactly, yeah, yeah. So, there was always something crazy going
on. But yeah, no, here it’s been actually pretty
incredible how – I think because it is Tennessee Williams and everybody is so keen on listening
to each and every word that is said. And I literally actually tried to honor it
almost embarrassingly last night, in last night’s show. I (LAUGHS) I just repeated the same – ‘cause
a woman coughed over one of my lines. And I just repeated the same line, just right
after it. I think everybody probably thought I had some
sort of dyslexia problem. (LAUGHTER) I just wanted everybody to hear
every word, you know? It was very important to me! You know, the reason I ask the question is,
there’s a British scholar named Chris Bixby (PH) who’s written a lot about American
drama. And he talks about how Arthur Miller is, you
know, overlooked in this country and has never really received the kind of critical recognition
in this country that he does in England, and that Arthur Miller is, by the English, often
seen to be an English author, because he’s really been accepted over there, you know,
that the work has been accepted. And that’s sort of the question, I guess,
I’m driving at here. Well, I think partly what we experience here,
in the States, kind of at, you know, the base level, is that we have a disposable society. So that the artists are disposable at a certain
point. I mean, you see what happened to Williams
in his later career. I mean, he couldn’t even get produced! Miller
couldn’t! I mean, it’s absolutely – I think it’s
shameful, the way that this society, this country of ours can discard things so easily,
whether it’s an artist, you know, whatever it is! And I mean, I’ve lived in Europe a lot,
and I’ve never, never felt that there. But there is a kind of a ruthlessness in the
States that, I mean, in a way, you refuse to honor somebody’s extraordinary body of
work. And then you just, like, in later years dismiss
them as being, you know, ineffectual, not important any more. Yeah. And I think that’s probably why, in some
places, you know, like in London, where you have such an extraordinary just inborn tradition
of theatre, they recognize the worth, from beginning to end, of an artist’s career,
that we never do here. I so agree with you, and again, I think it
goes back to economics, I really do. All those theatres, you know, when Arthur
Miller’s name was mud here for the last sort of – until he had a mini-revival – you
know, for the last twenty years, he was constantly, his new work was being put on at the National
Theatre. Yeah. Right. This is what I mean. You have so many places in London, so many
theatres, where you can rediscover writers, honor writers, put on new writers. And here, by and large, it’s about commercial
success. Yeah. And it’s as simple as that. And that’s a sad thing. It certainly is, on the Broadway stage, and
to some extent – Well, yes, but you know, Off-Broadway, even
subsidized theatre is about sponsorship, is about subscription. It is not the same as real, subsidized theatre
that says, “Okay, here’s your mandate. Go out, do classics, go and do new plays,
and we’re not holding you accountable for box office receipts.” I want to bring something else in here, that’s
slightly off Tennessee Williams. (TO JESSICA) You had a remarkable success
as Mary Tyrone in LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, and I want to stay on this track, for
just another moment, and then I promise I’ll change tracks. But this idea of, you know, American dramatists
in Britain and that sort of thing. And you were also talking earlier about you
have to give in to the freight train of Tennessee Williams. Yeah! (LAUGHS) Did you have that kind of experience when
you were doing Mary Tyrone in LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT? Well, I’ll tell you. Mary Tyrone, I mean – I mean, as much as
I love Williams, and I do love Blanche and Amanda as much as anything I’ve done – when
I did Mary Tyrone, it was like something just blew wide open. I’ve never done a play like that and never
done a character like that. I mean, there was something – and I also
think it was, you know, it’s that extraordinary moment when – you know, there’s really
no mystery to it, you know, creating a performance. It’s like the actor and the person that
that actor is meets the character at a particular moment in time in your life, and it coalesces,
and it like – something happens, you know? It moves you forward as a human being. Mmm-hmm. It, like, opens the character. So you know, that’s what I felt about Mary
Tyrone, at that moment, that there was something – something happened for me. And – what was your question? (LAUGHTER) Well, actually, that was a wonderful answer. But what I’m wondering is, is it that same
kind of freight train experience where, you know, Williams, you get on, you go with the
train or you get run over? Oh, yeah. But see, I think – now, you know, I mean,
I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me. I think, to my taste, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY
is really the greatest play O’Neill wrote. I don’t think anyone would disagree with
you there. I don’t think anything else came up to what
he wrote there. Yeah. Absolutely. Now, Williams, you’ve got a bigger palette. You’ve got STREETCAR, you’ve got GLASS
MENAGERIE, you’ve got, you know – SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, sure. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. You’ve got SUMMER AND SMOKE. So he’s kind of – but for me, the real
O’Neill is LONG DAY’S JOURNEY. And everything else seems kind of – I don’t
know. I don’t like his other plays, to tell you
the truth. Yeah. But that play is something. And it’s because he’s writing about something
– he’s writing about family. As long as you’re writing about family (LAUGHS),
it’s like – I mean, somehow, it’s alchemy, isn’t it? (CHRISTIAN NODS) Yeah, well, and that’s what we’re really
talking about here is family. We’re talking about the brutality of family,
the tenderness that comes in family, and the poetic or musical moments that we find. It seems to me that these two plays are almost
feverish dreams, in a certain way. Certainly, for the narrative character, for
Tom Wingfield. But even in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, when
the Warsaw Tango comes in from moment to moment, it’s almost – someone was talking about
this being reality and realism, earlier. It also seems to me to be the inner consciousness
of a character or characters that’s laid out on stage, as opposed to being, you know,
these realistic moment-to-moment – do you follow what I’m saying here? How do you think about that? I got caught up on the Warsaw Tango. Isn’t it the Varsouviana Polka? Actually, I mean, I’m sorry, yeah, you’re
right, you’re right. Varsouviana – I’m sorry! Warsaw Tango – how would you do the Warsaw
Tango? (HE WIGGLES HIS SHOULDERS; LAUGHTER) Yeah, you’re right, you’re right. Sorry. No, Warsaw, Varsouviana is the same, but I
got it. Is it? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Oh. See, shows you what I know! That’s okay. (JESSICA LAUGHS) But what I’m wondering
is, you know, how does this idea about the moment-to-moment reality and this expressiveness
of sort of – I mean, it seems like you’re just leaving it all out there on the stage. You’re exposing so much of the inner life
of the character, in a way that seems different sometimes, for me, seems different, realism
itself, from what we would call realism. Am I being – Well, that’s the great thing about – I
mean, sometimes we’d run into things as we were rehearsing STREETCAR, and I’d say,
like, “Well, how are we going to do that? This doesn’t make any sense right here!” And we’d be like, “Ah! Poetic moment, poetic moment!” (LAUGHTER) And we were like – I think he
was – he didn’t write kitchen-sink dramas, you know what I mean? He wrote plays that were very based in human
reality, but that had a sense of impressionistic theatricality about them, too, especially
GLASS MENAGERIE, you know? And explicitly so. So that’s the kind of great, freeing thing. I mean, as you travel through the plays – I
mean, my experience in STREETCAR, anyway, is it starts out feeling very realistic and,
you know, moment-to-moment kind of, you know, real moments, day-to-day, everyday kind of
moments. And then, as the play starts to churn on and
on, you know, this aural soundscape starts coming in, and you know, you get deeper into
Blanche’s mind. Yeah. And all of a sudden, you’re in a painting
or something. It’s bigger than just a “This is how human
beings behave” kind of thing. Right. It becomes larger, you know? And you know, it’s interesting, because
Williams, if you watch him, there’s always a moment where a storm starts in almost every
play, you know? I mean, it’s like in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF,
right before, you know, Big Daddy’s told that he’s gonna die, the servant’s going
through the house, yelling, “Storm comin’! Storm comin’!” And I mean, in our play – In ours, right, yeah. You know, the rain starts right when the Gentleman
Caller appears, in that scene. And in STREETCAR – I mean, he always uses
that motif, that sound of storms coming, wind blowing – Thunder! Like the rain, the thunder. So I mean, yeah. But what’s great is that he lays those things
on, but you’re not playing those things, you know? Right. Sure. It’s just kind of illuminating. Accentuating, yes, absolutely. Yeah. It sort of gives you a feeling of freedom,
too. Like, I’m not just bound by earthly rules. Like, there’s something bigger happening
here, you know? And if something crazier than what happens
every day in my life happens, that’s okay, because we’re in, you know, his world. Now, when I asked that question a moment ago,
you looked a little bit puzzled by what I was saying. It seems to me that there’s a shift in consciousness
that Blanche undergoes as the play develops. I don’t think I looked puzzled. Did I look puzzled? No, I thought maybe you did. Am I completely off-base here, in terms of
that? Oh, puzzling it out. Now, I am puzzled! (LAUGHS) No, what I was thinking, I was just
thinking about the difference between truth and behaviorism, really. And he is those main-lined truth, and it’s
not about sort of real behaviorism. “Truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” (JESSICA LAUGHS) Mmm, yeah. I can’t say it any better than he can. Yeah, it’s true. He said it perfectly, you know, it’s really
amazing. Wrote it perfectly. Well, when you’re working on a play like
this, I mean, it’s got to be a little bit daunting, when you come to a play like these
plays. What makes you most anxious about that process,
when you’re coming in to it, other than coming in ten days before you have to open
or whatever it was? (JOHN LAUGHS) Is there something that – Well, talking about it in an intellectual
way and analyzing it makes me anxious, when I have to do it — (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Well, I don’t want to make you anxious about
that! But I’m wondering if you could talk a little
bit about, you know, approaching these plays and how you thought about that. Yeah, I mean, I think like what we’ve all
been saying, just the honoring of Tennessee Williams. Yeah, yeah. That was the main thing for me. I mean, even though I had the short time to
prepare, the play, once I read it and fell in love with it, I fell in love at that moment
with Tennessee Williams and wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t go on stage and insult,
you know, that playwright or harm the play in any way. So that was it. It was just all about honoring the material. That’s pretty much what I think about every
night, you know? Honoring the material, and you know, it is
a memory play, and it’s just all sort of ethereally coming back to me, you know? See, now I had an interesting experience when
I started, because I had never thought about doing Amanda, really. I mean, I had always, all my life, wanted
to play Blanche. I had always wanted to play Mary Tyrone. Amanda kind of was presented to me, and I
had to decide whether or not I wanted to do it. And I put off for a while, for a couple years,
actually. And then I looked at the play, and I read
this character, and I mean, I was so struck by her. And I felt that everything he said about her
was true. And then when I did my research on Edwina
Dakin [Tennessee’s mother], it kind of reaffirmed, like, all those first impressions I had about
Amanda. You know, the idea that when she says she
had seventeen gentleman callers, that was not a fabrication. She really did have, and she did understand
the art of conversation. Oh, yeah. And she did have manners, and she was well-bred
and she was elegant and she was beautiful and she was all those things. So that was kind of like how I began to see,
in my mind’s eye, the portrait of this woman. And then you start reading this kind of, ugh!,
theatrical criticism, and you see terms like “faded remnant, a remnant of Southern gentility,”
and I thought, “No, that’s wrong! (JEFFERY LAUGHS) She’s not! She’s a force of nature!” Exactly. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Dynamic, passionate, all
of that. She is like, man! Yeah! So you know, you have to guard against, I
think, in your – I mean, I have always found – and I’m sure, you know, everybody works
differently – but that first jolt of lightning you get when you read it is the truest. Yeah, absolutely. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Stanislavski said that. And all the other stuff, you know, the other
performances, the criticism – The things you hear, the other interpretations
– Yeah. I mean, that all comes down to bullshit, really. Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Because what is it, you know, you connect
with some life force there. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) And that’s what you
have to commit to. Identification, right. Well, the playwright Richard Greenberg once
said to me that he never, ever reads any critical anything, any of the critics or anything like
that. And I understood exactly what he was talking
about, because there is this investment that you have when you’re doing this kind of
work. And it seems to me that that can only get
in the way of it. I mean, here we’ve been talking about, sort
of intellectualizing a little bit about Williams here and there, and I’ve made John a little
bit anxious because he’s got to do this in a few hours. (NATASHA LAUGHS) Well, you know what makes me anxious every
day is preparing to do the ritual of theatre. Sure. There’s a short window of every day, when
you’re doing a play, where you don’t remember that you have to do it. (CHRISTIAN LAUGHS) And you’re just having
breakfast. And then there’s always this cool little
moment that happens (LAUGHTER) where you’re like, (DEMONSTRATES EATING SOUP, AND HAVING
THAT MOMENT OF REALIZATION) “This is great soup … I have to do the play again!” (LAUGHTER) And all of a sudden, your hand
starts shaking, you can’t enjoy the soup anymore. (LAUGHTER) And that anxiety – your head
is telling you, “I don’t want to do it! I don’t want to do it!” (LAUGHTER) And your body is walking toward
the theatre, you know what I mean? (LAUGHTER) Right, right, right, right! There’s this great kind of sick ritual that
we go through every night. It is! And the anxiety comes from, “Am I up to
honoring that ritual tonight?” Right! Yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) “Am I really going to sacrifice the calf
and cover myself in blood and weep and get them to weep, and am I going to throw myself
into it tonight? Am I up to the holy task of theatre?” And you know, that’s like a day-to-day anxiety,
doing plays. And that’s why we all have to, like, have
an unwind and go out afterwards and have a few drinks, because (LAUGHS) it’s the only
two hours of the day that you are released from this thing! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) For months, yeah. Amen, sister! (NATASHA LAUGHS) Actually, what I was saying means nothing,
because that was sort of where I’m headed here. Also, I wanted – all of you are well-known
for your work on the big screen and the little screen. And what I want to know is, how does the process
of your preparation – just set aside Tennessee for a moment or two – but how does the process
of preparation for the stage differ for you from when you’re working on the set? I mean, what’s your day-to-day life, or
what is your preparation when you’re doing the work itself? You haven’t said anything in a long time. God, man! There you go. I’m the new guy. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) I don’t know. You know, it is so conditional to material
to me, in terms of preparation. And whether it’s on camera or whether it’s
on stage – you know, this theme of honor. It’s so rare when something leaps off the
page that asks that of you, that has enough generosity there that you’re – you know,
it demands that you reciprocate with that much generosity. Mmm-hmm. That’s what’s really rare. Whenever that’s the case, then you get this
syndrome, you know, where it’s 24/7. It’s a devotion, and it asks that of you. So much stuff that I personally have done,
you know, out of the theatre, on camera, asks a different part of you, which in my opinion
is, you know, the source of many bad habits. Where it asks for justification, it asks you
to justify it existing, to behave your way around it, to make it interesting or make
it moving, to give it content when there is none. Yes! (LAUGHS) And that asks a part of yourself – On the camera, you mean? Yeah. But that asks a part of yourself that is in
real opposition to the part of yourself in this case, where it’s your sacred self,
your true self, you know, the source of honor and the source of worship. So to me, you know, it becomes about, you
know, keeping those two places securely separate. Because I don’t want to – as much as I
want to tell the truth, every time I work, regardless of how crass or sublime it is – I
don’t want them to intermix. I want that place of worship to be sort of
preserved, not just for the skill, but something bigger, you know? I also think, what Gary’s talking about,
you know, because as an actor – Chris. Sorry! We’re all, like, you know, we’re all kind
of working in different mediums. And you know, sometimes you’re doing things
that, you know, you have to work really hard to give meaning to. So I think, you know, when you’re doing
something like STREETCAR or GLASS MENAGERIE, it’s such a blessing as an actor that you
have been given this extraordinary opportunity to go through this. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) You know, it’s rare! It’s really rare as an actor! A miracle. You know, and you’re not trying to like,
you know, do a shot getting out of a car (NATASHA LAUGHS) for six hours, you know? (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And like hit – it’s
like so – it’s just thrilling. Is it because of the process of that thing
– part of the thing that John was talking about, but is it also that process of every
night, eight o’clock comes and it’s time to start and we undergo that process. Oh, it starts long before that! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But when you hit that mark, when you have
to hit the mark at eight o’clock, and you know, you come on. Well, there’s something really discombobulating
about working on movies. You know, you can get on a roll with something
like, “Oh, we’re doing this big scene today! It’s gonna take three days to do it!” And at a certain point, it starts to become
kind of repetitive, like, “Okay, right. I feel like I already gave my best to this
already. We gotta do that over again from a different
angle.” And then, “Okay, what are we doing tomorrow?” “You have tomorrow off.” “Oh. Well, shit.” (JESSICA LAUGHS) Like, I was just gettin’
going, you know? Yeah, very nice. Hard kind of rhythm, yeah. So in some ways, it takes a different kind
of discipline – Yeah. To keep yourself ready. Like a ballplayer would in a baseball game,
you know? You have these long periods of tedium where
you’re standing there, and then you have to run as fast as you can and catch that ball,
you know? It’s a much different discipline. And I personally try to go back to the theatre
as much as I can, you know, as unprofitable as it is! And this is not-for-profit (LAUGHS), what
we’re doin’ at the Roundabout. But I try to go back as much as I can, ‘cause
it’s really like the Olympics for an actor, you know? It’s really – it requires everything that
you’ve got and then some, you know? Yeah. You have to magically find something else
every night, that you’re not even sure that you have. Right, right. Brutal! (CHRISTIAN LAUGHS) It’s a schedule that’s really suited to
me, you know. Especially now that I have children, you know? Oh, yeah. It’s a chance to see the kids every day
and not be gone for twelve hours every day, like it requires on a movie. Yes, and it’s so funny you say that, because
it was absolutely the opposite for me. Yeah, me too. It depends what age your children are. Yeah. Ah. Well, yeah, I’m going a little – As long as they’re not in school, it’s
fine. Because I think it’s a killer for me. It means that for these months, I don’t
get to see my children, hardly at all. Yeah. They’re on opposite schedules. Because I can’t get up with them in the
morning and I can’t put them to bed at night, and they’re at school during the day, which
is my time. And I think it is – it’s what you were
saying, it is like the Olympics. It’s a marathon, doing plays like this. And you have to be really rigorous and disciplined,
as Sarah Bernhardt would say. And physically, emotionally, mentally, but
also, you know, we’re artists, and we’ve got to have fun, too. Work hard, play hard, you know? (LAUGHS) It’ like, otherwise, how do we
deal with it? But it’s a lot. What keeps you coming back to the theatre,
Christian? Well, first of all, of course, I love it. My father was an actor. And I remember he was an understudy in SHERLOCK
HOLMES when I was about five. And I just remember he would go to the theatre,
have to leave at, you know, seven, I’m just clinging to his leg, you know, begging to
go! I don’t know if I really wanted to go so
I could be with him (JOHN LAUGHS) or be backstage. You know, I just loved the atmosphere – of
course, I loved my father – but the atmosphere of just being backstage, I just felt connected
to it, and I really related to it. And there was a moment, actually, in that
show where I sort of became a part of the group. There was supposed to be some sort of car
accident that happens offstage, and so I got to be part of the general murmur (LAUGHTER)
backstage at five. So that was just like a real – yeah, I just
loved it! I loved the dressing rooms, I loved the lights,
you know, around the mirrors. It’s just a great atmosphere. The energy of it is thrilling. What do you – I’m sorry, John, go ahead. That’s okay. I think, to me, that’s essential to say
about this, ‘cause a lot of younger actors, and I assume some of those will be watching
this program, make a big case about, “Well, theatre and film are so different, they’re
so different! That’s a whole different thing! You can’t be big and you can’t be –” And
you know, I personally think that that’s not true. I think that there are certain technical skills
that you need to pick up when you’re doing films, but essentially, for me anyway, it’s
the same thing. You’re crossing into that looking glass,
and you know, going to that imaginary place. And you’re just, you know, like any good
actor regulates his performance based on the size of the house, you know? And when you’re doing a movie, there is
an audience there. Yeah, there’s a crew, yeah. There’s not many of them, but they’re
there. And they’re not supposed to look at you
(LAUGHS) or whatever. (JESSICA LAUGHS) But they’re there, and
they’re listening and they’re paying attention, you know? And so, it’s just a matter of size and scale. They’re paying attention, depending on what
you’re working on as well. I mean, that’s material. Yeah, I don’t think film should be any more
real than theatre or theatre should be any more big than film. No. Sure, sure. It should just be true. All of it should be true. Yeah, yeah. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Based on the size of the audience that you’re
doing it for. Anyway. Yeah. Hear, hear! Well, I wanted to ask you, also, and I’m
nervous about asking this now, because I have this question on here, it says, “How do
you keep it fresh?” (JOHN LAUGHS) And I know from – It was such a beautiful moment to end on. Yes. Just end on “Truth”! (NATASHA LAUGHS) It was perfect! It was great! We’ve talked about truth. We’ve talked about honor. We’ve talked about musicality. We’ve talked about poetry. What I want to say to you all is we’re coming
near the end here, and I want to thank you all. I wanted to let you know that – I’m going
to borrow from the poet again and say that I’ve always depended on the virtuosity of
actors. (LAUGHTER) And I want to thank you all for
joining us today here, as we have talked about interpreting Tennessee Williams. And I hope the audience will help me thank
you for joining us today. (APPLAUSE)

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