2005 Tony Awards Q&A: Bill Irwin

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Bill Irwin was an original member of Kraken, and was an original member of the Pickle Family Circus of San Francisco. He is also proudly, an associate artist with the Roundabout Theatre Company. Bill's Broadway credits include The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia?, Fool Moon, Largely New York, The Regard of Flight, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, and 5-6-7-8 Dance! Off-Broadway he's performed in Scapin, Waiting for Godot, The Tempest, Garden of Earthly Delights, Texts for Nothing, and A Flea in Her Ear. He's also got more TV and Film credits than we possibly could list here. Amongst other awards, Irwin has won National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer's Fellowship, Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships.

What's the experience been like for you doing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

It's a big play, and there's so much that goes into it every day. In fact, a few minutes ago Kathleen [Turner] just came over and said 'I'm leaving baby, I've got to go get ready.' That's because there's a lot of prep involved in this play. We run through the fight sequences before, well before, the curtain every night. We constantly run lines together before every show too, and then there's a long, traditionally long, story to tell the audience every show. Today, we're doing it twice.

So there's a lot more work that goes into it than most people realize…

Absolutely, and with this show, the irony is that you have to go the gym to work out, and to stay in top physical shape to play these people that are epically dissipated, that are hard drinkers. It's an exhilarating play, and you come off tired, but thrilled.

What's the typical audience reaction to the play been like?

To respond to your question, it's really a joy to respond to people and I think that audiences to this show have been pleasantly surprised. The fact of the matter is, is that it's a funnier play than a lot of people have it in their minds that it is. I'm not going to use the word 'uplifting,' but there's a more promising impulse in this play than a lot of people think, so we get to surprise them 8 times a week.

How does it feel to not only be nominated, but to have all of your castmates be nominated as well?

Being nominated is a great thrill, and we like to say that all four of us were nominated, which means that our director, Anthony Page was nominated four times. Had all four of us not been nominated, I don't think there would have been any problems though. Sometimes the producers worry that if someone is nominated and someone else isn't there would be problems, and I could see how there would be, but I don't think that in our cast it would have been a problem.

It's a thrill, and I really look at is as confirmation that we're a quartet. It's like a piece of chamber music, with all four of us playing.

So the four of you will be doing a lot of that playing over the next few weeks?

Exactly, and the fact that we get to hang out is great. The fact is that we like each other very much, and we of course see each other on stage all the time, but this means more time to spend together, and that's great. We couldn't be happier.

Speaking of happy people, it's not just you four that have been nominated, but writer Edward Albee will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award as well…

Edward wrote this play when he was 32, and then 40 something years later, he wrote The Goat that I was in as well. He tells me that he has something new in the typewriter now for me too. He's an ageless playwright, but he won't be with us forever, so it's very fitting that he be honored for his lifetime achievement this year with this show back on Broadway. I have a feeling that he'll be honored at least another half dozen times in his life.

You've raised a good point about the age of the play, how do you think it's holding up today?

People keep telling us, that they didn't know when they were booking tickets for it, but afterwards they say that they've had no sense that they were watching an old fashioned play. We get accused of improvising all time… 'Does Edward know that you're adding that little line in there?' We keep telling people 'no,' that it's his line and we don't make anything up.

This play is truly a great invention, and we're having a great time doing it eight times a week.

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