A Conversation with Actor: Douglas Hodge
Ted Sod: How did this project come together?
Douglas Hodge: I started talking to Roundabout when I was on Broadway doing La Cage aux Folles because I wanted to work with them. We talked about me acting and directing in something. I came back six months ago and did a reading of Larry Gelbart’s play, Sly Fox. I didn’t feel it was quite right. I had just done Osborne’s Inadmissible Evidence in London with Jamie Lloyd directing, and we did a reading of that here, too. But Inadmissible Evidence is one of the bleakest, darkest plays I have ever been involved in. It’s literally like swallowing a thimble of poison every night. So, we all sat down and I said, “The plays I want to perform in are Cyrano de Bergerac, or maybe the Scottish play, but that’s it. I’m not interested in acting in any other things.” There was a slight hiatus and Todd Haimes called and said, “We are going to do Cyrano, who do you want to direct?” I said, “Jamie Lloyd is our man.” And suddenly we were hurtling towards this production of Cyrano.
TS: Jamie referenced on the first day of rehearsal that this is the fourteenth time, not counting the musical versions, that Cyrano been done on Broadway. Why do you think it is important to present it again?
DH: The first reason is that the translation by Ranjit Bolt is very, very different from what’s been seen here. It’s very visceral, it’s very energized, and I think truer to the guts of the piece. There’s a famous review that was written which said, “Cyrano is not a great play. It’s a perfect play.” It really has tremendous opportunities for me as an actor, which is something I love. There are also moments of real darkness, because he detests the way he looks and his self- esteem is zero. The whole idea of beauty and how we think about ourselves and whether or not we think we’re good enough–that seems to be quite modern to me. Everybody has their “nose.” If we get it right, I think people will see themselves in it, they’ll laugh till they beg us to stop, and they’ll be heartbroken. I think it’s an almost perfect evening in the theatre.
TS: I find it fascinating that Cyrano is so confident on some levels and yet can’t tell Roxane that he loves her.
DH: On the one hand, Cyrano says, “This is what I look like. Take it or leave it.” Zaza, the character I played in La Cage, didn’t like who she was, so she created this tremendous drag character, this suit of armor, to protect the fragile person underneath. There are some similarities with Cyrano, this person who’s made a construct of himself but privately thinks he’s unlovable. In terms of Roxane, I think she civilizes him. She tenderizes him. He says, “My mother loathed me from the minute I was born and she saw my face. I didn’t have a sister. I never dared have a Mistress Because she would only laugh at me. There’s this one woman who brings this gentleness into my life and a femininity that is entirely lacking.” I think it’s very easy to play the card that he’s some sort of romantic hero. He isn’t. I think he’s a virgin, for a start. He’s deemed to be hideous. He can’t hope to ever be seen by Roxane as someone to love romantically, but he loves her to the core of his being and that is very moving.
TS: How do you define panache?
DH: This is a question I ask myself every day. Panache is essentially the white plume that was worn in the hat of a king. Rostand, when he talks about panache, talks about it as being a sense of humor, being able to laugh at yourself and being able to find things funny in the moments of deepest tragedy. Of course, there’s swagger and style, élan. There are deeper elements to the whole way of life that is panache. We’ve just done the scene where Cyrano gets a glass of water and a macaroon as a meal. He’s given all his money away and clearly hasn’t eaten in three days and he says, “This is the greatest meal I’ve ever tasted.” He puts his napkin on and eats the macaroon and has a nice time. He says, “I want no more.” It’s making the most of it. That’s panache.