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BWW EXCLUSIVE: Brian Murray Talks ME, MYSELF & I and More

 

Earlier this month I had the chance to conduct an InDepth InterView with Drama Desk-winning stage actor and director Brian Murray who currently co-stars with Elizabeth Ashley in Edward Albee's new off-Broadway absurdest farce ME, MYSELF & I and our conversation now constitutes the second part in BroadwayWorld's exclusive 3-part series on the new Albee masterpiece. In this illuminating conversation, in addition to a thorough discussion of ME, MYSELF & I, Murray also dishes on his new 2011 "horrific chiller" co-starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts directed by esteemed director Jim Sheridan (MY LEFT FOOT, THE BOXER, GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN', BROTHERS), as well as playing Alec Baldwin and Nathan Lane's alcoholic father on 30 ROCK (married to Elaine Stritch!) and his warm words to his TWELFTH NIGHT co-star Kyra Sedgwick on her recent Emmy win as Best Actress for THE CLOSER! Plus, working with Kevin Kline, Helen Hunt, Marian Seldes, Nathan Lane, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and much, much more! Enjoy the intelligent wit and impassioned dedication Murray feels for his craft in this introspective InDepth InterView!

Brains, Brian & I

InDepth InterView: Brian Murray

Brian Murray is one of the finest Shakespearean actors of our age, having proven himself to be the most formidable interpreter of at least two of Shakespeare's most unique and essential - and most treacherous to navigate - characters: Sir Toby Belch in TWELFTH NIGHT and Claudius in HAMLET. Both of the landmark productions in which he essayed those roles were recorded so you may seek them out if you have not had the overwhelming pleasure of partaking in them, both the Kevin Kline led/directed 1980s production of HAMLET and the late-90s production of TWELTH NIGHT which was done as part of The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park series. That terrific au natural TWELFTH NIGHT also starred Oscar winner Helen Hunt and recent Emmy Award-winner Kyra Sedgwick. In this exclusive interview, Brian Murray, the eloquent and convivial actor and director discusses not only his most recent work in Albee's THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY and ME, MYSELF & I but also opens up about his Hollywood career and reveals what he loved about working with Alec Baldwin, Nathan Lane, Molly Shannon and Tina Fey on 30 ROCK and what makes it such a successful show, his experiences working with Helen Hunt and Kyra Sedgwick on TWELFTH NIGHT, as well as the first news about the new Jim Sheridan dark thriller DREAM HOUSE, going toe to toe onscreen with fellow Broadway baby and Hollywood star Daniel Craig. DREAM HOUSE - described by Murray as "about madness and murder" - will be released in movie theaters nationwide in early 2011 but you can catch Brian Murray live onstage alongside Elizabeth Ashley and Preston Sadleir (interview coming tomorrow) in Edward Albee's ME MYSELF & I tonight and for the next five weeks only (it closes 10/31)!

 

PC: Albee's THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY is an astonishing play. Tell me about discovering it. Who approached you with it?

BM: I was offered it, actually. In the summer of 2000. I had never been asked to do an Edward Albee play before - particularly not by Edward Albee! (Laughs.)

PC: Right? How exciting is that!

BM: Yes, I was thrilled to bits. I read it and I thought, "The first act, this is so funny!"

PC: It is!

BM: And the second act... I thought, "This is so weird!"

PC: Bizarre to say the least!

BM: I knew Marian [Seldes]. In fact, we had done a play together earlier that summer at Playwrights' Horizons.

PC: What was it?

BM: It was called THE BUTTERFLY COLLECTION by Theresa Rebeck.

PC: Oh, wow! Theresa Rebeck!

BM: Yeah. We did that, I think it was August. This was after I had been offered the play. So, of course, in the other play I schmoozed with Marian about what Edward was like and she said, "Just make sure you know all the words exactly!"

PC: He's very precise! To the letter!

BM: And I said, "I thought I knew that, really." So, that was the start. It was a joyous experience. It was completely happy. I sort of understood - I can't really remember now, looking back - I understood the play, and I understood my function in the play.

 

PC: What is it? What is The Man's function in that play?

BM: I discussed it with Edward and said what I thought and he said, "Yeah, right," and it was decided I was to seduce the audience into a sense of security. They would sort of be... lulled.

PC: Like a lullaby, pardon the pun!

BM: And then, when all the sort of shit hits the fan... (Pause.) as it does in the second act, they would be taken aback. Be taken by surprise.

PC: Surprise is the essence of theatre. Speaking of surprise, I actually spoke to a friend of yours for the Tony Award interviews this year, BH Barry...

BM: Oh, I know BH! A wonderful man. I've worked with him on dozens of things. I can't remember what they are now, but dozens of things!

PC: He told me they had a real animatronics baby originally.

BM: That was in Houston, when they did the play there. I didn't do it there.

PC: Was that ever considered for the off-Broadway production?

BM: They decided against it by the time we got to the off-Broadway production. They decided it didn't work, or whatever.

PC: I also interviewed the Lifetime Achievement recipient for the Tonys this year, Alan Ayckbourn. Do you agree that there is perhaps a slight Alan Ayckbourn influence on THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY? Am I just imagining it?

BM: You know, now that you point it out, I think possibly there is. (Pause.) I think Ayckbourn's absurdity is influential. But, whether his absurdity is influential over Beckett... Most people seem to say that Edward is heavily influenced by Beckett.

PC: What are your favorite Albee plays?

BM: Oh, I've seen them all. A DELICATE BALANCE. WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf. I saw SEASCAPE in the West End.

PC: Oh, you would be great in that! Would you consider that part?

BM: Of course! I'd consider any part of Edward's.

PC: What about the others?

BM: ALL OVER I know. I don't think there's a lot for me in there.

PC: I've written pretty extensively on that. There's a lot in there, thematically. I love TINY ALICE most of all, though.

BM: Really?

PC: I know it's not a popular favorite!

BM: Oh, I saw it originally on Broadway.

PC: Oh, wow, with John Gielgud and Irene Worth?

BM: Yes. I also saw it when they did it at Second Stage with Richard Thomas. Very fascinating stuff.

PC: How did you become involved with ME, MYSELF & I?

BM: Edward sent it to me in 2006 and said he had written it with me in mind and I was very, very, very thrilled. So, I called him back and said, "This is a masterly, masterly farce!" Now, he's put in some cuts.

 

PC: You've done this role before!

BM: Yes, I also did it in Princeton two and half years ago. I did it with Tyne Daly there.

PC: How has it changed?

BM: I think it's essentially a different play. The focus is very different.

PC: How wonderful to go on the journey with these characters!

BM: It's been a thrilling journey.

PC: Tell me about working with Preston Sadleir, a young actor somewhat new to the professional stage.

BM: Well, there are two of them! But, yes, working with the young ones... the thing is, my character doesn't have much interaction with the two boys onstage. But, I'm totally devoted to both of the boys and, yes, one does pass on things to the younger generation. With all of Edward, my constant motto is "keep the rhythm, keep the rhythm." He wanted to be a musician, he writes very musically.

PC: Like a conductor.

BM: You have to be as in control of it as a Bach piece. It is very rhythmic and very precise, the dialogue.

PC: Without question.

BM: That is sometimes hard for young actors to get their heads around. I don't think that is the case at all for these boys.

PC: They get the music.

BM: Yeah, it's all in the rhythm. It's very, very rhythmic. Like a lot of rhythms, you can't put a syllable there without spoiling the rhythm.

PC: Like a house of cards.

BM: Right.

PC: Is it a joy to live with that language of Albee's everyday? Is it a true delight?

BM: It's wonderful. Yes, indeed. The world is something a little obscure, language is not. Especially his.

PC: Language is Albee's main pursuit.

BM: Yes. Absolutely. That's why I adore him!

PC: As do I. What does ME, MYSELF & I mean to you?

BM: (Pause.) Well, I'll tell you the thing... why I first did it, what appealed to me. Why I first did it in Princeton was because... it's funny. It's funny.

PC: It is!

BM: I love his humor. I think it's very funny and I think that the mother is a very developed character. At least since in the original version, he has softened the sort of archetypal mother - which is in so many of his earlier plays. She was - and still is, I think - very funny.

 

PC: Especially with Liz Ashley, she's so warm and hilarious.

BM: Yes. The meaning of the play is in the sort of living in the moment with the words.

PC: Yes. Live theatre at its essential best.

BM: Of course, always - with all three plays of his I have done - it is a connection with the audience. They are dependant on the audience. His plays are more openly directly connected with the audience more than any other playwright I can think of. I mean, the fourth wall is always broken.

PC: Within the first two seconds!

BM: Right! When I did... There's a moment in COUNTING THE WAYS where the two characters are in the middle of a fight and suddenly a voice from the flies says, (Ominous Voice.) "Identify yourselves."

PC: Disembodied voices!

BM: The word from Edward was that we had to step forward and say, "I am Brian Murray" or "I am Marian Seldes."

PC: What a cool, surrealist moment!

BM: It seemed very bewildering to me! It was like a couple of minutes of true improvisation. To keep it different every night became to be a bit of a challenge. I was so enjoying it. I went first and she went second. Then we would go right back to the scene, the middle of the fight. It was extraordinary how the audience was connected with us from that moment on. I kept thinking, "This is ridiculous, I can't do this." But, then I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. I mean, he steps right out of the play and suddenly I'm the actor and not the character.

PC: I love how that device was used in THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY with you. The beginning of Act Two was amazing!

BM: Thank you for that.

PC: What's your theory on that? You are the true master of it - those asides.

BM: You have to turn on a dime. That's the point of Albee. It has to be a split-second, not a second. There is no time to allow the audience ever get ahead of you. You've got to be ahead of them technically and intellectually, but not necessarily emotionally because you don't always know what the emotional content always is. But, intellectually, you have to be sharper than what the audience can keep up with. You've got to be so far ahead of them that they are sort of just swept along.

PC: From Albee to Shakespeare: what do you think about how they stretch out Shakespeare these days? It's always so lugubrious. HAMLET should be able to be done complete in two and half, three hours, tops.

BM: Oh, yeah. Absolutely!

PC: Albee has the asides the true way they should be done. Very Shakespearean.

BM: Absolutely, absolutely. Always. Everything should always be... I mean, the moment you let the audience get ahead of you, you are sunk!

PC: Speaking of kings and queens, theatrical and otherwise, tell me about working with Elizabeth Ashley - a force of nature - on the new Albee play ME, MYSELF & I.

BM: She... (Pause.) Well, you know, of course, there is a difference between her and my former co-star.

PC: Tyne Daly.

BM: They were very different people, different actors.

PC: Totally.

BM: I love... I love Elizabeth Ashley. We have a wonderful relationship on the stage, and - I think - off. She's very sensual. (Pause.) I just love working with her.

PC: What's your favorite moment every night working with her?

BM: The picnic. The picnic. I really look forward to that.

PC: It seems like Albee is making a joke about THE SANDBOX.

BM: I think he's often doing that. I think he's often self-referencing.

PC: It's the Wagnerian gestemtunkerst, the idea of having all the works in your oeuvre interrelated in some way. A great canvas.

BM: Yeah. That's very true. There's a constant through-line. He's never moved away from it in all of his work: the mother and the family and the dysfunction. It's like he's saying, "I'm going to do this until I get it right!"

PC: You can never perfect it. Isn't that also the joy of acting?

BM: Absolutely.

 

PC: Can you tell me about working on TWELFTH NIGHT with Helen Hunt and Kyra Segwick. Did you know she just won the Emmy for Best Actress this week?

BM: Oh, yeah? Good on her. I loved working on that. It was a very, very happy experience. Helen I adored, Kyra I loved. It was so much... it was a wonderful company. Nicholas Hytner brought a great deal of love and support, and it was so beautiful to look it. I was very proud of it. It was lovely to be in.

PC: What was it like acting with and being directed by Kevin Kline in HAMLET?

BM: He was extraordinary. He was wonderful as the director. He was so generous and so thoughtful and so helpful in so many ways. His bringing of Claudius's theme to the forefront - using the theme of the two mighty opposites - he said, "I want the audience to be able to think he could outwit [Hamlet]. I don't want him to be an evil man." So, I found a way of playing him that I was so in love with Gertrude that mostly had to do with the queen and less the power grab.

PC: You got to work a lot on set with those two great stage actors, Nathan Lane and Alec Baldwin, in your great scenes as Alec's father on 30 ROCK, didn't you?

BM: Oh, yeah, yeah. Very definitely! It was - God, how long ago, what - two or three years ago now.

PC: Tell me about that experience on the set of 30 ROCK.

BM: It was one of the nicest sets I've ever visited. Everyone was so happy. It was the first season.

PC: And they were very unsure then if the show would continue on, especially when you were filming the back episodes.

BM: Yeah, yeah. But, it was so filled with... it was like family. And, of course, that particular episode was about family.

PC: You, Nathan Lane and Alec Baldwin - what a family!

BM: And Molly Shannon!

PC: And Elaine Stritch! Plus Tina Fey, of course.

BM: I didn't actually get to work with her onscreen, because she just came and said, "Hi" and visited. On my particular days of my stuff I didn't get to work with her but she was lovely to talk to.

PC: And, of course she is very influential in the casting of every role and writing your part.

BM: Oh, of course. Absolutely. And, I've known Alec for so long so to work with him was just enormous fun.

PC: Did you ever work together, even on a benefit or something?

BM: No, but I've just known him. As you do when you live in a kind of situation where you're in the business for a long time. I knew Alec when he was doing... LOOT!

PC: Oh, wow!

BM: Really back in the old days.

PC: That was before I was born!

BM: (Laughs.)

PC: It was before ‘84. Wasn't it ‘82?

BM: You ought to know! (Laughs.)

PC: Do you know if they are going to have you back soon?

BM: I don't know. They said they were!

PC: Fantastic! We need some scenes with you and Elaine Stritch!

BM: That would be wonderful.

PC: You're busy anyway!

BM: I've been kind of busy. I don't know if they checked on my availability. But, when you are doing a show [on stage] you can't really do a TV show because you have to be at the theater by seven o'clock and they can't always guarantee that, you know?

PC: Precisely. That's why Jane Krakowski and Cheyenne Jackson don't do any Broadway shows unless they can swing it.

BM: Exactly.

 

PC: Define collaboration.

BM: Well, without it, there's no point. (Pause.) In this day and age, sort of being able to work together... you have to understand that I believe it is not only crucial: it's super-essential. Anything less than absolute complete collaboration is a waste of time. I don't know how we could get anything done in the theatre without it.

PC: Unquestionably.

BM: It's a collaborative art. A collaborative craft, certainly, which is to say: in terms of the moment you go in front of an audience. They are entering into your world, and you are entering into theirs. You've got to collaborate happily and successfully and have fun with it, and them.

PC: Especially in this new version of ME, MYSELF & I. You and OTTO are always addressing the audience!

BM: (Laughs.) In this new version there's much more of the interaction. Especially with older OTTO.

PC: I love how Albee starts the play with OTTO directly addressing the audience!

BM: Oh, so you do know the new[est] version, then! Great.

PC: Tell me about the new movies you have in the can.

BM: I have a new movie coming out. I don't know when it's coming out.

PC: Who are you acting in it with?

BM: Daniel Craig.

PC: Oh, no way! James Bond!

BM: Yeah.

PC: He's also such a great stage actor. Of course, he just did A STEADY RAIN with Hugh Jackman last season on Broadway.

BM: Yes, he's great.

PC: But, my favorite performance of his was in A NUMBER by Caryl Churchill.

BM: Oh, really? He was in that?

PC: I'm assuming you are familiar with Churchill and the play.

BM: Oh, of course.

PC: He was in the original production as the first son/clone.

BM: Where? In London?

PC: The Fringe.

BM: Oh, I didn't know that!

PC: Did you have a good time working with him?

BM: Oh, yeah. I don't know how it will turn out ultimately. It was directed by Jim Sheriden.

PC: Oh, he's a great director - MY LEFT FOOT and BROTHERS.

BM: Jim Sheridan is a brilliant, brilliant director.

 

PC: What's the gist of the story?

BM: It's a chiller.

PC: Oh, really. So, is it like SLEUTH?

BM: No, it's not quite like SLEUTH. It's a chiller, not a thriller. It's about madness and murder.

PC: Oh, like a dark drama, with a horror edge!

BM: Yeah. It's an adult chiller, too, you know?

PC: So, the script is well-written.

BM: Oh, yes.

PC: So, you loved working on the film with Sheridan and Craig?

BM: Oh yeah, but I don't know what to think of it because I'm not very good at thinking about films, but it's coming out soon.

PC: It sounds like it is going to be great! How exciting.

BM: Yes, it is.

PC: Starring in the new Albee play with grand dame Liz Ashley, going toe to toe with Daniel Craig on screen: you're at the top of your game, Mr. Murray!

BM: Thanks so much. I've really enjoyed this.

 


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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)