BWW Interview: From Middle-Earth to Midtown Manhattan- Richard Armitage Takes On Off-Broadway in LOVE, LOVE, LOVE
Richard Armitage might be known to millions of devoted Tolkien fans as Thorin Oakenshield, but this autumn he left Middle-Earth far behind him to start a new adventure off-Broadway. The Hobbit trilogy star joins a small ensemble company (including Alex Hurt, Zoe Kazan, Ben Rosenfield and two-time Tony nominee Amy Ryan) for Roundabout Theatre Company's American premiere of Mike Bartlett's Love, Love Love.
Spanning more than four decades, this dark comedy is the story of what happens when the free-loving teens of the 60s face the harsh realities of today's world. From passion to paranoia, Love, Love, Love takes on the baby boomer generation as it retires, and finds it full of trouble.
Armitage recently checked in with BroadwayWorld to chat about his New York theatre debut and life at the Laura Pels Theatre. Check out the full interview below!
It's been about a month since opening night and you've got a month left in your run. Is the cast into the groove of things now?
Yes, it's a really interesting show. I think from about the first preview, we sort of found the rhythm of the play, because the audience really informed the speed and the dynamics, which weren't there in the rehearsal room. Every house is different; every audience responds in a slightly different way. It's a very personal experience I think. It's great to feel an audience being entertained, but there's also a strong message in there, so it's very satisfying.
I'd imagine that getting to work with such a small cast, you guys have had plenty bonding time by this point?
It's one of the things I've really appreciated about the piece. When you have such a small group of people you really do get the chance to get to know everybody. I think we started rehearsals on the 22nd of August and I have laughed every single day I've been with these people. It's quite unlike me. [Laughs] It's been really nice. We've made friends. I really cherish our little family. We are a family.
You spend the most time on stage with Amy [Ryan]. What's it been like working with her specifically?
I kind of knew before I did the gig, just from what people said about her, that I was going to have a great time with her. She's obviously a very seasoned Broadway actress. She's got plenty of awards coming out of her ears. I sort of sat down with her before and I just knew that she would be up for anything. It's one of the great things about working with someone like that. We're both a safety net for each other. Because of the speed of the play and the rhythmic connection with the writing, sometimes things go wrong and we both enjoy those moments rather than letting them be a problem. I can see the spark go off in her eyes and she really enjoys the game. It's been really great. She doesn't want to talk about things too much. You just let it be what it is on stage, which is absolutely my cup of tea. I like to let the work go by without commenting too much on it. She's very, very unique to work with.
There is a very specific rhythm to the dialogue in this piece that makes it particularly engaging. Is that something you worked on in the rehearsal room with Mike [Bartlett] and Michael [Mayer]?
You know, about the third week of rehearsal Mike said to me that he was a drummer and it all made sense to me in that moment. The speed of the play, the interruptions, the cut offs, the blank line, the pauses, the beats, the moments... it's all orchestrated on the page. Mike is very, very specific where he wants you to go fast, where he wants you to interrupt. So you really have to be obedient to that. We tried in the rehearsal room just relaxing it slightly... it just doesn't work. It only really works when you absolutely obey the conductor. Mike Bartlett is the conductor. It's really interesting. It goes against a lot of what you instinctively learn as an actor, that you have to change things up a little bit, change the rhythm so it doesn't become stale, but actually you don't. You have to really adhere to it. It's quite liberating in a way because he knows when the audience is going to laugh and indeed they, more often than not, do.
You get to play this character at three very different stages of his life. What was the most difficult part in figuring out that transformation and then doing it every night?
You sort of start in the rehearsal room. I didn't worry too much about it. I just sort of threw myself into Act 1 because that's where we started. Obviously, it's a different time- there's a different energy to the character, so I just let the speed and the beauty of the character inform the age. That informed the pitch of my voice and the physicality of the character. In the middle act, it's very much my own age, so it sort of sits in the middle ground. The for Act 3, it's again there in the writing, Mike has it all laid out. There's a sense of him being slightly disconnected from the world and a bit slower. There were little things we worked with. I worked with a pair of shoes and a cardigan, which eventually we got rid of. They become just props that help you in the rehearsal process. Again, it's just about listening to the speed of the play and allowing the character to bend down.
Actually, I'm working against the age because I feel like as we grow older we resist it slightly. We can feel like old people or older people, but it's really lovely how Mike weaves in these memories and references in Act 3. Sandra (Amy Ryan) mentions something about laying down in the garden and in Act 1- she talks about laying on the grass and getting caught by police men. So he actually gives you a memory recall in the lines. Every time the character says that, I just imagine her back in Act 1 in that florescent pink dress. It's all there. You really don't have to dig too deep for it.
I know that you've done your fare share of stage work already, but this is your New York debut, correct?
It is. Yes!
Have you found that New York audiences are very different from what you're used to?
Well no, not really. There's definitely a hunger for good theater. There's definitely an enthusiasm that's local. They probably laugh in a more of an abusive way, but they comment to each other, verbally, throughout the play, which is really interesting. I can sort of hear people talking and I'm like "I wonder what they're saying." They're commenting to each other throughout the play, which I think is great! We're presenting a really unfinished argument and Mike doesn't intend for it to be finished. He wants the discussion to go on and on and on after the theater. I like the fact that people leave the theater and they're still in conversation about it. It's perfect.
Roundabout is very much known for their revivals, and you're now a part of the Roundabout family. Is there a role that you'd like to get your hands on someday?
Oh! Yeah I've always loved Chekov. I would like to have a crack at Trigorin one day. Yeah, there's lots of classic roles that interest me. Roundabout is the closest thing I feel to a good repertory theater that New York has. I've been aware of the Roundabout for as long as I can remember. So yeah, being brought into the Roundabout family is really wonderful.
I'd imagine you get a lot of action at the stage door. Is that something you enjoy or have just learned to deal with at this point in your career?
Yeah, you do learn to deal with it. [Laughs] I always say to myself, whatever it takes to get someone to buy a ticket to come to the theater. Audiences are growing older and we're hoping to get younger people into the theater, so whatever it takes. If people come to see the show, great. If they're less bothered about the show and more bothered about the selfie at the stage door, it doesn't matter to me as long as they're coming. You know, we've had people come from far and wide, which is great. It sort of helps the Roundabout creative and those programs and the global marketplace. Everyone always comes through New York, it's a great destination. If on their whistle stop tour of the Empire State Building and then seeing something at the Roundabout Theatre becomes part of the tour, then I think that's a good thing.
I mean, that has to be pretty cool for you to, just knowing there are some people in the audience that are coming maybe just to see you and you are maybe exposing them to their first theatrical experience...
That's always the goal! A couple of comments that stay in my mind from being on stage in more recent years are people saying, "I've never been to the theater before. I can't believe what I've been missing all these years!" Or young people that look at you and you can see they are not used to a kind of live experience. It's the one thing that it's changing. I think a lot of children and young people grew up with technology as early as they can remember. So to actually have to switch your phone off and watch somebody in front of you, live, is just sort of become a unique experience. Where it was the opposite many years ago. I think we are the last bastion of live. There's no amplification of voice; there's no auto-tuning; there's a few lights. It's a very simple experience.
You've obviously built quite a career for yourself at this point. Looking back, is there any advice you'd give to your younger self from when you were just starting out in the business?
I would totally say, "Just have more fun and enjoy yourself a bit more!" The stress level of being an actor and always being faced with rejection and failure and fear of where the next job will come from could sometimes color everything that you do. I feel like in the past I have taken myself too seriously. As I've gotten older, every time I enter a new job or start the first day of rehearsal I'm like "Alright, make sure you have some fun!" Take the job seriously, do your best work, but make sure you have some fun. If you don't, the audience will feel your stress. It was certainly one of the things I said to myself once we started this.