Interview: MERCHANT OF VENICE's Makram J Khoury Talks All Things Shylock!

The Royal Shakespeare Company's acclaimed production of Shakespeare's THE MERCHANT OF VENICE will play in select movie houses across North America, beginning today, August 19. The production, which opened to rave reviews at the RSC's home in Stratford-upon-Avon, was filmed for "Live from Stratford-upon-Avon," the RSC program that screens the world's greatest classical theatre company from Shakespeare's home town around the world through a continued partnership with Picturehouse Entertainment.

Makram J Khoury, one of the most celebrated actors in Israel, makes his RSC debut playing Shylock in Polly Findlay's production of The Merchant of Venice. The Palestinian-Israeli actor has worked on stage and screen for over 50 years; he was awarded the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival's Achievement Award and the Israel Prize for acting, regarded as the state's highest honour. Makram's credits include international films such as Fatih Akin's The Cut, which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival 2014, Steven Spielberg's Munich, Natalie Portman's Amos Oz adaptation A Tale of Love and Darkness, and Richard Raymond's Iran-set Desert Dancer, as well as Israeli comedy Sukaryot and Magic Men, for which he won an Israeli Film Academy award for best actor. His extensive theatre and TV credits include touring with Peter Brook's theatre production 11 and 12 and Channel 4's BAFTA winning drama Complicit.?

Below, Khoury reveals all about his character:

What attracted you to the role of Shylock?

His guts to regain and retain his dignity, pride and wealth which was taken - stolen from him - even though he knows it's a losing battle, possibly subconsciously, but he must do it, (..."that I follow thus a losing suit against him "- Antonio ) - all the elements for a tragic hero fighting his destiny in a bashful world. And his extraordinary juicy and special language full of wit and humour.

How have you approached him as a character?

I never judge my characters. His demand, for 'a pound of Antonio's flesh', is according to the contract; he respected the laws of Venice, paid his taxes, and harmed no one. For him it's his right and he is entitled to it. It is this mean and hateful society that steals his money and daughter, he has no choice but to fight back, with the Law of Venice, and like all tragic heroes is full of vengeance.

I also liked how Shylock, in his language, uses examples and stories from the Bible, to show that taking interest in thrifty things and not using your money properly is a waste. He tells his servant Lancelot, no one will feed you and lets you sleep like me. To Shylock these are the real means of charity, not just giving money.

Definitely my approach to him is as a simple man trying to make a living, gaining his wisdom and thrift from the Holy Book, very protective to his daughter and to his community.

Has your interpretation been shaped by your own life and experiences?

I have that similar sense of needing to know the 'other'; to approach that side of society different from you, culturally, religiously, that side outside your community and to be recognized by the 'other' - who dislikes or hates or abuse - and be loved. I always wanted that need and always was curious to go out from my community to that luminous society who got everything including theatre and cinema which I was attracted to since a young age, like a fly who roamed around the lantern, curious to know what's in it, though being injured in different ways mainly politically and sociologically.

As a Palestinian born to a Christian Arab family, raised up in Israel, bearer of Israeli citizenship, I have a very complicated identity indeed, but, considered still part of a minority, and this minority is still considered a second class citizen (not to be fooled by propaganda, still, still...). Although I fought my way to get to the top, and received high recognitions and awards; unfortunately to some circles, especially the national right wing movements I'm still not to be trusted and also when it comes things such as security checks at airports and checkpoints - it is at these times when I become totally a SHYLOCK.

Does The Merchant of Venice feel like a contemporary play?

Absolutely, very much so. Our intelligent set and costumes automatically takes you to our times. As if almost in the last 400 hundred years nothing has changed with human nature.

What do you hope audiences will take from this production?

Very simply, try to know the 'other' more, live and let live, and if you wrong somebody intentionally it will come back to you...

Sum up Shylock in 3 words?

Humane. Survivor. Witty.

What is it like performing on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage?

Unique experience, enchanting and thrilling.

For cinema listings and booking visit to sign up for updates and follow the creation of the production online in the run up to the screening.

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