BWW Interview: Will Holbrook Does Two Plays This Summer
Actor Will Holbrook made a big splash as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet when he first arrived in Los Angeles in 2016 at the Archway Theatre Company. The grandson of Hal Holbrook, Will is ambitious with two plays scheduled to perform this summer - Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and The Skin of Our Teeth - and the presentation of his new production company dedicated to film. In our conversation, Will talks with candor and enthusiasm about his plans for this summer and beyond.
I saw The Skin of Our Teeth several years ago at Theatricum. It's bizarre in structure and insanely hilarious. Describe the Antrobus family and your character son Henry in detail.
WH: The play follows the Antrobus family as they claw through external and internal disasters during the ice age, the great flood, and war. Some characters are representative of the bible, Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus as Adam and Eve, and their son Henry was re-named from Cain after he killed his brother. There is also a play-within-a-play aspect when the actors playing the characters occasionally break the fourth wall to make personal commentary on, or criticize, the production.
Through all the chaos, the family's relationships evolve to an explosive third act. Henry is a little boy when the play begins and has already killed his older brother. He strives to please his father and family and be "good", but his instincts drive him to violence. I think as the story progresses, Henry observes the best way for him to get attention is to be "bad". But the cost of that transformation is heavy. The play is unusual in its structure and themes, but at the heart it's about a family trying to survive and cling together, which all of us can relate to on some level.
How are you going to prepare to play Henry? Use lots of imagination, to be sure.
WH: I first read the play before the audition a couple months ago and closely connected with Henry right away. Since then I've been preparing for the start of rehearsals. I'm looking forward to exploring being in the mind of a little boy, because young children don't edit themselves and they go after what they want with zest and no second guessing. I enjoy using a combination of different acting techniques. At the end of the day, it's whatever is most effective for given moments, stories, relationships. Preparation is the most fun part of acting to me because it's when you can really learn things and tell a story. I do a lot of script analysis and character development beforehand so that once a production begins I can just be in the moment at rehearsal and in performance.
On every project my process evolves. Sometimes I'll prefer a couple months to focus on a character, sometimes just weeks. I also get really excited about entering different worlds and perspectives. Extremes fascinate me, and once I feel I "get" something, my mind starts wanting to move on. Extremes are risky but rewarding, and I seem to find myself in those scenarios over and over. They do make eventual balance more satisfying. Henry faces the dilemma of extremes as well in his pursuit of attention and adoration. Working with great acting veterans like Melora Marshall and Willow Geer, you always get so much from your fellow actors, which brings you to a fuller life. We have a really good team on this production, and I can't wait to start.
Dark comedy is a challenge for most actors, as you tread a thin line between fantasy and reality. Is this new for your repertoire or have you done one before?
WH: I tend to prefer comedies darker. I think a lot of our lives are dark comedy. It's in the darkest moments we most need to laugh, and laughter is the closet emotional release to crying. The only reason we accept the craziness of life is because we are partaking in it and not observing it. Dark comedy relates us to our human gift of self-consciousness, every moment is so dear and important, yet we are also aware of the world and universe we exist in and that we are but a part of it. Only when we can't laugh at the darkness does it become too dark. Comedy is tragedy that happens to someone else. If you can observe the dark comedy happening in life, you can understand it in the script.
Is this your first time at Theatricum? Use lots of insect repellant and be prepared to sweat...a lot. Tell us anything else you wish to regarding this character and play. Have you ever read Our Town? Thornton Wilder moves 360 degrees from this for the satyrical Skin of Our Teeth, but they're both about family life.
WH: This is my second season with Theatricum. Last year I graduated their artist internship program and had ensemble and understudy roles in three of their plays. I'm continually struck by the beauty and community of Theatricum. In a big city going out into nature settles me down and brings peace. Performing classical work to an audience of not just people-but critters and birds is magical. Working on a stage surrounded by trees older than the stage itself brings perspective to what we do: attempt to perceive and relate to the life around us. Nature is the greatest of all storytellers, and humans are it's most triumphant symphony. Sometimes on stage there I feel like we actors are the ones watching a story unfold around us.
A couple years ago I watched the 1977 production of Our Town that my grandpa Hal was in. I love stories that take place over generations, those two plays being good examples.
Prince Hal in Henry IV has to be one of Shakespeare's most difficult characters to carry off. The speeches are terribly long and immersed in historical content. Describe the dilemma or conflict and how you will attack it as an actor.
WH: Hal's arc was what first attracted me to the idea of the show a couple years back. He is stuck between two worlds and has to find a way to balance the good from both to become the great king he dreams of being. His arc ends in seeming opposites and we get to see what makes him change. Finding personal meaning in the history is key, as is understanding the scene by scene evolution of Hal. Mining for historical context gives a better idea of relationships. It's one thing to know Henry Bolingbroke had been banished by Richard II, returned, and won the throne, but another to put this into context for Hal; that his mother passed away in childbirth when he was six, his father was banished when he was nine, and Richard II took Hal under his wing until his father came back at eleven and deposed Richard.
Hal had several different lifestyles growing up, shifting to fit into each, and I think that shapes him into the heroic king he becomes in Henry V for better and worse. As he predicts, his ability to see different perspectives serves him well as king. To me there is a deep longing in Hal, longing that leads him all the way to the castles of France in conquest. Hal had a king for a father, and was raised in politics and celebrity, what he missed was love and trust. He has to find which people he can surround himself with when it comes time to "pay the debt" of being king. As an actor, understanding and communicating both the boy and the man, the drunkard and the king is a chief challenge. It's a daunting transformation for Hal to make as well.
Archway did a terrific job with R and J. Are fellow actors returning to do this project as well? Talk a bit about the artistic director and how he manages to mount superior Shakespeare in such a small space.
WH: Archway moves on the blood, sweat, and tears of Steven Sabel. His passion and direction attract good energies to the company. Many of those energies are a part of this production, including John Eddings (Falstaff) who designs our company sets and returns as Falstaff after playing him in Merry Wives of Windsor. Another frequent Archway collaborator, Ron Milts, is directing. His last show with the Archway was Night of The Living Dead in 2017, which won a Valley Theatre Award. It's a hard working group and that extra detail pays off and keeps the team rolling.
What have you been working on since Romeo? Film projects? Tell me about your production company.
WH: After Romeo I went through a transition period. I put everything into the show, and was so satisfied, that it took a few months to regain my fire. I've been booked continuously since October 2017 and am now full to the brim for all of 2019. I am doing now on a small scale what I want to do on a big scale in the future. I'm able to be selective with what projects I do now because I take full ownership of my career and recognize it will be what I make it and what I earn. It's all about growing and learning, inch by inch. I mostly work in film, which is my preferred medium because it can take you anywhere and it is compact and stand alone. The next release, scheduled for June, is A Shore, a film dealing with the complexities of friendship and regret between two best friends when they meet at their sacred beach spot to reflect on their adolescence and face the reality of being carried on different currents by life.
Opportunity is now truly in the hands of the artist in our industry. For long I had said "someday", but the time is now to make the art I want, as opposed to what I've been shown. As artists we have to trust our hearts and see where our crazy takes us. My goal is to be more catalyst than observer in my acting projects. We only get so many days, and I want to fill mine with projects that pass the 'pace test', if the script makes me pace around my room.
Our second release later this summer will be Way of the Wind. I took a 22 day long solo road trip sleeping in my Toyota Camry from LA to the arctic circle in Alaska, and back, in November 2018. I let my iPhone roll for 33 hours of footage, unsure if it would be anything interesting, but it turned out to be one of the climactic lessons of my life thus far. It was the culmination of adventures I began undertaking last year, days or weeks long unplanned driving trips around North America. I observed how much more I had to bring as an actor and person when I let my instinct take full control and stopped judging myself. I am editing alone so it's been a bear (wink) of a post-production, but I believe what I learned will inspire and move audiences.
Our next three projects are on tap for late 2019 and the first half of 2020. Next up is a 15-minute short about an artist's attempt to control his art titled To Eat A Slice of Pizza. There's heartbreak, shoot-outs, and a film within the film. The script is beginning to look like someone ran over the rule book with a lawn mower. It's gonna be outright chaos. I'm excited.
Deep End Productions will begin to produce and invest in other artist's projects as we build it. We say "Stay away from the shallows".
Getting back to Henry IV and its challenges, how do you approach the actual speeches in your preparation?
WH: One of the primary challenges of this play is tackling the monologue scenes. I've prioritized my time by workshopping scenes at Ivana Chubbuck studio, where I've studied for three years, giving me extra opportunity to work on them. Specificity in intention and the meaning attached to the historical facts are essential in this play. On the prose side at the tavern, it's understanding the jokes and references and finding the comedy of them for us the actors. I would argue some of Shakespeare's best comedic scenes take place at the tavern in Eastcheap with Falstaff, Hal, and Poins.
For updates on the projects mentioned above, follow me on Instagram @willholbrookactor or Facebook at Will Holbrook
Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 plays at the Archway Theatre Company at Tarzana Community Cultural Center, 19130 Ventura Blvd, Tarzana June 7-8 and June 21-23 only. Call 818-980-7529 for tix and info. WWW.ARCHWAYLA.COM
The Skin of Our Teeth plays at the Theatricum Botanicum from July 13 through September 29 for 12 performances, TheTheatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga, California 90290
For tickets, call:
Main Office 1-310-455-2322
Box Office 1-310-455-3723