BWW Interview: Jonathan Watton Tackles Hitchcock in Mirvish's NORTH BY NORTHWEST
A North American premiere is set to stun Toronto audiences when NORTH BY NORTHWEST, a stage adaption of Alfred Hitchcock's renown film, graces the stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.
Presented by Mirvish Productions, NORTH BY NORTHWEST runs September 19th - October 29th and promises to be a groundbreaking display of technical innovation, "using a combination of cinematic green-screen techniques, video projection, scale models and good old-fashioned theatrical magic."
BroadwayWorld's Taylor Long spoke with leading man, Jonathan Watton, on playing Roger O. Thornhill.
PROFILE: Jonathan Watton
What is your zodiac sign?
Other than North by Northwest, what is your favourite Hitchcock film?
Vertigo. Some of the shots in that film still surprise you. It's an amazing film.
What is your motto?
I'm going to shamelessly steal a Milton Berle quote here, -although you never know, he may have borrowed it himself! I do love it, it's on my fridge:
"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door."
You're known for several roles from television and film - Murdoch Mysteries, Maps to the Stars, Good God to name a few - but tell me about your stage experience.
Upon graduating Memorial University's theatre program in my home province of Newfoundland, I was fortunate to get cast in the inaugural season of the Atlantic Theatre Festival. At the time it attracted great talent from across North America and for the three seasons I was there, it was an invaluable place to grow. Some highlights from my time there as a young actor included being directed by Michael Langham and working alongside many actors from Stratford and the Guthrie. Productions included, The Tempest and The Cherry Orchard, A Flea in her Ear, Tartuffe, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
A season at The Shaw Festival followed and then having moved to Toronto, I seemed to work only in cities elsewhere! These included many of Canada's leading regional theatres, with my personal favorite being the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. It has been such a great place to work over the years, and I always jump at the chance to go back there.
Finally after years in Toronto, In the Wings, a new play at The Factory theatre led to my first season with Soulpepper Theatre doing Phaedre and The Play's the Thing. Truly one of Canada's great ensembles, I loved working with each one of those company members. I have taken some time away from theatre and acting too for that matter, in an effort to find other creative challenges, but have been very grateful that acing opportunities have always come back into my life. A second season at Soulpepper was one, which included Joe Orton's fabulous and fun Loot.
Some recent shows include the Canadian premiere of Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters at Theatre Aquarius, The Canadian premiere of Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) at the Tarragon Theatre, and this past season, the Canadian premiere of Carey Crim's great new play 23.5 Hours at The Royal Manitoba Theatre Company.
Our premiere of NORTH BY NORTHWEST will be my first time performing on stage at Toronto's storied Royal Alexandra Theatre, which is a great thrill for me.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST is a theatrical adaption of the iconic film - are there subtle differences in how you act for stage versus for film?
I strive to find the similarities between the two mediums in my work to be honest. To sort of let the process in one, influence and inspire the process in the other. The moment I consciously try to act differently is the moment I think I start to lose the very thing I'm after. That being said, for sure there are different challenges with this play. It's very physical, and so precisely directed that rhythm and timing are at play quite a bit. So certainly there's been more physical preparation for the performance on stage.
At what point did you get involved with the production and what has the journey been like so far?
Simon Phillips, the director and I spoke a few months before rehearsal. He, being very familiar with the demands of the production was very helpful in preparing me for what is involved. He basically told me that for the entire 2 hours of the show I leave the stage for maybe 30 seconds. So... that let me know what sort of journey I was in for.
Our early run in the UK, was great. It's certainly a challenging piece, one of the greatest I've faced as an actor. But he has brought together such a strong ensemble of actors whose work doing the MANY characters of this piece is really wonderful and has been so great to play with. And what happens to Roger Thornhill throughout the course of the play is incredible. Kidnapping, pursued by the plice for murder, seduction, crop dusting, and scaling Mount Rushmore. So it's a great thrill to do that all for an audience in under two hours.
I can imagine that a long run of a show can get repetitive, but it also must give you the opportunity to really delve deep into the character. What kind of discoveries have you made so far with playing Roger O. Thornhill?
Well to be honest, so far the play has been such a great challenge that it has not felt repetitive yet! But yeah, definitely some discoveries. Carolynn's script via Ernest Lehman's screenplay has faithfully maintained some of the interesting aspects of Roger's character. Of course we see his charm and wit, (forever imbedded in our consciousness by Grant's seminal performance) but in the text we are never allowed to forget that he is really a workaholic with two failed marriages. And what I keep getting intrigued by is the very odd and interesting relationship he and his mother have with each other. Roger's journey through the play is in some ways one of discovery, which provides an opportunity for him to re-establish who 'Roger Thornhill' is. Certainly he finds in Eve his equal match. And he realizes his new self through his attraction and ultimate love for her.
Tell me something exciting about this production.
Mount Rushmore!! On stage. No, really, let me repeat that. MOUNT RUSHMORE!
And there is a plane. I won't say how big a plane. But there is a plane.
Seriously though, the production really is an absolute romp of theatrical play and ingeniousness. If that's a word? Ingeniousness? If it's not, let's make it one.
You're not only an actor, you're also a writer and director. Tell me more about that passion. Any creative projects in the works?
Currently, I'm in post-production on my latest short film, Death and Faxes. A surreal dream about a man in a coma who has to choose between our world and the next. Over 6 days we filmed it in the middle of Lake Ontario on a barge. Definitely the most challenging shoot for me so far as a director, but a fun one too.
I'm also in development on my first feature, an adaptation of a novel by a dear friend of mine set in our home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It's a poetic and moving piece of two teens who save each other from suicide in a small town in Canada's north. But I'm taking rather long with the script so I'm half afraid he'll tell me he's taking it to some other aspiring filmmaker!
Anything you would like to add?
Would love to make a shout out to my friends and fellow Newfoundlanders, Petrina and Romano, and the rest of the fabulous cast of Come From Away, which I just saw. Such a moving piece and frankly, a great inspiration to those of us on stage, to strive for such heart and precision in our work. It was a great, great night in the theatre, and a very proud moment for me too as a Newfoundlander.
Lastly... to the fun staff at the Plaza Hotel in NYC that very recently let me wander into the Oak Room Bar with a Gibson... Roger Thornhill's drink and bar of choice. It was a great New York moment for this boy from the Rock.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST, presented by Mirvish, runs through October 29th at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St W, Toronto, ON.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/north-by-northwest
(photo credit: Nobby Clark)