BWW Interview: Adam Rothenberg Talks Sam Shepard's FOOL FOR LOVE at Found111
American actor Adam Rothenberg is best known to British audiences as forensic expert Captain Homer Jackson in Ripper Street. He's also done extensive stage work, and now makes his London theatre debut in Sam Shepard's Fool for Love at Found111, where he's reunited with Ripper Street co-star Lydia Wilson.
What was your first theatre experience?
I would have to say I was about 12 or 13, and I saw Raul Julia in Man of La Mancha. That really blew my head off - it's still one of the best things I've seen.
How did you get into acting?
I really had no interest in being an actor, but then in high school, I was failing out of an elective class and that teacher was also the drama teacher. He said he'd pass me if I went up for a play.
But I actually had a very late start. When I was about 26, I had no college education, I was getting older, and my father told me I needed to make a decision. Even if it wasn't the right decision, I needed to make one and just stick to something. That's what got me off my ass.
Did you do much training?
I took a few classes, and then I started doing very, very small theatre work in New York - black box, little one-act plays. I got lucky with a manager, who happened to be in the audience.
How does your London theatre experience compare so far?
This is my first time performing here. I'm very nervous about it, but excited too - it's something I've wanted to do for a very long time. I'm really taken and impressed with the level of detail and earnestness and passion for theatre here - I don't know if that's a London thing or specific to the way Simon [Evans] runs a room.
Did you know Fool for Love beforehand?
I knew of it - it's one of those plays that's in the acting ether - but I'd never read it before now. They did a production in New York that I thankfully missed, so I'm really coming to it fresh.
Tell us about your character
I play a guy named Eddie who shows up at this motel after disappearing on his woman. It's the stretch of about an hour where they're circling each other and he's trying to win her back.
Without giving too much away, it's quite an unconventional relationship
Definitely. I don't think the nature of it will be particularly shocking - it's more of a device to show how fundamentally tied they are together. It's got this nostalgic, aching quality. I hope the audience feels like they're peeping into this very contentious and intense relationship. It reminds me very much of that first, raw teenage romance - it's got a needy, overwhelming quality. It's two people who seemingly can't live without each other, but sure as hell can't live together. I think we can all relate to those types of relationships that generally don't work out.
Does it help that you have an established dynamic with Lydia?
Lydia - it's just wonderful that she's involved. The stuff I got to do with her on Ripper Street was some of my best experiences. All actors say "Oh, we should do a play together", but I really remember saying to her how wonderful it be. The fact it's actually happening makes me believe in the power of positive thinking. It's so crucial for this production - 90% of my performance is just relating to her. If that wasn't in place, it would be miserable.
What's it like being in this intimate venue?
Found111 is a little actors' heaven. When actors start out, you dream of a place like this where you get to share the energy and air with the audience, rather than aiming for the back row. It really lends itself to the play, we're where very top on each other, in this enclosed space that's smack dab in some of the most open country you've seen, the Mojave Desert in California. That's a fascinating choice.
Have you done a Sam Shepard play before?
No, and it's pretty intimidating - you think of all the great American actors who've played these parts. I'm trying to treat it like a new play, just another script by some guy named Sam.
What's next for you? More stage or back to screen?
If this play breaks me, I'll be begging for some film work! But let's see what happens. So far I'm very happy with the way things have been going.
Would you want to do another series like Ripper Street?
Ripper Street, it's funny, that's a weird one in the States - it doesn't quite have the presence, so no one believes me when I say I've been working here for five years! Then I come here and it's this big thing. It's really cool to be involved with something people love. I'd love to have that again, but it was such a special experience - I think you're lucky to get one of those in a career.
Finally, any advice for actors on choosing projects?
For me, the beautiful thing about being an actor is getting to communicate something from your heart. Everyone wants to do that, and there's no venues for it in day-to-day life. You have all these wonderful writers creating these wonderful things, and you get to express yourself with their content. When you get a fantastic piece to do that, it's pretty great.
Photo credit: Darren Bell