BWW Interview: Jonathan Cake Talks THE GRONHOLM METHOD at Menier Chocolate Factory
Set in the offices of a New York City Fortune 500 company, four unsuspecting candidates embark on the most testing job interview of their lives. This taunt play - which premiered in Barcelona in 2003 to great critical acclaim - exposes the psychological depths people will go to in order to get what they want.
In our age of reality TV game shows and tweeting US presidents, The Grönholm Method explores the human capacity to manipulate, lie and 'play the game' to get ahead.
What made you want to become an actor?
When I was about two years old, I stood on stage as one of the kids brought up from the audience to take part during a pantomime. When the other kids were taken back to their seats I refused to leave and lay down at the front of the stage, staring out at the audience with my hands under my chin. I think it's fair to say that the decision was made there and then.
What job would you do if you weren't in the industry?
I'd be a writer. I sort of am one already, but if I didn't keep having to learn all these lines then I'd have written more. I wanted to be a sports journalist for a while. To be paid to write would be my greatest ambition.
You're about to star in The Grönholm Method. Can you tell us about the play?
Jordi Galceran wrote the play in Catalan 15 years ago. It's about four people who are vying for a huge job at a massively wealthy corporation. They never meet their interviewers and they'll do ANYTHING to get hired. It's a bit like acting.
What specifically drew you to it?
The writing, and Mike Nichols. He was involved in the first production I did in LA in 2012. I would have done anything, anywhere for him. But the play is hugely exciting. Because it wasn't written in English it has an odd, intriguing timelessness to it. And a faintly surreal quality.
A bit like Yasmina Reza or Florian Zeller's work - there's a sense of a big moral issue being wrestled with, through the vehicle of a volatile and exploitative situation that reveals these characters at their most primitive level. Frank Porter, my character, is one of the most exciting parts I've ever played.
You're working with such a great cast. How are rehearsals going?
They're going great thanks. It's a tiny bit odd as I'm the only one of the four of us who's done the play before. Those little moments of revelation and understanding you get in rehearsal the first time round I can see happening to the others, but my challenge has been to, in a sense, undo what I already know about the play, and join their experience of the innocence of the discovery. It's tricky.
Any funny highlights you can share?
I don't think I'm speaking out of turn when I say that, with Ricky Gervais, John Gordin Sinclair is the funniest corpser [the UK stage term for uncontrollable and involuntary laughing] I've ever worked with. Like Ricky, he doesn't need anyone else to find it funny for him to go into paroxysms of laughter. And even a long time after it's finally died down you can still see the giggles in his eyes, like bubbling alka seltzer.
The play explores themes of desire; how far do you think you'd go to get something you desperately want?
I'm embarrassed to say pretty far. But these days, to get maximum performance out of me, it would have to be something my kids wanted. Then I have the strength of ten and the tenacity of a pack of grey wolves. Terrible really, the spoiled gits.
What should audiences expect?
The unexpected. To be shocked. And appalled. And amused. And perhaps recognise a world that is pushing us all to do more and go further to satisfy the people dangling the carrot of reward in front of us. Hopefully all of that at the same time.
And what do you think their reaction to the play would be?
I haven't - and probably shouldn't - have a clue. We're in previews now and audiences seem genuinely thrilled by it, but theatre is a gloriously subjective experience.
Tell me something that you're passionate about...
Off the top of my head, my friends. It's odd being back in London, the city that used to be home, and feel so far away from home. I live in Los Angeles now.
But in truth, my life really is international in the best sense because my friends are here, there and everywhere. And what an extraordinary bunch of smart, funny, wildly interesting and caring set of people they are. Their minds and hearts and our connection to each other travels over great distances and I'm absurdly lucky to have them.
You've worked on some really exciting projects; what's been one of your highlights?
Gosh, there has been a ton - another immensely lucky thing. The incredible shock of fear, revulsion and horror when Fiona Shaw emerged with our children, dead in her arms, in Medea on Broadway in 2002 was unforgettable. Some balmy nights at the Globe saying the words of Coriolanus that were written for the dimensions of that space.
Chasing Charlotte Emerson around a stage at the NT with a whip in Baby Doll. Playing Antony at The Public Theatre. Mill on the Floss all around India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Making my kids laugh like drains when I fell out of a tree as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Fun.
What role are you still yearning to play?
I'd like to try Antony again. Ditto The Scottish King, which I did at The Old Globe in a wonderful production by Brian Kulick, but I don't feel done with that yet. All of Pinter. Vershinin, Trigorin. Private Lives, The Master Builder. Gosh, there's a few.
Tell me something I wouldn't know about you...
I bite my nails, beyond the acceptable. Oral fixation, stress coping mechanism, post-prandial habit, who knows. I'm doing it now. Delicious. Cheers.
What's been the hardest part of your career?
Well beyond the habitual, institutionalised bearing of disappointment that all actors put up with, being away from my family. I realised with a shock that it's become quite common for me to vanish for too long to New York or London to do these plays. And my kids won't be kids forever. I'm around a lot of course when I'm at home, but man is it hard to be away from them.
Knowing what you know now about the industry, what advice would you give to someone that is just starting out?
Make your own work. You have more power than you know. People want new and fresh and that's you. Get together with your brilliant friends and make stuff up. Even if it doesn't go anywhere, the very act of creativity is the point.
The Grönholm Method runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 7 July
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan