Figuring out the character can be a bit of a puzzle
Actor Anthony Heald has spent nine seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, playing such iconic roles as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and the Stage Manager in “Our Town.” This year, he plays the Narrator and Mysterious Stranger in “Into the Woods” and the Duke of Buckingham in “Richard III.” We chatted at Noble Coffee. This is the first in a two-part Backstage column.
EH: When you get a part, how do you attack the character?
AH: It depends on whether it’s a new play or if it’s a classic. If it’s a new play, I try to stay as open as possible, to get a sense of what the character is, realizing that in the process of rehearsing, there are going to be a lot of changes. I try to stay open to the changes, and think in terms of what would help the character or the project.
If it’s a classic, I like to learn all the lines long before rehearsals begin. I like to research previous productions, the time period in which the play was written, critical opinions of the play, to see what great minds have done in looking at the play: what they consider pitfalls, and what they think the main themes are, so that when we start rehearsals, I have some ideas.
Some people are reluctant to do too much before rehearsals. They want everything to happen in rehearsal. I find that if I try to learn the lines during rehearsals, I’m trying to do too much at the same time.
In rehearsals, I try to improvise using the lines. I improvise behavior and line readings and try to connect with my scene partner. Then, as you go, you find, “Oh this feels like the character,” how it is physically and vocally. And then you find another place that feels like the character, and gradually you find the character.
EH: What makes a great actor?
AH: A strong work ethic, a good sharp mind, a willingness to keep an open mind. I like to do crossword puzzles. One of the things that crossword puzzles teach me is that there are many ways of looking at a clue. It could mean this, or it could mean that. You have to stay open. You have to be ready to take a word that you put down and think, “Maybe that’s not the answer.” You can find a lot of things that will fit.
That’s true in acting. You can find a lot of things that fit, but that doesn’t make them right. You have to find the right thing. You have to be willing to throw something out, if it doesn’t connect with other things, and take the chance on finding the thing that is right.
EH: What makes a great director?
AH: For my money, two of the best directors I have ever worked with are Amanda Dehnert, (who directed OSF’s “Into the Woods,” “My Fair Lady” and “Julius Caesar”) and Bill Rauch (also wonderful) very different directors: Amanda is very decisive, Bill lets things go on a little longer. They both encourage actors to try things.
I think the most encouraging and welcome words that I can ever hear from a director is: “I don’t know.” I like a director who is willing to involve me in the process, who is willing to try a lot of different things. I like a director who is creative and imaginative, a director who treats people well.
“Richard III” and “Into the Woods” play in the Allen Theatre until Oct.10 and 11, respectively. For tickets and other information, go to www.osfashland.org or call 800-219-8161.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.