In his third blog post Mo discusses how rehearsals and his character have developed, rehearsing stage fights and how to act like a Roman.
Transcript of Podcast
The character that I am playing is Italian and I have been talking about this with my wife, who is Italian. I saw a production of The Merchant of Venice in Italy and what I really noticed about it was the way that the actors moved. It was fascinating and sometimes so different to how British people use body language.
This play is set in Rome. There's a moment in the play when I’m saying a long list of nasty things that I’m going to do to Martius and while I’m saying the lines I’ve been thinking about the gestures I make. I’ve been talking to my wife about Italian hand gestures and then thinking about gestures that support the meaning of the words and the nature of my character. When I put the words with the movement, the meaning seems to come alive. There's another thing where Adrian, Aufidius's right hand man, says ‘He's the devil’ to Coriolanus and I say ‘Bolder, but not so subtle’ and I draw my thumb down my cheek. People might not know what it means but deep down they will know it.
It's just those little things that make the performance more textured and specific and that's when it becomes really exciting. When De Niro does something on film and you remark on it or if Al Pacino or Judy Dench do something subtle that you notice, it's because, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they’ve done something that penetrates your subconscious.
The Volscian state where Aufidius is from is literally 20 miles from Rome. I’ve been following the Italian elections and the way that the Italians move is completely different to the way that we move over here. So that's what I’ve been doing, going through my script and seeing if there are any sentences that can be punctuated with a particular kind of nuanced thing that is a whole language in itself.
It's been very good this week. It's very odd playing this character because he's just at the beginning and the end really substantially so when you come in you feel like you’re starting again. But it's such a great atmosphere and Dominic is so unprecious about the text and he's so welcoming of ideas and I think that's the mark of somebody who knows what they’re talking about.. It's nice because you can go away and get to know your part and explore your own methods and bring that into the rehearsals. You don’t kind of talk about your methodology, he just says what he wants you to do and you do it.
I always get immersed in the world of the play itself. There are a couple of books I’m going to start reading – I can’t remember the names of them. The first book is a whodunit set in Roman times which will be exciting. I also read this book a little while back by Edward Rutherford called London which was a historical novel about London. There was a chapter in there about Shakespearean London and I want to read stuff like that so I know more about that time.
Learning my lines
I know all of my lines now. For me, that's a foundation. I think that learning lines is obviously very important otherwise you can’t perform the play but it's not just knowing the words but also knowing what you’re saying with the line. The line is just on the surface and it's the subtext that matters. I very much believe in ‘actioning’ – putting actions with the words. For me, it very much brings the play to life. I don’t understand Shakespeare particularly and so sometimes I think in terms of a silent movie - you know what those guys were doing even though there were no words and I try to the same thing with all my characters. So, with Shakespeare especially, I think if they can see the pictures you’re creating with you’re body and the interactions with the other characters it makes the whole thing much more palatable.
What's important to remember is that Aufidius is a politician as well as a soldier and that's an interesting mix. He changes his opinion towards Coriolanus two times in the play. Even though he's not in the as much as everybody else the character's journey is just brilliant. There's a scene that we’ve just rehearsed in which Aufidius is saying he's going to bring Coriolanus to his knees. It's very wordy and very cerebral and, although I’m really enjoying it, I think it will just take time to sink in and to think like a politician basically.
I feel comfortable playing the soldier and the politician but at different places in the play. There's a part at the end in which Aufidius is being very much a politician. It's like a famous court room scene and I think every actor would love to play a court room scene. It's a scene where he's publicly bringing Coriolanus to his knees and I love that. Because you’ve got all the references to the great movies and you start to kind of pretend to do all that.
That scene is a very show off scene, whereas other scenes are much more intimate and the danger with an intimate scene, especially in this theatre, is that you can become very small. In a more intimate scene you still have to make it clear what it happening in the character's mind. It's easier in the shouting scenes because you’re bringing him down in front of everybody.
To make us aware of these issues of clarity all of the actors work with Stewart [Pearce, the Globe's voice expert]. He used to be my voice teacher when I was at drama college and he's just great! I always make sure I do a warm up and I do a lot of swimming because that's brilliant for increasing lung capacity. Glynn [McDonald, the Globe's movement expert] has given us an exercise which is basically four movements that pertain to the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. It balances you and it allows you to just be in the space rather than force everything. I think when you force your voice or you force an action, that's when the audience has difficulty in connecting with you. Reassuringly, we’ve been told that the Globe's acoustics are great and you can be heard when you whisper so I think it's about feeling relaxed and balanced on stage.
Stage fighting is great fun. Jonathan [who plays Coriolanus] is very good. He did a whole season in Rome pretending to be a gladiator, so he's very secure with a lot of it. Our fight director is great too. And I’ve actually got a black belt in karate and martial arts but it's a very different thing so I always tell people that I’m not very confident in stage fighting and there's a truth in that. You shouldn’t assume that because you can do one type of combat that you can do stage fighting because acting is another layer on top of the stage fighting. But in terms of the body mechanics it's wonderful and you find that your sense memory remembers things quite quickly. And again, doing it on the stage is great.
Shakespeare is so brilliantly detailed so a lot of what we have to do is all there in the text and what you try to do in the storytelling of the fight is to match the nature of the text. There are no surprises because Shakespeare tells you what he wants, it's encoded, and you just have to try and do that service. Rene, the fight director, is very good at decoding what we should do. At the moment, we’re trying to decide at the end of the fight whether Coriolanus is about to beat Aufidius or if we do it another way. Coriolanus is the better soldier by a margin, I would say. Afterwards, Aufidius says to Coriolanus you’ve beaten me 5 times and it's always going to be the same. It would be the same result if we fight as often as we eat, so I’m going to think of another way to bring you down because I can’t do it fair and square - and that's what we’ve tried to show in the fight.
We’re using real swords that are being made in the U.S.A. apparently. They’re going to be two swish swords and hopefully we’re going to get to pose around with them. That’ll be cool.
I remember this activity from drama school which is a very simple, basic thing of accept and build. What this means is if somebody gives you an idea you run with it. There's all manner of reasons why you could resist an idea but I tend to be overly open in the rehearsal room, even if somebody comes up with a wacky idea because I think that allows you to bond quicker with the other actors and just allow the creative process to flow through you. If you start to block things you basically just seize up and I think it's an actor's job not to do that. I just say yes to everything!
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.