"I read somewhere that it is perhaps the greatest honour an actor can be given - when he gets to a certain age - to be given the part of King Lear."
In his first interview, Joseph Marcell speaks humbly about his past experiences of performing Shakespeare and how he now feels being cast in this latest role at the Globe.
Time: 5 minutes 29 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Welcome to the 2013 Adopt an Actor podcast series. My name’s Hayley Bartley and I’m here talking with Joseph Marcell who plays the title role in the upcoming Globe production of King Lear.
So my first question is: how familiar were you with the play to begin with?
Very familiar in fact, Hayley. In 2010, at the Old Globe in San Diego, I was in a production of King Lear directed by Adrian Noble, with an American actor called Robert Foxworth playing Lear. So, I’m kind of familiar with Kent. I don’t know if I’m familiar with Lear but, yes, I know the play.
Cool. And what are your initial impressions of the play then?
Uncontrollable elation! It was just amazing. Just wonderful. And then, you know, inconsolable depression. So, so far, that’s what I go through. I go: ‘I’m very, very elated and then I’m very, very depressed.’ And then I read somewhere that it is perhaps the greatest honour an actor can be given – when he gets to a certain age (because I am an actor of a certain age) – to be given the part of King Lear. And, as I may not have said yet and I will say, I do feel honoured.
And what are your initial impressions of King Lear then? What do we know about him?
Well, it’s nothing like I thought. We know that he’s a King; we know that he’s the King of England or some kingdom in the past – perhaps B.C. even. But what Shakespeare presents us is this very, very complex man, who has never actually thought of anything but of himself. You know: his kingdom, himself as King. And I’ve discovered that he’s a very spoiled brat – forget Hamlet – I mean, he is a very spoiled old man.
And, well, this is an obvious question: have you performed Shakespeare before?
Yes, I have. I mean, you know, some people say I do it kind of alright. I think I do it badly but yes, I have. My last production at the Globe was Much Ado About Nothing in 2011. And I was in Coriolanus and Under the Black Flag in 2000 - and I can’t remember. Last year, 2012, I was at the Old Globe in San Diego in As You Like It and Inherit the Wind. And, yeah, I do try and so far the gods have been kind to me, in that at least every other year I get to bite into the Shakespearean challenge.
Is it your favoured area of acting: Shakespeare? Or do you like doing more modern stuff as well?
It is the aspect of my profession that I haven’t mastered yet. Yes, it constantly presents challenges. And the challenges are not only challenges of language but challenges of trying to grasp an image and I haven’t mastered that one yet.
But that makes it more exciting to do, I guess.
Very exciting to do, yes.
And my final question is: did you do any preparation for this role before rehearsals?
Well, you have to. You’re presented with this [text] and you kind of go through the thing: ‘who do I need to read and who’s written about it?’ And there is so much written about it. One of my confusions was the confusion with Lear’s constant mention of the word ‘nature’. And an American friend of mine sent me a book – I think it was published in 1940 – by Professor Theodore Spencer, called Shakespeare and the Nature of Man. And it totally confused me because it didn’t tell me how to act it. So, I’ve been doing as much background reading as is useful. I could stuff my head with all this knowledge and everybody’s theory about it and then forget about the iambic pentameter and about what Shakespeare has written, and I have done some [reading] and I’ve tried not to watch anything; I’ve tried not to listen to other people’s interpretation, but I have spoken to other actors about it. And, of course, my director, Bill Buckhurst, and I have spent quite a few days before we actually started rehearsals. I shared my fears and my elations about it and we came to a point of understanding. And I think I am really hooked on his interpretation and how he sees the play. So really, in the end, the reading is interesting and it makes wonderful after-dinner conversation but, in the end (in my opinion, that is), it’s really how your director sees it and how you can reconcile yourself or your ideas to what he sees, because he sees it the way you don’t.