Interview: Deggendorf – 2010

Interview with René, October 30, 2010

René was interviewd by Carolin Kopplin before his appearance at a small convention in Deggendorf, Germany. You can read about the convention here.

Carolin: I’ve got a couple of questions from ORACLE.

René: Good.

Carolin: One lady would like to know if you are going to do any more audio books. She would really like The Last Unicorn if you could do that or some other children’s classic.

René: I would love to do children’s classics. Has The Last Unicorn not been recorded?

Carolin: I don’t really know, but she thought that might be something that might be interesting for you to do…

René: I would love to do that. I have met Beagle at events and he’s always been very warm and gracious because of my doing the animated film. I would love to do that and I would love to pitch it to him, go to him and say “I’ll record this” just for the chance to do it. But in terms of what I have…I know that when I go back next week, I am going to record two books from the Bible for

Carolin: Oh yes, I know them.

René: That might be interesting, the language. And I recorded something else for them, with a bunch of Star Trek personalities. Levar Burton recorded one of them, Wil Wheaton, and I don’t know who else. It’s a series of short stories that commissioned. They are science fiction and they somehow are an arc. I couldn’t honestly tell you what mine was about, but I read it. (Laughs)

Carolin: And are you going to do another play with Armin?

René: Another play with Armin? Well, there is nothing…no plans to that effect. If I do another play, one possibility is L’Avare, doing The Miser.

Carolin: Ah, yes! You said you wanted to do that.

René: Yeah. So we’ll have to see if we can make it happen. It’s a tough play. We just were in Paris and we saw the Comédie Francaise, their production of it, which was extraordinary in some ways and very wrong-headed in other ways. I suppose the problem with doing a classic that is so well known, to find a new way of telling it, sometimes people kind of push it out of shape.

Carolin: Yes, I know.

René: The thing is, the hard thing is, it’s very easy to say that The Miser should be dark, but that’s not who Moliere…he had darkness in him, but he was basically a comedian and he had to deliver the laughs. He was like Neil Simon…he had to deliver the laughs. And so to deny that clowning is to counteract the work, I think.

Carolin: Right, I completely agree. You said you might want to do King Lear some time.

René: No, I didn’t. You never heard me say that.

Carolin: Oh yes, I read it in an interview. I looked at all the interviews online.

René: No, no, no. If you read it in an interview, how do you know it’s true?

Carolin: Well, that’s true. (Laughs) So, you don’t want to do it?

René: No, it’s not that I don’t want to do it. It’s that I did it, you know. I played Lear when I was very young and of course I couldn’t possibly achieve it, but it was a tremendous challenge and it taught me a tremendous amount. That was at ACT. And then I went on to New York City, to Lincoln Center, and I played the Fool in the play with Lee J. Cobb…and then a few years later, I played Edgar with James Earl Jones as Lear, that was the one that Raul Julia was in, and I played Edgar. So I’ve done the three best parts in the play, you know. And I’m not sure what I have to offer the part.

Carolin: I’m sure you’d have a lot to offer.

René: It would have to be a wonderful director who wanted to do it. I wouldn’t want to do it just so that I may say the lines, and slog through a mediocre production. And you know, my friend Stacy Keach did a wonderful production very recently, and I went to see my friend Robert Foxworth just a month and half, two months ago in San Diego playing Lear, and I saw Dakin Matthews playing Lear. So I’ve seen a lot of Lears recently, and they all were brilliant. But it is like Everest. It is a mountain that will defeat you ultimately. So you know you’ll just have to be humble in the face of it and see what grace, how much of it…. You need a great director. I had a great director in Ed Sherrin in the production in Shakespeare in the Park with James Earl Jones. It’s on video.

Carolin: Yes, usually they are so boring when you watch them on video, but this is very exciting.

René: Yeah. To me, I can’t watch it, because I know that the real experience was so much more. You know, it was pretty powerful.

Carolin: I hope you’ll do something in London, too.

René: I know, you keep saying that. (Laughter)

Carolin: I am going to publish parts of this interview on UK Theatre Network as well so people online will see it as well. Tell me, what dramatists…I know you hate favourite and greatest…

René: Yes.

Carolin: I don’t like it either. What are some of the dramatists you appreciate?

René: Beckett — who I suspect perhaps actors enjoy performing and the audience sometimes less watching it. Sometimes it can be a difficult experience. But yeah, Beckett is wonderful. Chekhov, which I’ve gotten to do very little of, really, but I feel an affinity, as if the little bit of Chekhov that I did, that I have done, has had a real influence on me as an actor. When I think of any play and any character…because what Chekhov was so brilliant at is defining his characters: how intricate they can be, their foibles, weaknesses, arrogance, all things that he saw in people, shimmering like water. That’s a wonderful thing, if you can achieve that as an actor. Also showing a lot of different facets of a character so that you can like the character and then think the character is a jerk, then think the character is a hero. Anyway, what were we talking about? Yeah! Beckett and Chekhov, and Pinter, who I’ve also done very little of, Then Shakespeare. I would love to do David Mamet, but I am the kind of actor that he would think: “Oh no, he can’t do my plays.”

Carolin: Why not?

René: Living playwrights have casting approval. They can refuse to let an actor….

Carolin: Really?

René: Yeah. When I first played Tartuffe, I got to play Tartuffe because Richard Wilbur, whose translation we were using — it was a revival of a production that the director had directed a year or so before — Richard Wilbur would only give them the rights to the play if the actor who played Tartuffe in the first production didn’t. And that was why I was cast. The actor who he wouldn’t let play it was a brilliant actor but a very eccentric, quirky kind of actor and I think Richard Wilbur felt he distorted…but he was a wonderful actor. So what I’m saying is, yes, if somebody cast me in a production of a Mamet play that was going to be done in San Francisco, Washington DC, he might not say, “No, he can’t do it!” What I mean is, I can’t imagine him casting me in a new play for him, to have just written that play and say, “Oh, maybe that guy could play this part!” But I don’t think he would ever do that.

Carolin: In Germany, we have a different kind of theatre. You probably know the postdramatic kind of theatre, where the director is really the creative force and the writer is almost unimportant.

René: Like movies?

Carolin: No, it’s like the death of the character. There are no real characters, the actors just say lines but they are not a character. They might express a certain mood, maybe, but it’s like Richard Wilson or, I don’t know if you know Elfriede Jelinek, she won the Nobel Prize, she is extreme in this respect. We have a lot of that in Germany. Would you be interested in doing anything like that if it ever was offered to you?

René: Oh, I don’t know what exactly…I’m not clear on what it is, but I’m always interested. Do you know the work of Steven Berkoff by any chance?

Carolin: Yes!

René: Well, I did Metamorphosis on Broadway with Mikhail Baryshnikov and I loved doing that. Now he’s not everybody’s cup of tea, you know. Some people just hate Steven Berkoff. One of my friends came to see me rehearsing it and she saw a run through and she said, “How are you doing this?” because it was all so articulated, and times and lines were just coming out in a certain way. We were the family of Gregor Samsa….

Carolin: Yes.

René: And when we were eating it had to be a certain way. When we were saying the lines–dom, dom dom….

Carolin: That goes in that direction, yes.

René: I loved doing it. I just loved it. Once you learn it, it’s like a dance. Once you learn it, the steps, then you forget it, you just dance. There’s such a foundation. It’s not improvising. Improvising can be wonderful, but it can feel dangerous because you can lose it and not be interesting. But dancing like that and having rigid form that you then forget that you’ve done all that work and you just….

Carolin: There is a really exciting play — Every Good Boy Deserves Favour — which is shared by an orchestra and actors.

René: You know that I did that.

Carolin: Yes, I do! (René laughs) Yeah. I just saw it in the National Theatre. I thought it was so great. I never saw it before, I had only a record of it…I would have loved to see it with you.

René: Ah, with John Wood, right…John Wood must have done the recording.

Carolin: It’s Ian Richardson and Patrick Stewart.

René: Oh, really?

Carolin: Yes, and Ian McKellen.

René: That’s interesting, because John Wood created the role the first time it was performed, and then I did it when they came to the Kennedy Center in Washington and John Wood moved over there and we went to the Metropolitan Opera in Los Angeles with the Los Angeles Philharmonic with our son Rémy, he was playing the boy. It’s a wonderful piece. You know, for a while I thought, after the fall of the Soviet Union, it will never be done again. But now I think it’s time to keep it active. It would be fun to do it again. But now I might be too old.

Carolin: You can get away with it on the stage (laughter) because it’s a different medium. It might be difficult on TV, but you could do it on the stage.

René: Yes, I would love to.

Carolin: You could do it in London!


René: Yeah….

Carolin: Michael Grandage said he was thinking of you. Now he is not going to take over the National Theatre, unfortunately….

René: He isn’t?

Carolin: No, he says he now wants to concentrate on his creative work. He wants to direct but he can always say, “Well, I want to do this thing. Let’s ask René if he wants to be in it.”

René: Ah, that’s nice.

Carolin: Well, I think time’s up because you’ll have to get ready for the talk.

René: I think this is more than they’re going to wanna hear.

Carolin: Well, I wanted to hear it all!

(René chuckles)

Carolin: Thank you very much for your time.

René: Thank you, Carolin.