Two seasons after his Broadway debut in The Seagull, British actor Mackenzie Crook has returned to the New York stage opposite Mark Rylance in Jerusalem. Crook originated the role of Ginger (the timid right-hand man to boisterous madman Johnny "Rooster" Byron) at London’s Royal Court Theatre and later in the West End transfer of Jez Butterworth's acclaimed play. Broadway.com caught up with the actor to chat about playing opposite the rambunctious Rylance, his days on the original UK version of The Office (where he starred as Dwight Schrute equivalent Gareth Keenan) and working with Johnny Depp as the one-eyed Ragetti on the incredibly successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Welcome back to Broadway. Has Jerusalem been a very different experience from The Seagull?
It’s so good to be back! With a classic like Chekhov or Shakespeare, the text is sort of set in stone and you can’t mess with that, but with [Jerusalem] we’ve had the privilege of Jez Butterworth being here and involved from the beginning. The show is so very English, I feared we’d have to change a load of the references just to make it understandable, but we’ve found out American audiences respond to it very nicely. I think there is an American equivalent to these people who live on the fringes.
The show takes place on St. George’s Day. Do you have any of your own traditions for the British holiday?
We actually did the play the other night on St. George’s Day [April 23]. Mark made this brilliant speech at curtain call about how the English don’t really celebrate St. George’s Day. Somehow [the holiday] and St. George’s flag have been hijacked by nationalist groups that use it for their purposes. It’s been quite difficult in recent years to celebrate the day without appearing overly patriotic and nationalistic. Mark talked about how it was so good to reclaim it and celebrate it for its proper reason: to be proud of being English.
What do you love about your character Ginger?
He’s more complex than would perhaps first appear. He’s Johnny’s [Mark Rylance] best mate and sort of the butt of all his jokes, but he’s there to keep his feet on the ground, stop him from flying away during his flights of fancy and the stories he comes up with. Ginger tries to disprove [the stories] out of a sort of affection and care for Johnny. He doesn’t want to see him make a great fool of himself.
Mark goes to some incredible extremes in this role. What’s it like to share the stage with him?
It’s very inspiring. He wants to keep things alive all the time. If there’s something that seems to be working, he knows there’s a danger in it becoming stale, so he’ll change it up deliberately and throw something new in to keep us all on our toes.
Ginger brags about his DJ skills. Have you ever pursued deejaying as a hobby?
No [laughs]. I’ve never been anywhere near that and I’m not sure really how much Ginger has either. I’d imagine he has a bunch of vinyl but only slaps on five or six records. I doubt he’s a good DJ.
Ginger’s friends make fun of him constantly. Were you able to pull from any bullying in your own life for inspiration?
Not so much. I do tend to play these downtrodden characters. I was sort of small when I was a kid and stood out from the crowd, but I was never bullied or anything. But I was never the cool kid, so I guess I can draw on not being the cool kid [laughs].
You starred in the original British versions of TV’s Skins and The Office. Do you ever watch the American adaptations?
Skins I’ve not seen. The Office I haven’t followed religiously, but they’ve done an incredible job. I had a problem with it originally. I guess it was jealousy of "Why are they remaking this program that we got so much acclaim for?" Now I’ve made my peace. They made it completely into its own show.
Do you have any stand-out memories from filming the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise?
It went on for so long and was such an epic to do, especially the sequels, which we did back to back in the Bahamas right before Hurricane Wilma. We all had to be evacuated. All our boats and sets were smashed up. It wasn’t the Bahamas holiday a lot of people were thinking it’d be.
Sounds like actual pirate life.
Yeah! For the first one, we turned up at this hotel where all the pirates were supposed to stay, and it was abandoned. The people had taken the money Disney gave them and just left the country, so we had to run the hotel ourselves. It was like the pirates taking over!
What was it like working with Johnny Depp?
He’s a very kind and generous man. In the first days on set we knew this was a brilliant characterization that he came up with for [Captain Jack Sparrow], but I can also see how the executives would’ve gotten a bit nervous about it. I’m not in the new one that’s coming out, but I’d love to see it.