As a horse-loving German officer in the Tony-winning play War Horse, Peter Hermann immerses himself in the horrors of World War I eight times a week. Away from the Vivian Beaumont Theater, the 6’5” actor’s life is a lot rosier, thanks to the addition of daughter Amaya Josephine to his family. Hermann and his wife, Law & Order SVU star Mariska Hargitay, adopted Amaya in April, just as War Horse was opening, to complete a family that includes their five-year-old son, August. The Yale-educated star recently chatted with Broadway.com about how his German heritage helps in his current role, and how much—or how little—rest he’s getting these days.
Now that the Tony Awards hoopla is over, how’s the run going for you and the enormous cast of War Horse?
Very well! We’re all getting lots of PT [physical therapy] for our aches and pains and bruises and strains, but we’re holding it together very happily. It’s a tight company and a great place to work.
What makes War Horse such a special event?
The puppetry engages the audience in a way that is very compelling. When the show was developed, the directors were concerned about whether seeing the puppeteers would take away from the experience of the horses, but they found that it’s actually so beautiful to present the animals in this way, and to say to the audience, “Come imagine with us.” There is also something about having an entirely innocent protagonist—Joey the horse—go to war. I don’t want to get all psychological and say that it allows us to project our feelings onto the horse, but the horse is this incredible blank slate through which to experience the horrors of war.
You’re playing a German officer. Is it true that you were born in Germany?
I was born in New York, but I was only here for two months. My parents are German, and I grew up in Germany for my first 10 years.
Were you bilingual as a kid?
I learned English when I got here. I think I got in right under the wire: Language patterns solidify at 10, 11, 12, so I was able to learn English fairly easily, with no accent. I didn’t do speech or vocal work to get rid of the German accent; I was just lucky.
Do you still use your German?
Absolutely. I still speak to my parents only in German, and I have endless family over there. German is still very much an active language in our house, and it’s certainly nice to have for this role.
Do you speak German to your son [five-year-old August]?
I do, and he understands it, but the speaking part is slow in coming.
This has been a big year for you—a hit Broadway show and a new baby daughter.
Things seem to happen that way, all at once. It’s a fantastic thing. [Amaya] is divine and very happy and very mellow. She is taking her life in stride, and we are hugely, hugely grateful.
How is big brother doing? Is the family blending well?
Everything is blending beautifully, and Mariska and I are very, very excited to be able to say “the kids.”
Are you getting any sleep?
Yeah, four minutes here and seven minutes there, but it all adds up [laughs].
This is your third Broadway play. What do you enjoy most about stage acting?
It depends on the day. Some days, I just love the physical space of the theater. I love theaters; they are heartbreakingly beautiful to me. Other days, it’s being in a room with 1,000 people and feeling them react collectively to something that they genuinely did not expect. Other days, it’s that moment of watching someone who is about to make an entrance, whether it’s the lead of the show or someone who is about to puppet a crow around the stage. That dedication, that level of concentration, is very moving to me.
You’re this super-tall, good looking guy. Is it fun to play character parts on stage?
First of all, you’re very kind. I love this role, and it’s fun to dig into the complications of the character. As an actor, your heart lights up when there is conflict at the heart of any character you’re playing.
So, it’s possible for someone who is 6’5” to disappear into a role in an ensemble piece?
Well, the horses still have me on height!