Tony nominee David Harbour stops the current production of Glengarry Glen Ross with one line: “Go to lunch.” As he tends to do with most of his roles, Harbour breathes new life into the character of real estate office manager John Williamson in Dan Sullivan’s starry revival led by Al Pacino and Bobby Cannavale. Harbour’s credits on stage and screen range from Shakespeare (Sullivan’s The Merchant of Venice) to Sorkin (HBO’s drama Newsroom). Along the way, he has appeared in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Tony nomination), The Coast of Utopia, Hamlet, Quantum of Solace, Brokeback Mountain, Revolutionary Road and more. Broadway.com caught up with Harbour to get the skinny on reuniting with Al Pacino, his blossoming TV and film career and the role he thinks will win him a Tony Award.
This is your second Broadway show in the last two years with Al Pacino and director Dan Sullivan. What do you like about working together?
Al is one of the greatest actors—if not the greatest American actor—of the 20th century, going into the 21st. He’s just a lot of fun to play with. He doesn’t take himself as seriously as everyone else seems to take him, and he really considers himself a fellow actor. And Dan is one of my favorite directors of all time. He has an ego-less approach to directing, which I just love. It gives you that third eye, but doesn’t really impose on the play. Dan’s productions always feel so confident and complex. He’s also a really funny, fun guy to work with.
Your character could been seen as the hero or as the bad guy, if you’re rooting for the salesmen. How do you approach him?
[Laughing] I like your view of it; I think a lot of people characterize him as the villain and the asshole, but I really do try to see him as a misunderstood guy who has to deal with a ton of narcissists. He has certain smarmy aspects, but my goal in this—because I had seen the movie and some other productions—is to humanize him in some way. Hopefully, you walk away from the play seeing this guy as a thinking, feeling man who is just stuck in a really tough position.
Some Pacino fans have been pretty vocal during the actual performance, going as far as shouting “I love you Al.” How do you all handle that?
I will put a little shout-out that when you come to the theater and you’re watching a play, you’re not at home watching your television or a movie or whatever. It really does throw everybody off, and especially [Pacino]. We’re trying to live in a world [on stage], and to have that happen is very disconcerting. It’s funny, I find myself saying these horrible things to him and occasionally you can feel the audience be like, “Don’t say that to Al. He’s been such a charming guy.” So there’s a big mountain that I’m up against.
Going back a bit, what was the highlight of appearing in Tom Stoppard's three-part epic The Coast of Utopia?
I really liked the second play; that was my favorite. But the best thing about it was these Saturday performances where we would start at 11 in the morning (which is generally long before I wake up) and go till 11 at night. We’d do all three plays back-to-back, and we wouldn’t have a bow until the last play, which we would do a very special bow for. It was a pretty magical experience. Also, I guess the other highlight was making out with the naked Jennifer Ehle every night. That was really fun [laughs].
How wild is it that Virginia Woolf is back on Broadway, seven years after you played Nick opposite Kathleen Turner, Bill Irwin and Mireille Enos? Have you seen it?
I have to admit, I got tickets one night, I actually went to the theater, I walked in and saw the set—which is different than ours but it’s the same, a unit set, the living room in this world—and I just sort of freaked out and was like, “I can’t go back; I can’t sit in this living room again and watch them tear each other apart.” I lived in that room for three hours a day for a year. I just said, “I can’t do this yet." I am going to try and go again. I hear it’s really good, so I want to see it. But I had a visceral reaction: “I can’t sit in this living room. I’ve been here too long.”
I’m a huge fan of The Newsroom. Where is it going next season?
I don’t think I can tell you too much. The episode that we’re doing now has some election campaign stuff. [My character] Elliot will be back with his show, ridiculous as ever.
With so many theater actors leading that show, does it feel different than other screen projects?
Yeah, totally. It’s like we all know each other from that world, so it’s very free and loose.
You’ve been in so many film projects. What do you consider your big break?
Revolutionary Road [in which Harbour played Kate Winslet's lover] felt like a big step for me. It was the first time I felt like I was working on something that had all the elements: I really believed in that project, it was a really good role and it was on a large scale. A lot of times in that triangle you’ll get two out of three. You’ll be in a tiny role, but it’s a project you love and it’s on a big scale. Or it will be a big role but it’s not a high profile project or whatever. But that was sort of the trinity of all those three things, and I felt like it helped me a lot.
With a rapidly rising career in TV and film, what keeps you coming back to theater?
I love it. I was kind of a geeky theater kid, and I loved the theater more than anything. So to have an ability to go back and forth is great, but I’ll always love theater. Film and TV are sort of like exciting affairs, like dating exotic women. The theater feels like a marriage. It feels like this is like my home, the person I love. This is where I belong.
Are there any plays you're longing to do? What do you think your "Tony role" is?
That’s interesting. I don’t know; I love new plays, I would like to see a lot more new plays on Broadway. I would love to find a new play and I love writers. I think David Lindsay-Abaire is one of the greatest writers, so tell David Lindsay-Abaire to write me a Tony-winning role, and I’ll do that play in a heartbeat. In terms of revivals, I love old Tennessee Williams stuff. I would love to do one of those plays. And I’m dying to do a Broadway revival of Coriolanus. It's dynamite role that rarely gets done in this town, so I would love to do that.
What’s next after Glengarry?
I’m doing Newsroom, and I’m in negotiations for a movie. I don’t have a play lined up. Hopefully, I'll find something and come back next fall.
Check out David Harbour in Glengarry Glen Ross at Broadway’s Schoenfeld Theatre, through January 20.