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Macbeth - Broadway

Ethan Hawke stars in Lincoln Center Theater's new production of Shakespeare's classic.

Macbeth’s Brian d’Arcy James Looks Back at Shrek, Time Stands Still, a Joyful Holiday Musical & More

Macbeth’s Brian d’Arcy James Looks Back at Shrek, Time Stands Still, a Joyful Holiday Musical & More
Brian d'Arcy James
Brian d'Arcy James looks back at three favorite plays and three satisfying musicals.

Two-time Tony nominee Brian d’Arcy James is on a short list of stage stars who have earned equal acclaim in plays and musicals. His soaring baritone is a composer’s dream, but James—a lovely man in real life—doesn’t hesitate to take on bad guys, troubled guys or even sad sacks. With so many productions to choose from in a two-decade career, James, who is currently playing Banquo opposite Ethan Hawke in Lincoln Center Theater's revival of Macbeth, could fill several Role Calls, which makes the six shows he did select that much more intriguing.

Role That Was the Biggest Challenge
Shrek [2008, as Shrek; Best Actor Tony nomination] was undoubtedly the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Getting the voice right was easy compared to the daily process of suiting up. The patience—and sometimes lack thereof—required to spend 90 minutes every night getting into full latex makeup was something I hadn’t foreseen. Shrek was an outcast who had to be pushed to realize that it’s possible to find love and family and friendship. My year-long stint in the show brought me great joy, along with extreme fatigue. It felt like as soon as I got home, I would have to get up and go back to the theater. What made it wonderful was being buttressed by such a supportive company. Everyone gave me mix tapes to listen to while I was getting ready. I learned a lot about my castmates by the music they chose!”

Role That Came at the Perfect Time
“Coming on the heels of Shrek, Time Stands Still [2010, as photographer James Dodd] was the biggest gift I could have received. After playing an ogre in a family musical, I was hoping to do something wildly different. [Playwright] Donald Margulies is such a great and generous man, and his writing is just exquisite. The way he can capture a relationship with such economy of dialogue is remarkable. The play was challenging emotionally—I learned quite a bit about people who become war journalists, and what makes them tick; it was an education in how people are changing the world by doing their job. I spent most of my time with Laura Linney [as his character’s wife, war correspondent Sarah Goodwin], who has become a dear friend. I cherish the relationship we created in that play.”

Role That Was the Most Joyful
“There’s a feeling of happiness whenever I think about the premiere production of White Christmas [2004, as Bob Wallace] in San Francisco. First of all, it’s White Christmas, so it’s just fun! The music is gorgeous, the orchestrations were phenomenal, and I’ve always felt an affinity for that kind of “buddy” role. Obviously it’s an uphill battle when you’re trying to follow Bing Crosby [Bob in the 1954 film] and Danny Kaye [as his pal Phil Davis], and I loved working with Jeffry Denman to create our versions of that. My wife [Jennifer Prescott] was in the show and our daughter was three years old at the time, so we were able to live in San Francisco for four months over Christmas. We would take a trolley home from work, and it was so romantic. I never got to do the show in New York because I was busy with other things, but my experience with it was just magical.”

Role That Was a Breakthrough
“I was given a big responsibility in Sweet Smell of Success [2002, as press agent Sidney Falco; Best Featured Actor Tony nomination] and I like that; I enjoy having a lot on my shoulders. Sometimes, a musical’s book is limiting in terms of what you can do to create a character, but John Guare’s words were beautifully sardonic. It was a great template for this iconic character, who is going through a huge moral transformation to the darker side. To sing music by the incredible Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Craig Carnelia, was so powerful. And I was doing all this with John Lithgow [as columnist J.J. Hunsecker], who taught me more about what it means to be a professional actor than I can enumerate. The show opened right after 9/11, and people weren’t interested in wallowing in [dark material]. But I’m happy with what we created.”

Role I Would Like to Do Again
“I want to include two plays by the great Conor McPherson. In The Good Thief [2001; Obie Award], I played a hapless thug who has been hired to do a nefarious job that goes horribly wrong. I end up inadvertently kidnapping this woman and her daughter as we’re fleeing the scene of the crime. It’s just me on stage telling the story, for about 65 minutes, and I enjoyed the solitary aspect of it. There’s no age description for the character, so it’s something I can revisit again and again. Conor has an innate ability to tap into the spiritual side of people who would seem to be the least likely to look for redemption. In this case, the character doesn’t have a lot of education and has been knocked around in life, but Conor paints pictures of very specific people using their language. It’s the language of the street but also the poetry of people who are in pain and looking to be healed.”

Role I Wish I Could Have Played Longer
Port Authority [2008, as Dermot; Drama Desk nomination for Best Featured Actor] was another Conor McPherson play that let me create a character very different from who I am. Dermot was a businessman with no idea how to do his job. He gets in over his head with people and events, and you can tell from the stories he tells that his life is crumbling. I wore a fat pad to suggest his copious drinking; again, there was a great sadness to Colin’s writing that I found beautiful—maybe it’s because I am Irish. Port Authority was intimate in that there were only three of us on stage, and I felt a powerful communion with [co-stars] Jim [Norton] and John [Gallagher Jr.]. Being with them before and after the show was a real joy.”

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