Playing the role of the tortured artist has Linklater recalling his own arduous path as a young aspiring actor in New York City. He opens up to Playbill.com about bad jobs, terrible sublets and stripping down to his underwear in auditions, all in the name of surviving as a theatre artist, and why it's all been worthwhile.
Linklater, a Drama Desk nominee, has been seen on Broadway in Seminar as well as in The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park, to which he will return this summer, in Cymbeline. He recently played a lead role in Woody Allen's "Magic in the Moonlight," courting Emma Stone, and has featured in the major blockbusters "Battleship" and "Fantastic Four." But before his career began burgeoning, Linklater was like many young actors struggling to book it in the Big Apple. His past could be considered fodder for his latest role in Posterity, of tortured artist Gustav, also struggling to make ends meet while desperate to maintain his artistic integrity.
Next he tried his hand at sign making, without much luck. "I would make big signs that go on windows. It was really hard," he says. "That guy screamed at me too and I only lasted two weeks working for him. It wasn't just my father who thought I was useless as a practical tradesperson."
Other failed side jobs included a one-day stint as a busboy at Café Mozart, a "miserable job filing death certificates for an insurance company" and being a cashier at the Drama Book Shop on 40th St., the longest-running of all his endeavors. While he took these jobs to support himself financially, Linklater affirms that there is always something to be gained from such experiences. "I think there's so much that's useful even in and perhaps particularly in your non-dream jobs, those are the ones that test and stretch and harden and strengthen the muscle that otherwise wouldn't be developed and that's all to the good. Outside of literal prostitution, selling yourself out as an actor or artists is only going to buy you more experience."
Aside from finding a worthy temp job, Linklater was faced with the most challenging task that all budding actors face: booking a worthwhile role. He remembers the first role he was offered, for a show called Transsexuals on the Run at downtown cabaret venue, The Duplex. "I thought, 'I wonder what the narrative could be?' It was very exciting," says the actor with only the hint of a smile. "My character was either a son of the mob or running from the mob… I don't think he was [a transsexual] but maybe he fell in with a flock of transsexuals that were also running from the mob. Anyway, I had to be in my underwear and it was my first audition, so I did my classical monologue, I did my sides and then they were like, 'Alright now Nick is in his underwear for a lot of it…" So I stripped down to my underwear."
Linklater booked the job but remembers thinking, "With each progressive block leading away from the Duplex I thought, 'I wonder if this is maybe not a job I should end up doing.' So I dropped out of Transsexuals on the Run. When my pants were down I thought, 'I think this is maybe a no.'"
In the play, Gustav also laments his early years as an artist where he "lived in cellars without windows. In attics without heat." Linklater too, can relate to "a lot of odd subletting and strange places," as well as living in his mother's apartment for probably "far too long." He recalls a period of sharing a tiny apartment with a girlfriend, their cat Hercules and another actress and her cat. "Every night we would try to keep the cats separate and every night the cats would get together and have this horrible, screaming fight on top of us, attacking, and the room got sort of ruined."
Despite the uphill journey, Linklater appears to have now arrived at a more-than-satisfying juncture in his career. He continues to land challenging, impactful roles such as his current one and has a promising future ahead. When asked if he can offer any comforting advice to theatre artists who are struggling to stay inspired, Linklater very eloquently says, "It's a fraught life and it's tortured and its extreme but it's very full and that's a really lucky gift: to spend your life in such a full exercise of all your possibilities, capabilities and talents. It really requires a lot of you and isn't that nice to love an art form that requires a lot of you as opposed to one that requires very little of you."
Posterity is now playing at the Atlantic Theater, starring John Noble and Hamish Linklater. The play is a witty, funny and moving observation of two artists contemplating their careers, passions and shortcomings. Tickets are now on sale and performances continue through April 5. Click here for more information.