Patrick Page may be known for bringing diabolical characters to life onstage — Scar in The Lion King and The Green Goblin in Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, to name just a few — but it turns out that the acclaimed actor, who has starred in classic dramas and musicals, prefers to not think of his characters as "bad guys."
"I never think of them as villains, ever," Page said. "I think I get my feelings hurt when people do."
Page, who recently played 54 Below in a solo show titled "Good To Be Bad," is embodying another character commonly viewed as a Disney villain at the Paper Mill Playhouse, where he plays Dom Claude Frollo in the new musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The complicated religious leader has been, for Page, a rewarding role to play — and he does not consider Frollo to be a "bad guy," either.
"I think of him more in terms of someone like any of us who gets involved with things and then lies to himself and doesn't tell himself the truth," he said. "But [he] really tells himself the entire time that he's doing it for the good of the city, for the good of Esmeralda's soul, for the good of his own soul." Directed by Scott Schwartz, Hunchback features a book by Peter Parnell, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Co-starring with Page are Michael Arden (Big River, The Times They Are A-Changin’) in the title role, Ciara Renée (Pippin, Big Fish) as Esmeralda, Andrew Samonsky (Little Miss Sunshine, The Mystery of Edwin Drood) as Captain Phoebus de Martin and Erik Liberman (Lovemusik) as Clopin Trouillefou.
Frollo, an accomplished academic who adopted Quasimodo as an infant, finds himself driven by different desires when he meets the spirited gypsy woman Esmeralda. One of the driving conflicts of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the complicated relationship between Frollo, Quasimodo and the soldier Captain Phoebus, all of whom fall in love with Esmeralda. Commenting on the sexual repression of the religiously driven society, Page offered insight into Frollo's confusion with his overwhelming desires.
"When you've been told something is evil your whole life and suddenly it explodes into your life as an adult, it's a hose you've been stepping on for 20 or 30 years, and suddenly it's so backed up that the hose is going to break or you've got to lift your foot," he said. "I think he's in the grasp of powers much much greater than himself and is very, very confused by it, and it causes him to do violent things.
"I think it's worth saying that a lot of violence in the world today is fueled by that — by both religious ideology that's fueling Frollo and by sexual repression."
While Frollo's passion leads to violent actions and his downfall, both personally and professionally, Page said that when developing all of his characters he strives to find a point of belief in the character that he can truly believe in.
"There may be spaces between my areas of belief, Patrick's areas of belief and Frollo's," he said. "He has a very, very strong fear of hell and a belief in the devil, and those are things I've worked on a lot while I was working on this. I think it animates him to such a degree and it's not something I share. I'm not afraid of being damned. Maybe I should be. That's something I've worked on a lot."
Frollo expresses his fear of being damned by his lust for Esmeralda in the song "Hellfire," during which he is supported by a 32-person choir onstage every night.
"It's like no experience I've ever had," Page said of the performance. "Not only do I have the full cast of the show — the male cast — singing with me onstage, but then 32 people behind singing in Latin. Plus the full orchestra. It's a feeling like I've never had before." Commenting on the idea of a back-up choir accompanying him in real life offstage, he added solemnly, "I do have that in my head all the time."
Page has drawn from his own personal experience with depression, which he said has influenced all of his performances and enhanced his empathy for his characters. "My particular illness sometimes has aspects of mania, and it goes both very high and very low," he said. "And that kind of spinning toward something, trying to make something happen, trying to make something happen, trying to make something happen...and the unrealistic nature of that belief is something that a lot of characters in a lot of plays have. They want something very, very, very badly and nothing is going to get in their way. And at some point, if they don't get it, they crash.
"I think the more things that happen to you in life, they're just going to add to your work. Whether they're illness, whether they're obstacles you've faced, addiction, deaths of people you love — all those things are going to affect you. It's hard for me to say exactly how but it definitely does, is a component of virtually every part of my life. It's just how I am."
(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)