The most adamant and unregenerate naysayer of the delegates debating the Declaration of Independence was a hard-nosed loyalist from Pennsylvania named John Dickinson, and he couldn't find better representation in the Roundabout Theatre Company's current Broadway revival of 1776 than Michael Cumpsty -- not because the actor is an authentic young Brit but because he proved in Translations and Racing Demon to be the perfect pitchman for ideas and ideals. Not something he sought, he chalks this spokesman status up to having done a lot of Shakespeare and "text-based" material. "It's been about language -- either classical theatre or modern theatre with old-time slants like The Heiress. I think directors and authors hear ideas coming out of my mouth rather than raw emotionalism."
Morally complicated people, he readily allows, "are fun to play. The challenge of Dickinson is to keep him from being a cartoon bad guy. His conscience was so deeply rooted and conflicted. Exactly 364 days before the signing of the Declaration, he was the author of a document justifying taking up arms against Britain. And, once he failed to vote for the Declaration of Independence, he left the Congress and immediately joined the army fighting against Britain."
Cumpsty's sounding off on screen, too -- he's a New England minister in Ang Lee's new The Ice Storm -- but it's a different thing. "One of the frustrating things about going away from theatre is that you so often lose language. It becomes colloquial and visual rather than textual and verbal. And I miss that when I'm not doing theatre."