London's Royal Court Theatre artistic director Ian Rickson first made his mark in America with Jez Butterworth's comedy, Mojo, directing the 1995 Oliver Award winner for Best Comedy at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre. In 1999, he brought the 1998 Oliver Award winner for Best New Play, Conor McPherson's The Weir, across the ocean. The quiet drama of ghost stories told in an Irish pub -- a play that "trusts silence" as Rickson puts it -- saw no Tony nominations, but when the post-Tony slaughter ended, The Weir was still standing, outlasting two Best Play nominees, Martin Mcdonagh's Lonesome West and Tennessee Williams' Not About Nightingales and now turning better business than the still-running Closer. Rickson, back at the Royal Court Theatre, promises to reopen the newly renovated Victorian space this fall with a season of fresh voices that will "likely" include the next piece from McPherson.
Playbill On-Line: Was there any one credit you couldn't wait to get off your resume?
Ian Rickson: I got all of that out at university. Brendan Coyle, who plays Brendan in The Weir, told me he had to act at being a washing machine once. But I'm afraid I don't have any skeletons in my closet.
PBOL: What was one of the funniest or most amusing or most embarrassing things that ever happened to you or your actors?
IR: I use a lot of research in my process. I did one play that had to do with death. I thought I ought to see a dead body for myself. I went to a mortuary in London and the mortician showed me one. I saw my dead body and it was very helpful. I asked my actors if they would like to see a body -- all of them except one said yes. I sent them and I waited in the rehearsal hall. They returned with a look of horror. I made the mistake of sending them to a different mortician. [He] had been a demented Woody Allen, pulling out these bodies, saying "Look at this one!" With The Weir, they did a run through actually drinking what they would in the play. The next day when I told them, "That was brilliant!," They answered, "What? I don't remember."
PBOL: Do you have a dream project, something you really want to direct? IR: I can't really say The Seagull or Oklahoma!. The joy of doing The Weir, to be communicating emotionally, spiritually, politically....I want to continue that journey. I really like working with the dispossessed, in prisons, and getting that out. I'd really love to do a play for children.
PBOL: The Weir caused different reactions, especially critical ones, in London and New York. How would you explain what happened with the Tonys here versus what happened in London?
IR: Partially it was the hype. You know when your friends tell you how great something is and you see it; it's very hard to live up to that. In England, the play crept up from nowhere and people thought, "What's this?" Culturally, there's the difference between Broadway and English theatre. Broadway is a little more reliant on spectacle. New York is one of the most diverting cities -- you get out and there's a bagel seller and there's neon and there's sounds. New York has the shortest attention span of any city in the world. But we like being a quiet phenomenon, award-proof. -- By Christine Ehren