Jimmy Smits and Kristen Johnston, who play Benedick and Beatrice in the current Shakespeare in the Park rendition of Much Ado About Nothing, could be called the Public Theater's current favored interpreters of the Bard; the two have acted at the park's Delacorte Theatre in both this and Twelfth Night in the last few years. One of the Public's indisputable favorites during the '70s was Sam Waterston, who makes a return to Shakespeare in David Esbjornson's Much Ado production, playing Leonato. Waterston had one of his greatest stage triumphs with this very play; in 1972 he played Benedick, a performance that would be recorded on television. He also starred in the Public's 1975 Broadway staging of Hamlet. The staging is a reunion of another sort for Waterston: he shares the stage with his actress daughter Elizabeth, who plays Hero. The elder Waterston spoke with Playbill On-Line while on a break at the Delacorte.
Playbill On-Line: I understand that the idea for both you and your daughter to be in the production was not yours or Elizabeth's, but that it occurred independently to the Public.
Sam Waterston: It did.
PBOL: Did the idea appeal to you immediately?
SW: Apart from what it did to my vacation time. I pretended to think about it for a while, but it was just too irresistible.
PBOL: Are there children beside Elizabeth?
SW: There are four. PBOL: Are the others in theatre?
SW: [Feigning irritation at the fact] Uhhhhh-huh.
PBOL: Did you try to dissuade them?
SW: [More feigned irritation] Uhhhhh-huh. Well, I said, "Painting is very interesting," and, "Have you thought of having a second profession?" The same things people said to me. My father said that Anthony Quayle had a publishing business and Emlyn Williams had a plumbing business, and that it wasn't a bad idea to have a back-up.
PBOL: Has the 1972 New York Shakespeare Festival production of Much Ado, in which you played Benedick, come back to you as you've been rehearsing?
SW: As a fond memory, but not as "Here's how we did this, here's how we did that." Not at all.
PBOL: Is this the first time you've come back to the text since that time?
SW: It's been around in our lives so much. That year was a seminal year for me in my career. I did "The Great Gatsby" on film, and The Glass Menagerie on television, all in that one year. I met my wife. It was in the center of a very big year. My dog's name is Benedick. My company's name, "Stardance," is drawn from the play. "Then did a star dance and I was born."
PBOL: That's also the title of Gertrude Lawrence's autobiography: "A Star Danced."
SW: Oh, really!? Well, I'm in good company.
PBOL: Do you and Elizabeth ever have consultations as fellow actors?
SW: Not very much. Elizabeth has a very independent mind. [Laughs] This is second time I've worked with a child of mine in a play. I did Long Day's Journey Into Night with my son James. That was a lot of fun.
PBOL: Does this feel like a homecoming to you, coming back to the Public?
SW: Very much. Very much. The audience is not different. It's the same enthusiastic, generous audience. And the place is the same. It's got the same magic atmosphere and it loves comedy. This place loves comedy.