English-born actress Anne-Marie Duff is no stranger to playing iconic women. The two-time Olivier Award nominee has portrayed some of the most notable dramatic roles on stage and screen: Queen Elizabeth in the 2005 BBC television miniseries "The Virgin Queen," the title character in Marianne Elliott's production of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan and Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House.
Duff, who also starred in the television program "Shameless" and participated in "What's it going to take?," a campaign promoting awareness of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom, describes herself as "very, very lucky" to make her Broadway debut in Macbeth. She recently chatted with Playbill.com about the relationship between Macbeth and his wife and why she thinks Lady Macbeth is a misunderstood character.
You've taken on so many classic roles in London — Nora, Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth… How do you approach these roles that are so entrenched in cultural history?
Anne-Marie Duff: It's funny. It's easier being here because you don't have the weight of production after production... It's kind of liberating in that sense. I suppose all you can hope to do is flesh out a character, swell them with humanity, and maybe it will come true. That's all I aim for, really. And, how do you flesh out Lady Macbeth? She's such a complex woman.
AMD: I guess the nice thing in this production is that we are working from a point where they are both desperately in love with each other. And, if that love is there, if you buy that, if you believe her, then every dark decision, every insane visit into a parallel universe that happens, has a residue there. So you are forced to be engaged. You're forced to care about them as individuals and perhaps empathize and then question that empathy.
It's interesting to think about how their choices to murder people affect their marriage and their romantic relationship.
AMD: The thing is, she's only interested in the first man. After that, he's a totally different individual. They're not Bonnie and Clyde — she drifts away from him in terms of that response. After the first objective is achieved, she thinks, "We've landed. We need go no further," and he becomes insatiable. And that's the beginning of the end of their relationship.
How do you think the role of Lady Macbeth speaks to women in our society?
AMD: I think she's curious, isn't she? Because that's the quest for the kingdom — for me to play her as a woman that exists, not some excuse for his bad behavior. I think it's very easy to go down that path. You don't want that sort of reactionary opinion. So that's all I can hope to do. If her want, her need, is as palpable and as believable as his, her desire for something more than what they have, I think I'll help make it make sense.
Many of the themes in Macbeth — femininity, gender roles, lust for power — are so timeless.
AMD: It's an extraordinarily complicated time for women; it's the same at home as it is here now. And I look at teenager girls, and I think, "This is very hard for you." There are very annoying priorities. It seems to have stripped away everything that has happened over the past 30 years. It's curious. I think that's probably why, as well, I have such a huge objective to make not just a misogynistic version of evil. Everybody says, "Oh, Lady Macbeth — how are you going to play her?" And I say, "I'm going to tell the story that Shakespeare's written." And most people have an opinion. She's one of those people that even people who haven't seen the play go, "Oh, I think I know who she is. She's the evil woman who whispers in his ear."
There have been so many productions of Macbeth recently. What is it about this play that makes it so popular right now?
AMD: It's always been popular, and that was part of the superstition. If you were doing a production and it was failing miserably, then you take it off and you bring in Macbeth, because it would always sell out. If you heard "Macbeth" being mentioned around the theatre, and you were in a stinker, then you were going to come off. I think quite a lot of productions try to focus on this sort of nihilistic world, so you get people in fatigues and a campy version of the play in a world with no resources left, which I think is a way that people can rationalize all the magic and all of those things. I think, in that way, they feel like it's very topical, it's very timely.