PLAYBILL.COM’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Ed Harris

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Ed Harris Ed Harris, who has acted in countless Hollywood films since he won an Obie award in 1983 for his gutsy performance in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, has finally returned to the New York stage.
Ed Harris stars in Neil LaBute's Wrecks.
Ed Harris stars in Neil LaBute's Wrecks. Photo by Michal Daniel

Ten years following his Broadway appearance in Ron Harwood’s Taking Sides, he has come to the Public Theater with Wrecks, a Neil LaBute monologue which had its world premiere last year at the Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork, Ireland. Harris took some time to take about the play with Playbill.com.

PLAYBILL.COM: How did you get involved with the play?
EH: Neil sent me the play last summer. He had been commissioned to write it for the Everyman Palace Theatre. He said its two weeks in Ireland, would you be interested in doing it. I hadn’t done a play in ten years, but I really liked the piece and it was only two weeks, as opposed to six months.

PLAYBILL.COM: What attracted you to the piece?
EH: Well, I really enjoyed reading it. It had great rhythm and I liked this character. I was very surprised at how it ended up. I didn’t really seeing what was coming. It was a challenging. I liked the idea that it was a one-man thing. It was just me and the audience and I thought it’d be something fun to do. The guy is trying to get somewhere. Sometimes he gets sidetracked, but then he gets back to ground zero and talks about his feelings. It’s fairly seamless in the writing and how it moves.

PLAYBILL.COM: Is it fair to say that the audience becomes the play’s second character?
EH: Well, it’s fascinating because every night it’s a whole different deal. And in this play there’s a whole lot of humor. So, some nights there is laughter and on others there isn’t. So, you can’t count on that. What’s really wonderful is when the audience is a homogenous group and you can feel their energy as something relating to you as a unit. It’s more difficult when there are disparate pockets of people. And it’s strange because its three-quarter seating and the audience can see each other and they don’t have the anonymity that they’d have in a proscenium space.

PLAYBILL.COM: A typical lesson in a beginning acting class is that you shouldn’t judge your character. Is that particularly relevant in the case if this play?
EH: I never judged the guy. I mean, I like the guy. I guess if that’s a judgment, it’s a positive judgment. Whatever character I play, on film or stage, you have to embrace the character. You may not intellectually agree with him, but you have to embrace where he’s coming from to do it. You can’t afford to have any severe judgment about the character in the playing of it, certainly.

PLAYBILL.COM: How familiar were you with LaBute’s work?
EH: I’ve read more of Neil’s plays since. I wasn’t really familiar with his work. I knew In the Company of Men and had read some of the reviews of his plays. This is a love story, which is a departure for Neil. It’s not cruel. It’s not mean. It’s not misogynistic. That’s part of what attracted me to it. The relationship that these two people have is beautiful.

PLAYBILL.COM: What was the rehearsal process like?
EH: We were in a little room in L.A. and it was really just going through it and trying to understand the different beats of it and block it. You can’t be too static. Just investigating different things and talking about it over and over again. Then doing my homework at night, trying to make it specific all the time.

PLAYBILL.COM: What made you want to do the show in New York following the Ireland engagement?
EH: I like New York. I’ve always enjoyed working in New York. I think this is the first play I’ve done in 12 years. I like the energy in New York. I grew up in the east. I live in California. It's nice to come back. As much as I would support theatre in Los Angeles, geographically it’s so spread out. It’s just not as exciting to do theatre in Los Angeles as it is in New York.

PLAYBILL.COM: Has the experience made you want to do more shows here?
EH: Of course. I’ve tried. I’ve gotten very close since I did Taking Sides in ‘96. We’d been talking about Night of the Iguana for a while, and there were some Arthur Miller things. And to tell the truth, my daughter is 13 and I didn’t want to disappear for six months.

PLAYBILL.COM: What happened with the revival of Fool for Love that you had been set to direct for Roundabout?
EH: We were going to do that. And I had auditioned a lot of people. I thought I had a May in Lili Taylor, but I didn't find an Eddie that I could match her up with. Then I had to go off and do some other work. Then I got a call from Todd Haimes and he said there was a company in England that wanted to do a production in London and they wanted the New York rights. It was a great idea, but I said talk to Sam’s people, and if they want that, then just kiss it goodbye.

PLAYBILL.COM: Might you consider acting or directing in London?
EH: I’d consider it. We shot "The Hours" there, but I haven’t been onstage there. I think they want to take Wrecks there.

PLAYBILL.COM: Have you received any intriguing comments from friends on your portrayal?
EH: My friend Holly Hunter came with her husband. The way she said it was pretty unique in how grounded and present the guy was. She was taken by how he seemed like a real guy just talking about his life.

PLAYBILL.COM: Why do you suppose so many screen actors have been doing Neil LaBute plays lately?
EH: I’m the wrong person to ask. Probably because it’s got power and that it’s fun to act. He’s got a great way with dialogue. He writes people who are dealing with something. Some visceral thing.

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