"I chased Ian Rickson for this role," says actress Kristin Scott Thomas, referring to the director of the production of Chekhov's The Seagull, in which the film star makes her Broadway debut as Irina Arkadina, a role she played in London in 2007. "I wanted to play this part. I heard he was going to do it and I literally offered my services. I said to him, 'I don’t need to do any acting.'"
Thomas follows this remark with a healthy laugh. And it's a good thing, too. One would have to wonder about anyone who would say such a thing straight-faced. For Arkadina is not just an actress and mother — two titles Thomas can also lay claim to. She is the vainest, most self-absorbed of actresses, and while she's no Medea, as a mother she could give Mama Rose a run for her money in terms of neglect and insensitivity. Famous and wealthy, Arkadina denies her tortured son Konstantin needed money, moral support and attention.
"I think she's a dreadful mother," says Thomas. "But she still loves her child. He's an embarrassment to her. She finds him excruciating. He's a reminder of the failure that could be around the corner. Even dreadful mothers love their children."
As actors tend to, Thomas has cultivated a great deal of sympathy for the character she embodies. "Her fear of getting older — I can completely understand her fear of never working again. I don't think there's an actress in the world — or even a woman in the world — who couldn't understand those things. Her fear of where the next buck is coming from is rooted in reality. 'Who's going to feed me when I'm old?'" Thomas, in contrast, has done quite well for herself mid-career-wise. Still best known for her work in films such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "The English Patient" and "Gosford Park," she has in recent years forged a second career on the London stage. Her Masha in a 2003 Michael Blakemore–directed production of Chekhov's Three Sisters and her 2005 turn in a Jonathan Kent–staged revival of Pirandello's As You Desire Me were both lavishly praised. There was even talk for a while that the Sisters would come to New York. But Thomas chose Arkadina as the Russian lady she would accompany to Broadway.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
"It’s very difficult for me to come to Broadway, for personal reasons," says Thomas, who has lived in France for most of her adult life, "so I waited. I really love this role. I think to play Masha for such a long time would have been quite difficult. With Arkadina, you feel like you could go on forever." The actress won the 2008 Best Actress Olivier Award for her performance in The Seagull, which began life at the Royal Court Theatre. At the Walter Kerr, she has a new co-star in film actor Peter Sarsgaard, who will play her younger lover, the feckless, somewhat amoral writer Trigorin.
Thomas says she is in good hands vis-à-vis her author. "He writes a lot about actresses in his letters, because actresses were always falling at his feet, and in the end he actually married one. He's a great observer of people. What's so extraordinary about the work is it makes you laugh at the little tragedies that arrive every day."
One of Thomas' own little tragedies, she now realizes, is having discovered the theatre rather late in her career. "I was so involved in film. Because I would love to have played the Irinas and the Ninas."