On October 26, the revival of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly bowed at Broadway’s Cort Theatre. The first revival since the Tony-winning play debuted 30 years ago, this new version, directed by Julie Taymor, sees significant rewrites and a fresh vision. Based on the true story of French diplomat Bernard Bouriscot, M. Butterfly tells the story of diplomat Renee Gallimard (the character stand-in for Bouriscot) and his 20-year love affair with Chinese opera singer Song Liling while stationed in Beijing. Questions of politics, imperialism, and gender abound as Song Liling is not who Gallimard believes her to be.
When the play premiered in 1988, John Lithgow and B.D. Wong stunned audiences in the revolutionary work. Wong took home a Tony Award for his performance. Now, Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominee Clive Owen steps into the shoes of Gallimard, and newcomer Jin Ha (previously in the ensemble of Hamilton in Chicago) tackles Hwang’s great work.
Of the responsibility of taking on such a landmark work, Ha told Playbill live on the red carpet: “I’ve been trying to not think about it. I don’t allow myself to think about all of those details because it’s surreal, and it is gargantuan of a responsibility.”
Ha has been in touch with original star Wong. “We connected over Instagram. He started following me on Instagram when I was still doing Hamilton in Chicago. And I remember that because I freaked out in my dressing room. We got lunch once, and he’s been nothing but supportive.”
Speaking of support, Ha attributes much of the authenticity in his performance to the trust in his relationship with Owen. “He’s really welcomed me into the show, into the world that he inhabits more,” said Ha. “I’m very much a newcomer. He’s been so generous and so warm and so open. He’s been the perfect scene partner. The relationship is the focus—it needs to be organic, as well.”
As for Owen, he told Playbill that his key to unlocking the story is remembering its origins. “You have to remember the play is based on a true story,” he said. “It starts with who he was as a young boy, so it’s important to see the origins of how a guy like this could get into the situation he was into.“
And Owen gives credit to his director, Taymor, for her precise perspective on the work.
“I’ve had the most amazing time with her. I think she is truly a really amazing, special theatre director,” said Owen. “She’s brilliantly theatrical, and she has impeccable taste, but she is also always about the truth of the story. It has purpose. From the minute I signed on to do the play, I only have great things to say about her in terms of her smarts, in terms of her taste, in terms of her commitment to doing the story as truthfully as we can.”
Watch the full live stream below, including the complete interviews with playwright David Henry Hwang, actors Michael Countryman, Enid Graham, Celeste Den, Clea Alsip, Murray Bartlett, Jin Ha, and Clive Owen.