"I definitely had some opening night nerves tonight," Daniel Radcliffe told Playbill on the October 18 opening night post-show red carpet, celebrating the official Broadway bow of the new play The Lifespan of a Fact.
Written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell, the play is a new incarnation of the 2012 book by essayist John D'gata and fact-checker Jim Fingal, which illustrates their seven-year debate about facts versus truths as it relates to a piece D'Gata submitted in 2005 after being commissioned by Harper’s Magazine in 2003 to write a story about a Las Vegas suicide that happened in 2002.
"The inspiration for how I'm playing [Jim] came from the text of the play itself, and also this is the first time I would say I get to play a character that operates at my speed," said Radcliffe (beginning 3:50). "The note I get most frequently on every job I do on theatre and film, but in theatre particularly, is please slow down. Give the audience a chance to understand you. This is the first play I've done that I have not been there, and [director] Leigh [Silverman] has been encouraging me to embrace that.
Radcliffe has met the real Jim Fingal and admitted, "It's nice to be able to play a character that's a lot smarter than me because you get to trick people into thinking you're smart for 90 minutes."
And the 90 minutes is a rollercoaster of a debate that Radcliffe loves to ride with the audience. "That's one of the most exciting things about the play. I've never done an argument play before, and to feel the audience go through the two sides of it is really thrilling. It's what we want in a play like this—people leave and continue the debate themselves.
Where did opening night's crowd land? "They were pretty even tonight. There are some days I come off and I'm like, 'Bobby's got these guys.' But it's kind of good because when you realize that it fires you up to go back and make your argument even stronger."
Cherry Jones (on at 22:23), who plays the only fictional character as the magazine’s editor, says the audience reaction reminds her of her time in Doubt (which won her a Tony). "[The audiences] were about who do you believe just so fundamentally," she said. "It's made me reminisce about Doubt a bit."
Jones is back on Broadway for the first time in five years since her Tony-nominated turn in The Glass Menagerie.
"I'm awfully glad to be back in this company," she said. "From the moment we met ... we realized we were three people who were really going to enjoy being in each other's company and a similar work ethic and a similar take on the world."
As the third member of the cast, Bobby Cannavale (beginning 30:00) agreed that the play calls for three strong actors. "Everybody wants to be on the top of their game," he said. "Three great parts, three great generations." Cannavale makes a big impression with his first entrance and told Playbill, "It's the hardest entrance I've ever done. You hear me first in the play. She talks about me, he talks about me. Then you hear me again on the emails. [And] I'll tell you a little secret. I'm getting pushed onstage. We have automation, but I'm the only one that's not automated. I've got Larry. He's got a stick, and he pushes me onstage."
On hand to discuss more behind-the-scenes was director Silverman (at 13:03), who revealed the rehearsal process was a bit more raw for this play than her other works—having come direct to Broadway. Her thought was, "We gotta do this play right now. I think that the idea of what tells the good story, what tells the story the best—is it truth, is it accuracy, or is it fact? Particularly to be running this play during previews during the Kavanaugh hearings and to hear Dr. Ford testify that she doesn't remember the day but she knows it's true. To have that happening simultaneously with this play, which is all about what is truth and what is fact and which should matter more, it's a thing I could not have predicted."
Silverman also made history with the first all-female design team on Broadway. "I just hired the people that I wanted to work with. I had no idea that it had never happened before on Broadway. The fact that it's a history-making moment with this team of geniuses is extraordinary. I hope that we get to a place one day where having an all-female team is not news, but for right now it is news so YES. There are nothing but teams on Broadway of all men that goes unchecked and unquestioned. So I think this is a team of all women, so although I don't like that we have to talk about it, I'm like, 'It's here. It's happening. We're talking about it.'"
Milestones aside, Silverman said, "My deepest hope about the play is that people walk out of there talking about it, debating it. And I think that's the best thing theatre can do right now is engage people in an exciting way."
The Lifespan of a Fact runs at Studio 54 through January 13, 2019. Tune in to Playbill’s next opening night live stream Sunday, October 21 with the company of The Ferryman.