By Harry Haun
07 Oct 2009

Hamlet star Jude Law; guests Natalie Portman, Sam Mendes and Barbara Walters
Hamlet star Jude Law; guests Natalie Portman, Sam Mendes and Barbara Walters
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Meet the first-nighters of Broadway's new production of Hamlet starring Jude Law.


He broods, he plots, he ponders, he hates royally, he sneers, he snarls, he mourns, he moans, he gives acting lessons (boy, does he ever!), he woos, he hallucinates, he reads, he rages, he rants, he thrusts, he parries he really does fence he mimics, he meditates, he runs, he crumbles and, at the curtain call (there were three), for the first time all night, he flashes that much-underused megawatt smile. The only thing Jude Law didn't do Oct. 6, when he opened at the Broadhurst as Broadway's 66th and latest Hamlet, was talk to the press.

Mind you, he posed obligingly for the paparazzi when he arrived (early and still highly energized) at the after-party held at Gotham Hall, a former bank which, with its stately pillars and massive rotunda, always looks like the scene of the crime in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. He glad-handed his way to the middle of the room, giving and receiving hugs, chatting up this one and that one, fielding compliments like roses tossed at him and finally settling down to a long evening's meal, constantly interrupted by congratulations between bites. It was indeed his party, and he was its epicenter, surrounded by rows of fans at least four deep.

The muzzled press drank in this happy spectacle gratefully. Only a trusted few were invited, and the trust weighed a ton as the evening wore on. It seems that our star is tabloid fodder these days, so, rather than run the risk of any embarrassing questions that could upstage the serious acting that had just taken place, the entire cast was barred from interviews.

The entire cast! That's a little like young Fortinbras arriving at corpse-strewn Elsinore and finding nobody to talk to, only maybe a bit more socially awkward.

It was "the new cast system," and the press played it out as best we could, sometimes finding ourselves in the drink line next to Claudius (Kevin R. McNally) or Polonius (Ron Cook) or watching from afar at Gertrude (Geraldine James) being regaled by a gaggle of friends. Laertes (Gwilym Lee) and Horatio (Matt Ryan) would brush by without a peep from me.

But it was asking too much to find Guildenstern (Harry Attwell) sitting alone at a table and not go by shouting "I thought you were dead!" He smiled and shot a thumb's up. And I did speak with Peter Eyre, a previous Broadway Polonius who, this time out, drew a pair of kings (The Player King and the deceased one) and gave them a plummy accounting. We had met once before when he did Terre Haute Off-Broadway, and we discussed the imminent return to New York from London of a mutual friend, producer Kit Valerie Plaschkes.

Mercifully, the cast ban didn't apply to Michael Grandage, who directed them and, otherwise, is artistic director of London's Donmar Warehouse from whence cometh this Hamlet. "It came together," he said, "as part of the big West End season a year and a half ago when we were planning to take over a West End theatre the Wyndham so we were looking for four productions and four leading actors. We were going to do and did eventually do them in the West End.

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Jude Law
Photo by Aubrey Reuben
"It came about because Kenneth Branagh brought Jude to the table. Kenneth Branagh and I worked on Ivanov together, and he was going to direct Jude's Hamlet, but he had to go and do a movie, and I stepped in." A lucky step, that. "Jude is possibly one of the nicest people I have ever directed in my career, one of the truly great people. He's easy to direct. He's easy because he approaches it with such a refreshing attitude: Every single night has to be new. It has to be minted fresh for that audience so, if he gets a very good laugh one night, he doesn't try to recreate it the next. He just goes for whatever is."

Grandage returns to London immediately, leaving the show to run its limited course of 12 weeks. "Actually four of them have already happened, so we've got about seven more weeks left." (It's to close Dec. 6.) Work awaits at the Warehouse: "I'm doing a new play by the American writer, John Logan, called Red. It's about Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist, and we're doing that at the Donmar with Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne in December." Continued...