THE LEADING MEN: Benjamin Walker, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's Heavy Drinker and Thinker

By Brandon Voss
22 Dec 2012

Walker in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Photo by Joan Marcus
What attracted you to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
BW: Our director, Rob Ashford, was one of the first guys to give me a shot. We were going to do Brigadoon together a few years ago, but it fell apart. We've since worked together on a number of things, like opening the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. I adore his work. He inspires me, and I knew that I could learn a lot from him. And Scarlett's not bad either! Based on those two components alone, I'd be interested in doing the play even if it were toilet paper.

Rob Ashford is an inspired choice for this revival, which marks his directorial debut of a non-musical Broadway production. He's a director-choreographer best known for his work on shows like Evita, How to Succeed and Thoroughly Modern Millie.
BW: Well, the play's very musical. It is music. It is poetry. It is dance. A trap of the play is to let the movement be worn down slow by the Southern heat, but these people really are like a cat on a hot tin roof — screaming, bouncing, constantly jumping in pain. The need for that physicality is something Rob really understands and is brilliant at pulling out of us.

One sometimes wonders why a particular play gets revived time and time again.
BW: Oh, yeah. It's like, "Leave it alone! They got it right last time."

What is it about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that people continually want to revisit?
BW: It's about something that's truly timeless and that, because of the human condition, we will struggle with until we're extinct: The need to communicate and our inability to do so. It's also about the need to express love and feel love and how difficult that is. It's about the complexities of sexuality and how that's perceived. And it's about the idea of legacy and the future. A lot of plays only exist in a certain time, and when you watch them you're looking back on that time as if you're going to the Museum of Natural History. But when you read this play, the play's written so well that the poetry of the writing illuminates something about your own time. It's not a pageant of another era. It sheds a new light on your own issues with love and family.

What do you think separates this revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from others before it?
BW: We're certainly bringing a sexuality and a vitality to the play in a way that I don't think has been done before. We're approaching it in a way that there's real potential for calamity. It's going to be a mess in the way that real life is. These people say what they mean and mean what they say with all their heart, so it's very passionate in the Shakespearean sense. There's nothing casual or lackadaisically Southern about it. These people could pop at any second. But I don't really find it productive to compare productions. I find that dangerous. It's been a long time since I've seen the 1958 movie, and I didn't see the Ashley Judd version on Broadway in 2003, so I don't really know what's different about our production. You'll have to tell me after you've seen it.

Did you not see the 2008 African-American revival with Terrence Howard either?
BW: No, I didn't. I wish I had seen that.