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

By Brandon Voss
22 Dec 2012

Scarlett Johansson and Benjamin Walker
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Tell me something interesting that you discovered about Brick during the rehearsal process.
BW: There are definitely some traps for Brick, particularly in the early few pages of the play when he doesn't say very much and he's drinking a lot. So much of his life is about trying to avoid issues, avoid feelings, avoid memories. That can be a trap for an actor, because you're not engaged with anyone, so it comes off as blasé, one-note and boring. It's like watching a boiling pot: You don't know what's going on inside if there's a lid on it, but if you know that it's boiling, you know it can blow at any second. Visually, both pots are almost the same, so you have to have that internal turmoil.

Much of your audience will likely be familiar with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from the film or from recent revivals. The great Paul Newman famously played Brick onscreen. Do audience preconceptions put any additional pressure on you?
BW: Nah. Screw 'em. [Laughs.] I don't understand how that's helpful to anybody. Those expectations certainly aren't helpful for the audience. If you're expecting something, looking forward to something, you're going to miss something. It seems detrimental to your experience, and it's also detrimental to our work. But I don't think as many people do that as we think. At least I hope not.

You married actress Mamie Gummer last year. Are you drawing on the new marriage, with all its ups and downs, to enrich Brick and Maggie's relationship?
BW: Luckily, my wife and I don't have that much in common with Maggie and Brick. [Laughs.] But yeah, I draw from every relationship. And Scarlett also brings so much from her own life that really creates a lovely chemistry.

Although she's primarily a film actress, Johansson won a Tony for her Broadway debut in the 2010 revival of A View from a Bridge. What's it been like to work with her?
BW: Oh, she's great. She's classy, she's well prepared, and she's well suited for the part. She's the whole package and the real deal for sure.

What's the greatest challenge in playing your iconic role?
BW: Finding a pee break. I have to keep drinking, refilling my glass, and I'm onstage the whole time! I might need to hide a spittoon in the corner. Other than that, where to begin? Tennessee Williams is the best, but he's certainly the most challenging writer that I've worked on in a long time.

As far as Brick's heavy drinking goes, how method have you been in your research?
BW: Oh, my research on that has been well done for years. I'm typecast, if nothing else.

Brick is leaning hard on the bottle following the suicide of his close friend Skipper, who had confessed his romantic feelings for Brick. There has also been much debate about Brick's sexuality. Do you see him as gay?
BW: Oh, I can't tell you that.

Is that mystery important for the audience?
BW: It's a strength of the play that it talks about something bigger than that question. If you're asking that question on the way out, either I've done my job really well or I haven't done my job at all — I don't know. Human connection is so much bigger than the categories we like to put it in, which almost ruins it. But I can already hear my mom — "So was he gay?"