PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Philip Quast, "Attending the Tale" of New York Philharmonic Sweeney Todd

By Carey Purcell
05 Mar 2014

Quast in La Cage Aux Folles.

You've played some pretty intense roles throughout your career. Do you find yourself drawn more to darker, serious characters?
PQ: Yes, I do, probably because I try to find some humanity in them. I've done a lot of them. I've committed suicide a lot, in so many films, so many television [shows]. I've even played Saddam Hussein in a movie. I'm hitting the stage where it's lovely to do comedy occasionally. Even Godot was pretty tough and tormented. I had a whip in that as well. I don't think they interfere with your life. I never used to think that. But as I'm getting older, they're pretty exhausting really. You've got to bring in a certain amount of dark side, you've got to find that dark side of yourself.

So you're not a Method actor.
PQ: The thing is, you can't sort of do Method stuff in a musical because you're part of a team. It's not like doing stuff on film where you don't have to worry about anyone else. The editor can take care of it. When you're in a musical, you've got to look after other people. Otherwise you're jeapordizing what they do.

You have done comedy over the years as well.
PQ: I love doing comedy. I did the very first production [of La Cage aux Folles] at the Chocolate Factory, with Douglas Hodge. I loved doing it. It was great. We had the big kiss at the end. I used to go out in the audience and fully kiss people on the mouth — all that sort of stuff. That's how it should be.

I've done kid's television; I've done a lot of comedy over the years. It's hard; it's very hard. The comedy roles are often tormented as well. There's something underneath, all that wit that's covering up a multitude of things.

Can you tell me about finding the humanity in the role of Judge Turpin?
PQ: There's usually one moment you've got as a character where the audience slightly understands. You can't play it too much. I'm not saying you soften it. I find one or two little moments where the audience understands that if they were in the same position, they may do the same thing.

We're all capable of doing anything. All of us, under the right circumstances. You don't need to look at war or the breakdown of society to understand that. So I just try to find one little moment where an audience may go, "Oh my God," or a man might go, "Oh God, I remember feeling that moment with my daughter." And it's sort of natural to be regarded as unnatural. But it's just a little thought that pops in and sometimes you go, "Oh, gee." But he acts on it.

You just try and find that little moment there where human beings either make the choice to do something or they can't help it. They make the choice to go one way or the other. And we're filled with those choices all the time. The eternal argument, the existential argument — are we innately good or innately bad? Does religion and the law keep us on the straight and narrow, [and what would happen] if we had no religion?

(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)