As Sarah Bernhardt in Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet, Janet McTeer mastered two roles—Bernhardt and Bernhardt as the unconquerable Hamlet—and earned a 2019 Tony Award nomination for it.
Throughout the play, Bernhardt struggled to get inside the mind of Shakespeare’s notoriously difficult Danish prince. But McTeer tamed both beasts of a role at once. At once commanding sensuality, sincerity, desperation, and nonchalance, McTeer brings an unparalleled nuance to the stage.
The actor says she focused on “[Bernhardt’s] passion, her vulnerability, her desire to be herself, her desire to break the mold, to break out of the envelope and do something a woman had never done before”—a task she thought impossible.
“To embody her, all you can do is—I hope I can embody a bit of her spirit and somehow bring into it how terrifying that must have been and how normal and small in a human way that must have been and yet how marvelous she was also,” McTeer says.
Doing double duty as Bernhardt and Hamlet, audiences witnessed McTeer’s command of Shakespeare—if only in pieces. When asked on opening night if there was another male Shakespeare role she’d like to take on she replied, “Darling, all of them.” Until she does, we remember four other times she fully took on the Bard of Avon.
Petruchio, The Taming of the Shrew
McTeer inhabited the role of misogynistic Petruchio in The Public’s 2016 all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew for Shakespeare in the Park. This was her second time in the role, as she had performed it at the Globe Theatre in London.
Audrey, As You Like It
Directed and adapted by Kenneth Branagh, this 2006 film starred Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind, Brian Blessed as The Duke, and David Oyelowo as Orlando. McTeer may not have had a large role—Audrey is one of the country girls—but she still inhabited the re-imagined world of Shakespeare.
Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing
McTeer starred as Beatrice in the 1993 West End production of this Shakespeare comedy. Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other, Claudio is tricked into rejecting Hero, but Benedick and Beatrice unite to set things right.
Hippolyta/Titania, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Early in her career, McTeer starred in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1986 production of Midsummer. She played both Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Titania, Queen of the Fairies.