Tony Nominee Brian Bedford Walks a Tightrope in Revival of Importance of Being Earnest

Tony Awards   Tony Nominee Brian Bedford Walks a Tightrope in Revival of Importance of Being Earnest
Brian Bedford, who directed and stars in the Roundabout Theatre Company's acclaimed production of Oscar Wilde's comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, told he was "absolutely thrilled" to learn of his 2011 Tony nomination the morning of May 3.

Brian Bedford
Brian Bedford Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Bedford, who has received seven Tony nominations throughout his career, winning in 1971 for his performance in The School for Wives, explained, "It's happened to me a few times, you know, but it never stops being absolutely thrilling, and, of course, it is particularly thrilling, this one, because this is my baby. I directed it, and gave myself a very good part in it," he said with a laugh. "We started out, as you know, quite modestly in Canada, at Stratford, Ontario, and here we are at the top of the hill, which is what the Tonys really amounts to, don't you think?"

Like some famous male performers before him, Bedford plays the imperious British matron Lady Augusta Bracknell, who is one of several mouthpieces conveying Oscar Wilde's satiric ideas about romance, social standing and manners.

Bedford said the biggest challenge of his latest theatrical endeavor is "this crazy thing of directing the play that you are also acting in, and that is always a challenge. The challenge was increased here because of playing a woman, which I have never done before, and actually that was part of how interesting it was for me because I really did, right from the get-go, I thought quite seriously, 'This is a very interesting challenge to play a woman.' I didn't think, 'Oh, this will be fabulous to get into a frock and camp around,' or anything like that. I just thought this is a very, very interesting and different thing for me to try and do, so that was my approach all along.

Bedford in The Importance of Being Earnest.
photo by Joan Marcus

"We took a very serious approach to the play in the assumption that the more serious it was, the funnier it was," Bedford added, "because it is a satire — it is a satirical farce, and quite subversive, really, and it's Oscar Wilde commenting in a very kind of devastating way about the society of his time, and obviously considering these people empty-headed and stupid. I was thinking, because I went to Book of Mormon the other night, and that was such an effective satire because it never got angry, and it's the same with The Importance of Being Earnest. He has a very, very light tough, although he is very seriously criticizing and satirizing, it never gets too heavy. And, of course, he found these people, as well as being incredibly stupid, he found them funny. It's a bit of a fine line, and that's what makes the Oscar Wilde style in The Importance of Being Earnest rather elusive. It's kind of a tightrope-y thing for the actors to negotiate."

When told he is walking that tightrope in the 1895 comedy of manners extremely well, the award-winning actor said, "Well, seemingly, and that's the gratifying thing. And this Tony nomination seems to say, 'We think you were doing it right.'" The Importance of Being Earnest continues through July 3 at Broadway's American Airlines Theatre.

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