BroadwayGlobal spotlights off Broadway with The Seeing Place Theatre ‘s star of “Hamlet” Brandon Walker in an exclusive Q and A.
What drew you to the role of “Hamlet? “Aside from the fact that it’s a rite of passage for any actor around my age (or much older sometimes), the biggest draw for me is that I’ve been entirely unsatisfied with every other portrayal I’ve seen. I have a habit of really trying to take stories that I don’t feel have been fully explored and doing them justice. In this case, my work as both an actor and director in this project was to get a group of people to live through the greatest play ever. With all of the impressive actors and impressive moments I’ve seen play through this story, I’ve never seen it come to life. And I’m told that we’ve succeeded in that. I’ve also been working on the soliloquies since grade school, and I’ve been in the show three times – almost playing “Hamlet” the last time, before new director came on board and I ended up playing Horatio. So, I figured that since I’m 30, it was time.” Brandon Walker.
What’s the hardest part of playing Hamlet? “People think it’s the lines. It’s not the lines. At first, it’s the hype, but that goes away pretty quickly. And then the biggest problem is trying to believe in the situation: My uncle kills my father, marries my mother, steals my place, and turns my childhood friends, my girlfriend, and the kingdom against me. That’s an imaginative exercise all on its own!” Brandon Walker.
Did you borrow any choices from The Greats? “Not really. I borrowed Derek Jacobi’s directorial idea to talk to Ophelia for “To be or not to be”, but I honestly don’t see why she ever leaves the stage – and it’s not indicated in the script. There are a couple of lines that first made sense to me as a result of Michael Stuhlbarg’s “Hamlet“, so I have borrowed those meanings (and probably similar deliveries). I read about Simon Russell Beale wearing sunglasses in the first scene, which I also do – and which just made sense to me for a guy in mourning.” Brandon Walker.
What personal stamp have you put on the role? “My personal stamp is that it comes from me every night. In terms of interpretation, I feel like my personal stamp is mostly in the graveyard scene. I’ve decided to come into the scene before the gravediggers start to be with my father, so that I have a reason for being there – and then all of the lines about Yorick end up coming out of my anger that the Gravedigger is throwing skulls and profaning the dead. Then, I really try to connect with Laertes and give Ophelia a proper burial. I even put the engagement ring she gave back to me (based on Polonius’ advice) on her finger and give her the rose I brought for my father.” Brandon Walker.
As a director, did you do anything different with the play? “Well, I have Co-Directed with Erin Cronican, The Managing Director of The Seeing Place (who also plays Ophelia). We have set the play in this day and age, but we really tried to learn the modern relevance and sensibility of everything in the text. So, we do use flashlights and guns, but there is also a sword passed down from generation to generation, which the Ghost gives me. We also have a fencing match at the end. The main distinction between this “Hamlet” and others is that we put the text in its original order from the First Quarto, so the “nunnery scene” happens before the scene with Polonius, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – and that makes much more sense, anyway. I also opted to have a memorial lighting for King Hamlet in the first scene, which I eventually blow out at the end of the play (after finally killing Claudius) when I give the line “I follow thee” to my father.” Brandon Walker.
Why did you decide to play the show in rep with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – and did that inform anything? “Mainly, we wanted everyone in the show to be able to play a lead. We wanted the story to be an ensemble telling, so many of the smaller roles in “Hamlet” are filled out much more in R&G, and vice versa. As such, all of the roles in both plays are very well fleshed out. With that said, R&G is not in the same tone as “Hamlet“, and it offers a more farcical, “worm’s-eye-view” of the larger characters in “Hamlet“. So, Hamlet’s paranoia is played to the hilt in R&G – and that goes for Gertrude’s sexuality, Claudius’ drinking, Polonius’ spying, Horatio’s recording of events, Ophelia’s distress, etc.” Brandon Walker.
Do you still think that HAMLET is the best play in the English language? Why or why not? “I think it’s up there. I wasn’t blown away at first, but I have come to really love it. It’s a little two-dimensional on the page and really does require actors to bring it to life – which is a good thing. I don’t believe it’s overwritten. And I do think it’s the best piece of anything ever written on loss and the afterlife. From a story perspective, there are a couple of difficulties, but they are very minor in the scope of a text that still comes to life after Four Hundred years.” Brandon Walker.
What’s your favorite thing about the character of Hamlet? “He really is an every-man to an incredible degree. No matter what is going on with the actor playing the character of ‘Hamlet“, it seems to be relevant to the play. So, whether I am angry, sad, hurt, disgusted, happy, numb, whatever – it all works. I think that’s why people are so taken with the character. Granted, this isn’t the only character or play that is so malleable to a person’s individual humanity, but I do think it was the first. There’s something beautiful to be said for that. It’s also one of the biggest roles, so living through it really is a roller-coaster every night. It’s a real honor, and I’m constantly amazed that audiences have received it (and me) so well. I feel like, I get naked in front of everyone on a nightly basis, and the fact that they don’t shun me is reassuring.” Brandon Walker.
What’s your favorite part of the play? “Probably the moment right after “To be or not to be” when I come down and fall into Ophelia’s arms (played by Erin Cronican – who is also my girlfriend), and know that everything else is downhill from there. It’s a really intense first hour to digest as “Hamlet” – and until that point, he’s mostly reactionary. But it’s a really fun scene to play, and then I get to start responding and driving the story, which I find to be easier. People have said that “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I” is my best speech, and that’s probably because by that point, I’m just talking about the things we all just watched and planning my next move. It’s the simplest speech in the play – if you’ll let it be.” Brandon Walker.
What’s the most difficult part of the play? “Not “To be or not to be” – though that is the most stressful. Nor would I say it’s the scene with the Ghost, which ranks up there. I’d say the most difficult part of the play is the minute after I’m dead, where I have to try not to breathe too deeply as to completely spoil all of my hard work.” Brandon Walker.
What, if anything, have you learned through playing Hamlet? “I’ve learned to trust myself.” Brandon Walker.
What advice would you give to an actor playing Hamlet? “Someone said that the role of Hamlet requires a very generous human being to play him. And I’ve learned that to be true. He can’t be critical of humanity. He really has to love people and fight for them – not only King Hamlet, but also for Ophelia, and Yorick. He has to love and trust Horatio completely. His “cause” if you will, is for the good of humanity. And so, you have to see the love he has for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, even as he berates them. You have to see the love he has for Claudius, even as he plots to kill him. You have to see the love through the betrayal he feels from Gertrude – and his desire to save her soul, his father’s soul, and eventually his own. You have to see the love he has for Laertes, even after he’s been poisoned. He has to fight for what’s right in the world for the better part of three hours. And once he finally learns how to live, he dies.” Brandon Walker.
What’s next for you and The Seeing Place? “A break. And then…I think I’ll start working on some less tortured people. I think I had some need to prove something that I feel like I’ve gotten out of my system on this one. I’m looking forward to doing something simpler.” Brandon Walker.
BroadwayGlobal thanks Director/Actor Brandon Walker for sharing his journey to “Hamlet” at the gem theatre in NYC The Seeing Place. usedview.com/review/seeing-place-theater-is-a-new-york-city-gem-for-live-repertory-productions. Also, special thanks for photos by Russ Rowland for Seeing Place Theatre.
For more information about The Seeing Place Theater, visit www.seeingplacetheater.com.