Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
Eric Bogosian is well known as an actor, author, playwright and now – director. He has taken his extremely popular show “100 Monologues” and created a website that combines his words with some of his most talented acting colleagues, adding new videos all the time. The result is magical! Eric took the time to tell us a little more about the project, and how it helped him add “director” to his skillset.
CP: Thank you so very much for joining us here on DirectorSpeak. It is an honor to hear your opinions about the craft of directing. You have been an actor for quite some time, both on stage and in front of the camera. What traits do you, as an actor, respond to in a director?
EB: Clarity and intelligence. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but over time I’ve learned to sense when a director is thinking it all through and when the director has a greater vision. As an actor with a lot of stage experience I have a sense of what should work from the perspective of my character, or literally my physical place on the stage. I want to work with my director to integrate my sense of what’s going on with his or her greater vision. Unfortunately, most directors have had experience with actors who want to “contribute” too much and not stick to the basics (like learning their lines). For this reason, sometimes directors are suspicious of too much chatter coming from an actor. At best it should be a collaborative push-pull relationship. At worst, it is a pissing contest.
CP: Does your relationship with a director, what you need/want from him or her, change between theatre and film?
EB: I expect to collaborate with the stage director early in the process and then as we get deeper into rehearsals, hunker down, do my thing and be more receptive to concrete direction and just try to get the job done. In other words, most of what you do with a stage director is rehearse. And that process comes in stages. The time for a lot of talk about the script is at the table read and just after. As I get more deeply into the role, my job is to listen to the other actors and if the director tells me to do something, just do it. As far as film/tv directors go, for most of us, there is very little rehearsal. And the director is usually distracted by many other issues besides my performance. For this reason, in film or tv, I am the guardian of my character and must 1) let the director know if he or she is missing something about what my character is about and 2) make sure that my performance meets MY standards. (i.e. ask for another take if I think it’s needed. Not easy.) In the end, on stage and film, what we are doing is hard work and it is incumbent upon me to take my work seriously and lobby on behalf of what I believe will create the best performance. Sometimes this may be annoying to the director.
CP: No conversation with you about directing could leave out your long-time relationship with Jo Bonney. What does she do as a director that you wish all directors could/would do?
EB: Jo is keenly intelligent. She prefers to work on new plays. In this capacity she has tremendous capacity for understanding themes, story lines and character. For the playwright who’s trying to figure out his or her play, this is a huge strength. As an actor who has worked with Jo, (and I think others will agree with me), I find her gently but firmly demanding. She watches everything very carefully and is not satisfied with less than what she believes is my best. Personally, I can be lazy. I can put off memorization, I can be unfocused. Jo finds this unacceptable. Which brings out my best. She sees everything, which is, I guess, what I wish all directors did. In this way, she is like Dan Sullivan. Neither of them miss anything. And that makes me feel secure as an actor.
CP: I’ve heard how you realized one day that you’d written almost a hundred monologues and decided to bring them together in book form. Then you turned that into an Off-Broadway solo show. What sparked the idea of creating the 100 Monologues website?
EB: When Liev Schreiber was starring in my play “Talk Radio” on Broadway, he invited me over to his house to play cards one night. Until that time, I did not play cards and had no interest in playing cards. On that night (I went with Dallas Roberts), I was bitten by the Texas Hold ‘Em bug. I set up a home game and for years, a parade of actors have come to play cards at my place. A few years ago, during a game, it came up that it would be fun if these guys tried their hands at doing the monologues. A number of the actors on the site are from the card games. It expanded from there.
CP: Did you make changes to any of the monologues as a result of bringing this work in front of a camera, or tailoring to a specific performer?
EB: I did. Mostly small things, edits or adjustments because certain topical references no longer work. I worked with Anson Mount quite a bit on his monologue because he wanted to do that work. And in the case of Marin Ireland, I took a male character (named George) and converted him to a female (named Anna) with all the transpositions that needed. That was fun.
CP: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you enjoy performing in small rooms, savoring the intimacy you have with the audience. As the director for the individual film clips, did you seek to re-create that intimacy for the videos of 100 Monologues? If so, what steps did you take to do that?
EB: The first challenge of making these videos was understanding how theater works, how film works and how these monologues work. There are a handful of good videos of me playing before a live audience. When the live audience is clearly present, the viewer understands what’s happening vis a vis performance. It’s me playing to an audience, obviously. But when the audience goes away, what have you got? We had to make a decision about how naturalistic to go with these. (If you go super-naturalistic, in a setting, then you have to have other people in the video. It gets too complicated.) (The Stephen Lang video is the most “naturalistic”.) I decided to go with something that was hybrid. The viewer knows what he or she is watching is synthetic and contrived. It’s like we’re watching the performance in a kind of limbo space. We lit and structured the shoots to create that atmosphere.
CP: The 100 Monologues website seems to have been born from a combination of fascinating material and relationships with lots of very talented actors. That seems like a delicate line to walk between being true to the playwright (you) and giving the actors room to bring their own talents to the table. How was it directing friends and colleagues performing material that you not only wrote, but have performed yourself already?
EB: When we were shooting these videos, the rhythm to each shoot was almost identical. The actor would arrive a bit nervous. Amped up about doing a monologue. Upon arrival it also quickly became clear that this was not some amateur production, but that our team was going to work the same way as if they were on any pro set. Thus things would get tight very fast. And as we shot, the actor would get into it, we’d have some applause, the crew would stifle their laughter at the amazing performances and by the end of the shoot, the actor would leave having had a substantial experience. In others words, we had FUN. I mean that’s why we do this, right? It’s almost as if we all have become so professional, we forgot about that part. I trust my friends and I hope they trust me. In that trust is community and the capacity to stretch out. I hope that’s what we have accomplished.
CP: I think that it’s tremendous how you’ve given some incredibly talented actors the chance to do material with such “bite.” How did you pair actors with material?
EB: I asked these guys for permission to cast them. And in many cases it was “lazy” casting. I would give them each a choice or two or three monologues. Because we had a limited amount of time, I asked the actors to do material that was pretty much in their respective wheelhouse. Josh Charles plays a lawyer. Anson Mount plays a southern character. Michael Chernus plays an eccentric, Craig “mums” Grant played a threatening jailbird. I know that all of these actors can easily play outside “type”, but since most of us have our “strong hand”, I felt that we should use it. And they went along with that.
CP: Any chance we’ll see any more directing efforts from you?
EB: I want people to like me, which makes me a bad “general.” I get so much pleasure from pretending to be someone other than myself or fantasizing when I write, I think that’s enough.
CP: What words of advice would you give to NYC’s indie theatre directors?
EB: The great and wonderful cauldron of art is your community. I wrote all my early stuff while I was thinking about my friends in the audience. I wanted their laughter, their admiration. So in a way, they set the tone of my early work. Working in small theaters like Rattlestick or Here or PS 122 or SoHo Rep is where it’s at. Theater is about community, about us talking to ourselves, making ourselves laugh or cry. Theater is magic. Sometimes that magic can move from our world into the larger commercial world (as with “Hamilton” which started at the Public) but the good stuff always starts with our imperatives.
CP: Thank you very much for taking the time to tell us a bit more about 100 Monologues. I look forward to reading the book and spending a lot of time on the website!
EB: Thank you!!!