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Sir Anthony Sher is one of our most distinguished Shakespearean actors
and he's had a long and varied career.
In the early 1980s, he made a splash on stage
in Mike Leigh's play Goose-Pimples,
and on screen as a sleazy womaniser
in the television version of The History Man.
You'll have to let me save you from yourself.
In the decades since,
he's been a mainstay of the Royal Shakespeare Company
and a regular on the London stage.
But he's also found time to write plays, memoirs and four novels.
Gregory Doran began his career as an actor but soon turned to directing,
first at the Nottingham Playhouse
and later at the RSC.
Since he became the RSC's artistic director in 2012,
his hits have included David Tennant as Richard II
and as a memorable Hamlet.
Greg first directed Tony in Titus Andronicus in 1995
and, over the two decades since,
they've worked together on another nine plays,
including Macbeth and Death Of A Salesman.
In 2005, they celebrated their civil partnership
on the first day that that became legal.
Next year, they will collaborate
on one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, King Lear.
Ladies and gentlemen,
thank you for that great welcome
for Sir Antony Sher and Gregory Doran.
What I'd like to start by establishing
is that we're going to talk about
the ten productions that you've done together,
with one still to come,
which we'll also talk about but not too much, let's keep them waiting.
I'd like to take you back ten years
to when you cemented your personal relationship
with a civil partnership.
Now, I wonder how that affected your professional relationship,
did it make it awkward at all? Greg?
I don't think so.
We had been working together...
We've been together 28 years now
and, for ten years before we had our civil partnership,
we had been working, we'd started...
I started directing Tony in 1995.
I suppose the one area
where questions were asked
was when the directorship of the RSC came up first time
and I was up for the job that time
and it felt...
I think there was a sense
that maybe I would just be casting my civil partner.
What's your perspective?
I've been working for the RSC
for about 30-odd years,
I joined in '82.
And it's pretty much been the main part of my career.
So, long before Greg had anything to do with running the place,
I had been playing a string of leading roles there
on and off for 30 years.
It would have been very odd if,
when he did or didn't get the job,
I had stopped doing that, you know?
I was established there already,
so I don't think it made any difference.
It didn't really make much difference.
And, Greg, you got "the big job" three years ago.
Did that change things at all?
Were you cautious about casting Tony in big roles?
Not really. In fact, as it turned out,
we weren't going to be working together until next year,
until King Lear.
He wasn't... I hadn't cast him as Falstaff,
I was doing the tetralogy,
the Shakespeare tetralogy first.
And, indeed, I wasn't meant to be directing Death Of A Salesman,
so it just happened that I directed him in those three,
and who wouldn't?
Because he's a major...
One of the major actors and had been at the RSC since 1982,
so why wouldn't I use one of our great associate actors?
And it hasn't really been an issue, obviously.
You mentioned the tetralogy,
and I know you've come from Stratford today,
where you are rehearsing the last one in the tetralogy.
The tetralogy - the rest of us would call it
four Shakespeare history plays.
Which are Henry... Richard II,
Henry IV Parts 1 and 2,
and Henry V.
You're rehearsing Henry V,
and you've missed a preview to be with us tonight,
-so we're very flattered.
Actors always like the director to not see at least one preview.
I find it's where they try things out
that they wouldn't dare to do in front of me.
Well, now, that leads us very nicely into our first clip of the evening,
which is from Henry IV Part 1
and, of course, it's...
As Falstaff is sitting with us, it involves Mr Falstaff.
Let's see it.
Speak, sirs, how was it?
We four set upon some dozen...
-16 at least, my lord.
-And bound them.
-No, no, they were not bound.
they were bound, every man of them.
As we're sharing, some six or seven fresh men set on us.
And unbound the rest
-and then come in the other.
Fought you with them all?
All? I know not what ye call all
but if I fought not with 50 of them...
..I am a bunch of radish.
Pray God, you have not murdered some of them?
Nay, that's fast praying for, I have peppered two of them,
two I'm sure I have paid, two rogues in buckram suits.
I tell you what, Hal,
if I tell thee a lie, spit in my face
and call me horse.
Of course you are Sir John Falstaff,
and that was Alex Hassell as Prince Hal.
-Now, you got that part, really,
thanks to Ian McKellen.
I think I read that somewhere.
Yes, that's right. For years...
It's all his fault.
It's all his fault, yes.
Greg was planning to do the Henry IVs
and, I guess, you have to start by casting Falstaff,
it's the kind of crucial and the hardest part.
So, for years, literally a couple of years,
he would discuss with me
ideas for Falstaff over lunch
in a restaurant, or whatever.
He'd say, "What about so-and-so?"
I'd go, "Yeah, that's good."
And there was absolutely no subtext.
I had never dreamed of playing this part,
it was not on my agenda.
That does seem weird, actually.
You didn't see yourself as Falstaff?
I just couldn't see it at all. And you then had a meeting with...
I'd been talking to a number of actors,
including Ian McKellen, and said, you know,
"Would you come back to Stratford?"
and why had he never thought of playing Falstaff?
You have to wear padding to play Falstaff.
-He's a bit thin to play Falstaff.
-A bit thin for it, maybe.
But he said to me, "No, no, it's not my part,"
and we discussed that a bit.
And then he said,
"Why are you looking for Falstaff when you live with him?"
Now, I should just explain
that Ian was making reference to a performance of mine
that he'd seen at the National Theatre
in a play called Travelling Light,
a play which is set a Jewish shtetl round about 1900.
And I played a character called Jacob,
who was a very ebullient, larger-than-life character
who, I guess, in retrospect,
could have been Falstaff's Jewish cousin.
So Ian had seen that and liked that, and that's the reference,
just in case you think that I'm otherwise like Falstaff.
I'm sure Greg saw you as Falstaff before YOU did,
but you've written somewhere, Tony,
that when you first try to get to grips with a Shakespearean character,
that it's like, for you, looking into a darkened room
through a glass window
and all you can see is your own reflection.
This is because...
I was taught Shakespeare badly at school in South Africa.
I guess a lot of people are taught Shakespeare badly,
or not in an inspiring way.
I didn't go to university,
we did a bit of Shakespeare at drama school,
so I really didn't start to learn about Shakespeare
until I joined the RSC in 1982.
And I joined at a time - It was an incredibly lucky thing -
at that time there was still John Barton,
the great Shakespeare teacher and director,
Cic Berry, the RSC's great voice guru.
-Who is still there doing her work.
And they were both doing workshops with the company
to teach us all about speaking Shakespeare.
I mean, how lucky do you get?
We should have been paying THEM,
instead of being on salary,
and yet it was just part of being at the RSC.
And part of being at the RSC, Greg, of course, is,
it goes without saying, you are dealing with an ensemble,
not only of actors but of super-technical people.
And that is a little bit of a comfort zone, is it, for you?
You feel you know everybody that you're working with
at whatever level?
I do, and I've been very lucky from that point of view.
Starting at the RSC as an actor,
moving on to being an assistant director,
to be an associate director,
so I've been on both sides of the footlights, if you like.
And I think that's been very helpful.
But I guess it's entirely developed the way
I choose to work with a company,
which is an intense exploration of the text together
that everybody... We share it.
-This is how you start your rehearsals?
-Sitting in a circle. Yes.
-And nobody says their own lines.
David Tennant playing Hamlet found this very difficult
as we worked around, for a couple of weeks,
going through the text
and everybody put it into their own words.
So they paraphrased a bit.
Yeah, so it meant that everybody had a sense of ownership,
a kind of investment in the production, and I know that that...
The two shows that I started in as an actor at Stratford,
one of them I felt entirely invested in
because I had been invited to be part of it,
and the other I sort of didn't really know what I was doing,
I didn't really know what I was saying.
And, Tony, how do you deal with this process of rehearsal when Greg's...
to use a crude word, sort of bossing people around?
I'm sure he's much too nice to do that.
Do you...? Your personal relationship doesn't come into it?
Are you sort of careful to be as...
To answer back as some of the other actors are?
We had to learn how to work together,
and that happened on a production of Titus Andronicus
that was at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg
and then came to the National Theatre
and West Yorkshire Playhouse.
That was our baptism by fire
where we learned, on that production,
that you have to leave the work in the rehearsal room.
That, in the rehearsal room,
I can interact, like any of the actors can, with Greg,
and I can agree or disagree
and ideas will happen creatively.
But you absolutely have to leave that work in the rehearsal room
and go home and resume having your best friend, your partner.
-A normal life.
-A normal life.
But he wouldn't, Sue. He just wouldn't do it.
Oh, well, we're coming to Titus now, actually.
You've led us very neatly in,
because that was 1995, 20 years ago.
First production, as you say, that you did together.
We've got a clip from it, which is...
And you were Titus.
..which is Titus'...big, macho general's first entrance.
Victorious in thy mourning weeds.
Lo, as the bark that hath discharged her fraught
returns with precious jading
to the bay from whence that first she weigh'd her anchorage.
bound with laurel boughs,
to re-salute his country
with his tears.
Tears of true joy for his return to Rome.
Thou great defender of this Capitol,
stand gracious to the rights that we intend.
Now, Titus Andronicus must be Shakespeare's bloodiest play,
or certainly close to being that.
Hands get chopped off, there's a lot of blood about.
A lot of people faint and have to rush out.
Whose idea was it to play it at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg?
Yours, presumably, Tony, was it?
No, we had been out together on a cultural visit
from the National Theatre Studio,
where they took a group of actors, writers, Rich Dyer came along,
all sorts of people, to do talks, lectures, workshops.
And while we were there,
we did a series of workshops
investigating what Shakespeare sounded like
in South African accents.
Because South African actors had an assumption that,
in order to speak Shakespeare, you had to speak posh.
And so we did this experiment,
and it sounded wonderful in the different accents of South Africa.
And they would be black accents and white accents.
Black accents and white accents.
And so, while we were there, Barney Simon, the great...
Who created, co-created the Market Theatre,
asked us if we'd like to come back and do a production,
-and it was your idea, actually.
To do Titus,
precisely because of the violence.
I must tell you about that very moment,
because this is Tony's first professional appearance as an actor
in his own home country.
And the first lines he says as Titus, as you hear, are,
"Cometh, Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs,
"to re-salute his country with his tears."
This was a very potent moment, and we'd had this great moment
of the Goths dragging on this bombed-out Jeep,
a sort of great triumphal entry,
which was very hard to make it not look like triumphal parking.
But, on the first night - there were no previews,
just the first night - the car went wrong
and smashed into the back wall of the Market Theatre instead.
But without batting an eyelid, he came straight off the truck,
came down to the front and said,
"Cometh, Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs."
But Shakespeare, Greg, is famously adaptable to all cultures,
maybe not in South Africa,
but maybe with a bit of time
you could achieve that.
How have you played him
in cultures other than South African or British
where he's worked very well?
Do you know...because he somehow has a universality...
It's because he sees us from 360 degrees
and it doesn't matter.
He transcends all those boundaries, I think.
You know, I've directed Shakespeare in Japan, in Nigeria, in America,
in the West Indies, and people always say, "He's talking about us."
I can't define what that is,
but that is his extraordinary genius.
Some people think, and I think Julian Fellowes is one of them -
Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes -
that Shakespeare is a bit difficult sometimes for "other cultures",
and that he should be simplified.
And he did a Romeo And Juliet film... Tony, you're shaking your head.
I'm sorry, I get very upset by this.
It's nonsense, it's complete...
Julian said that you need a university degree
to understand Shakespeare - I'm sorry, that's nonsense.
Sorry, Julian. If you're watching, sorry, it's nonsense.
I never went to university, but my job as a Shakespeare actor -
and I've done a lot of them now -
is to work hard on conveying the meaning,
and we do that partly by sitting round the circle and translating.
Greg is known for the clarity, if I may say so in his presence,
the clarity of his productions.
You never are unaware of what's going on.
On a film like that Romeo And Juliet,
the actors would barely get a chance to rehearse, if at all.
They would turn up on the set like you do with most films
and you would start filming.
They would never have gone through the process that we do
in a rehearsal room in Stratford.
So it's not a university degree you need,
it's the craft of speaking Shakespeare,
which we, at the RSC, work very hard at.
It is a craft, and I think it does take a lot of hard work to do it.
Nobody's pretending that it's easy
but, in the mouths of actors who know how to do it,
it should be absolutely easy to understand.
Is it sometimes a question of just hitting the right word in every line?
It is, and not over-stressing.
Young actors tend to go,
"To BE...or NOT to BE."
And you get sort of battered by nuance.
Well, we'll move on to one of Shakespeare's plays
which is considered to be
one of his most difficult to perform convincingly,
The Winter's Tale.
Tony, you played Leontes,
who was prone to fits of irrational jealousy,
not unique in this play, for Shakespeare, of course.
But we'll see a clip now
showing you losing your rag
because you are convinced your wife is being unfaithful.
I have drunk and seen the spider.
Camillo was his help in this, his pander.
All's true that is mistrusted.
How came the posterns so easily open?
By his great authority which often hath no less prevail'd
-than so on your command.
-I know't too well.
There is a plot against my life, my crown.
Give me the boy.
I am glad you did not nurse him:
Though he does bear some signs of me,
yet you have too much blood in him.
What is this? Sport?
Bear the boy hence, he shall not come about her. Away with him!
And let her sport herself with that she's big with.
For 'tis Polixenes has made thee swell thus.
And there we saw Alexandra Gilbreath as Hermione.
What is it that makes Winter's Tale difficult?
Is it the behaviour of Leontes?
He does start at full pelt in his jealousy. That is difficult.
I think there's the fairytale element to it
that is quite difficult.
As soon as you think you've found a sort of...a setting,
or a way to play the play -
and we set it in a sort of Romanov Russia,
as it were, for Sicilia -
something will pop out because there weren't...
The oracle at Delphi wasn't apparent in that society,
or something won't work.
But what is at the heart of it
is this very real exploration of human psychology,
and you discovered something about that, didn't you?
This is an example of where research can just be invaluable.
Because there's this irrational jealousy
that this character has to have.
And I went round and talked to all sorts of psychiatrists,
psychologists, various people,
and eventually found someone
and I described what happens to Leontes in the play
and she said,
"Ah, he's got what's called either morbid or sexual jealousy."
It's called one or the other,
which is a very familiar syndrome
where, exactly, symptom by symptom,
the character develops this irrational jealousy
that their partner is having an affair when the partner isn't.
And it can lead to violence or even murder.
Now, although I couldn't tell the audience
that this syndrome actually exists,
that it isn't Shakespeare being fanciful,
just by me discovering that,
by me being able to invest that reality into it,
by me being able to share that with you
and with the other members of the cast,
something happened that no longer made the behaviour absurd.
That, somehow, we could see him as a sick person
who was undergoing this mental trauma,
and it made all the difference.
I'd like to talk to you both about the way Shakespeare is spoken
and the vocal demands his language makes on actors.
There's a lot of complaints these days about mumbling actors.
And it's put down to the fact
that a lot of them come on as stars
from some other production on television
and aren't used to projecting their voices.
Is this becoming more of a problem in the theatre,
in the classical theatre?
It is a problem, but it's not an insoluble problem.
I think what...
What the actors come to learn with Shakespeare
is that you don't have to apply an idea of your character to the lines.
A character is how they speak.
So a character like Leontes,
his jealousy is conveyed in the way he puts words together.
So, at one point, even if you don't quite understand it, he says,
"o'er head and ears, a fork'd one!"
And what you hear is this descent,
this violent, angry, nettled descent
into a kind of fury of jealousy.
And I think if... Once the actors -
and I find this really, genuinely happens -
once the actors really begin to relish that language
and see how many clues Shakespeare's put into the text for you to use,
or not use, as you choose,
then that problem tends to disappear.
And audibility is often down to, you mentioned,
a couple of very wonderful voice coaches, Cicely Berry is one of them.
And they work on actors to make them heard.
Absolutely, and there's another whole element to this,
which is that Shakespeare's plays
are shared with the audience.
What I mean by that is,
it's a conversation with the audience,
even if you're not directly doing an aside to them.
I learned this during a production of Romeo And Juliet,
Terry Hands was directing it, I was the assistant director,
and the girl playing Juliet had the potion,
the poison that she's going to take
to send her to sleep, and she was going...
"What if this be a poison the friar subtly hath ministered
"to have me dead?"
And Terry said, "Who are you talking to?"
She said, "Well, myself," and he said,
"Who are all these people?"
And she said, "Well, you know..." and got the point.
And suddenly - and I was sitting watching this - she said,
"What if this be a poison the friar subtly hath ministered
"to have me dead?"
And I went, "I don't know."
Because if it's an engagement with the audience,
then you will have no problem with audibility,
because you want to reach, and for them to hear,
this two-way complicit conversation
that is Shakespeare's theatre.
Well, not all the productions you've done together
have been written by Mr William Shakespeare.
We're going to move now to Cyrano de Bergerac,
translated, of course, from the French, from Rostand's French -
in this case by Anthony Burgess,
the extraordinary, Renaissance, multi-talented...
The late Anthony Burgess.
This was put on in 1997,
and we've got a clip.
I should explain at the beginning
that there are two little sections to this clip,
the first one is from a rehearsal
and the second one is from a performance.
And it is Cyrano, played by Tony,
teaching his protege,
and you will see this little male head at some point,
how to woo a woman that he, Cyrano -
it's very touching - really loves himself.
Oh, God, how I love you, I choke with love.
I stumble in madness,
tread a fiery region where reason is consumed.
I love you beyond the limits that love sets himself.
I love, I love...
Never in my most reckless
and reasonable dream have I hoped for this.
Now I can gladly die knowing that it is my words
that make you tremble in the blue shadows of the trees.
For it is true,
you do tremble like a leaf among the leaves.
And the passion of that trembling
weaves a spider filament
that seeks me now,
feeling its way
among the jasmine bough.
Another reason for explaining that that's in two parts
is that you suddenly sprouted a nose.
It's a wonderful swashbuckling play
with a very tender love scene.
Did you do special research - I bet you did, Tony -
to play Cyrano?
No, there are some parts
that you really don't need to research.
Parts that you just have to play from the heart,
there's no amount of research
that's going to help you with those kind of parts.
As you say, it's a very poignant love story.
I think you went to...
Did you go to Paris to get a feel for France?
We did go to Paris,
and we went to Paris to look at big noses, actually.
We walked round the streets of Paris,
looking at different people's noses,
wondering whether we'd find the right one.
-But, anyway, yeah, we...
-Did you use any of that research?
-We did go and see a French production...
..and rather gloriously, the actor playing Cyrano greeted us backstage
and he said, "I'm not going to wish you luck
"with your production,
"because luck is about what the critics say and how it's reviewed."
He said, "In France, we wish you joy."
And I think that's the most lovely thing to say.
But can I say,
in that beautiful translation by Anthony Burgess -
I think it's called an adaptation,
it's not just a translation -
he uses two wonderful phrases.
One is the "casual dress of flesh",
by which he means you can be maybe beautiful or maybe ugly
in the eyes of the world,
and that that's a casual roll of the dice
that nature has done,
and contrasts that with what he calls "the visible soul".
So Cyrano, who regards himself
as ugly, unattractive,
nevertheless has, as I think you could see in that clip,
this shining soul.
And I've taken to using that phrase,
"the visible soul",
as the essence of great acting.
If you think of Judi Dench,
what do you see when she comes on?
You see her soul,
and it's the most precious and wonderful thing
that an actor, a performer,
can share with an audience.
And it's something that I've spent a lot of my career
sort of reaching towards,
because I began by wanting disguise,
the casual dress of flesh, you know,
I thought it was all about wearing funny noses
or padding or whatever.
And I've always thought of myself as a character actor,
meaning someone who travels away from themselves
to become the character.
But then you see someone like Meryl Streep,
who I think is an astonishing actress,
who transforms herself utterly into Maggie Thatcher,
or the survivor of a concentration camp in Sophie's Choice.
-Or as a rock star, as she is in her latest movie.
And yet, you also see her visible soul through that,
and that's what, I think, makes her remarkable.
So perhaps with Judi Dench and Meryl Streep
you get an example of two types of acting,
not that one is any better than the other,
but both have, at their essence,
this phrase that we learned on Cyrano, the visible soul.
Before we leave Cyrano, just a thought.
I know some productions beg to be in...
Not to be in modern dress,
and some adapt very well to modern dress.
Did you at any point think of Cyrano
being in modern dress
-and then change your mind?
-Not in... No.
-I don't think so.
Cos what is sometimes disturbing -
and I won't name any particular productions,
and certainly not one of yours - is when...
It's very popular to set Shakespeare in army camps
and there are references to swords which don't quite work.
Yeah. That's true.
People are terribly clever at making modern associations.
And I think sometimes the plays do work really well in modern dress
and I think each play is different. But I think you're right -
there are times when if you have a modern-dress Romeo And Juliet,
you think, "Why didn't she text him?"
But in fact... I'm sure coming up is a clip from the Macbeth that we did.
Now that's a very unusual situation
where we had set out to do it Jacobean, in its period,
and, like, halfway through rehearsals...
-Not quite halfway, earlier.
..decided to change to modern dress,
or modernish dress,
because the play was some...
Macbeth is, I think, Shakespeare's most brilliant play.
It's a short play, and it goes like a blade from start to finish.
But it's incredibly difficult to do,
because of the themes of witchcraft -
which can lead to all sorts of melodrama -
and the themes of murder and blood.
And we found that doing it in period costumes
was stopping the actors from really contacting,
so we made this very unusual decision halfway through
to change to modern dress.
Well, before we go any further,
let's see a clip from that famous, wonderful production...
-Sorry to pre-empt!
-..of Macbeth. 1999, I think it was.
And your Lady Macbeth was the wonderful Harriet Walter.
I will tomorrow,
and betimes I will, to the weird sisters.
More shall they speak,
for now I am bent to know, by the worst means, the worst.
For mine own good, all causes shall give way.
I am in blood stepped in so far
that, should I wade no more,
returning were as tedious as go o'er.
Strange things I have in head,
that will to hand,
which must be acted ere they may be scanned.
You lack the season of all natures...
Come, we'll to sleep.
It's very popular, it's quite short, it goes like a steam train,
but, I think, you have found it the most difficult part
that you've ever played, the most difficult Shakespeare role.
Yes. And of all the...
I normally sketch in my scripts
and try out what the character's going to look like,
or kind of what he feels like.
I... There's not a single sketch in my Macbeth script.
I simply didn't know what he looked like,
because it doesn't matter what he looks like, actually. He...
It's what he thinks, it's how his...
Somebody said, "He's a man who can't stop thinking,
"who can't stop watching himself."
I think, for me, a big breakthrough -
again, it was research -
was I needed to understand
what it was like to murder,
because that is at the essence of that play.
And I think it's one of the things that, as human beings,
it's very hard for us
to imagine this...
This deed that is beyond all others.
You're not saying you went out and found some murderers?
I went and met separately, on two different occasions,
men who'd committed murder
and who'd served their sentences
and were back in the community.
And they were extraordinary meetings.
I mean, really unforgettable.
The first man was like a man without a layer of skin.
The deed that he had done
had just broken him apart
and haunted him.
The second man was a hardened criminal
who was simply haunted by the fact
that he'd got caught and done time.
And so it seemed to me that they were Macbeth and Lady Macbeth,
in a way, because Macbeth is haunted and shattered
by killing the king, Duncan,
and Lady Macbeth thinks she isn't
until it catches up with her in her sleep.
-It is a wonderful part for a woman, Lady Macbeth, isn't it?
A real test of a fine classical actor there.
Just marvellous to have Harriet do it.
And, of course, we played it for a year.
We took it on tour and we filmed it, as you see,
and the last day of filming coincided exactly a year later
from the first day of rehearsals.
And Harriet said, you know,
"If you'd asked me to play Lady Macbeth for a year,
"I might have decided against it."
But, er, it was extraordinary, because she -
you know, talking of the visible soul - she has that.
She has that missing layer of skin
that you're talking about.
She has such an ability...
And by the time we came to film it, the actors were...
Could breathe the stuff.
There was no sense of them
speaking some funny iambic-pentameter Shakespeare verse.
I'd like to ask Tony what the experience of being...
Of going out live to an audience round the country
and perhaps even round the world...
These transmissions are now very popular.
I think they started from the Metropolitan Opera in New York,
and now, I won't say everybody does them,
-but they're hugely popular, and rightly so.
How conscious are you when that happens
of the mechanics of filming?
Well, you are aware that if you make a mistake,
it's going to be seen round the world.
But... So that's all right.
What I found, actually, it was very moving,
because as I was going into the theatre
and preparing to put on the make-up and all of that,
I was aware that at the same time
my family in South Africa were travelling to a cinema
where they were going to watch it.
-What production would this be?
-This was Travelling Light...
-..at the National. That was the first time.
Your twin sister in America
was travelling to a cinema there,
and people round the country were going.
And I thought this is so moving
that here I am, preparing to do this performance,
and all round the world people are going to the cinema
and they're going to see it.
I just thought that was the most wonderful thing.
And you're not conscious, really, of cameras -
they're so tiny these days, I suppose.
Well, you do camera rehearsals.
You do several camera rehearsals,
so you get used to the cameras.
And, then, you know, the audience are told
to not let the cameras put them off,
and so they react, you know, with gusto and...
-No, the two things seem to work very well together.
-When we did...
The first one we did at Stratford,
because we're working our way through the entire canon,
we started with Richard II...
-In six years, is it?
-Six or seven years, it will be.
We started with David Tennant in Richard II,
and I received a tweet during the interval of the transmission
saying, "Loving Richard II
"sitting in my UCI Whiteleys cinema
"eating my chicken korma."
And I thought, "Well, I'm glad I'm not sitting next to you..."
"..but if that's like how you like your Shakespeare,
"well, that's great, isn't it? So be it."
Well, now, we'll move on to Othello, 2004,
before the era of live transmissions, I think.
And you, Tony, were a memorable Iago.
Trifles light as air
are to the jealous confirmations strong as proofs of holy writ.
This may do something.
The Moor already changes with my poison.
Dangerous conceits are, in their natures, poisons,
which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
but with a little act upon the blood
burn like the mines of sulphur.
I did say so. Look where he comes!
Not poppy, nor mandragora,
nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep,
which thou owedst yesterday.
Tony, your Othello was Sello Maake Ka-N-cube,
is that correct? Almost!
-Sello Maake Ka-Ncube.
A South African, black South African actor.
It would be unthinkable now
to black up a white actor.
How difficult is it to find...
Enough Othellos, black Othellos?
There are now really, really great black actors,
which, you know, they didn't have the opportunities, 20, 30 years ago.
They are now getting those opportunities, actually, probably...
um, actors in the Asian community are getting less,
and need more visibility.
But now I was...
Did a production of Julius Caesar a couple of years ago,
which we set in modern Africa, with an entirely black cast...
-Which was entirely black, yes.
-..of really extraordinary talents,
like Paterson Joseph and Cyril Nri
and, I mean, really... Jeffery Kissoon.
So, we have a new generation of those talents
and, indeed, next year we have Paapa Essiedu,
who will be the first black actor to play Hamlet at Stratford.
So, there are great actors now
which, maybe 20 years ago,
generally there weren't.
So it would be hard to justify a white actor
blacking up to playing Othello now until more black actors,
and actors of all sorts of ethnicities,
a really diverse of range of actors, have had the same opportunities
that have normally been, traditionally, white actors.
I think there's recently been a production of Othello
-where Iago was black as well.
-Indeed. At Stratford.
Is it now colour-blind casting,
are people really accepted?
No, I think it's colour-conscious casting.
Certainly with Lucian Msamati playing Iago.
It was absolutely extraordinary to see the layers of prejudice,
not just against Othello as the lone black man,
but by another black man,
whose own deep-rooted, deep-seated prejudices were there.
And I think there are many ways of describing what...
What is it that motivates Iago's jealousy.
But I think you sort of cut aside, didn't you,
the sort of Samuel Taylor Coleridge idea
that Iago has this motiveless malignity.
I think he clearly said that,
which has become a famous statement,
in a sort of pre-Freudian era,
where Iago might seem motiveless.
He's not remotely motiveless.
He's... He's a racist.
That's very clear...
from everything he says.
But also there's something very...
sick - sexually - in him.
He can't open his mouth without...
this kind of visceral,
sexual innuendos coming out.
And it's... You could partly say, "Well, he's a soldier,
"that's how soldiers speak."
But there's something deeply disturbed.
And I remember us discussing that
and reaching a very interesting decision,
which was unusual,
where we said we're not going to decide
what it is that he suffers from.
We're just going to let it be
that there's something terribly, terribly disturbed about this man
which causes him to infect Othello
with this jealousy that's going to destroy them.
How much of... You say he's obviously a racist,
how much of your own South African background
informed your portrayal of Iago?
Well, it was terrific.
Both Sello and I,
being South Africans who had lived under apartheid,
we were able to have a shorthand
in playing those two parts.
And Sello...just understood so profoundly
how a black man who's promoted in a white society,
like Othello is to being a top general,
how he's got to walk a sort of tightrope.
Sello had that in him.
He knew what that was like,
that kind of slightly deferential way
that he would behave with the senators in the senate scene.
But, also, we both just understood
how that racism was not something that had to be demonstrated,
because in the South Africa that we were growing up in, it was -
well, that you grew up in as well -
it was a fact of life.
It was regarded as one of the facts of life,
that white people were superior and black people weren't.
-And they had separate entrances to the Post Office.
Let's come absolutely up to date,
with a production from this year, 2015 -
Death Of A Salesman.
Lots to say, not least that Harriet Walter rejoined you
for this production,
but here's a clip from the end of Act I.
When the team came out,
he was the tallest, remember?
Yeah, and in gold.
Like a young god.
Hercules, something like that.
And the sun, the sun all around him.
Remember how he waved to me right up from the field,
with the representatives of three colleges standing by?
And the buyers I brought, and the cheers when he came out -
"Loman, Loman, Loman!"
God Almighty, he'll be great yet.
A star like that, magnificent,
can never really fade away.
Willy, dear, what has he got against you?
I'm so tired, don't talk any more.
Will you ask Howard to let you work in New York?
First thing in the morning. Everything will be all right.
Look at the moon coming between the buildings!
Now, interestingly, and possibly provocatively, Greg,
you chose this play
to open this summer's new season at Stratford,
and on Shakespeare's birthday.
And some people thought, "What on earth is Arthur Miller doing there?"
But how did that come about?
It's... I... It wasn't intended to be perhaps as provocative as it was.
..Shakespeare is a great genius,
but there are many great playwrights.
And this year is the centenary of Arthur Miller,
and it felt to me that a play of the scale,
of the emotional intensity,
of the human compassion
of a play like Death Of A Salesman,
warranted its place, side by side, on the stage of the RST.
And it seemed important to do that,
particularly in the centenary of that great writer.
You know, Willy Loman is often described by American actors
as the... The American King Lear.
It has, I think...
Perhaps that's difficult to see what the comparison quite is,
but certainly it is a huge role
with an enormous emotional range to it.
And it felt that it would be appropriate
to put the plays in partnership in some way.
And I felt that this was a play that was absolutely...
Had Tony's name written all on it.
And that to couple it with King Lear, which we'll do next year,
seemed like a really interesting conversation
between those two plays.
Well, it was a triumphantly vindicated decision,
because the critics loved it and the audiences loved it.
Willy Loman, did it fit you like a glove,
or was it hard work at first?
It was hard work.
And the breakthrough was the most unexpected thing.
In Arthur Miller's autobiography, Timebends,
he talks about one of his uncles, Uncle Manny,
who was one of the models for Willy Loman.
And it was an extraordinary description of this man,
who was a bit kind of crazy.
Who was a complete fantasist,
which he imposed on his family.
I mean, there were obvious parallels.
Uncle Manny was also a salesman,
he had two sons who excelled at sports rather than studies,
and he did eventually kill himself.
So those things fitted.
But because Willy Loman is so iconically a victim -
it's the first thing we think about him,
this poor man with two suitcases who is a victim.
To have the playwright, not through the play
but through a different...work,
talk to me in a way about that character,
to allow me to see him as a more brutal...
not just the victim, was...
The whole thing changed after reading that, for me.
Suddenly, I had an access to the character that I hadn't had before.
So, Greg, you're going to twin these two plays, are you,
in the next season?
We're going to... We won't, in fact, bring Death Of A Salesman back,
but Lear will be next summer, yes.
-And I know you probably don't...
It's bad luck to talk about it too early, but just one thought -
anything in common between Willy Loman and King Lear, in your mind?
I think it's the emotional scale of...
It is a fantastically good part.
It's fantastically... They're both fantastically good parts.
That is true. And he's also already started learning King Lear.
So, it takes a long time to learn.
And, crucially, they travel different journeys.
Lear learns awareness
through his terrible journey that he goes on.
Willy never learns awareness.
And that's part of his tragedy.
Is it a play...
I said I wouldn't talk about Lear,
but this is just a question that doesn't terribly much apply to Lear,
but to all great Shakespearean characters.
When you take them on,
the shadows of some wonderfully successful predecessors
must lie long across your path.
But I had a baptism by fire with that,
because my first big role at the RSC was Richard III.
Now, the greatest actor that has ever lived played Richard III
rather famously on stage.
And then he went and filmed it.
You're talking about Sir Laurence.
I'm talking about Sir Laurence Olivier.
So that all around the world, South Sea Islanders
and the Inuit people of Alaska can go,
-"Now is the winter of our discontent."
It's... It's just...
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
It's not fair! It's not fair.
But once you've been through that,
and you realise that Shakespeare is greater
than any single great actor or great production,
it's very liberating, because you...
You have to just forget about it.
You think of it as a new play that's arrived, landed...come through
the letterbox, and you're going to play this part for the first time.
And just a quick thought. You were The Fool to Michael Gambon's Lear.
-I was, yes.
-Was that an advantage or not?
I'm finding it an advantage as I learn the lines.
They sound familiar.
I sat on stage while Michael gave a great performance as Lear
for so many times that, somehow,
Lear's lines have gone a bit into my head, so...
-thank you, Michael Gambon.
How much have you two changed
in the 20 years since you first started -
you know, you directing and Tony under your aegis - working together?
How about... Do you want to start with that?
Only that I've been very lucky
as someone who came to Shakespeare as an outsider.
As I said, when I joined the RSC,
there was Hesperian John Barton
teaching me and the others about Shakespeare.
How lucky am I that...
And they were the great Shakespeareans at that time,
and Greg has now become one of the great Shakespeareans.
I'm not boasting, it's been said in print several times.
How lucky am I to be married to a great Shakespearean?
I mean, that's just been the greatest gift
that he could possibly have given me,
that he continues to teach me about Shakespeare.
Gregory Doran, Antony Sher,
thank you both very much indeed.