LIANE HANSEN, host:
In the early 1970s, playwright Peter Schaffer was driving in the countryside with a friend who told him the true tale of a stable boy who blinded six horses. The crime was so shocking that the story stuck with him and became the basis of Schaffer's play "Equus." It premiered at the National Theatre in London in 1973. The 1974 production in New York won a Tony award for best play. "Equus" was revived on the London stage last year and will open on Broadway this Thursday. The play stars veteran actor Richard Griffiths as child psychiatrist Martin Dysart and Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang, the troubled young man who blinds the horses. Radcliffe is known to movie audiences as Harry Potter. In "Equus" Radcliffe makes his Broadway debut. Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths are in our New York studio. Welcome to the program, gentlemen.
Mr. DANIEL RADCLIFFE (British Actor): Thank you very much.
Mr. RICHARD GRIFFITHS (British Actor): Hello, Liane.
HANSEN: Daniel, how would you describe Alan Strang?
Mr. RADCLIFFE: I've always seen Alan as a kind of - you know, he's obviously deeply disturbed and all those things, but also I've always seen him as, sort of, quite childlike in some ways. But also he's somebody who, although he's never appeared to be academic or displayed any outward signs of great intelligence, he is - has this inner life and this imagination whereby he has kind of meticulously created this religion. And he's kind of amalgamated all these things from his childhood, be they Westerns or Christianity or part of his dad's beliefs and his mom's beliefs, and he's sort of slammed them all together and imposed them on this god, which is the horse. The horse is the thing he has chosen to worship because of the various instances in his childhood where it made an impression on him.
HANSEN: Richard Griffiths, how would you describe Martin Dysart?
Mr. GRIFFITHS: Martin Dysart is a psychiatrist, a child psychiatrist, who's regarded very highly by his peers and his superiors, I guess. And this is all rather good except that he himself is struggling from various elements of what I believe today I'd call countertransference. In other words, he is picking up bits and pieces of the traumas that he's trying to resolve in his patients. And he's beginning to struggle. And he is also having a crisis of faith in what he's doing and in the value of his work. And the two things are sort of pulling him to bits. It's a tragic play. And it's a play about, I suppose, a crisis in faith, in a way.
HANSEN: Much of the action that takes place is between both of you, the relationship you have as patient and psychiatrist. I'd like to play just a small snippet of a scene from the show.
(Soundbite of show "Equus')
Mr. GRIFFITHS: (As Dr. Martin Dysart) Do you dream often?
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (As Alan Strang) Yes. Do you?
Mr. GRIFFITHS: (As Dr. Martin Dysart) Yes. Do you have a special dream?
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (As Alan Strang) No. Do you?
Mr. GRIFFITHS: (As Dr. Martin Dysart) Yes. What was your dream about last night?
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (As Alan Strang) I can't remember. What's yours about?
Mr. GRIFFITHS: (As Dr. Martin Dysart) I said the truth.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: (As Alan Strang) That is the truth. What's yours about? The special one.
Mr. GRIFFITHS: (As Dr. Martin Dysart) Carving up children.
(Soundbite of audience laughing)
HANSEN: Daniel, you met Richard Griffiths on the set of the first Harry Potter movie. Richard played the mean Uncle Vernon. So you've known each other a while. How does that knowledge contribute to the kind of dynamic that you have to create on stage, timing for example, or creating a certain comfort zone?
Mr. RADCLIFFE: It was funny because on Potter, you know, Richard's sort of - you know, you do a couple of weeks at the beginning normally and then we never see you again.
Mr. GRIFFITHS: That's right.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: And then - so we never had a huge expanse of time in which we worked together on the Potter films. So the first time we really worked closely together was on "Equus." There was a real comfort knowing that on the first day of rehearsals I would at least know one person there. The comparison that is often drawn is the first day of school. And it is sort of quite similar in that respect. You know, we now kind of know what we're doing so well that we can just play around with it very, very freely within a performance.
Mr. GRIFFITHS: That's very good. Yes it's true. That's quite true. Also if things go wrong or awry - or sometimes a line runs off into lu-lu-lu-lu-lu, into the corner - he doesn't panic, he just takes it in his stride and then comes back with the next thing, which helps it keep going, which, you know, actually is the mark of somebody who is very well-experienced and confident in their work. You know, because when you haven't done it many times, theater that is - he said very carefully - there's a tendency to panic and for the scene to go wrong and, you know, for the bowl to get dropped, as it were.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: I have to say, it's sort of - perversely enough some of the most exciting moments for me is when a line does get dropped and you successfully rescue the scene. And then you sort of - there's a real smugness which you take the - you know, we just went wrong, but the audience have no idea. We've fooled them. They think we're professionals.
Mr. GRIFFITHS: Which is a mark of a true professional.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: Yeah.
HANSEN: Daniel, I have to bring this up because there is a nude scene for you in this. And it's a little strange to hear all of this, you know, publicity around the fact that Daniel Radcliffe does a nude scene on Broadway. But were you comfortable doing it?
Mr. RADCLIFFE: To be honest, it's just something you just have to get on with it. And the fact is, it's harder to do it in rehearsal, actually. Because when you're rehearsing, you're in a room full of 20 people who you know rather than in a room full of a thousand who you don't. And it's much easier doing it in performance also, because when you get to the nude scene in the play, you've done two hours work by then anyway, and you kind of are so deeply into the play, and it's just much easier to do the nude scene in context. You know, so it kind of has got progressively easier and easier.
Mr. GRIFFITHS: And nowadays they say he struggles to keep his clothes on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: Is that what all the people were waiting for, and cameras, by the stage door, Daniel?
Mr. RADCLIFFE: I suppose so. It was very funny. The other night, we were actually coming out of the stage door - and like I think it was a Saturday - and literally the human traffic on the road was so dense that actually we had to stop signing early and move on because we were being told we were actually blocking out traffic on Broadway, which has got to be a little personal highlight in my career. I will be able to say I have stopped New York traffic.
Mr. GRIFFITHS: Absolutely. Close to gridlock. Made fans everywhere, you did, with that one.
HANSEN: Richard, you're a longtime critically-acclaimed British actor. You won the Tony for best actor in "The History Boys" as well as many other awards. What have you learned from Daniel?
Mr. GRIFFITHS: Oh, just how to deal with envy really.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GRIFFITHS: I just think that what I learned from him, you know, just that you really can take young people who are, you know, inexperienced, if you like, but you can ask enormous things of them, and they'll rise to the occasion. And it's something that should be looked at more widely in other circumstances in life.
HANSEN: This is an extraordinary play. I mean, to use the old cliche, the onion, you know, the more skin you pull off of it, the more you get to realize it goes very deep, talking about, you know, religion and worship and sexuality and adolescence and parents. And you know, it's all mixed up in there. What do you want the audience to walk away with when the curtain comes down?
Mr. RADCLIFFE: I want people to go away with the sense of Alan's story and the relationship with - for me the key relationship is Alan and Dysart, and I think it's very moving and exciting. And so, if people - I just want people to be excited by the play. And I think there are a lot of people, because of the Potter connection, who are coming to the theater for the first time. And we are giving them this, you know, blow-your-socks-off theatrical experience. And so one of the things I hope people come away with is a real sense of how exciting the theater can be.
Mr. GRIFFITHS: It's about the law of unanticipated consequences, which is that every character, every person listening to this broadcast, every one of us, right now this very instant is here as a direct consequence of everything that's happened to you in your life. And you just happen to be here at this split second now listening to this. But in the case of Alan Strang, here is a very young man who performs a bizarre and strangely wicked act. And the play is a thriller, but it's not a who done it. We know who done it. We know what they done. We know that right from the get go, it's the very first scene. It's a why done it?
Mr. RADCLIFFE: The great thing about it, as well, I think, is the fact that the ending is quite a violent, fierce, whirlwind of events. And then what's wonderful is that in my head I have this mental image of kind of the audience being blasted with all this stuff. And then just as they leave the theater, the dust begins to settle, and there's all these kinds of ideas that have been left behind for them to wander about.
Mr. GRIFFITHS: The play does that. You know, you get moments of intensity that suddenly turn on themselves and become absurd, and there's a good laugh there. And we enjoy that. But you can't work for the laugh because that would undermine the play. It's really interesting.
HANSEN: Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths star in "Equus." The play opens at the Broadhurst Theater in New York City this Thursday. They joined us from our bureau in New York. Thank you both very, very much.
Mr. RADCLIFFE: Thank you very much indeed.
Mr. GRIFFITHS: Yes, thank you for having us, Liane. It's been fun.
HANSEN: To hear more from my conversation with Daniel and Richard and to see photos from the play, go to npr.org/soapbox.