ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now Brits doing Brooklyn. A new production of Arthur Miller's play, "A View From The Bridge," has come over from London to Broadway. It's a tragedy about Eddie Carbone, a Brooklyn longshoreman. In this version of the 60-year-old play, there is no furniture, there are no props. Part of the audience sits on stage. Mark Strong plays Eddie Carbone, as he did in the West End. Carbone is very protective of his 17-year-old niece - protective to the point where you wonder, is his affection unwholesome?
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE")
MARK STRONG: (As Eddie Carbone) I mean, I realize maybe I kept you home too much. But he's the first guy you ever knew, you know? I mean, now you got a job. You might meet some different fellas, you know? You can always come back to him. You're still only kids, the both of yous. What's the hurry?
SIEGEL: Mark Strong, welcome to the program.
STRONG: It's a pleasure to be here.
SIEGEL: I think several people have heard that very jarring right now (laughter), having heard you playing Eddie Carbone in "A View From The Bridge," and now hearing Mark Strong. What's the difference between playing a Brooklyn longshoreman in New York and playing him as you did before in London in the same production?
STRONG: That's a very interesting question because obviously in London, it's exotic. When you talk about Red Hook or Times Square or Flatbush Avenue - anywhere in New York, it's somewhere else. So for an audience there, they can use their imagination and the whole play because exotic. It exists somewhere else. And in fact we realized that the accents we were using over there were way too strong. We were very proud of the fact that (imitating Brooklyn accent) we were doing a kind of really thing like this, you know? And thought we were doing really well and everybody would come backstage afterwards and go, there's marvelous authenticity in your accents, how lovely, and we'd be very pleased about that. And of course when we got here, everyone said, just calm down, nobody really sounds like that (laughter), you know? So now we're very conscious of the fact that we need to bring an authentic American stroke, Brooklyn feel to our accents in order to enable the audience to relax.
SIEGEL: He's a longshoreman. He's a rough hewn guy. He's a working-class guy. A couple of the things he says in the play draw laughs from the audience, and I wondered what the challenge was to you to not do caricature, to not do the guy from "Married With Children" or someone like that who's kind of an oafish working-class man.
STRONG: It's important not to get laughs where you don't want them, in this play particularly I think. Having said that, it's not a play that doesn't have laughs within it. And I think the opening of the play, when you see the family together for the first time, the ease and the comfort they have with one another - Catherine describes at one point that Eddie razzes her all the time. You know, I think having an element of that is fine. And also, allowing an audience to relax at the beginning of the play means that the journey you then take them on becomes all the more tense because they have been allowed to relax and they do think that perhaps what they're going to witness is something not as harrowing as it ultimately turns out to be.
SIEGEL: Arthur Miller wrote this play with very specific stage directions - that people are cooking or having or serving a meal throughout the story - and all that's been stripped out, all that has been taken out. For you as an actor, is it harder or easier to act without things to fidget with or things to, you know, touch and move from one place to the next, nothing but your character's anger or anxiety, whatever it might be?
STRONG: I think if you'd asked me that question before I tried it, I would imagine it would be more difficult to act without the usual traffic of the stage - props and furniture, et cetera. Having done it, it's incredibly exhilarating, I have to say. It's amazing what you don't need in the theater because the audience are theater literate. And in fact that's what happened to me rehearsal. I have to reply to somebody asking me the time. I said, quarter to nine. And I thought, I should have a nice '50s watch. And it was Ivo, the director, who said, I'm not interested in how you know the time, just in what the time is. So actually it's - getting rid of all that furniture, getting rid of the props, getting rid of the need to have a meal, all the stage direction that Miller stipulates means that we're just showing the play in a different way, but it becomes incredibly freeing.
SIEGEL: Ivo is Ivo - is it van Hove?...
STRONG: Ivo van Hove.
SIEGEL: ...Who is a Belgian director, and this is his - I mean, this is his approach - let's get the characters acting and let's not bother with the couch and plate and the table, whatever. You ready for stripping other plays of their - all of their external props?
STRONG: I don't know if I can ever do a play again with props, to be honest with you. And furniture, and shoes, even - we wear no shoes. But that - Ivo's approach is very fascinating because he's described as avant-garde basically because he's not presenting the traditional version of a play. He's kind of got rid of all the trappings that try to persuade you that what you're watching is real. We know it's not real. We can see the audience on stage. You can see the actors have no shoes on. It doesn't - it's not real. If it's not real, what are we then after? What we're after - the emotions, the narrative, the clarity, the relationships and ultimately, the story.
SIEGEL: I wanted to tell people who might be having any trouble visualizing you and can't quite remember your role from "The Imitation Game" or "Tinker Tailor" or "Kingsman," you know, more than a hundred-million Americans watch the Super Bowl every year, almost as many as vote for president but not quite. And from January 2014, they heard and saw Ben Kingsley offer this observation as a private plane was landing behind him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BEN KINGSLEY: (As narrator) Have you ever noticed how in Hollywood movies, all the villains are played by Brits?
STRONG: (As driver) Maybe we just sound right.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As woman with car keys) Good evening, sir.
STRONG: (As driver) Thank you, Mary.
SIEGEL: And that's you, (laughter), maybe you just sound right.
STRONG: Maybe we just sound right, yes.
SIEGEL: This was a commercial for a car that shall go unmentioned right now. You have played a lot of bad guys.
STRONG: You know, I've thought about this quite a lot, and I realize...
STRONG: ...That I think it's a Brit's entre to Hollywood because it's an honorable tradition - Anthony Hopkins did it, Jeremy Irons did it, Ben Kingsley. Back home, we have Richard III and Macbeth and Coriolanus so we're kind of not unacquainted with villains and the dark side. And I imagine that when we perform as well, there is something quite exotic and quite interesting about playing a bad guy.
SIEGEL: Has this experience of doing "A View From The Bridge," first in London and now in New York, does it mean that you're going to keep doing a lot more theater, or is it - will you get back to doing movies more often? What's the balance that you're looking for?
STRONG: Well, when I started out, I trained for the theater and I was pretty much working in the theater for about 10 years before I even saw a camera. And then the movies came calling, and it was just a genre, a kind of idiom I'd never been involved with. And it became very seductive because it's a fascinating way to work, you know, chopped up like that, short scenes, instant moments. That was a long-winded answer to your question. It certainly makes me want to do more because I've suddenly rediscovered the fact that that's where actors belong. We belong on stage with an audience because unlike all the other creative artists, whether you're a musician or a novelist, an artist, you can practice your art on your own. Actors can't act for themselves in their own living room without an audience, you know? We need an audience. And I've discovered that there is a purpose to theater. The reason it's been around for a couple of thousand years is because it has value. We need to see in the live experience, I think, something that makes us ask ourselves what it means to be human, you know, the choices we make in our lives. And if I can find plays and people to work with that ask that kind of question, it's a no-brainer, as they say.
SIEGEL: Mark Strong, thanks for talking with us about it.
STRONG: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Mark Strong, who is now playing Eddie Carbone on Broadway in Arthur Miller's "A View From The Bridge."
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