Douglas Hodge Talks About Playing Cyrano, a Romantic Who Thumbs His Nose to the World
By Ruth Leon
Tony Award winner Douglas Hodge and director Jamie Lloyd on why the verse classic Cyrano de Bergerac still speaks to us after more than a century. To wit: "Each of us has some kind of nose...something about us we wish were different."
"It's a perfect play — romantic, moving, tragic, funny — a perfect evening in the theatre," says Douglas Hodge of Cyrano de Bergerac, the 1897 Edmond Rostand masterpiece that opens at Broadway's American Airlines Theatre on Oct. 11. "Just phenomenal."
Based very loosely on the life of a minor nobleman born with a nose so large that he was repudiated by his own mother, Cyrano tells the story of a French officer who falls in love with Roxane, the most beautiful woman in Paris. Despite Cyrano's talents, Roxane can't see past his nose and instead falls in love with Christian, a handsome young cadet and Cyrano's inferior in every way. To add insult to injury, she begs Cyrano, knowing him to be a fine soldier and leader of men, to take care of her love when they are sent away to war. Not only does Cyrano agree, he becomes Christian's mouthpiece, writing Christian's letters to Roxane, making his declarations of love and pouring out his own feelings in the guise of Christian's.
Director Jamie Lloyd, who is making his Broadway debut with this production, relishes Cyrano. "This is more than a swashbuckler or a rom-com," he says, "which is how it has often been played. It's highly unusual in that it's not naturalistic, it's not high drama, not low comedy, not Ibsen, not boulevard — and yet it is all of those things. It's richer, and more intensely political. It's a great work of art. Rostand is a voice against the morally corrupt, against the establishment, for the underdog. His Cyrano, because of his disfigurement, can speak for people everywhere around the world who are trying to find their own voice.
"His disfigurement...allows him to say, 'This is what I am, this is what I think, without hiding, without spin.' With him, what you see is what you get; he can't put a spin on that. There is no hiding that nose. But each of us has some kind of nose, something about us we wish were different. We are in a strange place politically right now, where spin is crumbling and the voice of the individual on the street is being heard. This gives the play such resonance for our own time. It is exciting to let the audience decide how."
Hodge, who is playing the title role, adds: "In our culture, good looks are so important, and today he'd head straight for a plastic surgeon, but in Cyrano's time the nose was who he was, and it didn't matter that he was a brilliant poet, a brilliant swordsman, a brilliant man. His nose defined him. Inside, he longed to be like everybody else because then life would have been so much easier for him."
Lloyd and Hodge have worked together before, very successfully and most recently in the sold-out London run of John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence, in which Hodge gave an exhaustive and exhausting portrait of a man in the throes of a full-scale breakdown. Actor and director understand one another perfectly. "Jamie just finds the right words," says Hodge. "We have a swift vocabulary — each of us just knows what the other means and we trust one another to know what works."
Lloyd is equally admiring of his star, whose last Broadway outing was his Tony-winning performance in the hit revival of La Cage aux Folles. "He is a master of language," says Lloyd of Hodge. "Cyrano is a play about words, about how you can use words to express something as intangible as love, with a capital L. Have you ever seen one of Doug's working scripts? No? They are full of postcards, images, sketches, drawings, anything that can help him bring it alive. How he juggles everything he does — actor, writer, director, father — I don't know, but he's great at all of it."
Lloyd's cast is from around the globe with the French actress and model Clémence Poésy playing the fair Roxane. Is he scared by the prospect of Broadway? "I'm more excited than scared. I got really excited as soon as I saw the cast when I came over to audition. They brought such dynamism, such enthusiasm, such preparation and effort.... Who could be scared after that?"
Hodge has no fear of the Broadway audience, having been totally embraced by New Yorkers during La Cage. "I loved it. It's very exciting. I'm at home here and particularly at the Roundabout [the producing company for Cyrano]. But of course there's a huge difference playing for the Broadway audience. The English are much more guarded and likely to reserve judgment. Americans are much more vocal, more immediate. I can't imagine bringing Inadmissible Evidence here, for example."
But Cyrano is a very different character from the man Hodge played in Inadmissible Evidence: he is a man without belief in a future. "Rejected by his mother, he [Cyrano] believes that he cannot be loved by anyone, and there has never been a trace of feminine softness in his life," says Hodge. "Nobody knows much about him, and he has always been alone, which has given him a layer of couldn't-care-lessness where he writes what he feels and says what he thinks. And yet this man who never hides finds that he can fall so tenderly in love with Roxane. His love for her inspires him to reach a higher plane, to become a better, tenderer man. This is the part of Cyrano that speaks to me. It's about living in that moment."
(This feature appears in the October 2012 issue of Playbill magazine. Ruth Leon pens the monthly Playbill.com column A Letter From London.)
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