THE LEADING MEN: Benjamin Walker, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof's Heavy Drinker and Thinker

By Brandon Voss
22 Dec 2012

Walker with wife Mamie Gummer
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
I assume that you know Brick's sexuality one way or the other when you step onto that stage.
BW: Of course. I can't show up if I don't know that. I can't say Tennessee Williams' words if I haven't done that work. That would be a lazy actor right there. [Laughs.] Yeah, maybe I'll just figure it out as I go. Maybe Brick's really in love with Big Mama!

You're also a stand-up comic and host of a variety series called "Find the Funny." Are you finding the humor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
BW: The more time I spend with my comedian friends, the more I realize that truly funny people are ones with a really deep inner darkness. Brick is definitely stewing over some painful stuff, and oftentimes people can only release that through humor, sarcasm, or being cutting in a way that causes nervous laughter. Tennessee Williams is a funny writer in the same way as Chekhov; if the audience isn't laughing, you've probably missed the point. There's a fine line between drama and comedy that we walk, and life is like that too.

Some theatregoers may compare your performance as Brick with your performance as Andrew Jackson. It's easy to dismiss those characters as having nothing in common, but have you noticed any similarities?
BW: Yeah, actually. They're both very conflicted men at crossroads in their lives, and they have to make huge decisions that will affect the legacy of their families. Of course, the shows are very different. When a cell phone rang during Andrew Jackson, I could just yell, "Shut off your phone, you prick!" I have to get out of that habit.

You were born and raised in Georgia. Did that come in handy when working on your Southern accent for Brick?
BW: My Southern accent's a little different than Brick's. The Pollitts are very high class and old money, but my accent is more country than Scarlett O'Hara. Working with the wonderful Deborah Hecht as our dialect coach, we actually looked at politicians like Jimmy Carter — people who needed this grandness to their language but also had a Southern thing going.

You seem to have lost your Southern accent altogether.
BW: I have to fight it. They beat it out of me at Juilliard. My accent only comes out if I get angry, have a couple drinks, or talk to my mother on the phone. Then you can't understand a word I say.

(A version of this interview appears in the January 2012 issue of Playbill magazine.)

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Debra Monk, Ciaran Hinds, Scarlett Johansson and Benjamin Walker
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN