PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Of Mice and Men — See What the Boys in the Bunkhouse Will Have

By Harry Haun
17 Apr 2014

Leighton Meester
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

O'Dowd's Irish training (but not his Irish accent) is well on view in the dimensional and sympathetic case he presents of a gentle giant whose intense affection kills against his will — from field mice and puppy dogs on up. "To be honest, it was hard to know exactly what was wrong with Lennie because it wasn't specified," the actor admitted. "Also, it was such a long time ago they didn't know how to diagnose things like that, but I decided there was a guy I knew in my life I could use. I felt like if I was specific to what was wrong with him, it would work — and that was all I really worried about. I wanted to make it exactly specific to this guy I knew who had a cognizant disability, and I thought I'd do exactly as he was, so I just went with that."

The audience bought it. O'Dowd said he could feel the story closing in on them, just from their reactions. "There's a great narrative in it, but that moment with the girl in the barn, I can feel them sit back in their seats and go 'Aww! Now, what'll happen?'"

Big screen and small, Franco has amassed 95 credits — and as a James-of-all-trades, too: Actor, director, writer, producer, cinematographer, editor and such things as art department, sound department, soundtrack, archive footage, self and thanks. His brand-new title of Broadway actor sat well with him, indeed. "I love it," Franco beamed blissfully. "I do. I'm telling Anna to find us another one to do."

He admitted he thought about arriving on Broadway as a Tennessee Williams character. First, he considered stepping into the Chicago production of Sweet Bird of Youth, playing Chance Wayne to Diane Ladd's Princess Kosmonopolis; then, he was mulling a role in the recent The Glass Menagerie. "They'd have both been great projects to do," he said, "but I think this is the one that was meant to be. I'm happy about it."

What is surprising — and brave — about Franco's performance is the hard edge he gives George, indicative of how impatient and exasperated his years of caretaking have made him. "That has a lot to do with Shapiro's direction," he said, passing the credit or blame along to the proper person. "If I'd gone with my own direction, I'd have probably played it a little nicer, but she really wanted to emphasize the danger of Lennie — that he has gotten us into trouble, that I'm the one in the relationship who has to kinda look out for him. He IS dangerous, and the way to deliver that is through my level of frustration and understanding of what he's capable of."

But, in the play's closing moments, he rises humanely to his final and ultimate act of friendship. "A lot of it has to do with the writing," he admitted, again giving credit where credit is due. "You can see it's so well constructed because you've heard the story twice before — he keeps telling Lennie what their dream is going to be — and now you hear it for the third time. Each time you hear the story it has a different kind of resonance, and this particular time it's the goodbye version of the story."