Checking In With...Checking In With… Harry Hadden-Paton, Star of Flying Over Sunset, My Fair Lady, Downton Abbey, MoreThe Tony-nominated actor plays Aldous Huxley in the new musical Flying Over Sunset at Broadway's Vivian Beaumont Theater.
December 29, 2021
This week Playbill catches up with HarryHadden-Paton, who plays author Aldous Huxley in the new James Lapine-Tom Kitt musical Flying Over Sunset at Broadway's Vivian Beaumont Theater. The stage and screen star was previously seen at the Beaumont in the 2019 revival of My Fair Lady, garnering Tony, Grammy, and Drama Desk nominations as well as a Theatre World Award for his Broadway debut as Henry Higgins. The London native, who played King George VI in the Chicago Shakespeare Theater staging of The King's Speech, has been seen in the West End in The Importance of Being Earnest, Flare Path, and The Pride, while his other U.K. stage appearances include She Stoops to Conquer, Posh, The Changeling, and The Prince of Homburg. Hadden-Paton's numerous screen credits include Downton Abbey, The Little Stranger, About Time, The Hollow Crown, The Deep Blue Sea, In the Loop, La Vie en Rose, The Crown, Versailles, and Wallander.
What is your typical day like now? Well, it’s largely spent parenting... I am lucky enough to have three daughters to keep me on my toes, but it means that sometimes getting to the theatre is my most peaceful time of the day... The fear of "remote learning," a phrase I dislike about as much as the word "variant," is pretty real.
Can you describe how it felt to be back in a rehearsal room on the first day you and the cast reassembled following the pandemic? Emotional. For months I had been envisaging what it might be like to walk past the Lincoln Center fountain again and pass through the stage door... but, in reality, it was even more special. To hug friends I’d only seen via Zoom and witness our talented team resuscitate this beautiful score in the rehearsal room, felt like an enormous achievement and an end to a particularly traumatic time.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past 18 months? In our show Aldous dotes on, is dependent on, his wife Maria. So when she dies, he struggles, not only with household tasks, but to get out of the house and to start to socialize again. Through the course of the show, we see him eventually overcome this. I think this will be relevant for many audience members, more now than before the pandemic even, so in his writing of this piece James Lapine was incredibly prescient.
Do you find any additional pressure when you're playing a person who existed? In your research of Huxley, did you find anything that particularly surprised you? I think it does come with added pressure—an audience arrives with expectations, and you don’t want to disappoint them—but in the end you need to give yourself the freedom to play. You can get lost in the vast amount of available research for real-life people, but if your version of the character gets in the way of the script, then you’re going to struggle. I hadn’t realized Aldous died on the same day that JFK was assassinated, and so received little fanfare. But, then, that’s exactly how he would have wanted it: “Nothing ponderous, or portentous, or emphatic. No rhetoric, no tremolos... Just the fact of dying and the fact of the clear light...”
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre? Well, we have very tight COVID protocols at the Lincoln Center Theater: Backstage, every single person has received their vaccinations and must wear a KN95 mask. We are also PCR-tested every day. And not only must audience members be fully vaccinated and wear a mask at all times, but there are also no concessions, so no opportunities for masks to be lowered... I don’t believe the theatre could be doing any more than they already are, and given its size, there are parts where you can feel more socially distanced than in Central Park! The opportunity to see a completely original musical on the Vivian Beaumont stage, on Broadway even, doesn’t come around very often, and to share it with an audience recently deprived of live performance has been the greatest honor.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further? It’s vital that everyone—regardless of identity, ability, background, or personal experience—feels heard and represented. That their stories can be told, their voices heard. On a practical level, to see a more equitable representation, we need to make sure that access to the arts is available to all—and that our drama schools and training centers are accessible and affordable to everyone.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest? Breathe. Bake some sourdough. Or plant something. Using just flour, water, and salt, or a single seed, you can be part of a process that brought me a lot of comfort. They engaged me in nature, where things move slowly, and kept me steady.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know? That I make too many plans? Pre-pandemic, I had started thinking too much about the next job, or where it was coming from, before the current one had ended... But when every idea for the future was canceled by lockdowns or red lists, I soon got the hang of focusing more on the now. It can be scary, but I think it’s given me a better balance of dreaming big but being present.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change? Well, I’m especially concerned about the effects, many of them as yet unknown, that this pandemic will have on our children. In particular on their mental health. In the U.K. we like to support Samaritans, Papyrus, and Place2be, as well as smaller charities like James’ Place. Over here you can make a real difference and save lives by supporting AFSP, The Trevor Project, or The Jed Foundation, whilst the NIMH is working hard at researching mental disorders.