Interview with acclaimed director Rupert Goold
Rupert Goold is a two-time Olivier Award-winning director who received his first Tony nomination this Broadway season for his work on King Charles III. He is still represented on the Great White Way by the Broadway premiere of American Psycho, starring Benjamin Walker, at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, for which he has also received a Drama Desk nomination.
His previous Broadway credits include the Patrick Stewart-led 'Macbeth' in 2008, as well as the 2010 Broadway transfer of 'Enron.' Rupert is also the Associate Director of the Almeida Theatre in London; one of the city's most acclaimed venues.
Although he is deep in rehearsals with Ralph Fiennes for the Almeida's upcoming revival of Shakespeare's Richard III, Rupert took time out to talk to us about bringing Patrick Bateman to life on Broadway and running one of the top theatres of London...
Thomas Hayden Millward: Firstly, Congratulations on your recent Tony nomination for ‘King Charles III’ here on Broadway and you’re still represented out here by the Broadway premiere of ‘American Psycho’ at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, so it’s been a busy Broadway season for you. I actually missed the original staging of ‘American Psycho’ at the Almeida Theatre in London, but when I knew I would be seeing it in New York, I didn’t have time to read the book, but I decided to watch the film. To be honest, I wasn’t engaged by the movie and found it hard to identify with anything in it, so I went into the theatre with a perhaps unjust sense of foreboding. But I was so pleasantly surprised, as watching the musical is such a different experience. Have you had similar reactions from other people? And what have the reactions been like from those who did really enjoy the film?
Rupert Goold: To be honest, the film hasn’t really been part of the discussion for us. Obviously it was a huge film in America, but it’s not so well-known in England. I have seen the film. I saw it years and years ago and then I did watch it again at some point during the making of the musical, but the book was much more of the reference point for us. I think the film is great, but we just left it alone. How people relate to it in relation to the stage show? Well, I find the musical very moving and I find the figure of Patrick Bateman very empathetic in a weird way. In the film, Christian Bale is extraordinary but very cold. On stage, Benjamin Walker is fantastic – and so was Matt Smith here in London. It’s a role that has changed from performer to performer.
THM: So had you already read the book before you were asked to direct ‘American Psycho’?
RG: I think I must have done many years ago. The main reason I came on board though was because of [composer] Duncan [Sheik]. I was a big fan of his since ‘Spring Awakening’ and I got to know him and I would really have done anything he wanted to do. I read the script and thought it was extremely funny, especially the first half, and I went back to the novel and thought what a great piece it was. It’s funny – I’ve been dealing with Patrick Bateman for several years now.
THM: Is he appearing in your nightmares now, Rupert?
RG: (Laughs) You know what I actually miss him!
THM: What would you say are the main differences in directing over in London at the Almeida and directing here on Broadway, besides having different casts?
RG: Well, I felt like at the Almeida, I was kind of directing more of a social satire or a restoration comedy, whereas on Broadway, it’s darker, bigger and more theatrical in an operatic kind of way.
THM: Did you make many directorial changes for the Broadway transfer?
RG: Yes, there were a few. And the American actors really brought something new to it. I mean, the London cast was wonderful, but the Americans were really great. And they were intimidatingly fit!
THM: Tell me about it! I’d probably go on a serial killing spree myself, if it meant I could have a six pack and a physique like those actors! I’m also a fan of Duncan Sheik and I simply loved the score. I’ve never heard a score like that in the theatre before. In terms of the musical numbers and the choreography, it felt like the lovechild of musical theatre and a Pet Shop Boys concert. Do you know what I mean?
RG: Yes! Lynne Page, our choreographer actually worked with the Pet Shop Boys. She directed one of their shows, so I’m sure they are an influence with this.
THM: What’s your own interpretation of the events towards the end of the musical, Rupert? People have had varying interpretations and some people may have even been left a little bewildered.
RG: Well, I suppose the main question is: Did he do it or not? For me, the musical seems to imply that maybe it was all just in his head and he was projecting his own, strange, video tape fantasies. But I think there’s also a reading of it where maybe he did do it and society has let him get away with it, because that’s what happens to the rich and privileged. It’s not so much he didn’t do it, but that people just drew a curtain over it. It’s very personal really. I think all of us who were working on it really related to it in a different way. My way of looking at it is that he is a man who has been given a life that he ought to follow and initially does so until he realises on some level that he doesn’t fit in and begins to do some awful stuff after hours. If you’re suppressing your sexuality or suppressing your career plans or suppressing your loneliness, that’s a very universal story. For me, as an artist, it’s the very act of saying that you’re not going to do a normal job; you’re going to go and make theatre or music or whatever it may be. It’s a kind of secret, illicit, all-consuming passion. For me, it’s a metaphor for anything that you’re yearning to do, but you feel you shouldn’t do for whatever reason. Like I say, that could be sexual or that could be violent, but equally it could be creative. The fact that Patrick has to conform in the end gives me goosebumps in a way. It’s not that it didn’t all happen, but there is a sorrow in him that he has to slip back into conventionality. In our business that’s like an actor giving up and going back to a normal job. But the ending is ambiguous and the ambiguity is the power of it.
THM: And I can’t think of many Broadway shows out there, certainly not at the moment, which are as open for interpretation as ‘American Psycho’ is, so I do think it has that unique factor going for it.
RG: Exactly! I remember early on that the Producers were saying: “Of course, you’re going to do a proper curtain call, aren’t you?” We did have one in mind and we’d rehearsed it with the music, but the more we did it, I just thought to myself that this show isn’t a conventional show. I think musicals like that are great and I’ve directed musicals like that, but this one ends ambiguously, it has an electro score and an anti-hero lead. I hope it finds an audience. I know it has some incredibly passionate advocates, but it is an unusual one.
THM: And life goes on for you in London. I believe you’re deep into rehearsals with Ralph Fiennes for your staging of ‘Richard III’ at the Almeida. How’s it all going?
RG: It’s good actually. It’s not a play I knew terribly well before I started. It’s one of those plays that when you look at it on the page, it seems a bit juvenile, but when you do the scene, it just suddenly works. I think Ralph is going to be brilliant. I hadn’t worked with him before, but I am a big fan of his.
THM: And you’ve been Artistic Director of the Almeida Theatre for a while now. Some of our readers might not know exactly what the job description of an Artistic Director actually is? Could you describe it to us in simple terms?
RG: Well, basically I have to decide what goes on stage and find the people who I believe are the best candidates to deliver that. I suppose I have to sometime lead by example with the work I direct myself. There is also quite a lot of fundraising and advocacy. I’m ultimately responsible for all the educational work and the outreach work and all the marketing and the financial status of the company. You are sort of helming the ship. You know what direction you want to go in and you are relying on your shipmates to get you there. At the Almeida, we do about six shows a year at the moment, which isn’t a huge amount and we try to make sure they are all extraordinary and unusual pieces. Theatre can be quite a closed community and a closed world sometimes. I remember standing in the National Theatre Bookshop with some younger directors and they were saying things like: “Ooh what shall we do next? Someone ought to revive ‘The Crucible’ or maybe we should have a look at this Tennessee Williams play?” I think to myself it’s not really about what’s on the shelves – about those plays and the actors that should play those parts – it’s about the world we live in. I think our theatre’s duty is to answer questions about the way we live rather than the history we come from. So when we do stage revivals, it’s not because it’s that play’s turn, but because we want to put them in a context where we can say something different about them.
THM: And current affairs lend themselves so readily to provoke re-interpreted revivals of literary classics. With the Almeida having such an acclaimed status, did you feel a great amount of pressure initially taking on the position of Artistic Director? And as the years go by, do you sense a mounting pressure to always top your previous season’s work?
RG: Yes, it can feel that way. I’ve spent quite a few years working in regional theatres and the pressure there was whether or not anyone was going to come or not. In London, it’s such a rich, vibrant and popular city, and theatre here has been experiencing a boom since the start of this century. I think around the time Nicole Kidman and Kevin Spacey both turned up in London, that’s when theatre became cool again. At the Almeida, selling tickets isn’t the hard part. It’s quite the opposite because we’re having to turn people away. But the pressure is – can we create work that is part of a bigger conversation? It’s great when Brits and other Europeans can go and do Broadway. Look at Ivo van Hove – he’s done three shows in New York this season. I do wonder whether theatre will become more and more international in terms of freedom of movement. I know that the unions have things to say about that, but we’re all competing on what is now a global market. We’ve become much more aware of what’s happening in New York or Berlin or even in Amsterdam, which is great and healthy. Competition gives us inspiration. So yes, there is a pressure, but I don’t feel overawed about it just yet.
THM: Well, keep up the good work in London, Rupert. And let’s hope that ‘American Psycho’ can continue entertaining crowds here in New York for a while to come. On that note, could you give us a parting statement on what you hope New York audience members might take away with them from a night out at ‘American Psycho’?
RG: I hope they have a really wild ride and see something unlike anything they’ve seen before. It’s a gut-wrenching and heart-pumping show. It’s funny and ultimately tragic on some level as well. Oh, and it looks really cool!
THM: Agreed! The set, the lighting and the projections are a real feast for the eyes! I came out of the theatre thoroughly entertained and I’m sure many more have done the same. So, thank you for helming the show and thanks for taking the time out of rehearsals to talk to us.
RG: Not at all. It’s been my pleasure.