Interview with Tony winner John Glover
John Glover is a five-time Emmy-nominated and Tony Award-winning actor, who is currently starring alongside Diane Laneand Joel Grey in the Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, in a new adaptation by Stephen Karam, at the American Airlines Theatre.
John is a Broadway veteran and has picked up a Tony Award in 1995 for Love! Valour! Compassion! and a further Tony nomination in 2009 for Waiting for Godot. Other selected Broadway credits include Macbeth, Death of a Salesman, The Importance of Being Earnest and The Great God Brown.
He is also well known for his TV and Film career, playing Lionel Luther in Smallville from 2001 to 2011. Other notable screen credits include Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Robocop 2, Payback, Scrooged and Batman & Robin.
John discusses this new version of the Chekhov classic with us, as well as working with Diane Lane:
Thomas Hayden Millward: This is astonishingly your 18th Broadway credit, John. You’ve performed in plays on Broadway by the all-time greats from Molière, Wilde and O’Neill to Shakespeare, Beckett and Miller. You’re also no stranger to Chekhov, but had never performed a Chekhov play on the Great White Way itself. Was this a deciding factor to take on the project? What were the other contributing factors?
John Glover: Well, the first piece of Chekhov I did was when I was in college as a freshman and I played Konstantin in ‘The Seagull.’ So I’ve known Chekhov for a while. I’ve done two other Chekhov productions. I played Yephikodov up in Williamstown in 1979 with Colleen Dewhurst, when Nikos Psacharapoulos – a passionate Greek – used to run it and did these great Chekhov productions. Before that, in 1976, I did ‘The Three Sisters’ up there with Olympia Dukakis, Laurie Kennedy and Blythe Danner as the sisters. Then in 2000 I played Gaev in ‘The Cherry Orchard’ with Jane Alexander down at Princeton in Emily Mann’s production. So I heard about this one and this is the 5th thing I’ve done at the Roundabout [Theatre Company], so when they came a-calling, I was very excited about that. When they mentioned Diane Lane, I became even more excited about it.
THM: Had you worked with Diane Lane before at all?
JG: No. I had only worshipped her from afar. I do know a lot of people that have worked with her… or ‘played’ with her, as I like to say, because that’s what I see it as. They’ve all spoken about what an incredible person she is, which is absolutely true. She’s done very few plays, but she grew up around La MaMa, so she saw that kind of theatre when she was young. She was influenced by all that weird La MaMa stuff back in the late 60s/early 70s (laughs)… She’s two things: she’s the leading lady in the company, but she’s also just “one of the guys,” as I like to say to her. I’ve worked with leading ladies before and some of them tend to hold themselves back a little. But she is just right out there with everybody. Very early on when we just started previews, one of the cast members got a walking pneumonia and was out of the show for a while. The morning it was announced to the cast, Diane immediately spoke up and said we had to send them flowers. She is that kind of a generous and thinking person. She is just everything you could ever want her to be. I grew up an only child, so I don’t know what it’s like to have a sibling, but I know that these two [Gaev and Ranevskaya] in this play are very close and full of all kinds of human feelings that siblings do get about their other siblings. They can be a little hard on them too. It was all there – this beautiful family that we formed. A lot of that is thanks to Simon [Godwin], our director, who was just amazing with the whole process. What Simon kept saying was that Chekhov wrote about that time in Russia in 1904 and he was sick at the time. He was dying. But this play is also about now and what’s happening to us in this country and all around the world. He and Stephen [Karam, playwright] wanted to bring that “now-ness” to this production. People see it and are just blown away with how pertinent it is to today. It’s glorious for all of us to play this every night.
THM: Your performance as Gaev is certainly glorious to watch because you are a bundle of energy on that stage – jumping around like a Mexican jumping bean at times and with your incessant chattering. He must be a lot of fun to play. What would you say is his main function in this play?
JG: His main function… Hmmmm… I don’t quite know what his main function is. I see him as this: it says he is 61 years old, but in his mind, he’s still a boy. He’s got that exuberance… What do you think my character’s function is in the play?
THM: Well, I think it’s very telling that he is a symbol of a certain class – a falling aristocracy – and he is the one who has to go and get a job at the bank by the end of the play and start working for a living…
JG: …And I have a feeling that he’s going to be miserable at the bank! (Laughs)
THM: Oh, so do I! The party is over!
JG: Yes. Exactly!
THM: The Cherry Orchard is also famed for its dual nature. Do you feel this new adaptation of it leans more towards comedy or more towards tragedy?
JG: I think it’s a beautiful balance of both worlds. Linda Folsom was there last night and I hadn’t seen her for I don’t know how long. She told me that by the time the end came, she just couldn’t stop weeping. I think that’s part of the beauty of Chekhov. He writes about human beings. If you read his short stories, they are all so human. I guess that’s why the guy that wrote ‘The Humans’ wrote our adaptation (laughs). I remember when [director] Simon said we have got to keep ahead of them – this is how they’ll listen better. A lot of Chekhov productions are so slow because the actors are doing so much work on sense memory and all the things that came from the famous Stanislavski method. What Simon kept saying was that in conversation, people just keep chattering on and you look for the place where you can break in. That’s what we wanted to create in the play. It’s like a life-force that goes swirling around and people are trying to survive. Chekhov sucks you right into the play with all this human behaviour and elements of humour. Even in that last scene when Yephikodov walks in and he swallowed something when he took a glass of water. His voice is so funny and so people are still laughing. Then Firs [Joel Grey] comes out and you realise he’s probably going to be dead on the floor as they knock down the house. So, it’s devastating.
THM: And we know they are about to cut down the cherry orchard too. So, in summary John, what would you say our readers could expect from an afternoon or evening out at this new version of ‘The Cherry Orchard’?
JG: I think they’ll go in and start by having a fun time watching this strange, family group trying to figure out what to do. Then, by the time that it is over, they’ll go home with something real about life today to think about… about equality of man and race and all kinds of things. It’s a thinking man’s comedy. I have a feeling that people leave and they have stuff on their minds, especially coming up next Tuesday [election night]! (Laughs) Aye, aye, aye…