Meet the cast of 'The Collaboration' on Broadway
Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope star as iconic 20th-century artists in this new play.
In the 1980s, Jean-Michel Basquiat was an up-and-coming street artist living in New York City, and he had a world-famous landlord: pop artist Andy Warhol. Basquiat was Black, Warhol was white, and they had a 30-year age difference. But they became close friends, partying and collaborating on multiple paintings together. That Odd Couple-esque friendship will be dramatized on the Broadway stage this fall with The Collaboration, written by Oscar nominee Anthony McCarten and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah.
The Collaboration begins performances on November 29 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, with an opening night scheduled for December 20. It will star two actors who are similarly legendary: Marvel film star Paul Bettany and Tony Award nominee Jeremy Pope. Below, read more about The Collaboration and the artists, current and historical, involved in it.
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What is The Collaboration about?
Basquiat and Warhol became friends in 1982 and collaborated on many works together. A famous one is Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper), where 10 real punching bags were hung from the ceiling, with images from The Last Supper drawn on them, the word "judge" scribbled throughout — a critique of Catholicism and its role in the AIDS crisis. Warhol wrote of Basquiat in his diary, "I think he's the best, I really do."
The two artists fell out in 1985 after their joint exhibition was poorly received by critics. They would die a year apart: Warhol in 1987 and Basquiat in 1988.
The Collaboration is a dramatization of Basquiat and Warhol preparing for the joint exhibit in 1984. It is written by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Anthony McCarten, who's no stranger to dramatic biographies. He wrote the screenplay for The Theory of Everything, the Stephen Hawking biopic, and Bohemian Rhapsody, about Freddie Mercury. McCarten is also writing the book for the Neil Diamond musical A Beautiful Noise, which begins Broadway previews at the Broadhurst Theatre on November 2.
The Collaboration was first produced in London's West End in early 2022, also directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah and starring Pope and Bettany. The reviews were mixed, but critics praised the performances, with the London Theatre review reading, "Bettany is practically unrecognizable, and everything, from his mannerisms to his voice, helps him become the artist. Pope is also entirely physical in his transformative portrayal of Basquiat, and where Bettany is stiff and straight-laced as Warhol, Pope practically dances around the stage as the young graffiti artist turned pioneer of the Neo-Expressionist movement."
A film adaptation of The Collaboration is also moving forward, also starring Pope and Bettany. It is expected to go into production in late 2022, around the same time as the Broadway run of The Collaboration. Kwei-Armah will also direct. Collaboration clearly isn't just the name of the play — it's also an adjective for the long working relationship between Bettany, Pope, McCarten, and Kwei-Armah.
As Pope describes it, his experience on the play has been "a dream collaboration. For me this one feels spiritually aligned like no other project I've been a part of. Working with this incredible group of artists and creatives. Finding Basquiat through his art and through Anthony's words. It's a gift."
Paul Bettany is no stranger to playing well-known characters. Since 2008, he's been a fixture in the Marvel Cinematic universe, first as the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. and then as Vision, a role that got Bettany an Emmy Award nomination for the show WandaVision. But Bettany began his career on stage, making his West End debut at 22 in The Inspector Calls. He appeared in numerous West End plays in the '90s, including playing Paris in Romeo & Juliet. But after 1997, Bettany pivoted to the screen. The Collaboration is Bettany's return to the stage, and the New York production marks his Broadway debut. With the film adaptation, the work marries Bettany's stage and screen skills.
Still, playing a real-life icon remains intimidating, admitted Bettany to Deadline: "I've been a fan of both Warhol and Basquiat forever. I was hesitant to play Andy at first, as I believed it was too difficult to get out from underneath his carefully crafted public persona, but when I read Anthony's play it felt like a revelation. The brilliant Kwame has been a dream to work with as has the ridiculously talented Jeremy Pope, who is luminous as Basquiat. I feel unbelievably honored to be involved with such extraordinarily talented people telling this important story of two of the greatest contemporary artists of all time."
Like Bettany, Jeremy Pope also made his career debut on stage in his 20s. Pope first starred in Choir Boy when he was 21, in a 2013 Off-Broadway production at Manhattan Theatre Club (the producers of The Collaboration). Pope then reprised his role when Choir Boy transferred to Broadway in 2018. That same season, Pope also starred in the bio-musical Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, where he sang and danced as original Temptations member Eddie Kendricks.
Pope was nominated for Tony Awards for both of those roles, making him one of only six actors in history to get two nods in separate categories in the same season. His turn as Basquiat marks the second time Pope is playing a real-life figure on stage — perhaps it'll mark his third Tony nomination, too.
Even if you haven't seen Pope on stage yet, you might recognize his screen work. He recently starred as Archie Coleman in the miniseries Hollywood and as Christopher, the partner of Mj Rodriguez's Blanca, in Pose, both on Netflix.
Krysta Rodriguez is having a busy Broadway season. Just before playing Basquiat's girlfriend Maya in The Collaboration, she joined the star-studded cast of the latest Into the Woods Broadway revival as Cinderella. Before that, her last Broadway appearance was in the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, a show she also performed in during its 2006 Broadway premiere.
Rodriguez is also a screen actress, known for playing Ana Vargas on Smash, Liza Minnelli in Halston, and Maxine Griffin on Quantico, among other roles.
Erik Jensen does it all: Not only does he perform in theatre, but he creates it. With his wife Jessica Blank, he created the docudramas The Exonerated, which toured the U.S. in 2003 after an acclaimed Off-Broadway premiere, and Coal Country, which had an acclaimed Off-Broadway run earlier this year after getting prematurely shuttered in 2020.
Independently, as an actor, Jensen has performed in five Off-Broadway shows at venues including Lincoln Center Theater and The Public Theater, and in dozens of TV shows including For Life and Mr. Robot. As the art dealer Bruno Bischofberger in The Collaboration, Jensen makes his Broadway debut.
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