Tony Nominee Alessandro Nivola on Traveling to the West End with The Elephant Man

first_img View Comments It’s rare for a Broadway hit to cross the Atlantic intact, but that is currently happening with director Scott Ellis’ acclaimed revival of The Elephant Man, which has arrived in London for a summer run at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, with its starry Tony-nominated trio of Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola along for the ride. For Nivola in particular, being in London is like returning home given that the Yale-educated actor has an English wife (actress Emily Mortimer) and knows the city well. caught the gifted star prior to West End previews to talk his renewed love of theater, show transfers, and being out of town during Tony season.Welcome to town! How amazing is it for you guys all to be here?It is! I’ve never reprised a role before and there’s been just enough time in between the two productions for me to forget all my lines [laughs], so I’ve been spending a few days frantically trying to remember all those speeches about cauliflower.And to be here with your entire cast!I know, right? Our being over here right now is unusual enough because there aren’t that many American shows that come over to London, and very few with the entire cast intact, and no shows at all that come with a cast intact from three years ago at Williamstown [Theatre Festival in Massachusetts] where at least half the cast were non-Equity interns! What’s incredible is that we’ve held it together the whole time across three incarnations.And you’ve got arguably the most elegant theater in London—the Haymarket—for your summer run.I’d never been in [the Haymarket] before and it’s without a doubt the most beautiful theater I have ever set foot in. And they do things so right there: there are brass plaques on my dressing room door with mine and Bradley’s names on them. Our dressing room is apparently known as the Gielgud Room but we’ve turned it into a kind of youth hostel with two single beds and various sleeping bags [laughs].And of course you’re now in the city where Bernard Pomerance’s play takes place.And there’s an incredible guy who runs the [Royal London Hospital] Museum who’s just an encyclopedia of information about John Merrick [the “elephant man” of the title, played by Cooper] and Treves [the doctor, played by Nivola] and the whole world of the play. Bradley went first to have a look when he was filming in London over the summer and then we had a company trip and I’ve been on my own.For those who saw the production on Broadway, should they see it again here if they can?We have been subtly changing certain staging things—various bits that we wanted to try and improve upon. There are a few more things that we’ve adjusted so that I hope people will get the Pygmalion-like story of Treves seeming to be Merrick’s savior and then in his attempt to educate and civilize and normalize Merrick, Treves strips him of his humanity and is so full of guilt and regret that it just tears him apart. Getting that story to be clear to an audience has always been a challenge.A challenge that you and your colleagues have clearly met successfully if the Tony nominations are any gauge.That’s lovely of you to say, but what’s been particularly satisfying is that Patty [Clarkson] and Bradley and I were all nominated—that we were all remembered. My main concern about coming to London was that we were all aware we would be starting our run the week after the nominations had been announced and if someone had been snubbed or left out in the cold, it might have made for a brutal few weeks!As it is, it must be making for a lot of trans-Atlantic travel.What’s happening is that we have Sunday off anyway—the day of the ceremony—and then we’ve got the Monday off so we’ll fly to New York Sunday morning, go to a hotel and change our clothes, go to the ceremony, then go to sleep and fly back the next day and do a show the following night.So the June 9 [two nights after the Tonys] performance back in London should be an interesting one.That’s going to be our hangover show [laughs].How does it feel to be overseas amid the whirl of Tony-time parties and receptions back in New York?I do feel sad not to be a part of it. It’s not every day that you get nominated for a Tony so I wanted to really soak it up, but what can you do? In a perfect world, we would be running our show in New York and I would be going to all the parties and the Tony people would be coming to see our show but instead we’re in another city.Will you spend the flight over to New York on June 7 practicing your speech?[Laughs.] God, I haven’t really given that much thought. I mean, I don’t know: I guess I have to be prepared for anything. I don’t think it’s something I’ll be nervous about; I’m just so excited about it. It’s one of the biggest moments in my career and I feel so happy that coming back to the theater has rewarded me in this way.You’ve had a pretty great theater run of late with A Lie of the Mind off-Broadway and then The Winslow Boy for Roundabout followed by The Elephant Man.When Emily and I moved back to New York about seven years ago, one of the first things that came to my mind was, “Why haven’t I been trying to do more theater?” So when Ethan Hawke [who was directing the Sam Shepard revival] asked me to do A Lie of the Mind, that was my first thing back on stage and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life—and then the two Broadway shows as well.It must be fun being in the same Tony season as Helen Mirren, with whom you made your Broadway debut 20 years ago in A Month in the Country.Which was also directed by Scott Ellis! I realized the morning the Tony nominations came out that Scott had given me not only my Broadway debut but my New York theater debut when I was a year out of Yale: that was the play that started my career.Could you have guessed back then that Dame Helen would make a career out of playing Queen Elizabeth II?If somebody had told me that was in the stars, it definitely wouldn’t have surprised me.Did you ever refer to Dame Helen at the time as “Her Majesty”?[Laughs.] I was tempted!last_img

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