Brian Dennehy turns 69 in July. By the standards of this Broadway season, that makes him positively youthful. While Hollywood may have little use for anyone over 40, Broadway seems enthralled with actors of the Social Security generation … and not for secondary roles as crusty curmudgeons either, but in lead roles that require vitality and constant emotional energy.
Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”) just turned 69; Vanessa Redgrave (“The Year of Magical Thinking”) is a year older; Richard Easton, 74, collapsed onstage from a heart arrhythmia during previews for “The Coast of Utopia” but bounced back; Dennehy’s “Inherit the Wind” co-star Christopher Plummer is 77; and “Deuce” features Marian Seldes, 78, and Angela Lansbury, 81. This group alone brought down four Tony noms.
“We still attack our roles the same,” Plummer says. “We have training and technique that younger actors don’t have, and when we’re onstage, it strangely locks in and takes over.”
That said, there are some concessions to age — Plummer and Dennehy admit to having put their latenight drinking days to rest. Plummer adds that “I have a long-suffering nurse of a wife” who helps him pay more attention to eating well-balanced meals.
Still, he’s not only chewing the scenery as Henry Drummond, he also still plays tennis regularly (although he confesses that he might replace his hard court with a softer surface). Dennehy, by contrast, says he has to be a bit more careful onstage since having had both knees replaced: “One successfully, the other not.
“We all have things taken away by the ravages of time,” he continues.
But don’t expect that to keep these actors away from the work they love. Dennehy is planning a production of Beckett’s “Endgame,” a play that deals with “loss and the sunset time of life.” And if that doesn’t pan out, he’ll find another role to play.
“I’d rather do this than anything else,” he says. “And as long as I can remember my lines and crawl on the stage and crawl off, then I will.”