×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Douglas Hodge Talks Pinter and Directing Clive Owen in Broadway’s ‘Old Times’

American theatergoers will know Douglas Hodge best as a musical-theater actor who won a Tony Award for his turn in the 2010 Broadway revival of “La Cage aux Folles,” and U.S. TV watchers will recognize him as Scotland Yard inspector Bartholomew Rusk from Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful.” But he’s also a director, currently staging the Roundabout Theater Company’s Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s “Old Times,”  working with a cast led by Clive Owen. And he comes to the show, which opens Oct. 6, with a personal connection to Pinter and his work.

You have a long history with Pinter that a lot of Americans might not know much about.

I worked with him almost exclusively for 10 years, almost to the detriment of my career. When I was being offered TV and films and things and I probably should have done them, and my contemporaries were doing them, I was just endlessly working with him.

How did you meet him?

He starred in a production of his own play, “No Man’s Land,” at the Almeida in 1993, and I was cast in it with him. I was in my mid 20s. We shared a dressing room. He was a pretty volatile, daunting person, as you can imagine, and the first week I met him we almost had this terrible fight. He kept attacking the stage managers about various things. Slowly it got worse and worse, and then one night I said, “You don’t need to have a go at them, it’s not their fault,” and he said [growling], “Don’t tell me what I f—ing need!” He started to take his jacket off and I thought, Oh Christ, I’m going to get in a fight with Harold Pinter on my first job with him. But someone broke it up, and then we became just best friends. When that production went into the West End we all elected to share dressing rooms again, because it was such a laugh.

Was he writing much new work at that time?

He hadn’t written for 18 years, but one night just before the end of “No Man’s Land” he said, “This is ‘Moonlight.’ It’s my brand new play. There’s a part for you. I hope you like it.” And I went home on the tube thinking, “Oh Christ, I hope I understand it. I hope it’s good.” And it was magnificent, of course. So I then immediately did “Moonlight” back at the Almerida with Ian Holm, and then I went to the West End to do that, and then I did “The Lover” with Trevor Nunn, and I did “Betrayal” with Trevor Nunn, and then I did “The Caretaker” with Michael Gambon on we went. I directed a short film of his, “Victoria Station.” I was just constantly working with him.

How does your time with Pinter affect your take on “Old Times”?

I miss him. I miss his vernacular and his rhythms. I miss the music of it, really. It’s been wonderful to have him on my shoulder in the rehearsal room, but also wonderful not to have him screaming at stage management or shouting about the noise in the street.

What kind of insight into his plays did you take away?

I know that he wasn’t as literal as the critics have been. Really he felt that if you discussed one interpretation too much you diminished the other possible reverberations. Someone might say, “Well clearly this person is dead,” or, “They’re all dead,” or “They’re in limbo,” or somebody might say, “The two women are the same character.” He would say, “Maybe.” Like it was poetry or a dance or something. Whatever you think it’s about isn’t wrong. He just wasn’t as literal or as limited.

Is that hard for the actors to get their heads around?

Clive arrived with a whole theory, and I just pooh-poohed it. I said, “You’re not wrong, it’s about that, but it’s also about this and about this.” Pinter actually believed that what you remember is truer than the facts, because the memories are present.

Do American audiences react differenty to Pinter than audiences in the U.K.?

I think they’re a little bit scared that they won’t understand it. We’re not as daunted by the language or the turn of phrase. There’s a way he speaks. When I was in the dressing room with Harold, his friends would arrive from school and none of them ever said what they meant. They always said the opposite. So they would arrive after the show and say, “Well that was sh–. You were terrible. I’ve never seen such wooden acting.”

Do you enjoy going back and forth between acting and directing?

I think directing does teach me about acting. Certainly about the whole business of it, how you behave, how collaborative it is. You’re not just looking at it from an entirely subjective point of view. And as an actor, I see endless directors. I’ve been directed by Sam Mendes and Trevor Nunn and Michael Grandage, and they’ve never seen any of those people direct. I can cherry pick the things I like and put them into my own rehearsals.

More Legit

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Three Sisters review

    London Theater Review: 'Three Sisters'

    Ennui has become exhaustion in playwright Cordelia Lynn’s new version of “Three Sisters.” The word recurs and recurs. Everyone on the Prozorov estate is worn out; too “overworked” to do anything but sit around idle. Are they killing time or is time killing them? Either way, a play often framed as a study of boredom [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Hillary and Clinton review

    Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in 'Hillary and Clinton'

    If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it’s Laurie Metcalf – and here she is, in Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton,” giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton’s feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow – and here he is, too. Who better to work [...]

  • Hadestown review

    Broadway Review: 'Hadestown'

    “Hadestown” triggered a lot of buzz when this wholly American show (which came to the stage by way of a concept album) premiered at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop in 2016. Arriving on Broadway with its earthly delights more or less intact, this perfectly heavenly musical — with book, music and lyrics by Anaïs [...]

  • Burn This review

    Broadway Review: Adam Driver, Keri Russell in 'Burn This'

    The ache for an absent artist permeates Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” now receiving a finely-tuned Broadway revival that features incendiary performances by Adam Driver and Keri Russell, playing two lost souls in a powerful and passionate dance of denial. AIDS is never mentioned in this 1987 play, yet the epidemic and the profound grief that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content