The Real Thing


IMG_20140927_141732This week, The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard, directed by Roundabout’s Resident Director, Sam Gold, begins preview as the first production at the American Airlines Theatre in this 2014-2015 Season.

Tom would probably cringe at this, but I honestly believe that The Real Thing is one of the greatest modern plays in the English language. It has characters drawn in exquisite detail and with deep humanity. It tackles an eminently relatable theme – the timeless question of following the mind versus following the heart. Its dialogue is full of humor and wit, the complexities of which continue to reveal themselves with each fresh encounter. And above all, it is flawlessly structured to keep us on our toes, with each scene giving us a little puzzle to sort out as an audience, bringing up questions of artifice and reality. What’s real, what’s performance, and at what point do those lines become inextricably blurred?

I could go on, but one thing is certain – this play can speak for itself. I think that’s why great artists are continually attracted to the piece. To have a cast that includes Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cynthia Nixon, and Josh Hamilton certainly says a lot about the play’s ability to hook performers. Cynthia is even coming to The Real Thing for a second go-round! She played teenager Debbie in the play’s Broadway debut back in 1984, and now she returns as the character’s mother, Charlotte. The list of plays that both actors and audiences want to revisit regularly is a rather short one, but the emotional depth of The Real Thing puts it among them, continually drawing us back for more.

To be producing The Real Thing simultaneously with another Tom Stoppard play, Indian Ink, is just an abundance of riches. It’s also meant that Tom has been spending time with us this fall, and to embarrass this humble man yet again, I’ll say that it has been an immense pleasure to have this master dramatist in our midst. I hope that you’ll be seeing both of his shows with us, to fully appreciate the brilliance and breadth of his artistry.  

Please share your thoughts on The Real Thing by emailing me at I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback each season. Please keep it coming.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!


Todd Haimes
Artistic Director

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, From Todd Haimes, The Real Thing

1 Comment

Interview with Actor Ewan McGregor

Posted on: September 23rd, 2014 by Ted Sod


Actor Ewan McGregor, who plays Henry in The Real Thing, speaks with Education Dramaturg Ted Sod about his role in The Real Thing.

Ewan McGreggor

Ted Sod: Let’s start with some biographical information -- where were you born and educated?
Ewan McGregor:
I grew up in a small town called Crieff in Scotland. I left school when I was 16 and got a job working backstage. Occasionally, if there was a one-line part or a little acting role I would get that. The first thing I remember having a line in was a production of Pravda and from there I went to a one-year theater arts course in Kirkcaldy, Fife, which was a really solid theater training -- we would have to construct sets, make costumes, advertise the shows. We would all have an acting role and a production role. It was a really good theater arts course for people who were too young to get into drama school. After that, I went to London and spent three years at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. One term into my third year I got cast in Dennis Potter’s series, "Lipstick on Your Collar". I left college to do that and I was off and running.

TS: Did you have any teachers who you felt were influential?
Yes, Patsy Rodenburg. She's the only person I'd ever go to really. I went to her for a few movie roles when I wanted to do something with my voice, and I went to her another time when I was doing a play.

TS: I believe one of your uncles is also in the business.
Yes. And the only other actor to come out of Crieff, to the best of my knowledge, is my uncle Denis Lawson. He's my mother's brother and was my inspiration once I decided to become an actor and has remained my inspiration throughout my life really.

TS: You worked with him on a play. Am I correct about that?
After leaving drama school I spent seven years making movies and TV shows and I wanted to go back to the stage, but I was terrified after such a long break. I went to my Uncle Denis and I said, “Look, I really want to go back onstage, but I want you to direct me because I'll be terrified and I'd be happier if you were in the room.” He found this great play that he’d done in the ‘60s entitled Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs by David Halliwell. For the first time back on stage in so long it was a real kick up the ass. It was a great cast and such an amazing experience.

TS: Do you still feel a bit of terror going on the stage?
Everybody's nervous to go onstage. I can't imagine it would be quite as exciting if you weren't. I think it’s part of the process for me. I never walked onstage totally without some sort of nerves or adrenaline running. And I wouldn't want it any other way, really.

TS: Talk about the role of Henry in The Real Thing. What attracted you to it?
Well, I met Sam Gold, the director, and I wanted to work with him. I knew him by his reputation and when I spent time with him, I felt like he was someone that I could work with and feel comfortable with. He sent me some scripts. After reading some things that were still in development, he sent me Stoppard’s The Real Thing. Luckily for me, I suppose, I've never seen the play. I read it without any preconceptions. I just totally fell in love with the character of Henry. I love his mind and his language and all his relationships and observations about life and love. I'm absolutely drawn to him and I find every time I read it that there's another little gem in there that I discover for the first time. Right now I haven't got the bigger picture of it because we haven't even begun to rehearse, but I feel like it's an extraordinary play. It's very accessible. Stoppard is a very clever writer.

TS: Is it complicated as an artist yourself to play a character who is an artist, or is it easier?
No, I don’t think it’s complicated to play artists because in a way we know what it feels like to sit in that place of creativity. I’ve played a lot of writers and I think it's because writers like to write about writing. And in this play, there's even discussion about what good writing is and why it's important -- the respect of words that writers have. It's Stoppard, a very brilliant writer, writing about his love of writing.

TS: Is there any kind of research or preparation that you have to do other than reading the text?
I just threw myself into the text. I've been attached to the play for over a year, so I’ve been reading it and re-reading it. I'm familiar with it in a good way – more than I've ever been with a text before rehearsals. I'm feeling super-excited. And those horrible nightmares I'd experienced before rehearsals, I haven't experienced them at all. I absolutely think it's because I've had so much time to steep myself in the words. I've enjoyed it very much. Every time I open the script I am provoked into thinking about the things that Stoppard wants me to think about.

TS: Will you talk about Henry's relationship to the women in his life? What do you make of his relationship with his teenage daughter, Debbie?
I think Henry's very close to Debbie. I think he absolutely adores her -- his only daughter. I think the scene where she leaves to go off with a young man is one of the tenderest, most beautifully written scenes I've ever read in my life. It’s the scene that we all wish we had with our own daughters. I stopped off in London to have lunch with Tom Stoppard before coming back to America and I thanked him for it. I said, “I'm looking forward particularly to saying that speech every night.” There's an absolute beauty in what he tells her about being in love – the way he opens up and tells her about what our lovers expect of us and what being a lover is about. It's quite incredible, open and intimate.

TS: I find Debbie very mature for her age. I expect she will be the window into the play for some of our school audiences.
She's completely the child of an actor and a writer. She is absolutely the offspring of people who are very interested in themselves.

TS: What about Charlotte and Annie? They're very different women – don't you think?
Yes, I think they are very different. Charlotte seems somewhat embittered by her relationship with Henry. I mean, she's had nine affairs. And she assumes that he is having affairs left, right and center, although he isn't until this one with Annie. Charlotte thinks that there is no such thing as true love or commitment, only bargains. She suggests that they're idiots for believing in love. And Henry doesn't believe that. He says, “It's the kind of idiocy I like.” I assume that we've got to accept that it's not the real thing between Charlotte and Henry and what’s happening between Henry and Annie is.

Previews begin October 2 at the American Airlines Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, The Real Thing, Upstage

No Comments

Interview with Cynthia Nixon

Posted on: September 23rd, 2014 by Ted Sod



Cynthia Nixon

Ted Sod, Education Dramaturg sat down with actress Cynthia Nixon, who plays Charlotte in this production, to talk about her connection to and history with The Real Thing.

Ted Sod: You have a fascinating history with this play, having done it in the ‘80s. Will you tell our readers about that?
Cynthia Nixon:
Yes. I was in this play exactly 30 years ago, in 1984, when Mike Nichols directed it on Broadway, which was the New York premiere, with Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Christine Baranski, Ken Welsh, Peter Gallagher and Vyto Ruginis.

TS: You were acting in two different Broadway plays at the same time: you performed in the first act of Hurlyburly and the second act of The Real Thing -- correct?
Right. I was first asked to be in The Real Thing, and after we took it out of town to Boston, and brought it into New York, we were a big hit. Shortly thereafter Mike pulled me out of it to be in his production of Hurlyburly, which we took out of town to Chicago and then brought off- Broadway and then moved to Broadway. I started doing both plays in the fall of ’85 in my first semester of college.

TS: Tell us about the role of Charlotte in The Real Thing. Why did you want to play her?
Charlotte’s a great character and I have strong memories of Christine Baranski playing the role in 1984, which actually don't bother me at all. I like hearing Christine's voice in my head but know my Charlotte will be its own thing because I'm so different from her and Sam Gold's production will be so different from Mike Nichols' one. Charlotte is an actress – very successful, appearing on the West End, which is like the London version of Broadway – and also a movie actress, a very glamorous person. And she's married to Ewan McGregor’s character, Henry, who is a playwright. It's his play she happens to be appearing in when The Real Thing starts. I think that one of the hilarious things about the play is that Charlotte complains about her part in the play her husband has written, because the male actor in the play (played by Josh Hamilton) gets all the zingers. He gets to be free and witty even though he thinks that I'm cheating on him. And instead of dissolving in a little puddle of tears he becomes very sarcastic and biting and ironic. And my character has a stiff upper lip and says things like, “I'm sorry you feel that way.” She gets no jokes. She's just basically wounded and noble.

TS: What would you say the play is about?
The play is about a lot of things. It's about men and women who are really different. It’s about love, fidelity and how you make a marriage last. I think it’s also a battle of the sexes. And the different way men and women view relationships.

TS: How do you go about preparing for a role like Charlotte? Does she think she is Henry’s equal?
She is his match even though he is the intellectual. She's just a lowly actress. I've been talking to Christine Baranski, who I'm still in touch with, and she was so tickled when she heard that I was going to be doing this part. “It's just the best part,” she said. She comes onstage and she gets to play all these different things. When the play starts, of course, you think that she's really that person she is portraying in the play – that sort of noble, long-suffering, beautiful but quiet woman. And then you realize she's not that at all. You see that she's sarcastic and sexy and in a marriage that's not really working. It's not the kind of damage George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? inflict on each other, but there's some marital barbing.

TS: Once Charlotte and Henry separate, she seems to soften a bit.
In the second act -- two years later -- we see a very different aspect of Charlotte. We see her as a mother, but we also see her a little older and wiser. She's still very funny, and she's still very wicked, but has more regrets than she did in the earlier part of the play.

TS: How do you see the relationship between Charlotte and Debbie, her teenage daughter?
I think they have a great mother/daughter relationship. And I think the Debbie character is very evolved. She has a bit of bravado and maybe she's a little bit of a smartass. She thinks she's a little more mature and sophisticated than she is. But she's actually pretty mature and sophisticated. I think Charlotte has a very liberated attitude toward sex and love. And I think Debbie inherited it. And it serves Debbie well. She’s watched her parents’ marriage collapse and she's made her own decisions. She's come up with her own philosophy of love.

TS: Do you have a sense of why Charlotte doesn't know what's going on between Henry and Annie?
I don’t. We're not in rehearsal yet, so I don't actually know that she doesn't know.

I'm not sure about that yet. She's not saying anything to her husband about it, but what she might know or might wonder about it is unclear to me yet. If you think your spouse is cheating on you, and you decide not to confront them about it…I think that means you're not really sure. And by Charlotte's own admission, she thought he was having affairs with a dozen people during their marriage – none of which happened. I think it's very hard if you are possessive and jealous in that way – as I think Charlotte is – to be sure if your spouse is cheating. You think, oh, that's just me again. If he wasn't doing it the last 12 times, why would he be doing it this time? You stop trusting yourself when an affair is actually happening.

TS: How do you like to collaborate with a director?
I like to collaborate very closely. The director/actor relationship is my favorite. I love other actors and working with designers and I love the interaction with the audience, but my favorite interaction is with the director.

CN: Do you look for specific things from a director, or does it change from text to text?
It changes, but I certainly like to feel that I have a partner. I know there are a lot of actors who like to be left alone to sort of muck about and explore in their individual way. I like to explore in tandem with someone. I like to feel like we're on a search party together – I don’t like feeling as if I were sent out into the wilderness. I like to be in tandem with someone. I'm such a fan of Sam Gold’s work and we've been trying to work together for a while. I am really very excited to get into the rehearsal room next week. My wife said, “Oh my God. You're going into another play. You're going to be gone every evening, and it's going to be such a slog.” And I said, “But honey, I'm not dying from ovarian cancer in this one. No one's dying in this play. And I'm not trying to indoctrinate little girls into the ways of fascism in this play. It's a delicious play to be in.” I think all Tom Stoppard's plays are delicious to be in because of their artistry and language.

TS: What would you say to a young person who says, “I want to be an actor”?
I would say keep your options open. Don't throw all your eggs in that basket. Follow your dream if that's your dream, but it's good to have a college education in something other than theater. And I would say that to the most talented 18-year-old actor in the world. I would say be around and create as much theater as you can. Get cast in things. And if you're not getting cast in things, make it happen yourself. Go see as much theater as you can. Theater is very expensive, obviously, but theatres like the Roundabout offer all kinds of discounts to students.

TS: You don't ever regret having started your career as young as you did, do you?
I do not. I know there are certain things that maybe fell by the wayside. But by and large it was pretty much a win-win for me.

TS: I understand you will be directing later this season. You have cast two powerhouse actresses – Dianne Wiest and Tonya Pinkins. What made you want to direct?
I feel like I've wanted to direct for a really long time and I just haven't been brave enough to do it. I feel that Scott Elliott at The New Group has just given me a tremendous chance and so much support and guidance. We haven't started rehearsal yet, of course, but I'm meeting with the designers, and I'm casting people. I'm sure there will be many unforeseen challenges along the way, but so far it seems like such a good fit for me. I'm friends with Lonny Price, who used to be an actor and is now primarily a director. I told him with great excitement a few months ago that I was going to be directing my first play. And he said, “You're going to be great. You're going to wonder what took you so long.”


The Real Thing plays October 2 through January 11 at the American Airlines Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, The Real Thing, Upstage

No Comments