Ted Sod interviewed Tony-Award winning actor Gabriel Ebert on his role as Camille in Thérèse Raquin.
TED SOD: Why did you choose to play the role of Camille Raquin in Thérèse Raquin?
GABRIEL EBERT: I was blessed with the opportunity to work with director Evan Cabnet back when I was at Juilliard in my fourth year. And I've always loved the way he runs a room and the work that he does. The role of Camille is a bit of a departure for me – I’ve been playing a lot of tortured artists. Camille is babied by his mother and treated as though he's ill all the time. He has a phlegmatic personality, and he is responsible for a lot of the humor in the play. This character could be seen as a stereotype of an uncaring husband. Maybe I can find a way to play him that would allow his behavior to be better understood by the audience.
TS: Why do you think Camille behaves the way he does?
GE: He is an only child. He has always been a mama's boy. He’s never learned how to be self-sufficient, self-reliant. He's always been treated like a prince. And the fact that Thérèse doesn't treat him in that way wounds him. I am hoping to discover in the rehearsal room how much love there actually is between him and Thérèse. I think a lot of things go unsaid. I think there are misunderstandings between the two of them because she was forced into this relationship with his family due to the death of her parents.
TS: How do you explain the fact that he's clueless about who his friend Laurent really is?
GE: I've had the experience of meeting someone who I think is really cool and wanting to just hang around with them. I think Camille, who has always been around women, suddenly has the opportunity to spend time with a really confident, good-looking painter who is rather like an older brother. And because the excitement of that is so great, he doesn't take the time to actually look more deeply at things that might be happening. Camille doesn't see what’s negative about Laurent because he’s blinded by the excitement of having a cool friend.
TS: What do you think the play is about?
GE: It's hard for me not to read the play in terms of just character motivation. I try to empathize with my character. I try to relate to all of the characters on a human level. Helen Edmundson’s adaptation has made this a very human story. What do I think the play is about? It's about Thérèse and her struggle. She's forced into a marriage which is clearly loveless, a marriage that doesn't allow her to be authentic. It denies her a rich inner life. She's always struggling and staring out at the water. Finally she finds passion in Laurent. At the end of play, maybe one of the realizations Thérèse has is that Camille wasn't actually so bad after all. I think the play could be about the deception of lust. Or the fact that incredibly sexy encounters might not add up to true love. I think a lot of the play is about guilt. How guilt gets in the way of being able to accomplish anything. I feel that's something that Laurent and Thérèse struggle with in the second half of the play.
TS: How will you research your role? What kind of work do you have to do before you get into the rehearsal room?
GE: If I get pedantic in my research it actually takes me away from the visceral experience of being in the rehearsal room and telling the story that we're all telling. I'm definitely going to read more of Zola's work. Maybe Zola will give me a key into how Camille walks – perhaps it is with his hands behind his back or maybe he does a funny little thing with his nose when he talks. I'll probably study the character traits of the phlegmatic humor. I’ll explore with that in the rehearsal room and see what comes out of it. I have to make this story accessible to the audience at Studio 54.
Gabriel Ebert and Judith Light in rehearsal for THÉRÈSE RAQUIN.
TS: Thérèse Raquin has been adapted many times as a film, opera and play. What do you think attracts so many artists to this story?
GE: Thérèse is such a great character. Audiences can relate to her because a lot of us get into relationships that don't fulfill us in every single capacity, and we search for escape. We don't want to lose the relationship entirely, but our id is howling from our bowels, asking for the other things that we need. And so we go and seek those. This story talks about the cost of that. It looks at actually balancing the howling id with reality and the consequences of that.
TS: What do you look for from a director when you're working on a role?
GE: I like working with a director who provides me a very firm structure. Because within a structure, there’s more freedom I find. I've already had a couple of conversations with Evan about the play, and he's got amazing ideas. I don't go in with too many preconceived notions. I'm a nerd for all the minutia. I love doing table work, sitting and talking about the play and everyone getting on the same page in terms of the journey that we're going to create for our audiences. I like discussing the themes that are in the text. Rehearsal is great for me because it gives me an opportunity to fail really big, and through some of those failures, I'll find things.
TS: Will you talk about American actors working with actors from the United Kingdom?
GE: For some reason I've done a lot of English plays or musicals, and I often play British in transfers from London. I've worked with a lot of British directors. I don't necessarily find that there’s too much difference. This will be my first time working with a movie star of Keira Knightley's stature. I have an affinity for Brits. I love them. And I love England. I don't know if it's very different. I mean they love the theatre, and they take it very seriously. And so do I. And in some ways I feel like a Brit who just happened to be born in America. So in a way, it feels like coming home. Matt Ryan, who plays Laurent, is Welsh, and I love the Welsh accent. I'm definitely going to listen to him talk and secretly try to steal what I can, so that maybe I can play a Welshman someday.
TS: What about the French aspect of the story? Is that something you have to deal with as an actor?
GE: I don't know. I am sure Evan will tell us what world we live in. I don't know where our dialects are going to live. I love doing dialects. But I think it'll be kind of weird if we are all doing French accents or something like that. I imagine everyone French was smoking cigarettes at that period in time, so that's something I'd be interested in exploring. But I don't know if you can really smoke cigarettes in Studio 54 anymore. Whether in terms of dialect or in terms of style, hopefully we’ll just communicate the human elements of the story. When I read Zola's novel, all his details -- the way that the fog hangs over the buildings or the smell of the air or the colors of the time – all those details create a French atmosphere for me.
TS: Did you ever have any teachers at Juilliard or elsewhere who profoundly influenced you?
GE: I'm incredibly indebted and grateful to my teachers at Juilliard. And several of them still come and see my work. Jim Houghton took over the program after my first year, and he's been a huge inspiration to me. My acting teacher Richard Feldman and Richard's wife, Carolyn Serota, who ran the Alexander Program at school, were both influences. For years, I always hunched over and apologized for my height because I felt bad that I was bigger than everyone. When I got into her class, she got me to stand up straight for the first time. And Richard made me play kings and killers because I was always the clown, always apologizing for my size. They actually made me fulfill and embody my size. And for that, I'm extremely grateful. I also had a great teacher at Denver School of the Arts named Shawn Hann. She allowed me to do some great things and still comes to see the theatre I am doing and brings current high school students with her.
TS: Do you have advice for the public school students who might want to pursue an acting career?
GE: The thing I say to kids who are auditioning for colleges, which I know is terrifying, is try to go in with the attitude of I may be the right person and I may not. They're not looking to turn people away -- they're looking to accept the right people. If you keep that in mind, it gives you a positive outlook going in rather than a defeatist point of view. I think it leads to better work. If you go in and say to yourself, “I may very well be the right person for this job and I may not. But I'm not going to take it personally either way,” then you allow yourself an opportunity to succeed. I grew up playing a lot of sports. And being in sports, failure is a huge part of success -- you have to strike out a bunch of times before you get a base hit.
Thérèse Raquin begins previews on October 1 at Studio 54. For more information, please visit our website.
Related Categories: 2015-2016 Season
, Therese Raquin