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ShowTickets Q&A: Bobby Cannavale of ‘Medea’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

“We go on a journey with Anna and see a woman who is desperately trying not to lose her mind. That is different than watching somebody lose their mind.”

Innovative director Simon Stone brings a riveting contemporary take to Euripides’ famous work Medea. Lucas (Bobby Cannavale) is estranged from his wife Anna, played by his real life wife Rose Byrne. As their marriage unravels, Anna sinks deeper and deeper into despair. The play, which was written and directed by Simon Stone, also manages to be sometimes hilarious. Medea is currently playing at BAM’s Harvey Theater. One of the finest actors of our generation, this two-time Tony nominee’s theater credits include The Lifespan of a Fact, The Hairy Ape and The Motherf**ker with the Hat. He has also been noted for his work in the films The Station AgentBlue Jasmine, SpyAnt-ManJumanji: Welcome to the JungleI, Tonya and Martin Scorsese's The Irishman. On television, he has starred in Boardwalk Empire and Will and Grace, and won Emmys for his work on both series. He is also a standout in the shows Mr. Robot and Master of None.

Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne co-star in 'Medea' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Photo: Caitlin Cronenberg)

Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne co-star in 'Medea' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Photo: Caitlin Cronenberg)

What went through your mind when you got word about Medea?
Bobby Cannavale: Simon Stone’s name jumped out at me. I had seen his production of Yerma and knew I wanted to work with him. I didn't think it would be so soon after Yerma.That he wanted me to do this play with Rose was beyond for me. We enjoy working together. We've done it many times before, but have never done a play together. She is incredible on stage, and knows how much I love working in the theater. It was another opportunity for us to share an experience together. We really like being with each other.

How do you make the characters so relatable, and have us feel compassion towards them?
BC: We go on a journey with Anna and see a woman who is desperately trying not to lose her mind. That is different than watching somebody lose their mind. When you see somebody fighting not to lose their mind nor fall prey to their darkest thoughts. It is something we can relate to. You sit in a theater and think, gosh, I remember going through some dark times. It's a struggle. And it's really hard when you have to maintain a family and children. When you’re going through something like that, your life doesn’t usually get placed on pause. People will hopefully have compassion because they recognize it in their own life.

The adaptation lends itself to empathy. We see a reflection of people who we recognize. We recognize them in ourselves. We play two scientists. They are working Joes with a family. People can relate to that. Relationships are hard. I mean, that’s an understatement. This couple works long hours together. They are trying to raise a family together. Lucas is not quite as talented as her. But she helps him. A schism happens and he betrays her. Those kinds of things happen in relationships. Anybody sitting in the theater knows somebody who has gone through something like that.

What is it like for you as a dad to play a father on stage – knowing that the kids in the play end up so tragically?
BC: I have have three kids. Rose and I have two together and I have an adult kid. I have played fathers before. It's a pretty boring answer, but I can separate the two. It's not like we come home and look at the kids and think about the play. Rose and I have a pretty strong partnership and family life. We come into the theater, do our work and leave it there. And then we go home. A two-year-old and three-year old don't really care that you are doing to play. They just want mom and dad. It's good to go home to a home like that.

Can you talk about your Broadway debut in Mauritius?
BC: It was actually with Dylan Baker, who is in Medea. It was at the Manhattan Theater Club. I was pretty excited because I had done so much theater regionally across the country in little theaters for no pay. This was my first Broadway show. I was really excited to get to work with (director) Doug Hughes and to work with Dylan, F. Murray Abraham, Alison Pill and Katie Finneran. I had never worked in a theater that had that many seats in it. I remember feeling pretty nervous if I could actually do that. And I very quickly figured out that I could. I was happy working in a thousand-seat theater. I wanted to do more of it.

What was one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw?
BC: I grew up in New Jersey. My mom took me to see Evita because of the commercials of the show that were on television all the time. I was desperate to see it. I remember I was fascinated by Mandy Patinkin. I didn't know who he was, but he was just so cool. He played Che Guevara and was in a smoky bar singing with a beard. I thought, “Who is this guy?”

Is there a role you're aching to play?
BC: I have always wanted to play Eddie Carbone in A View From the Bridge. And Rose and I are going to do that next year in Australia. That is one that I always wanted to do. It’s a great play, great role and story. It’s such a classic, and I've seen many productions of it.

Is there acting guidance that you've gotten that stayed with you?
BC: Landford Wilson was a great mentor of mine. He told me: “In the play, if the event that is happening for the character isn't the biggest event in his life, then it doesn't deserve to be a play." No matter what character I play, I always think that whatever it is they are going through, it is the biggest event in their life. So therefore the stakes have to be the highest they can be. That is what makes it compelling to watch.


For more of the best of TV and Film stars on in New York theater this season, check out our complete list of Celebrities on Broadway in 2020.

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