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Meet the Tony Nominees: Bertie Carvel of ‘Ink'

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

On Rupert Murdoch: “It's hard not to like his energy, his dynamism.”

The play Ink chronicles the meteoric rise of Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid The Sun. Murdoch, an outsider in the world of Fleet Street, purchased the paper in 1969 with the goal of disrupting the stuffy media establishment. So he enlisted Larry Lamb, an editor at The Daily Mail, to make The Sun one of the most-read papers in the UK. Ink recounts the crazy lengths to which they went in order to transform their readership. (Think scandal and sex.) The riveting Manhattan Theatre Club production stars Bertie Carvel and Jonny Lee Miller as Murdoch and Lamb. Ink was written by James Graham and directed by Rupert Goold. The play was nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Play, and a nomination for Carvel, who won a 2018 Olivier award playing Murdoch on the West End. Carvel was last on Broadway in another epic performance, playing Miss Trunchbull in Matilda. That role also earned him an Oliver award, along with a Tony nomination. 

Jonny Lee Miller and Tony nominee Bertie Carvel in ‘Ink’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Jonny Lee Miller and Tony nominee Bertie Carvel in ‘Ink’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

When did you decide to become an actor? 
Bertie Carvel: I came to it late. I didn't feel I had confidence in my opinions about the world to be a journalist. I didn't know what I was going to do. I was at university studying English and had no idea where it was taking me. Then I got involved in student theater and loved it. As soon as I did, I realized, more or less, that the thing I loved for years and was very good at could be a job. 

While I hardly did any acting at university, every weekend from the age of 11 and all summer long, I did live role-playing. I basically dressed up as made-up characters with a bunch of mates, and sometimes huge groups of people, in a more organized fashion. Essentially, it was a bunch of people dressing up, telling a completely improvised story and acting out their characters together. It was just a hobby, and I was really good at it. It allowed me to live in my imagination and feel really powerful. When I did the play, I thought, “I guess it's the same thing, really.” So I went to drama school. And then one thing led to another, and here I am. 

What went through your mind when you first learned about Ink? 
BC: I was thrilled. Ink runs in my veins. I come from successive generations of print journalists. It’s a world I have spent time in. And until now, I had been the one who got away from the family business. So it was great to reconnect with that.

Also, I have worked with James (Graham, the playwright,) before. We have become friends and collaborators. It didn't take a great deal of clairvoyance to realize why James and Rupert (Goold, the director) were thinking about this topic right now. James managed to find a historical frame to talk about our present moment. I’m interested in theater that is entertaining, but also offers some kind of a thesis. It’s exciting to be part of something that feels urgent. This is a story told in a way that fits the moment in which we are telling it. And Rupert found a way of creating a production that feels like tabloid journalism. In every way, we are inviting the audience to think about the state of journalism and the way that journalism relates to democracy. It feels incredibly timely. 

Your father was a journalist at The Guardian for over three decades. Do you remember visiting his office when you were a child? 
BC: I have very visceral memories of my father’s office. There were metal decks that were piled high with papers. Bunny Christie’s set in Ink manages to evoke the feeling that I recognize from my father’s Farrington Road offices when I was a kid.

How did your connection with that world impact how you view Ink? 
BC: This play is shot through with a certain nostalgia and love these people have for the way a newspaper is made. Where another playwright would be polemical, James manages to think seriously about his topic. In this case it’s journalism, populism and what happens when you give people what they want. But he does it with a kind love and nostalgia. And that connects me to my relationship to journalism. 

My dad was a Guardian journalist and a very good one. I have always thought the journalist's profession had a certain nobility. So I take it very seriously. And at the same time, it is shot through with nostalgia because of my personal familial connection. This play, with James’ treatment of the subject, Bunny’s set, which has a visceral quality, and the dynamism of Rupert’s staging – connects all of those dots for me. So it feels quite personal. 

Can you share what you like about Rupert Murdoch?
BC: I haven't really thought about it. I studiously avoid disliking him. I also have to avoid liking him. The job really is to feel about them as they feel about themselves. That would be, telling what I think he feels about himself. If you stand outside the character too much and take a kind of editorial position, you're not really in their corner. He is massively energetic, charming, dynamic and funny. It's hard not to like his energy, his dynamism. It's hard not to sympathize with his desire to overturn the stuffy, staid stayed establishment.

What do you love to do in New York when you are not working?
BC: To be honest with you, it's quite 24/7. Being in a show is a marathon. The rehearsal period is intense. And once the run is going, there are a lot of commitments, like interviews. Keeping yourself ready for the show every night so that you can do your best is pretty much a full-time job.

Everything's kind of bigger and squarer here. I love seeing the different shapes of things – different shapes of vehicles, refrigerators and milk cartons. And as a kid, in the UK, one is sort of weened on American exports. Coming here felt like an amazing piece of world-building. But don't have time to go places. I get up, have my breakfast, check in with my family. And then I do the show eight times a week. And when I finish the end of the run, hopefully it’s in one piece.

For more of the best of Broadway this awards season, check out the best deals on this year’s Tony-nominated shows.

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