By Christopher A. Pape
“Life’s like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.” So said Seneca and what a perfect quote to describe Mr. Doug Hodge’s career. A consummate English director and actor, Mr. Hodge is making a triumphant return to Broadway in his turn as Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac at the Roundabout Theater. Having won a Tony award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in his role as Albin in the musical, La Cage aux Folles, he is no stranger to the New York stage.
Mr. Hodge sat down with us to discuss his new role, the differences between the English and American stage and his overall impression of our city. The whole time he was witty, sincere and extremely quotable. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I liked speaking with him.
Resident (R): What a wonderful accent you have!
Dough Hodge (DH): Yours as well!
R: Oh no! It’s too New York – I’m sorry. How do you put up with a New York accent?
DH: I love it! I even love the Brooklyn accent.
R: It’s as bad as a Cornish accent.
DH: Maybe more like a Birmingham accent.
R: So let’s get right into it - Is this your first time on Broadway?
DH: This isn’t my first time on Broadway. I was here two years ago and won a Tony for my performance in La Cage aux Folles. I was here for a year and it was my debut on Broadway. I’ve been to New York on holiday, but I came for La Gage for six months – the show was a success and I enjoyed myself, so I decided to stay longer. I’ve always been finagling a way to come back - looking at different jobs and different ideas. And when the Roundabout Company offered me this, I was sold.
R: Tell us about the role – obviously it’s Cyrano, but are you putting a different spin on it?
DH: Cyrano is the story of a man with an enormous nose who falls in love with the best looking girl in Paris. However, he feels as if he is essentially unlovable; in fact, his mother gave him back the moment she saw his nose. He is a disfigured character. But, he is an extremely brilliant man – with great wit and is a fantastic writer. Roxane, his love interest, falls in love with a good looking young man who can’t speak well and Cyrano writes the words and prompts him – feeds him all the best lines – so that he gets the opportunity to speak to the girl that he truly loves. It’s a fantastic romance and beautiful story. The play has been done many different versions, all sorts of different places and ways. Our play is a new translation by Ranjit Bolt; it’s very modern and it’s all in rhyming couplets.
R: How did you get the part?
DH: When I was doing La Cage, the Roundabout approached me and asked me what other show I would be interested in doing. At the time, I was directing in England, as much as I had been acting, and so I told them I’d love to come back and act in something. I knew that I didn’t want to come back to direct – it had to be acting. And I said Cyrano – it’s the only play that I suggested. After a bit of thought, they finally agreed to produce it. So here I am with an All-American cast, an English director and myself.
R: And the nose?
DH: There are various kinds of old-fashioned noses. Cyrano was a real person with an unsightly nose – there are drawings of him and there are many versions of the nose. Kevin Kline had a sort of Pinocchio nose. Steve Martin had something similar. But the real story is about someone with a real disfigurement – a real Beauty and the Beast story.
A guy named Gary Bower designed the nose in England and then I had the hilarious time taking all of these prosthetic noses through customs at JFK, which all looked slightly obscene. So, now here I am ready to glue these things onto me each night.
R: Since we are called NY Resident and obviously you are not a resident of this city – I would love to get your perspective of what you think it means to be one?
DH: I have to say – I’d like to be one. I’ve thought very seriously about coming here to live. I think New York is safer than London; if I’m honest I think people are happier here. There is a certain generousness and gregariousness that isn’t present in London. When I was here last time, my twelve year old boy was with me and I happily let him walk home from school by himself and feel safe about it. Of course, New York is thrilling and exciting, but there is also a sense of community that is pervasive. Relative to London, New York is cleaner, safer and happier.
R: Lastly, what is the difference between English and American theater?
DH: There are many differences. Certainly, the American audience is more vocal in its appreciation and as actors, we are much more aware of that encouragement. Americans look after theater and take care of it in a way that the English don’t. I won an Olivier Award in England and they aren’t televised and almost not mentioned in the press. Yet, the equivalent here, the Tony Award, is a huge event. I really like that sense of Broadway community. •