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'Angels in America' Star James McArdle on His 'Demon' Play

by Mark Kennedy
Wednesday May 9, 2018

One of the hits plays on Broadway is Tony Kushner's seven-hour masterpiece "Angels in America," which has transferred from London to Broadway. James McArdle is the youngest in the eight-person cast, under the direction of Marianne Elliott.

McArdle, who hails from Glasgow in Scotland, plays the neurotic New Yorker Louis Ironson, a character partly based on Kushner himself. McArdle recently told The Associated Press about why it's important to bring the play to New York now, visiting a key location in Central Park and how he handles seven-hour performance days.

Q: How do you view this powerful work?

A: This is not a gracious, easy, submissive play. You need to wrestle this demon to the ground. It's like a train and if it gets away from you, you are running to catch a train and it is not pretty. So you have to really battle. It is not friendly. But that's the only way I can describe it.

Q: It's such a New York play. I know you've visited all the places represented. Which one was the most powerful?

A: Well, definitely it was actually the Bethesda Fountain for me. I was on my own and I got a wee bit emotional - I wasn't crying or anything but it was just moving because I can't stop thinking about the lines of the play and it's just symbiotic now for me, New York and the play. It's just so in my blood now and always will be.

Q: When were you first aware of the play?

A: I remember being 14 or 15 at a youth theater and the play coming into my life and being frightened of it. I remember being frightened of it. It just spoke with such ferocious truth. I remember thinking it was almost uncouth how truthful it was and not really being ready for that. Every subject in the play was just like, 'That is so angry.' I wanted just nice things to learn about acting.

Q: Was it important for you to bring the play back to America?

A: This play has to be performed now. In New York, in America, now. It needs it. That's exhilarating because there's not many opportunities for that in one's career or in art in general, when art is a business and business is an art. There are not many opportunities when it all galvanizes into a moment that is necessary, like America needs 'Angels in America' to be onstage now.

Q: What is it like to have the playwright both available and encouraging?

A: Before I came over to Broadway, I found some sort of resistance to the fact that I was going to be playing Louis from certain areas, just because I'm so different from him and where I'm from, blah, blah, blah. Tony and Marianne's backing was all I really needed. I had Tony's 100 percent approval and he's been very lovely to me about playing Louis. That's all I needed. Because he is Louis and it's his play. It's just wonderful having him there.

Q: How do you handle these marathon days?

A: You have to be really disciplined. I went to see a show the other night and the cast was talking about going out drinking. I just don't think we could do that. I really don't think we could. It's not that type of play.

Q: It's a great play but it's not an easy one to be in, especially if you're Louis, right?

A: It isn't necessarily enjoyable or easy and is arduous, fraught with anxiety from everyone and just difficult. I just find it difficult. More than I ever have any other job. But the reward is doing the thing and the reaction from the audience. I can't think of anything more satisfying as an actor than playing, for me anyway, for playing this part.

Q: What's one of the best reactions to the show, either in London, Broadway or the filmed version by NT Live?

A: I had a friend that went to see a screening in this quite rough area in Glasgow. And he said that, at the end, people were hugging and crying. And men were holding hands on the escalator out. And this is a rough area where that wouldn't ordinarily happen. Weirdly for me, that is an audience story that's come to me that I can't get out of my head and that I remember more than anything that we've ever had live. I'm really proud of that.

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