Anthony Heald as King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.
During the run of King Lear (Sep. 16–Oct. 11) we will be posting interviews with the cast to help our audiences get to know the men and women behind some of Shakespeare’s most tragic characters. What was the first role they ever played? What is their pre-show ritual? To find out, keep reading!
First up is Anthony Heald, who plays King Lear. He is a two-time Tony nominee who has spent the past year playing the double role of Ross and Bishop How in the record-breaking Broadway and West End runs of The Elephant Man. The long-time Oregon Shakespeare Festival company member is also known for playing Hannibal Lecter’s arch-nemesis Dr. Frederick Chilton in The Silence of the Lambs and the Vice Principal Scott Guber in Boston Public. Heald makes his Cal Shakes debut in King Lear.
Where are you from?
Born and raised in the New York City area—Long Island (Massapequa).
What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?
Lear’s best quality, which is in slim supply as the play starts, but builds as the story unfolds, is the care he takes with those around him. Lear’s worst quality is his narcissism and his hot temper—his expectation that he deserves special treatment, and his sudden rages when he’s frustrated.
Favorite line in King Lear:
It’s so difficult to choose in a play so verbally rich and full of ideas. It would probably be, “Take physic, pomp, Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them And show the heavens more just.”
First experience at a play, or musical:
The first play I remember seeing—I was probably eight or so—was You Can’t Take It With You. My mother and father were playing parts in our community theater’s first real production, after several years of play readings.
First acting gig:
My first professional acting job came the summer I turned 19 (1963), when I worked at the Houghton Lake Playhouse in Michigan. I used my first name (Phil) in the Children’s Theater programs, but when I got my first main stage show, I decided to use my middle name, Anthony. Weeks later an audience member praised my performance and said, with great sympathy, “I saw your brother Phil in the kiddy show—he’s nowhere near as good as you are!”
Favorite role you’ve ever played:
Lear is a very, very special role—one I’ve been dreaming of and preparing for over the years. Before that, Iago? Shylock? Tartuffe?
Favorite Shakespeare play:
I think A Midsummer Night’s Dream is practically a perfect play—which, of course, makes it terribly difficult to mount successfully. I also love Measure for Measure.
Do you have any pets? If so, what are they?
We have far too many pets in our home. My wife and I have three dogs, and our daughter has one. She also has three cats, and three horses, but they don’t live at home.
What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?
I confess to having been sort of locked in Lear land for the last year or so. I get enormous pleasure and satisfaction out of doing my research.
What is your pre-show ritual?
I try to always to get there at least an hour to an hour-and-a-half before curtain. I check that my stage properties are where they need to be, I take a nice, slow, relaxed time with my makeup, and getting into my clothes. I try to do a 15-minute vocal/physical warm-up. I try to speak with everyone in the cast.
What is your line memorization technique?
Long, hard work. Daily sessions with frequent drills. I need to know all my lines down cold before I even begin rehearsals. I don’t ever want to waste any valuable time, energy, and focus during rehearsals (and performances) feeling anxious over not being certain what I have been given to say.
The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:
Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd.
To read more about Heald’s experience preparing to play King Lear at Cal Shakes, pick up a program at a performance of King Lear which runs through October 11. For tickets click here.