Meet our Goneril: Arwen Anderson

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! 

(l-r) Anthony Heald as King Lear, Arwen Anderson as Goneril, and El Beh as Regan in King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

(l-r) Anthony Heald as King Lear, Arwen Anderson as Goneril, and El Beh as Regan in King Lear. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Arwen Anderson’s ice blue eyes pierce through to the back row of the Bruns when she gives evil orders like, “Pluck out his eyes,” as Lear’s vindictive elder daughter Goneril. Having played Lady Capulet in our 2013 production of Romeo and Juliet, Anderson has become almost as good at sending a chill through Cal Shakes as these early October nights, but the actress has a warmer side too. In that same production she deftly balanced Juliet’s misguided mom with the peacekeeper Benvolio and she earned rave reviews for her role as the devoted Julia in The Verona ProjectKing Lear director, Amanda Dehnert’s 2011 musical adaptation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona–where not only did Anderson sing, but she also played multiple instruments. Pretty good for a girl who literally got her start at the Bottom…

Where are you from?

I was born in Staten Island, NY; raised in Bucks County, PA; and have lived in San Francisco for almost 19 years now.

What do you think your King Lear character’s best quality is? Worst?

Goneril is super smart and well spoken. Alas, she is also entitled and power hungry and will do ANYthing she needs to do to get what she wants.

Favorite line in King Lear:

Right now, I don’t know about a favorite line in the play, but I am always caught by Lear’s line towards the end, after Cordelia has died: “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life and thou no breath at all?” I find it terribly sad and moving.

First experience at a play, or musical:

When I was five, I saw Annie on Broadway. I was hooked. I came home and told my parents I wanted to be an orphan.

First acting gig:

I was Bottom in Midsummer in fourth or fifth grade. I was tall for my age and this was the start of many years of being given boys’ roles. I was devastated. I wanted to wear a dress, not an ass head.

Favorite role you’ve ever played:

That’s easy. It was here [at Cal Shakes] as Julia in The Verona Project, which was also with Amanda Dehnert. No question. 🙂 (Although, my runner up is Stella in Streetcar [Named Desire].)

Favorite Shakespeare play:

I don’t really do favorites, but I did recently see Cymbeline and found it very strange and intriguing.

Do you have pets? If so, what are they?

Oh yes: an old man cat named Gato and two parakeets named Motleys and Mugwump.

What shows/movies/books/art have you seen/read lately that have really spoken to you?

Ha! I wish I had something brilliant to say here, but I had a baby a year and a half ago, and quite frankly I wasn’t able to see, read, or watch much at all during that time. Although I did carve out time to read Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I loved it.  He has an imagination the size of an ocean and it’s always a huge treat to dip into it.

What is your pre-show ritual?

Breathing. Deep breathing.

What is your line memorization technique?

I just repeat them as often as I can. While walking, biking, on the BART… Over and over and over…

The one performance you’ve seen that you’ll never forget:

Again, it’s so hard to pick one. There is an amazing group out of Montreal called Les 7 doigts de la main. They do a blend of acrobatics/aerial and theater and they never disappoint. But about 10 years ago they toured a show called Rain and it was the most beautiful and joyful and simple and astonishing and heartfelt night I can remember in the theater.

King Lear runs through October 11. For tickets click here.