The initial buzz about Anna D. Shapiro's Broadway revival of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men mostly revolved around the Broadway debuts of three of the show's stars: James Franco, Chris O'Dowd, and Leighton Meester. Few people anticipated, however, that the show-stealing performance would come from another Broadway debutante (a fifteen-year-old pit bull named Violet) and her scene partner, Broadway veteran and Tony Award winner Jim Norton.
Norton plays Candy, an aging farmhand whose best friend is his trusty old dog. When some of his bunkmates suggest that it's time to take the dog out back and shoot him, Candy wonders if his time is also up. Throughout the run, audiences reacted to this scene with stunned silence. "I've never been aware of such silence in the theater as during that moment," said Norton.
TheaterMania spoke with him about the role, his love of football, and the items he'll be stealing from wardrobe when the final curtain goes down on July 27.
1. What's your favorite line that you delivered?
"They got a good stove there?" Apparently, there's always a chorus of people offstage saying it with me every night.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What's the best one from your show?
The only running joke we had recently was trying to get the football results on the day of the World Cup final. Our matinee coincided with the start of the game. Hurley's Saloon, next door, was full of German fans that day. We were trying to gauge what the score was based on the shouts we could hear through the wall. Chris O'Dowd is a huge football fan, as I am. We were trying to devise a way to tell each other the score onstage. Of course, there was no score in that game until the very end.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
The dog peed onstage one night. I was downstage doing a scene with James Franco, so I had my back to her. I could just hear this stirring in the audience. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her squatting. She was very good, though. She peed on her blanket, so it was all very neat. And it works very well within the play. She lives totally in the moment, as maybe some actors should learn to do sometime.
4. When did the dog come into rehearsals?
James, Chris, Leighton, and I rehearsed in Chicago for the first two weeks. These were very intense rehearsals. The whole company joined for the next three weeks and that's when the dog came along. The original dog was replaced by Violet, the dog who now plays the part. She's never missed a performance. She's a fifteen-year-old pit bull who is deaf. She's absolutely wonderful. It's going to break my heart when the show's over.
5. Where is she going?
She goes home. She lives next door to the trainer. She's not a Broadway dog. She's never been onstage before. She was just right for the part, and she fit right in. People think she loves me, but she really loves the chicken in my pocket.
6. Are you more a dog person or cat person?
I'm very much a dog person. I love dogs. When I lived in Ireland I had dogs, but of course, in the life of a strolling player, it's impossible to have a dog. That's very sad.
7. What is the most interesting gift someone has given you at the stage door?
We have hundreds of people outside the stage door every night. The real gift is the fact that these are mostly young people, some of whom are coming to the theater for the very first time. They tell you that and that they're going to go back and see more plays. That was really the greatest gift for me.
8. Who is the coolest person who came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Without a doubt, it was Robert DeNiro. He is the most charming, self-effacing person you could imagine. Luckily, I happened to be at my dressing-room door as he was on his way up to see James Franco. He stopped off to have a few words with me and he was just charming. That was really a highlight.
9. Was there something you learned about this story that you can only know from being in it?
It's a very tragic piece. The one thing I wrote on the front of my script was, "None of these people got what they wanted." That's the heartbreaking thing of the play. They're all good, well-intentioned people, doing the best they can from what they know. But none of them achieve the American dream.
10. Do you have any closing-night rituals you'll be performing after the final curtain?
I'm going to try to get those boots out of the theater. They have me in this great pair of Western boots. Of course, I'm going to have to get past security first. They'll have to chase me up Eighth Avenue.