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INTERVIEW: Jason Butler Harner Is Ready For a Cock Fight

The talented actor discusses his role in Mike Bartlett's provocative Off-Broadway play.

By New York City
Jason Butler Harner, Amanda Quaid,and Cory Michael Smith in Cock
(© Joan Marcus)
Jason Butler Harner, Amanda Quaid,
and Cory Michael Smith in Cock
(© Joan Marcus)
Actor Jason Butler Harner has given many memorable performances in the theater, in such shows as Orange Flower Water, The Paris Letter, and The Gingerbread House. Now, he's thrilling audiences again in Mike Bartlett's provocatively titled Cock, at The Duke on 42nd Street, as "M," whose relationship with his much younger boyfriend, John, gets thrown for a loop after John falls for a woman. Harner recently spoke to TheaterMania about the play.

THEATERMANIA: First things first, let's talk about the title of the show, ok?
JASON BUTLER HARNER: Mike says his original inspiration was seeing a cockfight in Mexico. And I have to say I love the spectator sport element of the production. The space has been reconfigured to look like an arena -- sort of a cockfight ring. I like being this close to the audience, especially after doing Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre. And while we never break the fourth wall, it's voyeuristic.

TM: What was your first reaction to the script?
JBH: I immediately started laughing. Being a true theater boy, I love this kind of writing. It's sort of a Rubik's cube for an actor. There's rarely any punctuation; it's a very rhythmic way of speaking. My voice coaches from NYU are very prominent in my brain every night.

TM: So, how do you feel about playing the "older man" in this relationship?
JBH: Now that I'm 40, I knew I wasn't going to pass for 25. And there are so many things I love about this part; he's so opinionated, emotional, and scathing. And I'm so grateful to be funny after being the go-to-bad guy on TV and film for the last few years.

TM: Do you think the play is particularly British, or will Americans get it?
JBH: There are some ways the humor riffs on English humor, but there are very few references in the script to anything that will leave American audiences scratching their heads. I'm excited to see this American cast doing this, but we all agreed it has to feel absolutely authentic. And in the end, the real question will be how much the audiences believe we're in love.

TM: Are you enjoying working with this cast?
JBH: Yes. I hadn' t worked with any of them before. Cotter Smith, who plays "F," is so economical and effortless. And he's very generous both as an actor and a person -- he's interested in your craft. Amanda is a wonder. She fits "W" very well; she's very smart and very pragmatic. And Cory, who plays John, is like a tall, gangly puppy. But he's also an open wound of emotion. He's almost too much fun to act opposite; I'm trying hard not to crack up on stage.

TM: What can you tell me about working with your director, James Macdonald?
JBH: James is fantastic. I've admired his work for a while. I met him during the time he was directing Top Girls at MTC. Apropos of nothing, I went up and told him how amazing he is. He's a real actor's director and a real collaborator, and he was hellbent on our finding our own way. He was too classy to ever say "we did it like this in England."

TM: Your TV series, Alcatraz, wasn't renewed for a second season. Are you going to miss it?
JBH: I did enjoy doing the series. It was nice to be in Vancouver and I went on some fantastic walks. And I was blessed to work with a wonderful company of actors. But TV is a very different beast and a different form of collaboration. Of course, it was great financially. But now that it's not happening, there are other plays I might do here, and I'd like to do more film. When I did The Green with Cheyenne Jackson, I was the lead of a film for the first time. That was really fun; I hadn't dug in to a part like that before.


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