Louis Cancelmi Plays for a Captive Audience
The popular actor discusses his role as covert Israeli agent Peter Malkin in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Captors.
THEATERMANIA: What first attracted you to this play?
LOUIS CANCELMI: This was based on a true story, and this guy had, at least in his telling, a real, intimate and sort of singular relationship with Adolf Eichmann. He had a really interesting connection to all that history, and I think it would be less interesting if it was just a matter of him being locked in a room with someone he hates.
TM: Are you concerned about humanizing Eichmann, one of the most infamous war criminals in the world?
LC: I personally don't feel like Eichmann needs humanizing; he was a human. I don't think there's any question about that. Obviously, he did monstrous things, but I don't think we could do this play if we didn't begin from the premise that Eichmann is also human, not because we need to feel close to him or something but just because he's a part of humanity that we have to grapple with.
TM: How does it feel to play an undercover agent?
LC: Peter Malkin is a really interesting character. He transforms a lot throughout the play; he's an old man at the beginning, goes back in time, he's a young man, he's doing a number of different things at once. That's sort of fun theatrically, to do those sort of transformations.
LC: It's done with makeup and prosthetics. Malkin is a master of disguise, which mirrors the actual workings of the play in the sense that there's a theme of disguise and of transformation and of hidden identities, and what lies beneath the surface.
TM: How does working on an original play like Captors shape your experience as an actor, as opposed to doing a revival?
LC: What it adds to is my involvement in the creation of it. The play was by no means set in stone when it got to me and a lot of changes have happened. I've been working with the playwright and other cast members to create what the play will ultimately be. It's a strange emotional journey. As an actor, I like to be able to discover something every time I go out there; I like to keep it live so that I can experience it. It jumps around a lot in time, in space, and so the emotional track is really interesting.
TM: As a playwright yourself, are you able to separate your acting from your own impulse to rewrite?
LC: I feel like my instincts as an actor are what I'm relying on, and there is some cross over. But Captors is very far from my writing. I work on new plays often, and what I try to contribute to them as an actor, even when it comes to the writing, is strictly from an actor's perspective. Well, maybe not strictly…
LC: I haven't. The Huntington's house is amazing. It's a beautiful space, and it's so easy to play. It's a big house, but it feels so intimate.