Among the New York stage regulars who populate Ivo van Hove's new Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible are a pair of boldfaced names who are becoming more and more synonymous with each other. They are the Irish actors Ciarán Hinds and Jim Norton who, with this production, mark the fifth time they've worked together.
In the past, they've acted in two plays and a film by Conor McPherson — The Seafarer, The Night Alive, and The Eclipse — and, most recently, as Claudius and Polonius in a major West End revival of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In The Crucible, Hinds stars as Deputy-Governor Danforth, whom he describes as having "a super belief in God and righteousness, but not a particularly bad human being," while Norton tackles the iconic role of Giles Corey, a "loose canon who seems to have escaped the conditioning process of the other characters."
According to Norton the secret to their partnership is "the fact that we take the work seriously, but we don't take ourselves very seriously." Hinds grins and agrees, "I think that's the way."
What was it that made you want to do The Crucible?
Jim Norton: Miller is fascinating. I've never been in one of his plays, although I've read all of his stuff and think it's amazing. It's a challenge and fun. And I love being in New York and working on Broadway. [turns to Ciarán] What's your excuse?
Ciarán Hinds: I think you brought me to see a show [directed by van Hove] when we were doing The Seafarer. It was a Molière. It was my first time seeing a play of [van Hove's]. He was going to war on Molière. There was food everywhere, there were cameras. It was Molière like I've never seen. It was very, very exciting. As we're finding in rehearsal, it's like no experience we've ever had. It's fascinating and bleak, [and we're] wondering where we're going to end up.
Much has been said about his rehearsal process, and how he likes actors to come in off-book on the first day. How did you find it?
Jim: It's different, but all directors are different. It's been very laid back and he gives the actors a great deal of freedom to offer him their performance. Then he decides what he wants and what he doesn't want.
Ciarán: He doesn't say very much until I think he feels the need to say something. I think he's looking for the human connection between people rather than the performance. He's looking for it in a real way, which could be difficult with the poetic lyricism Miller offers sometimes. It's a very interesting, engaging, scary process.
Jim: He's also interested to know what we're offering. There's a great sense of freedom in the rehearsal room.
He's famous for his stark stage concepts. Is this a Crucible without the trappings of 1600s Salem?
Ciarán: You know, why break the habit of a lifetime? [laughs] It's quite pure and sometimes it's quite empty. There's not a lot of furniture around, or if there is some, it's stashed in the corner.
Jim: Which puts a lot of attention on the performers in that space.
Ciarán: It's about absolutely listening to the language and not paying attention to the contours of geographical disposition. The way he works with Jan, his partner, who does the production design and the lighting and the [live] camerawork, it's almost like interior decorating, in a way, but with a theatrical bent. It's very interesting.
This is your fifth show together. Are you a package deal at this point?
Jim: We usually confer and say, "If you'll do it, I'll do it." We just did Hamlet, and that's what happened. They offered it to us, and we conferred, and said let's do it.
What was that Hamlet experience like? You were both working with Benedict Cumberbatch in that production.
Ciarán: That was a mighty adventure.
Jim: It was a huge event because of Benedict. There were maybe a thousand people every night at the stage door. People from all over the world, all over the planet, from Korea, Russia, the West Indies, Australia. A lot of very young people were coming to maybe see Hamlet for the first time, or even seeing a play for the first time.
Ciarán: It was hugely vibrant. And Benedict was magnificent. The pitch that he was getting to [by the end of the run]. To get stuff into your bones deeply takes a while, no matter how much work you do in rehearsal. Towards the end there, wasn't he thrilling?
Jim: Oh, he was wonderful.
Ciarán: And he was still going on an upward trajectory. You'd think, "Wow, if we were to start this again at the place you are now, God knows where you will be."
Your current cast is made up with a lot of New York stage regulars, you and Jason Butler Harner, and Thomas Jay Ryan, but it's also got a mix of star power with Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw. Besides each other, how many of your colleagues did you already know?
Ciarán: I got to meet a lot of them for the first time.
Jim: I played Jason's father in Juno and The Paycock. Tom Ryan was in that.
Ciarán: [And] it's [Saoirse's] first theater job. She's an extreme talent and decided to do her first play and moved to New York. That's very exciting. And then Ben Whishaw, he's always done stage in between films.
Jim: For me, one of the other great things is that Philip Glass has written the music. And he's in the room writing the music. He's one of my heroes, and to get to work with him is terrific. He's great fun.
Ciarán: It's a lovely company of people to go to war with.