It's surprising that Ivo van Hove and Mark Strong have never worked on Broadway before now. The Belgian-born van Hove is one of New York and Europe's most respected theatrical directors, whose reinventions of works like Angels in America, Hedda Gabler, and Scenes From a Marriage, have won great acclaim across the world. The London-born Strong is a journeyman character actor whose résumé includes the BBC series Prime Suspect and films ranging from Zero Dark Thirty to Kick-Ass. They didn't know each other when they decided to work together, in 2014, on the project that would change their lives.
That project was Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge at the Young Vic Theatre in London. Strong played the tragic protagonist Eddie Carbone, whose love for his young niece signals the destruction of his world. Van Hove directed the work in his trademark fashion, stripping the play's universe down to its bare essentials: words. A celebrated run was followed by a West End transfer. The production soon earned three Olivier Awards: best actor for Strong, best director for van Hove, and best revival for the production itself.
What's not surprising is that a New York mounting was soon in the works, leading the pair to their main stem debuts as A View From the Bridge gets ready to open at the Lyceum Theatre on November 12. It's a thrilling opportunity that they — and we — won't soon forget.
Ivo, you've said in the past that you weren't a fan of Arthur Miller's plays. Why was that, and does that opinion still hold?
Ivo van Hove: No. This was the first Arthur Miller play I ever directed. I had a preconception about him. I'm the guy who always says you shouldn't have preconceptions about plays. I thought Arthur Miller was a moralistic author in that he tells us what's good and what's evil. But I discovered he doesn't do that at all. He shows that within goodness, there is evil, and within the most evil man, there is good. When I really read A View From the Bridge very carefully, I saw this complex play where the public world and private world get into a venomous combination, with very layered, nuanced characters. So I was totally wrong.
Mark, what are your experiences with Miller's plays?
Mark Strong: I did Death of a Salesman in 1996 at the National Theatre in London. We met Arthur Miller. I was playing Biff. He'd joke and say, "What part am I auditioning for today?" because we always asked him to read it. We wanted him to read it so we could hear his voice. He was very free with what we wanted to do with the production. I think his plays need to be rescued from the weight of their tradition. He certainly seemed to suggest that that's something he'd be happy with, which Ivo's now done.
How did Mark get involved with this production?
Ivo: David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, said Mark was first on his list for Eddie. At that moment, he was not available. Suddenly, I got a call from David saying, "I have very good news. The guy I wanted in the first place seems to be free now." We met by Skype. I had seen more of [Mark's] films than I knew, because he's always in a wig.
Mark: I feel very lucky to have been available and have the chance to work with Ivo. I can't express enough what a turning point this has been for me, in life and in art. Without getting pompous about it, creatively, I was very happy doing movies. But to come back and do something like this, in a production like this, there's nothing like it.
Ivo: It felt like there were only a handful of possible Eddies that came in to audition. It's very hard to find this kind of actor, because they're all in the movies. I said to David, "It feels like I'm casting Hamlet without Hamlet." I had everybody, but no Eddie. When he came in, it was picture perfect.
Ivo's rehearsal process is atypical in the world of theater. Mark, what was that like for you?
Ivo: I'm not doing such strange things!
Mark: We learned the lines before the first day, which I thought was a stroke of genius. It meant everybody had a firm idea of what their character's through-line was. We already knew where we were, and by day two, we were standing up and doing it. I realized in retrospect how much time is wasted in traditional rehearsals when nobody really knows their lines and you've got a book in your hand. It was a wonderful process.
Ivo: I love the actors to be off-book [and] thinking about it already. If you're off-book and know the text, you're much more open for ways to go, because you know what's perhaps possible or not.
Mark: What was very different was having a dramaturg [in the rehearsal room]. British actors aren't used to having a dramaturg. And also having a chap doing the music as we rehearsed. It was lovely…having the music created while we were working and seeing the thing rise like a soufflé. [Normally] you rehearse in an empty room and then the tech rehearsals happen, and everything is thrown on top of you.
Ivo: That's exactly what it is. What I don't like about tech rehearsal is that suddenly, actors aren't important anymore. The technical stuff is important and [the actors] have to wait for four days. I try to do tech rehearsals from the first day on, in trial and error, so that it grows naturally. It's an organic process.
How does it feel, at this point in your careers, to finally be making your Broadway debuts?
Ivo: I'm happy that my debut is with this production. I know that it's one of the best things we ever did. Whatever people think of it, I know for myself really what it means to me. But at the same time, when I first arrived at the artists' entrance [at the Lyceum], I was very conscious that this is now my first step through the doors. I'm a European director from Belgium. It's not so obvious that I would direct here. I'm very honored by it. It's a bit of a boy's dream. Our first journey in life together [with partner and design collaborator Jan Versweyveld] was to New York. My first Broadway show, it's a coincidence now, was The Elephant Man with David Bowie, who I'm working with now [on Lazarus]. I remember it as if it was yesterday.
Mark: It's a dream. Broadway is something I've always been conscious of. I wasn't aiming to come here, but to be in a production that was feted the way it was in London is a wonderful experience. When you have a career, if you're lucky enough to have one, you can count on the fingers of both hands, maybe even one hand, the [jobs] that really worked and the ones that are your favorites. And I know that this is absolutely going to be one of them that I always cherish. I'm so glad we're getting the chance to do it here.