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A King-Sized Talent

Emmy Award winner Andre Braugher returns to the stage as Claudius in the Public Theatre's Hamlet. logo
Margaret Colin and Andre Braugher in Hamlet
(© Michal Daniel)
It's been a dozen years since Andre Braugher last took to the New York stage, thrilling audiences with his Obie Award-winning turn in the Public Theatre's Henry V. But the Juilliard-trained actor has hardly lacked for work in the past decade-and-a-half. He has starred in numerous television series, earning Emmy Awards for his work in Homicide: Life on the Street and Thief, was recently seen in the feature film The Mist and the A&E miniseries The Andromeda Strain, and will appear shortly on the big screen opposite Anne Hathaway, Patrick Wilson, and Dianne Wiest in Passengers.

Fortunately, for theater lovers, Braugher -- who lives in New Jersey with his wife Ami Brabson and their children -- has returned this summer to the Delacorte Theater to play Claudius in Oskar Eustis' production of Hamlet, opposite Michael Stuhlbarg, Lauren Ambrose, Margaret Colin, and Sam Waterston (who played the melancholy Dane to great acclaim in the 1970s). TheaterMania recently talked with Braugher about the production and his career.

THEATERMANIA: Had you been actively looking to return to the stage?
ANDRE BRAUGHER: When the Public Theater calls me, I always say yes. So when I recently I got a call from them, I answered it.

TM: Had you worked with Oskar Eustis before?
AB: We were mutually ignorant of one another's work. But we had a chat and I liked his thoughts on the role. His idea of Denmark is a state under a lot of political pressure, anticipating an invasion from Norway. So Claudius might have done what he did for the good of the state; a police state might have been a necessary condition.

TM: What's you're history with the play, both as an actor and audience member?
AB: I did it before, at Juilliard, and I also played Claudius. In this production, though, he's a villain in a purely destructive way. It's the first time I've wreaked this much havoc on stage. The last Hamlet I can remember seeing is Sir Derek Jacobi and I saw Kevin Kline do it at the Public, but I don't have a lot of recent Hamlets to refer to.

Andre Braugher
TM: Has it been a natural transition returning to the stage?
AB: It's like riding a bicycle. It's very muscular -- and it helps to be surrounded by these actors. My muscles are becoming stronger and my imagination is exercised. It's reignited a lost love for me. Plus, the Delacorte has been updated since I was there in Henry V. I thought it was gorgeous then, but now it's really gorgeous. I'm grooving on it.

TM: Does it help that Michael Stuhlbarg was also trained at Juilliard?
AB: We shared so many of the same teachers and our outlooks on Shakespeare are informed by that. But his ability to interpret Shakespeare and make it manifest is extraordinary. He's a master of this.

TM: Before Juilliard, you went to Stanford University. Did you study acting there?
AB: I didn't go to Stanford to be an actor. That wasn't really a path for acting. I majored in engineering, but it became clear it wasn't my calling -- in part because I didn't enjoy it. And then I got sucked into a play at Stanford with one of my friends and I loved it, because it offered an emotional release.

TM: You're still so associated with Homicide, this brilliant, intense, gritty police drama. Why was that such a special experience?
AB: Tom Fontana was a writer I just seemed to get into the heart of. I could have been on a show designed by someone else without that kind of affinity for their work and it wouldn't have been nearly as successful. I think Tom and [executive producer] Barry Levinson were instrumental in helping to change the language of the procedural, and now that language has been absorbed and it's part of a great continuum.

TM: You also directed a few episodes of the show. Did you enjoy that?
AB: Television directing is very much like being a traffic cop. You need to get in the right frame to approach it. I think I'll be back to doing that one day. But it's too early for me to think about directing in the theater, although there is a certain fascination.

TM: So what's next for you after Hamlet?
AB: I'm going to start saying yes to more plays -- and maybe start seeking them out.

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