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Gregory Itzin Goes for the Lay-Up

The former Tony Award nominee and 24 star discusses tackling the role of Kenneth Lay in Broadway's Enron. logo
Gregory Itzin in Enron
(© Joan Marcus)
Gregory Itzin may be best known for his Emmy-nominated turn as President Charles Logan on Fox's hit series 24, but the 62-year-old actor is a stage veteran with credits as diverse as The Kentucky Cycle, for which he received a Tony Award nomination, and Shipwrecked. This month, Itzin has returned to Broadway as former corporate bigwig Kenneth Lay in the new play Enron at the Broadhusrt Theatre. TheaterMania recently spoke with Itzin about this project.

THEATERMANIA: Are you working on 24 and Enron simultaneously?
GREGORY ITZIN: Both shows have been very gracious; they made space for me that fit my schedule. When I read Enron, I got very excited about it. I flew in from L.A. to read on a Sunday and got the role on Monday, and then I had to decide if I wanted to spend a bunch of time in New York, or do King Lear with the Anteaus Theatre Company in L.A.. I decided to go for it, so I came out to New York for the first week of Enron rehearsals, and then went home to L.A. for a week to finish my responsibilities on 24. They shot all my scenes in one week.

TM: What made you decide to do Enron?
GI: I'm at an age where I pick and choose carefully what I want to spend my energy on. I've turned down TV work and plays because I don't have time in my life for something that I don't care about. This is a serious piece of business about what the Enron story means to America and the economic system.

TM: Did you get an idea of the theatricality of the show -- that there would be video projections and movement all around the actors -- from reading the script?
GI: I went online and saw pieces of the show's production from London, so I had a sense of the tower and the projections. Still, I didn't have a sense of the full theatricality. They loaded the show in while we were in rehearsals, so we didn't see the set until the day we moved into the theater -- and then it was an "ooh, ahh" situation for all of us. In a way, I don't know what it looks like when I am inside the tower, but I know it's a pretty amazing fixture.

TM: Did you research Kenneth Lay before you started rehearsals?
GI: I watched the documentary "The Smartest Guys in the Room" which is very informative about what we're playing. In a lot of ways, Ken Lay approved of, but wasn't totally knowledgeable about, what was going on. Once the money machine started rolling, I think he saw the company was in good hands -- until he realized it was out of control. I could be wrong about this, and I'm sure there will be arguments, but I think in the play you can see what moved people to do what they did.

Gregory Itzin and Cherry Jones in 24
(© FOX)
TM: Why do you think you are often asked to play men of great power?
GI: I have no idea, except that my example growing up was my father, who was a local politician and a Marine. He was a good politician, so I don't know why I get to play the other side. But I've learned nobody is all one thing; with a character like Logan, for example, I try to convey that he loves his wife and to give him a recognizable humanity.
TM: Do you think of Ken Lay as a villain while playing him?
GI: I was out with my friend Gregory Harrison after the show the other night; he and I have both played a lot of corporate bad guys, and we agreed that no bad guy thinks he's a bad guy. To play him, I can't think of him as one either. Ken Lay was a philanthropist, he shared his money, and he was a strong Christian. He was like one of those preachers who think that because God is on their side that anything they do is approved of. He was a family man as well as a guy who headed a company that bilked people out of their life savings. I don't know where people put that information in real life. He said some amazingly questionable things during and after the trial.
TM: Is there something he said that you find especially questionable?
GI: I think of his self-referential line about 9/11 that tried to align that tragedy with the fall of Enron. That's a pretty myopic statement to make to the public. In a way, I enjoy the irony of that; it's a very revelatory line. After the verdicts came out, he said that he and his wife felt terrible about all the people who lost their savings in this tragedy, but his worth was 300 million prior to this but was now only 20 million. That reveals his sense of entitlement to a jaw-dropping degree. The other side of the coin is that he grew up poor, put himself through college, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, believed in God, and amassed a fortune. For a time, he was an American success story.

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