INTERVIEW: Oliver Platt Likes As You Like It
The versatile actor discusses starring in the new Shakespeare in the Park production of the Bard's comedy and his work on Showtime's The Big C.
The estimable actor is currently showing his versatility again, tackling the role of Touchstone in The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of As You Like It, which begins performances on June 5 at The Delacorte Theater, to be directed by Daniel Sullivan, and as Paul Jamison on Showtime's hit series The Big C, which concludes its third season in June.
Platt's communion with the Bard of Avon truly began about 30 years ago, when he starred as Shylock in a well-regarded production of The Merchant of Venice during his senior year at Tufts University. After graduation, he headed straight to Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires, an experience that changed his life.
"I first really immersed myself in his work there, and that's where Tina Packer and Kristin Linklater really instilled in me the love of the language and a healthy irreverence for the work - for not getting caught up in the preciousness of it," he says. "I can only imagine what Shakespeare would be thinking if he knew we would be doing his plays centuries later."
Touchstone marks the actor's second Shakespeare in the Park outing, having played Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night in 2002. "They're both clowns, but I think Touchstone is a bit more of a Rorschach test; he can be done in so many different ways," says Platt. "There's something a bit terrifying in Touchstone's opaqueness, but that's also part of the challenge for me. While he's more complicated than Toby, I think the biggest trap with any Shakespearean part is to overcomplicate it."
As he continues to search for his interpretation of this classic character, Platt is thrilled to have Sullivan guiding him. "Dan is such a phenomenal combination of being talented and being relaxed," he says. "And like all great directors, Dan is someone who makes me sit up because he's able to make the text and its intention clear. It's almost as if he has a hotline to Shakespeare."
Platt is also thrilled to be back at the Delacorte, especially as part of Shakespeare in the Park's 50th Anniversary season at the famed outdoor theater. "Of course, there's something truly unique about the setting, but it's really about the audiences," he says. "There's a real feeling of them being there because they love the theater -- after all, they stood in line for these tickets -- and they're very forgiving and enthusiastic. I imagine they're incredibly similar to the people who went to Shakespeare's Globe."
Platt is far from the only recognizable name in the cast, which includes Lily Rabe as Rosalind, as well as Andre Braugher, Renee Elise Goldsberry, and Stephen Spinella. "One of the most exciting things is being part of this ensemble and getting to tell a story as a group, which is something you don't really do in television," he says. "Acting in front of the camera is so different; it's such a specific craft. Theater really allows me to use another set of muscles."
Regardless, Platt has been doing some extraordinary work in front of the camera this season of The Big C. His character survived a heart attack -- after being dead and "seeing the light" for three minutes -- only to become a famous speaker/blogger courtesy of noted "joyologist" Joy Kleinman (played by Susan Sarandon) and is also dealing with the desire of his wife Cathy (played by Laura Linney) to adopt a baby now that her cancer is in remission.
"The storytelling this season has been really wonderful," says Platt. "And I love the fact that it really evolves as time goes on. I'm sort of an appreciative bystander, they only tell us a minimal amount in advance, although I did know well before last season's finale that I wasn't getting killed off. I love working with Laura, who's not just a great actress, but a great, hard-working producer who gets us wonderful guest stars like Susan, who was a dream to play with."