Ruben Santiago-Hudson Tells the Tale
The actor discusses starring in the Shakespeare in the Park production of The Winter's Tale and co-starring alongside Nathan Fillion in ABC's Castle.
THEATERMANIA: What made you want to do The Winter's Tale this summer rather than just take a nice breather between shooting Castle?
RUBEN SANTIAGO-HUDSON: I just love the challenge of doing Shakespeare. I am part of the Public Theater family and I got a call to look at the play, and before I could even finish it, I said I'd love to do it.
TM: Your character, Leontes, is considered one of the most difficult in the canon, since you accuse your wife and best friend of infidelity without any seeming cause. How do you justify that?
RSH: It is a challenge to make that action comprehensible to the audience. But I look at the text. Polixenses may be my friend, but he's stayed with my family for nine months -- and I think if anyone stayed that long at my house, I'd find fault with them. And I am sure over that time, Leontes has seen some glimpses of unusual behavior -- perhaps wearing less clothing around each other or laughing too loud.
TM: Still, you cause your wife to kill herself and banish your infant daughter. How is the audience supposed to sympathize with that?
RSH: I hope the audience sees that I balance my cruelty with much love and that my actions came from defending my honor and that my rage is from jealousy and madness. It's important that I am not just being the stereotypical angry black man. And when it all comes clear, I'm the most penitent person -- I'm almost a saint by the end of the play.
TM: As is typical of many productions at the Public, the cast is completely multi-racial. For example, your wife, Hermoine, is being played by Linda Emond, who is white. What are your thoughts about this?
RSH: I think it reflects the mirror of modern society. When you look in the newspaper, you see Sandra Bullock with a black child. And this play reflects what my real family looks like -- my wife is Swedish and our children are biracial -- so it's great to put out this mosaic to the world. And I think we should put the best artists we can on stage, and what I love about the Public Theater's audience is they feel the same way. They don't care if the king is black and the queen is white; they're out there to see this play done well.
TM: Most of the company is doing two plays this summer, since The Winter's Tale is being presented in repertory with The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino and Lily Rabe. Why are you only in one play?
RSH: It's an intense experience to do repertory. But I would have loved to have done both, and I couldn't due to our Castle shooting schedule. It's a very selfish thing about theater -- you create an instant family with your castmates and you don't want to share them during your time together. So now I get upset when I see them move into another room to work on Merchant. I don't want them to have more fun there than they have with me.
RSH: This is perhaps the most talented cast I've ever worked with and sometimes my heart kind of jumps as I see these people on stage with me. Linda is such a brilliant actress; I sent her a note early on just to say you are really remarkable and I am blessed to have this opportunity. Jesse L. Martin, who plays Polixenes, is the most gracious and giving person I know. And Michael is an incredible director; he's always so prepared and he's just a tremendous leader. It's always so clear that he loves actors and loves theater.
TM: Do you miss the theater while you're working in television and films?
RSH: I'm never away from theater. Even in LA, I have a group of young actors I help mentor, and we just pick a play, whether it's Ruined or A Soldier's Play or Richard II, and we just come in and read it.
TM: Castle has just been picked up for its third season. Does its success surprise you?
RSH: I am always surprised by anyone's success in Hollywood, because the public is always so fickle. I've done 18 pilots and this is my second show to air and my first hit. I have to say it's been TV heaven. I am so lucky to work with Nathan Fillion, who hits me every day with a big bear hug and comes and visits my kids when we're in New York. And our producers and directors allow all of us an opportunity to shine; not just Nathan and Stana.
TM: Your role, Captain Roy Montgomery, isn't very flashy. How do you keep it interesting?
RSH: I've watched my friend S. Epatha Merkerson do a similar role on Law& Order for 20 years, and I've learned from her. My challenge is simple: no matter how many lines, or how few I have, I have to do the best I can with them. But more importantly, when you see Captain Roy, you see that he cares about people, and that he has dignity, humanity and integrity -- and that's lacking from so many roles that actors of colors are asked to play.
TM: You're more than an actor; you've been an acclaimed writer and director as well. Do you still want to explore all those creative areas?
RSH: I always keep writing; there's a new play I've written that no one wants to do for some reason. But I write what I believe in. I try to tell a story plain and true. And this play will get done; even if it gets done Off-Off-Broadway!
TM: What advice do you give to young people in the business?
RSH: I always tell them: let no one else define you; you define your own parameters and boundaries. And as far as I'm concerned, there should be none.