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David Strathairn Gets Scorched

The Oscar-nominated actor discusses his work in A.C.T.'s production of Wajdi Mouawad's compelling play. logo
David Strathairn and Babak Tafti
in Scorched
(© Kevin Berne)
David Strathairn is one of those actors who traverses regularly and easily from stage to screens both big and small. He's appeared on Broadway in such plays as Salome and Dance of Death, received an Oscar nomination for playing Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck, and is currently on hiatus from Syfy Channel's Alphas.

Now, the San Francisco-born actor is enjoying a bit of a homecoming, starring in Wajdi Mouawad's Scorched at the American Conservatory Theater under the direction of longtime friend Carey Perloff. He recently discussed the play and his craft.

THEATERMANIA: Describe your longtime friendship and collaboration with A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff?
DAVID STRATHAIRN: It's a regenerative thing to work with someone over and over again -- especially someone that you totally respect. As a person, she's very dear; and as a theater person, she does it all. She runs A.C.T., but she's also writing. Her passion for theater covers all bases and she has the energy to do it, which is astounding. But the reason I call it regenerative is that with theater you're trying to create the illusion of the first time every time. What Carey brings to the room as a director is just that. It could be a Pinter play, it could be a Greek play, it could be a brand-new play or a semi-new play like Scorched. Her commitment to discovery, enhanced by an extraordinary breadth of knowledge -- worldly knowledge, not just theatrical knowledge -- is amazing.

TM: Your character in Alphas is someone who helps special people to find their true nature and make the best use of it. That's very similar to Alphonse Lebel, your character in Scorched, because here you set these twins on a journey, right?
DS: It's not just that he is the person who puts them on the path -- the last will and testament of their mother is actually their itinerary -- but he's involved in it as more than just a functionary of executing her will. He loved this woman. So there's more to it for him and he becomes a companion [to the twins] on this journey for his own discovery.

TM: What do you love about this play, and what were its challenges?
DS: A play like this is fraught with all sorts of emotional terrain, as well as the task of just telling a mystery for the audience. It's a beautiful poetic experience. The writing at times lifts off the ground, but it is also of the ground. Reading it had that effect on me. So there are a lot of challenges in how you keep the audience thinking about what's coming without giving it up, but also allowing them to stop anywhere along the path and get involved in the people. Rehearsing the play was much like doing the play, trying to figure out how we were going to get to where we needed to get and are we afraid to get there? Or, what's going to happen if we don't get there? Or, what do we learn if we do get there? All of that's at play and it's fun.

TM: Do you have different approaches to work on stage and work in front of a camera?
DS: I feel more familiar with stage, because I began there and the process is a lot more organic for me. Film is often a couple of days here and a couple of days there. You don't get to work with all the people in the cast. You are there for a purpose. With theater, you build it from the get-go with the ensemble. So it's a different experience on an organic level. The other thing with theater is that it evaporates every night and it's going to be different every night. It's really a living and breathing organism.

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