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INTERVIEW: Jonathan Pryce Is Right About The Caretaker

The Tony Award winner discusses starring in the new production of Harold Pinter's classic play. logo
Jonathan Pryce in The Caretaker
(© Helen Warner)
Jonathan Pryce's versatility as a performer has been on display for over four decades, from his Tony Award-winning turns in Comedians and Miss Saigon through his varied roles in such films and television shows as Evita, Glengarry Glen Ross, Cranford, Barbarian at the Gates, Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Tomorrow Never Dies, in which he went up against none other than James Bond.

Currently, Pryce is playing Davies in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker at San Francisco's Curran Theatre as part of an American tour, which will include an upcoming engagement at BAM in New York City, beginning on May 3. TheaterMania recently spoke to Pryce about this production and his career.

THEATERMANIA: You first did a production of The Caretaker in 1981. What was that experience like?
JONATHAN PRYCE: It was Harold Pinter's 50th birthday and the National Theatre invited us to stage that production. I played Mick. It was recorded for BBC television first and they held onto the broadcast until after we'd finished in the theater. It was a real eye-opener to do it that way around. I probably had those preconceptions of what Pinter was like when I went into rehearsal for the BBC. I played it in a very dark, almost film noir style, and I carried that sensibility over into rehearsals for the theater. It wasn't until the first preview, with Warren Mitchell playing Davies, lying at my feet, and I started off the speech 'You remind me of my uncle's brother…' and started to get laughs, to the point where Warren smiled and winked at me with his back to the audience, and then we were off! It was the audience informing me that it was not the dark impenetrable piece that I thought it was, but it was leavened by humor.

TM: How did that reaction change your performance?
JP: The difficulty -- well not necessarily the difficulty -- the job was to maintain that straight-faced attitude about my character in order to make him appear funny, and not play it for the laughs. I think that's what we do with this production. We play it for all its intensity, everything it's worth, and the absurd things that come out of your mouth make people laugh. We get a great response from a young audience, or certainly when there is a mix of young people in the audience. They realize that Davies is quite naughty and he says naughty things.

TM: Do you really enjoy playing Davies?
JP: He's a great character. Davies is a tramp who has to be all things to every man. He will shift to behave in whatever way he thinks he needs to behave. There are no rules to him. He can be crazy, he can be sad, he can be funny. He exists, in a way, always performing. For an actor, that's a gift.

TM: You did this particular production in London first. What is different about doing it in America?
JP: Coming to it with two new actors since London has been really exciting, because I've been able to rethink certain moments and things about the character in relation to how they play their roles. It's been quite energizing in a way. It feels fresh and new, and not like something that I've been hammering at for months on end.

TM: Your career has such range to it -- you've done Shakespeare, musicals, film, television and radio. Is there something you haven't touched yet that you've got an itch to do?
JP: I do and I do it occasionally. I'm a patron of a children's charity and every other year I organize a cabaret where we sing with the swing band. They think I'm raising money for them, but what I'm doing is getting to sing with the band. I'd like to try cabaret and perform standards and all that stuff, but I'm still lacking in confidence. If I could wrap it around a character somewhere, I think that's what I'd like to do. It goes back to when I was a kid when I would stand in front of a mirror, miming to the radio or whatever, and holding a tennis racket as a guitar. There's still a bit of that kid in me that wants to be a rock star.

TM: Are there other things that nurture you creatively?
JP: When I'm free I go to live class and I draw. I don't paint so much anymore. Drawing's easier to pick up. You don't have to wait for it to dry. So I draw. I do see that my love of art and design is part of what I do on stage. I see it as all part of the same thing -- making a picture in the space.

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