20 Questions WithÖ Martin Henderson
Date: 12 June 2006
New Zealand actor Martin Henderson - who joins Juliette Lewis in making their West End debuts in Fool for Love this week - explains why Sam Shepard is his destiny, whatís special about the West End & how he concussed himself in rehearsals.
Actor Martin Henderson is well known in his native New Zealand, where heís been acting since he was a child and his TV series credits include Strangers and Shortland Street, which he followed up with Australian screen credits including Sweat and Kick.
In 1999, Henderson moved to New York to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse. His New York stage credits include the New Zealand play Ophelia Thinks Harder. From there, he moved to the West Coast where he found success in Hollywood films Windtalkers, Torque and the hit horror film The Ring. His other screen credits include Little Fish, Bride and Prejudice, Perfect Opposites, Skagerrac and the upcoming Flyboys
This week, Henderson makes his West End debut starring opposite Hollywood actress and rock musician Juliette Lewis, making her stage debut, in Lindsay Posnerís new production of Sam Shepardís hard-hitting 1980 play Fool for Love.
Date & place of birth
Born 8 October 1974 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Lives now in
Iíve lived in Los Angeles for the last seven years. While Iím in London, Iím staying near Buckingham Palace. I used to visit London when I was younger. Friends of mine were working and living here. They were all just out of university, living ten people in the same flat in Acton, you know. I was not interested in that at all. It actually gave me a really bad impression of London because I saw that lifestyle and it didnít appeal to me at all. In the last few years, Iíve done a couple of movies here which has been good, but even then I didnít get a real feel for the city because weíd work ten, 12 or sometimes more hour days in a studio and then youíd be exhausted by the end of the day. This time itís great. Once we open, weíll come to the theatre at night but we can wander around in the parks during the day.
Why did you want to become an actor?
Iíve been acting since I was a kid. Because I started so young, it was kind of just a dream to do it as a career. My father was adamant that I concentrate on my studies so that took a lot of focus. Then I started on a TV show when I was 17. Iíd already got into university and I didnít need to do the last year of high school so I thought, great, Iíll do this TV series for a year, get some money and fund my way through university. But that was when I really fell in love with acting and wanted to do it professionally.
First big break
Everything leads to another thing. In some ways, the fact that I started so young was a break in that it meant later on I got other jobs because I was already known in New Zealand. By the time I was 23, Iíd been acting for ten years so the decision to go to America was just about competing in a bigger arena rather than seeing whether I could act. It was scary but not such a huge step because of the confidence I had built up from the early TV work I did. And The Ring opening in America was a big thing for me. I got a lot of publicity from that.
Career highlights to date
Last night was thrilling to play to hundreds of people in the West End. I sent a text to my mum and said ďitís a long way from the school production I was in when I was tenĒ. It is special being on stage here. The West End is the West End, you know. The pedigree, the history and tradition - thereís a lot of respect for that. Last year, working with Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill and Hugo Weaving on Little Fish meant a lot to me because it meant going back home. That was an amazing experience and working with people who had no ego at all was wonderful; it was just about the work and that was really encouraging.
This is my favourite stage production, closely followed by the Cinderella production of my standard four. And my favourite film would be Little Fish.
Cate Blanchett I mentioned. And I love Indira Varma, sheís fantastic. We did Bride and Prejudice together and sheís become a friend.
Rowan Woods (Little Fish), and Lindsay Posner from this production. Lindsay is extremely patient.
Sam Shepard of course! Also Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, Shakespeare and maybe Neil Simon as well.
What was the last thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
Since Iíve been in London, Iíve seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Christian Slater in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in the West End. And I saw a lovely little show called Rabbit at the Old Red Lion. I loved it.
What do you like about working on stage?
The last stage production I did was seven years ago in 1999 at the Samuel Beckett Theater in New York. It was a production of a New Zealand play called Ophelia Thinks Harder. I was at drama school in New York and we werenít allowed to do any acting outside of school. I had to sneak and do that in my spare time. I got away with it until about the fourth night when the light bled from the stage and I could see my teacher sitting in the fourth row with this big smile on his face when he realised Iíd seen him! But whatever, they didnít kick me out! I love the contact with the audience in theatre. When I was a kid in New Zealand, I would do little school plays and skits. I used to write comedies mainly and get my friends to be in them. Going back to theatre, I remembered why I wanted to act in the first place, which is to give people an experience, hopefully one they enjoy. People say that actors just want the applause, and yes every actor does want the applause, but you only get the applause if youíve given something. Youíre really reminded in theatre that your job is to give, and that transforms you somehow as a performer, it makes you more selfless in a way. Film, particularly in Hollywood, is all about, how did your film do and what are you doing next. Itís all me, me, me - you almost forget thereís an audience.
What roles would you most like to play still?
I feel Iím just getting back into theatre now doing this now. Iíd love to do some Shakespeare, I think thatís the ultimate challenge for me. Hamlet - hey, youíve got to give it a shot.
What might you have done professionally if you hadnít become an actor?
I was going to do a science and business degree. Lately I think architecture would be really fascinating. Itís the balance of the creative with the practical that fascinates me.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
President Bush. Iíd really love to be privy to whatís actually going on.
Favourite holiday destinations
I love sailing in the Mediterranean. And I love going home to New Zealand.
At the moment, Iím reading Bill Brysonís A Short History of Nearly Everything. Itís fascinating.
Why did you want to accept your part in Fool for Love?
Itís actually a funny story. Eighteen months ago I was doing a workshop in LA and we worked on this play and I loved it. At the end of this workshop, I was determined that I really wanted to do theatre. It just so happened that Ed Harris was getting a production of Fool for Love up on Broadway. I found out about it and I said to my agent ďlisten, I really want to audition for that partĒ. In the end, that production didnít happen and I was a bit bummed out. Then a month or two ago, I got the phone call about this production and I was offered the part of Eddie. It was kind of destiny in a way. It was something that I had put out there over a year ago and came back in another form, and in London, too, which is thrilling. As a New Zealander, I donít feel totally at home in America. I mean, I enjoy it a lot but thereís something really nice about being in London. I love this city.
How would you describe your character Eddie?
Eddie is a stuntman, a cowboy, a country boy, very simple, very passionate, very brutal, violent and childish. Heís a show-off, cock-sure, he uses a lot of bravado and is very base. Heís all those things. The primal parts of masculinity is what he represents. But then thereís a vulnerable side to him, a tenderness which we start to understand as the play develops and we get more of the background of who these people are and what contributed to the situation that we see them in, which on a surface level looks kind of insane.
Have you always been a fan of Sam Shepard?
Oh yes, heís brilliant. Heís one of the best American playwrights there is. Itís such a thrill, such a privilege to be able to do his work. This is a difficult play, no doubt. Itís a real challenge for many reasons. But as much as youíre challenged by Sam, youíre also aided by his writing which is wonderful - the construction of the play, the words you get to say.Ö Sam is a huge music fan and during his time in New York City, he was heavily influenced by jazz. You see that in his writing, this musicality. In this play in particular, thereís a real build-up of tension and then thereís a release. Itís cyclical throughout, so quite musical - in a way, the play starts to play you. Thereís not a lot of room for improv with Sam. At first, that can seem restrictive, but once you surrender to it, you understand that every moment of the play youíre fitting the form of what heís written. Itís great.
Do you have a favourite Sam Shepard play?
Fool for Love would be it. True West was my favourite before, but now that Iíve got underneath the writing and the characters in this play, and the characters have become very close to my heart, I like this one. Buried Childís also great, and True West is still up there, itís fantastic. It was interesting last night seeing how much the audience laughed at the play. Thatís the thing with Sam. He winds the audience so tight that any little comic moment or jibe is such a relief. The audience think, ďoh thank God, itís a funny momentĒ and they really are willing themselves to laugh.
Do you have a favourite line from Fool for Love?
Itís one of Mayís lines right at the beginning of the play when theyíre arguing and Eddieís trying to twist his logic, as he does. He says ďyou can believe whatever you wantĒ and she says ďIíll believe the truth, itís less confusing.Ē I just love the way she cuts that line there. The playís about that, thematically: dealing with versions of truth, how we remember the past, what degree of fantasy is involved in our retellings of our own stories and myths, and how that contributes to who we are and how we relate to others.
Given that youíve had theatre experience, have you offered your co-star Juliette Lewis any advice in making her stage debut?
I taught her everything she knows! No, she hasnít asked me for advice - you clearly havenít met her yet! Juliette is the ultimate rebel, she will not be told what to do. But we have a great director in Lindsay Posner. Heís amazing. Itís interesting to watch him work with all of us really, seeing his approach and patience and subtlety and the way he allows you to think youíve come up with stuff when really he was trying to get you to do that a month ago. Julietteís level of energy is so high, the girl has so much energy. She goes off on the weekend to do rock concerts in Frankfurt and then flies back for rehearsals on the Monday. Sheís incredible, she just gives so much.
Whatís the funniest/oddest thing that happened during rehearsals?
Yes, I concussed myself. Weíre not really sure what happened. Itís a very physical play and I was going hell for leather. My characterís such a show-off, throwing himself around, banging the wall and Iíve been doing that for six days a week eight hours a day repeatedly. Then I whacked the back of my head on the rocking chair right in the base of my skull. After that, all my balance was off for quite a while! I only came right a few days ago.
What are your future plans?
After the play, if I can manage it, Iím going to have a short break before summer completely disappears somewhere in the Med. Then Iím going to go home because my sister had a little boy - Iím an uncle now - and I want to meet him. In the meantime, I just feel very privileged to be doing this here in London with such a great play by such a great playwright.
- Martin Henderson was speaking to Terri Paddock
Fool for Love opens on 15 June 2006 (previews from 7 June) at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.