Michael Landes On ... Performing Mamet in LondonDate: 13 September 2010
Michael Landes stars alongside Nancy Carroll and Amanda Drew in a new stage version of David Mamet’s film, House of Games, adapted by Richard Bean which runs at the Almeida Theatre from September 16 2010 (previews from September 9).
Telling the story of Margaret Ford, a Harvard-educated psychoanalyst, celebrated for her bestselling book Driven! Compulsion and Obsession in Every Day Life, she compromises her professional reputation and is drawn into the seedy underworld of the House of Games poker club whilst helping a patient settle his gambling debts.
An American actor, known for his film and television appearances, but drawn to stage work in the UK, I took the opportunity to ask Michael about performing this new Mamet adaptation with a British cast to a London audience and his obvious passion for the American dramatist's work.
I’ve seen a bunch of Mamet; a friend and mentor of mine who passed away, an actor called Lane Smith, was in Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway and I saw that. They used to have a thing at Lincoln Centre in New York City where if you were a student you could go to see productions and from the late seventies and early eighties they videoed productions, so I was able to watch Al Pacino’s American Buffalo, and my friend Lane’s Glengarry Glen Ross on video, so it wasn’t like getting the experience, but it was certainly a joy. I’ve also worked with Joe Mantegna who’s an actor who’s been in quite a lot of Mamet stuff, so to get to hear those stories and work with those guys and to have seen their productions was very rewarding.
House of Games is an adaptation of the film of the same name. It was a very successful film and it was the first film David Mamet directed, but I think it works really well as a play. It’s all about the world of cons and conmen and I think that’s a theme in a lot of Mamet pieces. So we’re a group of conmen who seek out this psychologist who’s also written a book that’s become very successful and we lure her into our world and she becomes the "mark".
I’m not sure that a lot of people actually know that it’s an adaptation. I think Richard Bean is very good and I think he has a very good understanding of that language. I think somebody said he’s like the English version of Mamet in a way, he understands the themes that Mamet is trying to convey and I think it’s a smooth adaptation. A lot of it is from the movie; obviously when you’re doing a play there’s the need to adjust certain things, but I think a lot of the film is in there and most of the dialogue is Mamet’s dialogue.
I didn’t see the film. I think it’s a no-no, I think it’s best to just do your own interpretation; maybe I’ll watch it afterwards. Also the movie was made in 1987 and I think we’ve brought it a little bit into 2010, so for me it was just better to get an understanding of the world in which these guys live in and the world of the con and play that interpretation and understanding rather than falling victim to mimicking something in the film and I personally chose not to do that.
It’s funny how similar actors and conmen can be. I’ve been an actor for 20 years and during the rehearsal process actors have to behave a certain way and rehearse a certain thing and these conmen, in order to put on a great con, have to go through a similar process. We got a real kick out of figuring out how the guys would go through a dry run of how they’re going to con the girl and then come back and say "we overdid that" or "we should be a little more subtle there", in the same way that actors would rehearse a scene and say "what shall we do to make that a little more clear" or "how do we play that through", so it was very funny how the worlds were parallel and similar.
The good thing about this play is that my character is not a violent conman. If they’re successful, they’ll never see a gun. It’s all about giving people your confidence, and not them giving you theirs, so it’s the way in which we’re able to convince people and con people in a way that is not criminal. It’s about how do you trick people in a very subtle way, not a violent or threatening way; it’s so much more clever than that. So as far as understanding the dark side, there’s a whole bunch of poker and card play, and I don’t play a lot of poker so we've spent five weeks playing poker.
I love London, I came over here a few years ago and did a play and I’ve been fortunate enough to get a few television and movie jobs over here. I just love it here, and to do a play more than anything is a real honour because you guys hold the theatre in a much higher regard. I mean, Broadway’s big and everything but in Los Angeles where I live it’s more of a film and television industry, it’s very tricky to get to do theatre and do it where you can get people involved and excited about it.
London still has that very much, it’s the number one thing for actors to get to do, more than television and film, and as an actor I think that ultimately theatre is our medium. Film is a director’s medium and television is a writer’s medium, and I think theatre is an actor’s medium. I was saying to people back in America that you come into rehearsals for five or six weeks and it’s so indulgent, you never get be that indulgent on film or television, everything happens so fast. So you’re not making any money but you’re coming here because it’s what you love to do. I love it, I’m so excited to come here and do it.
I can’t do a British accent so I’m still impressed after seeing a couple of plays recently with English actors doing American accents, my hat goes off to them all, I think they’re all terrific. American film and television has influenced a wave of actors of this generation that I think they understand it very clearly, and I think they’re all great and inspiring to work with. I saw Nancy Carroll in After the Dance and I was really so moved and very impressed so I’m very lucky to get the chance to work with her.
One day I would like to do Glengarry Glen Ross. I think it’s a great play with so many roles, and roles with characters that age, so that’s a play that I would be able to do a couple of roles in as I get older. I think Glengarry is a good ensemble piece and has great roles for all ages, as I become older that would be one I’d love to do.
House of Games runs at the Almeida Theatre from 16 September to 6 November 2010 (previews from 9 September).