Hartnett, Godley & Cast Discuss Rain Man MattersDate: 18 November 2008
Theatregoers at our Whatsonstage.com Outing last night (17 November 2008) to the premiere stage adaptation of the 1988 Oscar-winning film Rain Man, starring Hollywoodís Josh Hartnett opposite Olivier-nominated British actor Adam Godley, were treated to an exclusive post-show discussion with a near-complete cast. Hartnett and Godley were joined on stage after the performance by fellow cast members Tilly Blackwood, Charles Daish and Mary Stockley to talk about their experiences on the production.
Hartnett, making his stage debut as Charlie Babbitt, and Godley as his autistic brother Raymond, take on the roles played on screen by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. When Raymond is released into Charlieís care, Charlie tries to harness Raymondís genius to save his business and the brothers embark on a rollercoaster journey beyond the hospital gates.
Rain Man is adapted by Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gordon and directed by Terry Johnson, who took over from original director David Grindley. The cast also features Colin Stinton. The productionís limited season at the Apollo Theatre continues until 20 December 2008.
Last nightís discussion took place in the theatre immediately after the performance and was chaired by Whatsonstage.com editorial director Terri Paddock. For more photos and feedback, visit our Outings Blog and for details of upcoming events, click here. Edited highlights from the Q&A follow Ö
On why doing the play was attractive
Adam Godley: It is a very intimate and unusual story, to see two brothers going on this emotional journey. The dynamics between the brothers are also really interesting. You have an autistic character and his brother who also canít communicate well, but for very different reasons.
Charles Daish: The attraction for me was three monthsí work in the West End! The rest of the cast were obviously an attraction too. Tilly and I are obviously the mainstay of the show, though. We hold it together every night.
Tilly Blackwood: Every single night, twice on a Wednesday and twice on a Saturday.
Charles Daish: The others are very difficult to work with.
Josh Hartnett: Of course, for me part of the attraction of working in London was all the wonderful actors I was going to work with over here. That kind of sealed the deal. I chose to come over here for the first play I have done in 12 years because I felt like the reception to theatre here is different than it is in New York. In New York I think I could destroy a production just because there is only really one critic who will make or break a production there, and he doesnít really take kindly to film actors making their stage debuts. It doesnít ever go over very well.
Mary Stockley: Does it go over well here?
Hartnett: I donít know. But at least there are more critics so maybe thereís a chance that one of them will go against the grain and say it is okay.
On the play vs the film
Hartnett: Obviously the film version is very well known. In a way it was a detraction rather than an attraction, because everyone has such high expectations, although at the same time I feel that many plays are done so often that people can also have high expectation there as well. I didnít want people to automatically assume that we were trying to recreate the experience of the film; that just wouldnít be possible. I donít think we were trying to emulate any other actors either. I think we just had to do it our own way. We always looked at it as a completely separate piece. For this project, we had to crush 99 scenes into nine scenes. This is the result, it is what it is.
On researching autism
Hartnett: I did a movie, a true story about a guy who had Aspergerís Syndrome and his relationship with his wife who also has Aspergerís. These days Iím not sure exactly what theyíre saying the difference between Aspergerís and autism is, but back then, this was five years ago, they were saying that clinically the difference arises when you are learning to read and write; at the age at which you learn to communicate. I think whatís defined as high-functioning autism has a lot of similarities with Aspergerís Syndrome. Some people would say that itís the same thing. The movie was called Mozart and the Whale. I spent a lot of time with people with Aspergerís in research for it.
Godley: Somebody from the National Autistic Society came to talk to us to give us a very general overview. They were very helpful and they also organised for me to go down to some residential care facilities to absorb as much as I could. I realised as I was looking into it that, well, there is a quote in one of the books that says Ďwhen you have met one person with autism you have only met one person with autismí. Everybody is different. I felt that that gave me licence to create my own character in my way. You canít say Ďthat is autismí and pin it down. Everyone is different so I just took whatever I could find and stored it away and then in rehearsal I was able to draw on that.
Blackwood: The funny thing about playing opposite someone who is playing a character with autism is that you usually look at each other when youíre acting, but with this play you donít engage with the character youíre playing opposite in that way, which is quite strange.
Godley: Iím not an expert on autism, but that is definitely one of the many things that I wanted to bring into this work. It is quite weird. Josh and I, we only look at each other in one moment during the play, in that dance, and not at all anywhere else.
Hartnett: I examine the back of your head a lot.
Godley: And I can tell you everything about this floor.
On audience reactions
Godley: I have had some very nice feedback. No one who is outraged and horrified has been in contact yet, but those people that very generously come to the stage door and have a sibling or a child, or work with people with autism, have been very generous and sweet about it. Obviously, I felt a great responsibility not to exploit it in any way and not to promote misunderstandings.
On differences between working on stage & screen
Godley: You can see for yourselves, it is such a nonsense that there is a prejudice about film actors working on stage. Some actors can and some canít, some are good and some are bad. It sort of made me a bit angry that there seemed to be this decision being made to some extent before the event. Itís a ridiculous generalisation and I think Josh has shown that.
Hartnett: I paid him to say that! I donít read any of the reviews so I have no idea how any of it is going down.
Daish: But Josh is just awful to work with.
Blackwood: We are shielding it brilliantly, but we really hate each other!
Stockley: I think (working on a) film is quite lonely really.
Hartnett: Some people like being lonely - Iíve given myself away there! I am answering from the perspective of a novice in the theatre world, and I have to say that this has been a life-changing experience. I donít mean that in a naff sort of way. I mean that in a very real way. I feel more a part of a community of actors than I ever have in my life. I think there is a great camaraderie over here. I think it might exist in New York theatre too, and I think it is something to do with being on stage and seeing each other through your best and worst times over the course of months.
On life in London
Hartnett: Everybody runs into each other all the time here too. The amount of times Iíve gone to a bar or a restaurant and have run into about eight actors that Iíve worked with over here in London before. Everybody seems to be very supportive of each other. We had a terrific, amazingly talented actor-director come in a few weeks ago and really lay it out honestly about what he thought the production was doing well and not so well. That is good to hear, particularly from people in the industry. In the movie business, you donít really see each other that often Ė itís not like everybody goes and hangs out at the same place. I donít live in Los Angeles so I never see anybody from the movies, and I never really get that perspective or that sort of critique from my peers so that is what Iíve really enjoyed about this. I think I will do a lot more theatre - hopefully, if I ever get another job!
I have had some rough patches with the press here so far, but I live in New York and I think that New York and London are quite similar. They are both big cities with a lot happening, except that London closes at like what, four in the afternoon? Iím getting lots of sleep. I like being here. The strangest thing about this year is that I havenít really had any time back home so I get to go home for Christmas and Iím very excited about that. I come to London all the time and I have worked here before and I have a lot of friends here so I feel right at home.
On keeping the energy up through the run
Godley: The audience helps, the reception you get from them, really helps. It makes it feel so worthwhile when you feel the audience is with you. In terms of keeping the energy going, itís very exhausting. You wake up that morning and the fact that that night youíre going to be going on stage slightly affects everything that you do during the day. I guess itís just part of the discipline, just finding that energy to get through the performance.
Daish: The rehearsal process is there to build what is hopefully an extremely solid foundation.
Hartnett: I think that youíre forgetting that we only had three weeks for this production!
Daish: That is loads of time Ö I think that after rehearsals you have got that something, that scaffolding that you can still build up from.
Godley: I can bounce off the other cast members as well. Josh just has so much energy.
Stockley: Each performance is very different as well. Each and every performance varies, it is a unique event.
Hartnett: Just yesterday I went and saw Ivanov and I thought that everybody was so fantastic in that. Suddenly, I felt like part of the theatre tradition and I felt quite a revived interest. Not that I wasnít interested before that, but it is just that sometimes you can get a little stale, or let performances slide by without really thinking about them. That is the worst, when you find yourself saying the lines or thinking about whether or not youíre going to make it through the performance because you ate that burger before you came on. You want to be there and you really want to be emotive and excited about the experience. Having that community of people around you really helps.
On American accents
Blackwood: I demanded that I saw an accent coach even before the first read-through because I am notoriously bad with accents. It is really hard.
Audience member: I think accents are hard to do, but I think you all do a good job. I have been living here for eight years and I still canít do an English accent.
Blackwood: Where are you from?
Audience member: Cincinnati! (where the play is set)
Hartnett: If you find yourself near K-Mart, you could save me a lot of money.
On the playís ending
Hartnett: The brothers arenít going to be separated. Charlie is going to give up his life. That is just what I think. I like that thereís an incremental change at the end. Thereís a catharsis there, but itís tempered by the reality of the situation. Itís not like he just spins on a dime and says Ďokay, here goes being the best guy in the worldí. Heís not going to do that, heís still going to be Charlie, but he is going to have someone who he actually cares about. He recognises what love is at the end of the play.
- by Kate Jackson