Macbeth director Sam Gold previews Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga's murderous power play
Something wicked is coming this spring to Broadway's Longacre Theatre: a revival of Macbeth starring Daniel Craig, fresh off his final bow as James Bond in No Time to Die, and Oscar nominee Ruth Negga, in her Broadway debut.
"I think that right now, as we come out of the extreme darkness of the last couple of years, there's an instinct as you make it through the day to pretend life's normal and just go about your lives in the face of something so enormous that we've all shared," said Tony-winning director Sam Gold (Fun Home) of staging the Scottish play again now. "I want to take some time to help people sit in the darkness and have a cathartic experience with it, be able to process it, be able to not bury it somewhere and not deal with it. It's one of the darkest plays ever written, but I think that theater gives us the opportunity to have actors go through that darkness so that you don't have to."
Here, Gold — who has also staged Craig in Othello, Oscar Isaac in Hamlet, and Glenda Jackson as King Lear — shares a snapshot of his table, bestrewn with items that provide insight into his take on the play's toil and trouble.
Lay of the Language
When EW spoke to Gold in November, he was in the midst of workshops with his cast.
"We sit around a table and focus only on the text, getting a really clear sense of meaning [and] where language has changed dramatically over the years and time and space and culture," he explained. "It's a really good thing to do in advance of the production because it means that the cast has all of that already in their bodies. It's like something happens by osmosis over the next few months where you learn to speak a foreign language, you start thinking in Shakespeare. It takes some time for your brain to do that adjustment, so I like to do these things, not at the top of rehearsals, but a few months in advance."
Dinner and a Show
The version of the script above, notes and all, was jotted down during the very first reading Gold and Craig did together about four years ago. "We said, 'Hey, after Othello, should we do Macbeth?' We really liked working together, and we wanted to do something else, and we thought about this play," Gold recalled. "I wrote those words over the course of the reading, and that's still the script I'm using. It has these very basic image systems from the play from the very first time I heard it with the intention of directing it. It's the first words I ever wrote down about the play.
"I took this photo while getting ready for dinner," he said. "I have a pre-dinner beer, and I've dropped my silverware. That's sort of the right way to encounter the play." So it makes sense that "sauce" is one of the notes he jotted down. "It's a very visceral play. Lots of food, lots of viscera, lots of animal and human sauce."
"There's no play, to me, as clear and focused in its image systems as this one," the director said of writing down words like "storms" and "wind" (the black bar hides something more distressing). "It's really painting a visual picture — it's always night, there's always a storm, and there's always the disturbance of nature. I think I wrote 'owls' to remind myself that it's nighttime and there are questions of the occult. I wanted to make sure that I forefronted those things."
Another of those words, "equivocation," could be "spun out on every level of directing this play," according to Gold. "It's a word that had a lot of play during the time Shakespeare was writing. It would have been a politically hot word, and it gets at how everything in this play is also its opposite — fair is foul and foul is fair. There's a sense of equivocation going on at all times. Everything is matched with its opposite. The morality and meaning and truth and everything is not in balance. And equivocation is also a political word. It's the political landscape we've all just lived through, which is to devalue truth."
Sleep No More
Gold, who suffers from insomnia, thinks "the torture of not sleeping" offers important insight into Macbeth's behavior. (One of the books pictured seems to underline that importance — you can just make out the stars and crescent moon on the cover of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker.)
"More than anything, I'm looking for clues to contextualize the experience so I can best help Daniel tackle one of the hardest roles in dramatic literature," he said, "and to me 'NO SLEEP' is the key."
The other book on the table is Hallucinogens and Shamanism by Michael J. Harner. "[It's] a book I've been looking at as I explore witchcraft and think about the ways that people enter altered mental states for spiritual reasons," Gold explained. "How do we enter altered mental states for spiritual reasons? It also connects to that 'No Sleep.' When you don't sleep, that can enter you into an altered mental state. And often in the spiritual practices, not sleeping is part of the ritual to get the participants to an altered mental state. So I've been reading a lot about that, about shamanism and spiritual practices in various cultures. It's a way into the witches."
The Power Couple
Gold was eager to work with Negga after seeing her lauded turn as Hamlet at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn in early 2020. "She has a gorgeous relationship to Shakespeare," he said. "She has so much power, and after seeing her Hamlet I know that I can rely on her to center the marriage and center Lady Macbeth in this production."
As for the other half of the show's deadly duo, Gold called Craig the perfect agent for the role: "I find him just extremely human. He's a great actor for taking the scale of the poetry of Shakespeare and feeling like it could be you up there. He just feels very approachable, real, vulnerable, and also has within him the depth that the second half of the play requires."
The combination of the two allows the show, and its director, to explore the complicated dynamics of one of literature's most famous marriage stories anew. "Macbeth is all about power, what happens to people who have it and what happens to those around them," said Gold. "Marriage is a domestic microcosm for the way power plays out in society. So I'm very interested in this play as a play about marriage, and specifically a play about an interracial marriage, a play where power dynamics on many levels are playing out within the home, and to see how those things illuminate our domestic relationships, our political relationships, and our cultural relationships. It becomes a poetic microcosm to explore power in larger ways."
Macbeth begins previews at the Longacre Theatre on March 29, ahead of an opening night set for April 28. Ticket information and further details can be found at the show's website.
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