Jonathan Guy Lewis on Eddie Carbone, rehearsal room anecdotes and his next project

Jonathan Guy Lewis on Eddie Carbone, rehearsal room anecdotes and his next project

Friday, 27 March 2015

Jonathan Guy Lewis on what motivates his character, being headbutted during rehearsals, and his upcoming play A Level Playing Field at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Tell us about your character, Eddie. Who is he and what motivates him?
Eddie, works unloading the cargo ships that come into new York. This is hard, physical work. It’s low paid, not regular and there’s no job security, pension etc. Think the worst kind of zero hours contract for manual labour work today, and then double it!

He lives with his wife Beatrice and her niece Catherine in what would be considered very poor conditions, although to the two illegal immigrant ‘submarines’ that arrive from Sicily, they appear rich!

He’s motivated by doing the best he can for himself and his family. The catholic church binds these communities together who’ve newly arrived from Italy into the USA.Although not particularly religious himself, he is like many who have nothing material in their lives other than their ‘name’. It means everything to him. He is also overly protective of his soon to be eighteen year old niece. She is his pride and joy. Everything he has done and struggled for has been to give her a better life. He doesn’t want to see her squandering her chance at a better life by getting married to one of the penniless ‘submarines’, younger brother Rodolpho.

Any anecdotes from the rehearsal room?
Being headbutted by Princess Daisy who plays Catherine. Not intentionally I hasten to add. It happened in the middle of the scene in the first half where Eddie was trying to persuade her that Rodolpho was no good and only after Catherine to get his passport.

Also, to my own embarrassment, during one run through in the third week, the flick knife that I use in the play to peel an apple in the first scene and then which Marco then stabs me with in the final scene, I just couldn’t get a grip on it as I tried to peel that bloody apple, and in my frustration I shouted something and then threw the rest of the apple at the nearest wall of the rehearsal room, without realizing that the knife was flying through the air too!!! Thank god it didn’t land anywhere near anyone who was sitting at the sides waiting to come on. It landed at least a couple of feet away from one of the cast!!!! But I’m not saying who it was that I nearly maimed, and no one pressed charges, so I think I got away with it.

What’s been your previous experience of Arthur Miller? How do you rate him as a playwright?
I met Arthur Miller once. At the National Theatre. At the backstage bar/green room in 1990, when I was a young ish actor in the company. I was at the bar ordering a drink and I recognized the voice next to me and I turned and found that Arthur Miller had also come over to the bar. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out “Oh my god it’s Arthur Miller!” He just smiled and raised an eyebrow. I immediately offered to buy him a drink. He looked at me and a smile cracked along his craggy face and he said, “Yeah okay kid. I’ll have a beer.” We chatted for a few minutes and he wished me success with my acting career. So I raise a beer to you now Mr Miller, wherever you are. This is my first opportunity to be in an Arthur Miller play, and I admire him greatly and consider him to be the greatest playwright of the 20th Century, along with Tennessee Williams. As I think it says in our programme, they are bookends of the American theatre in the 20th Century.

You’re also a playwright. Can you tell us about your play A Level Playing Field opening at the Jermyn Street Theatre next month? 
I’m incredibly excited about ‘A Level Playing Field’ which will be on at the Jermyn St Theatre which is considered ‘Off West End’, even though the theatre is literally a five minute walk from Picaddilly Circus. It’s about eleven 18-year-olds waiting in an Isolation period to do their last A Level exam. It’s funny and black and full of all the traumas and anxieties that any 18-year-old might be going through as they sit their A Level exams. It was inspired by son Abe’s experiences of doing his exams over the last couple of years, and I’m very proud to say that he will be playing Zachir, one of the boys in the play.

There are six boys and five girls, and the play opens as they arrive in the music room where they are going to spend the Isolation only to find that the room has been ‘Caged’. This means that the entire room has been covered in A4 size pictures of the same crazed looking Nicholas Cage. If anyone knows my play ‘Our Boys’ which is about a group of soldiers in a military hospital, this is my ‘Our Boys’ for students. One room, real time for 90 mins. 

Who were you in your first school play?
I was Second something or other in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. But I was hooked. I finally found something that I could do and that felt right. Also it meant that you got to hang out with girls from the girls school who came to be in our plays. It was also directed by the most incredible and inspiring teacher Mr Martin Preston. It’s thanks to him that I’m doing what I’m doing. A great man. A kind and generous man. A charismatic man.

What’s the best bit about touring theatre?
Seeing a different theatre each week. So far the Touring Consortium theatres they have been beautiful. Old Frank Matcham designed theatres mostly. And this week we are in the very beautiful Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton. It’s a real privilege to be on that stage. It may even be my favourite so far. The acoustic is superb, and the feeling one gets in that space is magical, considering it seats well over a thousand! Sometimes when I’m on stage I actually get a sudden rush of being part of something, something much bigger, a long line of theatre makers, and I think of who must have trodden those boards in the past. It’s very humbling.

Why should people come and see this production?
It’s a must-see as far as I’m concerned. Great play, great production. An honest, well made production, honouring what Arthur Miller, I think, would have wanted for his play. I promise you won’t be disappointed. And that’s a genuine promise. 

A View from the Bridge opened at Theatre Royal, Nottingham, where it ran from 4 to 7 March 2015. It then toured to Cheltenham, Darlington, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Coventry and Edinburgh, where it concluded on 2 May.