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A Conversation with King Richard III and Queen Margaret

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Did playing Humphrey bring anything to your Richard at all? Or did you just totally separate the characters?

BEN: [He lets loose a sly laugh.] No, my hatred of Margaret was very much influenced. [Sarah laughs.] And also, what I was saying before about there being no rules, Humphrey very much is trying to play by the rules. His nephew is the son of Henry V, his older brother, and he’s trying to make sure the kid is taken care of, even when his own wife is saying, "You should take the gloves off. You know these people all want to kill you. They’re all jealous of the power that you have and they don’t care about the rules like you do." But Gloucester is like, “That’s what makes me better than them, because I do care about those rules and those rules are important, it’s what makes us something other than savage.” But I feel like, for him to wind up—oh god, it was one of my favorite things to do in the whole tetralogy, that scene where Henry VI says to Humphrey, "We’re placing you under arrest, but don’t worry, there’s going to be a trial," and Humphrey essentially says, “Do you really think I’m going to live to see that trial? You know, watch your back, kid, because you’ve just sent the only friend you’ve got out of this world. Good luck.” And then he winds up dead in his bed.

So I feel like, to look into Richard, it’s just another example that it’s no use to play by the rules if no one else is playing by the rules. The only rule is to be more brutal than the next guy, to think quicker, to be nastier, to make that much better of a statement, let them know that you are not to be trifled with.

Did you increase your hump in Richard?

BEN: Did I increase my hump?

It seemed bigger in Richard than it did in Part Three.

BEN: Um, nope. I wear different clothes. In Henry VI Three I wore just the one coat, and in Richard III, I wore three different coats.

And you pulled the glove off and [the hand] is all black.

BEN: Yeah, with some pustules and some nasties. That’s Allison Glenzer.

SARAH: That’s Allison Glenzer. I think you’ve added some pustules since the last time he’s seen it.

BEN: Oh yeah, probably.

I only remember seeing black.

BEN: Yeah, we added some green and then some big red sores and stuff like that.

SARAH: Yeah, it’s great. It’s really disgusting.

So did you have to go through a lot of makeup for, what, one second? One minute?

BEN: Pretty much. [Laughter.] It’s all right, though. I feel like, you know, he clearly shows it to everybody. I’ve seen productions where he just holds up the gloved hand, and I could have done that. I think it would have been really fun to try to web the fingers together somehow.

SARAH: Oh yeah.

BEN: You know?

SARAH: Yeah.

BEN: But then I couldn’t wear a glove, I’d need a special glove. But I love that scene where he pulls the hand out, especially because he goes to Buckingham and he says [about the plan to grab the power out of Hasting's hands], "It’s not going to work, it’s not going to work," and Buckingham says, “Withdraw with me.” So they go off, and I really think that it’s Buckingham’s idea. I love to imagine what that conversation would be of Buckingham trying to tactfully tell Richard [Ben’s voice alters here to sound much like Thornton], “what if, and I know you’re very sensitive about these things and I apologize to bring it up”—

SARAH: And Renè would be really good with this. [Laughing]

BEN: He really would. He’d be like, “Um, I feel like we’ve got to talk about that hand. I think if you show them the hand and the hump and we say that the people behind this are Edward’s widow and Hasting’s lover, that casts him in a bad light, and we could get rid of him.” Good enough for me. I don’t mind showing it to people as long as we get rid of Hastings. As long as we get rid of Hastings, I’ll do whatever it takes.

And that’s another part, too, Hastings is such a—I don’t really know what to think of it but if you’ve been in Henry VI Three then you know that King Edward loves Hastings. And if you’re playing Richard, then you’re like, "Why do you love Hastings so much? What’s wrong with me that you don’t love your own brother as much as you love Hastings?" But Hastings isn’t a mutant. Edward and Hastings can go out and chase girls together. You can’t take Richard. Richard and Hastings are in a bunch of scenes together, and they fight Margaret and stuff on the same side, but [Richard] must harbor that resentment. "Why does the king favor you over me? He shouldn’t. You’re a bum."

You were the dramaturg for Richard III?

BEN: I don’t know about a dramaturg; I cut the play. I did do some history stuff that I shared with people.

Did you have that role in Part Three?

BEN: I did cut Part Three, too.

How much forecasting, knowing what’s coming, played into your Richard in the prequels?

BEN: Hmmm. Barely any in Part Two, because he has so little to do in Part Two. I’ve learned much more about Parts Two and Three having played Richard III rather than vice versa.

Interesting. So you’d like to go back and do it again?

BEN: Absolutely.

SARAH: Yeah.

BEN: Absolutely.

SARAH: Yes, please.

BEN: I would do those plays whenever anybody wanted them.

SARAH: Oh yes.

You ought to go on the road with this thing. That would be cool.

BEN: That would be great. The only thing I regret is that I wish we could have done it in one Ren Season, do all four plays.

SARAH: Yeah.

BEN: We could never do it because the audience wants a variety, and I understand that, but I think as artists it would be nice.

But she brought up [in the previous year's interview] how every time she came back to it, she was a year older.

SARAH: Yes, but there’s a part of me that would love to do it all back to back to back, even if it was just for a weekend, the "Tetralogy Weekend," Henry VI and Richard III. It doesn’t make any financial sense, certainly, to do it, but it would be so much fun just to get to do it like that.

BEN: I think especially all that stuff from the trilogy that’s discussed in Richard III, if it was fresh. That would be great.

But I didn’t spend any time on the Henry VI Two or Three reading Richard III. I was just trying to figure out what’s going on at this point. So, the best thing I can say is having done Richard III, I’ve learned more about what I would have wanted to do in those two parts, even in Part Two, as very little as Richard is in that.

SARAH: Have you ever been in Richard III before?

BEN: Yes.

SARAH: So you knew the general story.

BEN: Yeah. Richard III has always been one of my favorites. I played Clarence when I did it in New York, and I’ve always loved it. But having done Richard III, there’s so much about what goes on in those other two plays that you’re like, “oh, that wasn’t by happenstance,” you know what I mean?

SARAH: Yeah.

BEN: You know, Shakespeare is always smarter than you think. Even when you think that he’s smart, he’s smarter than you think. Like, when we were doing Henry VI Two I just thought it was cool that I got to be in a fight, that you got to see him fight. But having done Part Three, I was like oh, no, no, no, that’s really significant who he sought out on the battlefield. I have this image of Richard just sort of looking around for the colors of Somerset saying, "The only one I want to fight with is my father’s worst enemy." Because, he goes into the beginning of Henry VI Three not only having killed Somerset, his father’s worst enemy, he goes to his father with the head of the guy, brings a trophy from his kill, and he shows it to his father—

SARAH: Look, daddy.

BEN: —And he says, "Look what I did for you. I want you to know that I am worth your time and that I am a valuable asset to this family." And his father does say, "You deserve the best. You did, you swept that crumb under the rug for me. I’ll never have to deal with that again."

SARAH: It’s so important that we know that Richard is a valiant and able fighter as well, because he is deformed, but through all of his plays it’s going to be really important that’s he’s actually very valuable on the battlefield. He’s not to be trifled with just because he’s a cripple. In fact, that makes him more vicious.

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