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A Conversation with King Richard III and Queen Margaret

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A lot of good psychology here. Do you do a lot of backstory when you do parts? Of course, Shakespeare has given you a backstory with this one.

BEN: I’ve done more on this one than I’ve ever done before.

SARAH: Why don’t you tell him what you’re reading?

BEN: [Pause] I’ve been reading a lot of things.

SARAH: Specifically?

BEN: Ahhhhhhh [Sarah laughs]. I have read Machiavelli, and I’ve read Sun Tzu. And I read about Stalin. And what Sarah is getting at is that I’ve done a lot of reading on different serial killers. I’ve read about a bunch of them. But it’s been fun, especially when you’ve got FBI guys or criminal psychologists who are talking about the differences in them. And there’s part of me that says, if you looked at Richard, especially a shirtless Richard, you’d be like, "This guy, he looks like trouble." But then you listen to him in the Anne scene and he’s got his stuff together. I love it. He even says, “My tongue could never learn sweet soothing words.” I’m like, "That’s all you ever learned. [Laughter.] Besides killing people what you’re really good at, your tongue is just as sharp as your sword."

That’s true even in Part Three.

BEN and SARAH: Yeah.

BEN: But then there are other guys that you look at and the people are like, "As far as we can tell he was totally well liked, he was respected in the community. He used to have barbecues and people would come over. He looked like a likeable guy, a funny guy." And Richard is funny, you know? He certainly jokes with the audience, but also to other people, as well. He seems to get people to laugh. You mentioned that bit with Clarence, you know. It’s like the last good time he and Clarence have together. I sort of think that’s interesting that here’s a guy who looks like a freak but he’s able to convince people, or at least a certain percentage of people for a certain percentage of the time, that he’s a decent guy.

Do you see him as a serial killer?

BEN: Well, no. Well. OK. [Laughter]. It’s different in the fact that I don’t think there’s a sexual component to his killings and therefore I don’t think he qualifies. Also, I think the speech—

SARAH: He is not OK with women. The killing that he’s doing is not, you’re right, sexual, but he’s got issues with women.

BEN: In the first soliloquy of the show he’s equating violence and sex through the whole speech. The whole thing, now the war is over, all the other men in this court have a new outlet to put their energies into—so to speak—

The lascivious lute.

BEN: —and I don’t. They won’t talk to me. Dogs bark at me. They think that I am uglier than they are. So, this is what I’ve got. This is what I’ll be good at. The other similarity goes to what we were talking about before with the throne and how it becomes an obsession to him. And there’s a fantasy attached to that obsession in that prior to getting on the throne he feels like all the killings are [pause]—

SARAH: Justified?

BEN: —somewhat justified because they’re leading to a sort of happiness or normalcy in his life. But when he gets there, like most serial killers, reality is never as good as the fantasy and therefore they have to kill again because it’s what they’re good at and it’s where they feel the most powerful. That’s what he has in common with all of them is this idea of wanting to be in control, wanting to exert his power. If that means violently, then that means violently.

Where he differs from them most significantly is in that speech after the ghosts visit him. Most of these [serial killers] will deny up until the end that they had anything to do with anything. Bundy denied it, Gacy denied it. They all said, "I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it, I was framed." Richard wakes up from that nightmare and he tells the audience—his last chance to talk to the audience—he says, "I did all these things and I’m an awful person and what I want you to know before I die tomorrow is that my conscience really does prey on me.” And that’s exactly what Margaret, going back to how we started this conversation, Margaret says, “the worm of—

SARAH [joins in]: “conscience still begnaw thy soul.”

BEN: "That’s my curse for you."

SARAH: Yep.

BEN: "Because I know what’s in there, your father gave it to you, you know what you’re doing is wrong."

SARAH: “And no sleep close up that deadly eye of thine unless it be while some tormenting dream affrights thee with a howl of ugly devils.” Well, right before he dies—and obviously Radcliff knows that he’s murdered people—don’t you actually say the souls of all I killed or murdered?

BEN: Yes, but I must admit that’s a bit of my own creation.

SARAH: Ah-HAH!

BEN: Those last three lines to Radcliff are actually the last three lines of the speech.

SARAH: Oh, right. Right.

BEN: When I looked at Ralph’s cut [ASC cofounder and executive director Ralph Cohen], he had done that.

SARAH: Oh, I see. OK.

BEN: And when I read it, I said, "That reads really well."

SARAH: Yeah, yeah.

BEN: And if Ralph could get away with it, I feel like I’ve got papal sort of approval. And I do like it and I admit that it’s not what Shakespeare wrote, but it always seemed stupid to me to end the speech by saying. "I thought that all the ghosts were here." We know, we just watched it happen. I like Ralph’s idea; I thought it was more interesting.

But what I think is most interesting about that nightmare speech is that he admits that he has a conscience. He admits that he feels bad about what he has done to get where he is today, and that he had hoped that it would lead to a different outcome. I think the most significant line in the speech, and maybe even in the play, is that he says, "There is no creature that loves me, and that ultimately is why I’ll die tomorrow because no one really wants me to live, and if I die no one is going to feel bad."

There’s something in there about you love yourself.

BEN and SARAH: Richard loves Richard.

BEN: It’s not enough. Then, later in the speech, he says that’s a lie, he doesn’t. He says, "I hate myself for hateful deeds committed by myself."

That was such a great, great performance. How much did you put into nailing that speech?

BEN: What’s funny is that speech actually got shorter shrift than some of the other ones in terms of rehearsal because—

SARAH: It’s just you.

BEN: And I had worked into the rehearsal process while the band worked on music for preshow and interlude that I would give myself some time to work on speeches, and I would often ask René, our Buckingham, to come and watch them, give me some critiques or whatever. But he and I, we have such a good time doing that kind of work that we spent an hour and a half on “Now is the winter of our discontent,” and I had hoped to try and at least touch on that and “Was ever woman in this humor wooed?" By the time the next week rolled around and we had to start doing fight rehearsals and stuff, when that [last] speech rolled around, I don’t think I ever actually did that one for René. The advantage was we had done so much more of the play beforehand. For me, it was just draw on what you’ve been doing the past two hours.

It’s so rare, really, that any Shakespeare character, but particularly somebody like Richard or Margaret, admits his defeat. "All of my efforts have been for naught. You know, I got the crown but so what. I’m not any happier. Nobody likes me. I have even less friends than I did before I got the crown."

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