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Brian d’Arcy James on The Ferryman and Being Directed by Sam Mendes

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Actor Brian d’Arcy James delivers a tour de force performance as dashing and tormented Quinn Carney in the Broadway play, The Ferryman, winner of four 2019 Tony Awards including Best Play, Best Author (Jez Butterworth) and Best Director (Sam Mendes).

In the acclaimed three-act play, d’Arcy James leads a magnificent tapestry of ensemble actors through a mid-twentieth century piece taking place in Northern Ireland during a time of conflict between England and Ireland, against a backdrop of a family’s celebration of the season’s annual harvest.

Casualties of war and forbidden love come to a head among emotionally charged, generational relationships playing out on a multi-textured stage. For frequent and occasional theatre goers, alike, The Ferryman is a can’t miss Broadway experience.

This year, d’Arcy James can also be seen in films like The Kitchen starring Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish, a West Side Story reboot directed by Steven Spielberg, and Dark Phoenix starring Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy.

I sat down with Brian d’Arcy James to discuss his role in The Ferryman, being directed by the brilliant Sam Mendes, and having one foot on Broadway and the other in some of the coming year’s most anticipated films.

Allison Kugel: Your show, The Ferryman, is such a flawless piece of theatrical art; one of the most incredible theatre experiences I’ve ever had.

Brian d’Arcy James: That makes me so happy to hear.

Allison Kugel: The play is three hours and fifteen-minutes with intermission, but I didn’t feel the time.

Brian d’Arcy James: I hear that quite a bit. People go in acknowledging the time, but then they say that it was not a factor at all, which is such a testament to the storytelling.

Allison Kugel: In film, you can rest and re-generate between takes, but with theatre, and especially with such an intense play as this one, how do you sustain the life of your character on stage for three hours?

Brian d’Arcy James: I would even take it a step further, by including the actual run of the show. Not only are you doing it nightly, for three hours a night, but you are having to keep that character alive for months at a time. Let me first give credit to the preceding cast who spent a lot more time in the shoes of these characters than we have. My hat’s off to them for that reason, alone. It’s a tall order, and you have to leave the pilot light on at all times, with the burner set on a low burn.

That emotional life, the complexity of the situation that my character, and all the characters for that matter, find themselves in, requires a connection to that emotional life continuously throughout the run of the show. You have to open up and let that flame burn higher when you are doing the show. In order to do that, you have to keep it on a low burn in your own life, so that you are not sitting by a fireside with two sticks rubbing them together, hoping you can spark a flame during each performance.

Allison Kugel: The Ferryman is about a family living in Northern Ireland and it takes place during their annual harvest. One thing I found compelling, was that I learned a lot about the Irish people. I learned so much about Irish culture and customs, as well as some of Ireland’s past challenges in their once-ongoing conflict with England.

Brian d’Arcy James: Yes, that’s what’s called The Troubles (also called the Northern Ireland Conflict/c. 1968-1998). It goes back decades, and even centuries. The British Empire was claiming their space in the world and designating Northern Ireland as British territory. It’s the whole essence of the struggle for freedom and the oppression that is taking place in the north of Ireland at that time. That’s the larger context within the play. I’ve been in tune with that by virtue of my own family, and my own heritage (James is of Irish descent).

My great-great grandparents were from Ireland and they came over here. My grandparents were Irish American, but they were first generation, so I have always had a strong connection to my Irish heritage. Being an actor is the best sociological education you can get, by virtue of having to explore and understand whatever it is you’re working on. In my case I’ve been able to work on many different Irish plays, some of them in Ireland. So, my awareness of the history and the culture was immediate.

Allison Kugel: Although this is a dramatic play, there are some priceless comedic moments that had me rolling in my chair. Some of the generational humor with the older characters was priceless, and those moments are sprinkled throughout.

Brian d’Arcy James: The play is also filled with immense love, and all the intricate relationships that a big family brings. Often times when you have really funny, witty people going at each other and trying to up each other, basically doing their best to keep things lively; it is hilarious because these people are remarkable characters.

There is a great deal of humor and levity in this play just by virtue of the love that these characters have for each other. The show’s writer, Jez Butterworth, has done this incredible balancing act of keeping people entertained and enthralled by the humor of these people, and then having their world collapse by virtue of the circumstances they find themselves in.

Allison Kugel:  Let’s talk about the play’s director, Sam Mendes. Many people know of him from his work, directing Academy Award-winning films like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, starring his then-wife, Kate Winslet. Does a director who has worked in both film and theatre bring a wider perspective to your show?

Brian d’Arcy James: Sam’s gift is his ability to take big ideas and create moments that that serve the play and create a story where all of these themes can be heard and understood clearly. He is an expert at that. I do think that you are right in eluding to his skill as a director on film. I’m in rehearsals for West Side Story , which Steven Spielberg is directing, and we were talking about The Ferryman. He was telling me that he saw a production of Guys and Dolls at the National Theater and that it looked like it was directed like a film. He was seeing the parallels of what is happening on stage in a cinematic sense.

In mentioning the director, he said, “If this guy can direct a play like this, he’d be able to direct a film without even having to get out of bed.” In terms of my experience with Sam Mendes, he’s a brilliant mind. He has such a strong view of each moment of our play. It’s so great for any actor to receive that kind of direction, because it gives the actor confidence, and it gives the actor a lot of room to inflate to the best of their ability.

Allison Kugel:  The Ferryman cast has multiple generations of actors, from a small baby to children, teenagers, young men and women, and much older characters. You guys have a baby on stage! The actors are holding him, changing him, walking up and down a flight of stairs with him in their arms. It shocked me that the baby was compliant and behaving throughout the show.  For me, there was definitely this holding your breath aspect to it all, like “What’s going to happen here?” How do you direct a baby?

Brian d’Arcy James: You don’t. You let them be, which is what makes it so powerful. It’s the best acting you could ever ask for. Obviously, the main concern is logistics; making sure the babies are there, and having a couple of different babies there at all times in case one is cranky or can’t do it. Then they just have to be in someone’s arms or be on the stage, on the floor, you know, on the changing table. I’ve heard Jez [Butterworth] (the show’s writer and creator) talk about this a few times in terms of the baby and the live animals that we have in this play.

There is nothing more electric and exciting than knowing that something could go wrong. I believe he even said that was the first image he had, was of a baby on stage with the character of Aunt Maggie. That was the first image he had for the play; basically, the eldest and the youngest of a family. And then he filled in everything in between. It does add that element of, “What’s going to happen?” and, “How is this baby going to respond?” All bets are off with babies and animals.

Allison Kugel:  You got a rave review from the New York Times, where they called The Ferryman “the production of the year.” What do you think makes The Ferryman such a jewel of a show?

Brian d’Arcy James: The way the play is written, specifically [writer] Jez Butterworth’s imagination in creating this cogent, thrilling material, and to have each of these people on stage be so distinct, vibrant and unique; and yet have that sense of familial history. Then of course, there is the structure of the play and the drama of it. The obstacles these characters face and the despair. It’s a powerful combination of an imagination at work. [This play] can make you laugh and make you cry in two different lines that are back to back. It’s an absolute gift.

Allison Kugel:  You’re going be in X-Men: Dark Phoenix which is a real departure for you. What was it like for you to be on the set of X-men?

Brian d’Arcy James: In a strange way I have likened the two different experiences, because they’re all a form of art at its highest level. These are experts who know how to create these worlds filled with superheroes. For me, it was an eye-opening experience to be on the inside of how those things take place. You take the action sequences for granted when you see them on the screen but seeing all the nuts and bolts of how it takes place is quite an education. Anytime you are working with people who are at the top of their game, that’s an extraordinarily special thing.

Allison Kugel:  Since you’ve done a lot of great theatre as well as some film, what is your advice for popular film and television actors who might be nervous to try the rigors of doing Broadway? Or for television and film actors who are about to make their debut on Broadway?

Brian d’Arcy James: For someone who has never done it, it’s baptism by fire. There is no way to know other than to just jump in. It’s important to know that it does require conditioning, and it’s a different tempo, in terms of doing a two and a half hour or three-hour play. It’s not fifteen second increments that are captured over a period of two months. It’s the awareness of the difference in terms of what the tempo is and what it is going to take to sustain that. It’s just a different animal. To use a sports analogy, it’s like training for a marathon, as opposed to training for short sprints. Both mediums have their merit, and both are important when you need to do them. But they require a different type of conditioning.

Brian d’Arcy James is appearing in the Tony Award-winning Broadway play, “The Ferryman,” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre at 242 W. 45th Street in New York City. For tickets and information, visit TheFerrymanBroadway.com.

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‘Abigail’: Bite Me Harder Tiny Dancer

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A gang of misfit kidnappers find their tiny target far more bloodthirsty than they bargained for! 

So, unfortunately, the trailers gave it away and let’s be real that’s why most of us are here, the knowledge that the kidnap victim Abigail (Alisha Weir), codenamed by the would-be kidnappers appropriately as ‘tiny dancer’, is in fact, a vampire. Not a spoiler, point of fact, one of the film’s actual great selling points. And the reactions from the misfit club when faced with a real actual f*cking vampire, range hilariously from the blunt “no such thing as vampires” all the way to, “Are we talking True Blood or Twilight rules or what?” all while covered in buckets and buckets of blood. 

Anyway, the gang manages to subdue and abscond with the aforementioned Abigail, in a pre-prepared duffle bag, like you do, and converge to a new location, a house oddly similar to the one she was just taken from. Welcomed and given codenames by a man who introduces himself as Lambert (Giancarlo Esposito), our misfit club is told to simply hold down the fort in this strange old house with the girl chained up in a room and one person to attend her, for twenty-four hours, and they’ll all get paid. 

As inevitable as the tides, the dopey druggie Dean (Angus Cloud) is the first to die, and we’re going to give that death-style points for inspiring terror right off the bat. The very controlling Frank (Dan Stevens, holy crap yes that is the guy from FXs Legion) is also of course the most suspicious – of everyone around him, sure, but also he himself is totes sus. We don’t learn terribly much about the musclebound tank who gets dubbed Peter (Kevin Durand), he’s your pretty typical little-brains-heart-of-gold muscle-for-hire any proper gang needs, right down to the bottle problem. Sammy (Kathryn Newton), well, even for being a purported hacker-type, she has, like, reality issues. Rickles (William Catlett), he’s arguably the most dangerous among them, ex-military and yet somehow here and involved in kidnapping for a few mills. Joey (Melissa Barrera) is our Final Girl, and though she has the inevitable problems in her recent past, she seems more capable of doing the hard thing and still somehow empathizing at the end of the day. Must be her burning desire to get back with her son. 

The fit hits the shan pretty quickly, and Abigail morphs from tiny dancer to tiny monster, though honestly, the way Abigail spoke the entire time in the film, if the ‘nappers had been paying close enough attention, would have been a solid clue. The performance from Alisha Weir as Abigail is incredible, as she literally dances a fine line between comedy, tragedy, and outright monstrosity. With a face full of makeup and the force of a tiny tornado to back it up, Weir brings to mind the great performances of the vampires in 30 Days of Night who saw the practicality in the need to trap their food, but also, play with it a bit first before feasting! Anything else would give away the absolute fun time that is Abigail, so you should go see it, out in theaters now!

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Scrubs Reunion: The Band Gets Back Together

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Fans of the beloved medical comedy series Scrubs were recently treated to a thrilling surprise when John C. McGinley, who portrayed the iconic Dr. Perry Cox, dropped a photo on Twitter hinting at a potential reunion project. The image, showing McGinley alongside his former co-stars, sparked a wave of excitement and speculation among fans who have been longing for more adventures with the beloved Sacred Heart Hospital staff.

While details about the reunion project are still scarce, the mere possibility of seeing the gang back together again has sent waves of nostalgia through fans who fondly remember the show’s original run from 2001 to 2010. Scrubs was not just a sitcom; it was a heartfelt exploration of friendship, love, and the chaotic world of medicine, all wrapped up in a quirky and often hilarious package.

At the heart of the show was the bromance between JD (played by Zach Braff) and Turk (played by Donald Faison), whose antics and deep bond served as the emotional anchor for the series. Their dynamic, along with the sage wisdom (and relentless sarcasm) of Dr. Cox, provided viewers with memorable moments that have stood the test of time.

As we eagerly await more news about the Scrubs reunion project, one thing is for sure: it’s time to dust off those old DVDs, rewatch our favorite episodes, and get ready to welcome back our favorite gang of doctors, nurses, and janitors for what promises to be a memorable reunion.

But Scrubs was more than just its main characters. The supporting cast, including the eccentric Janitor (played by Neil Flynn), the neurotic Elliot (played by Sarah Chalke), and the wise-cracking nurse Carla (played by Judy Reyes), each brought their own unique flavor to the show, creating a rich tapestry of characters that fans grew to love.

While the photo shared by McGinley has fueled speculation about what the reunion project might entail, whether it’s a one-off special, a new season, or something else entirely, one thing is certain: fans are eagerly awaiting any opportunity to dive back into the world of Sacred Heart Hospital.

In an age where reboots and revivals are commonplace, Scrubs stands out as a series that has the potential to recapture the magic that made it a fan favorite in the first place. With its blend of humor, heart, and unforgettable characters, a reunion project has the opportunity to not only satisfy longtime fans but also introduce a new generation to the joys of life at Sacred Heart.

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‘The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’: Rebellion with a cause

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The story of the rise of Coriolanus Snow, from teenage Capital City pawn to rising Dictator of the Hunger Games! 

Apparently no one out here in post-apocalyptic Panem has heard of irony and so they name their children things like Coriolanus (Tom Blyth), Tigress, and further off in Hunger Games lore, after swamp plants like Katniss. Corio’s father was a legendary general and that is pretty much the only reason young Snow and his meager family of grandmother called Grandma’am (Fionnula Flanagan) and sister Tigress (Hunter Schafer) are tolerated here in the Capital City at all. 

Most of the snotty youngsters at the academy won’t let Snow forget how far his family has fallen, but he’s generally not concerned with them. What is concerning is the strong disapproval of the drugged-up Dean Casca Highbottom (Peter Dinklage) and the creepy attention of Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Viola Davis) as she lurks in the classroom sniffing out talent. The Dean feels very strongly the annual Hunger Games should end, while Gaul is violently adamant that not only do the Games continue, but that they get as much more attention as possible. And young Snow is stuck in the middle, when the yearly prize money normally awarded to the academy student with the best grades gets switched out for, you guessed it, the student that can make this years’ Hunger Games as entertaining as possible. 

Whilst the students are protesting this sudden change, the annual Reaping is about to commence, and big shock and surprise, Corio’s candidate from District 12 Lucy Grey Baird (Rachel Zegler) is chosen as a Tribute. This is where the film begins to really take off on musical wings, for as it turns out, Lucy Grey can sing. Boy, can that gal sing! She can sing, she can play guitar, she can work a crowd, she can calm things down, she can fire ‘em up too! And Corio, being no dummy himself, instantly plots ways to use his Tributes amazing voice to draw attention to her, and admittedly his own, plight! 

Though far too many people sneer at the idea, Corio takes his position as Mentor to his Tribute seriously enough to sneak onto the tram taking the Tributes to their habitat, which turns out to be a completely appropriate moniker, as this year the Tributes are held before the Hunger Games in a large zoo habitat so the weatherman ‘Lucky’ Flickerman (Jason Schwartzman), host of this years games, can MC the hell out of everything up close and personal! 

What happens at this years Hunger Games and the subsequent consequences to both Corio and Lucy Grey is actually only half the story, and the movie. Coriolanus has always had to be opportunistic, but learning to be absolutely ruthless when necessary under the tutelage of Dr. Gaul, who basically thinks it’s always best to be merciless, is an eye-opening education indeed.  Even after they’ve both been consigned to military service and his friend Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andres Rivera) decides to finally rebel, Corio and Sejanus continue to deceive each other and themselves, to accomplish their separate goals. Not even the love Corio swears he feels for Lucy Grey can save him, or them, from the adamant absolute necessity of the Hunger Games continuing. And after all that’s happened, Coriolanus Snow has gotten a terrific education in the best way to be the absolutely ruthless next Hunger Games advocate, and oh yeah, President of Panem. 

The movie does itself no favors by trying to stuff not one but two major storylines and a bunch of side storylines sadly introduced and then ignored, into the film. It would have been entirely possible to turn Ballads of Songbirds and Snakes into two different movies, separated between feathers and scales if you like, and do justice to the major storylines in both. Blyth gives a fine  performance as a young Coriolanus Snow, but the fact that President Snow is played by Donald Sutherland in all three of the Hunger Games films means Blyth has incredibly large shoes to fill. Rachel Zegler as Lucy Grey is absolute fire, and yes the actress did sing the songs in the film herself, including the Hunger Games franchise epic song, ‘The Hanging Tree’. Every time Lucy Grey opens her mouth and sheer soul-searing music comes out, it provides a distinct counterpoint to the soul-crushing ambition of Coriolanus Snow and further demonstrates the District and Caste separation Hunger Games is known for. And if, by the end of the film, Coriolanus Snow has come to agree that the Hunger Games must continue but perhaps under his own auspices, he has no one but himself to blame when another younger but still rebellious female blows it all up in his face! 

Choose rebellion or conformity for yourself in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

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