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.
Joy Ride Is An Extremely Raunchy And Hilarious Comedy
Joy Ride is an extremely raunchy and hilarious comedy that takes the mantle of ensemble risky
comedies that at times, leave your mouth on the floor. Joy Ride focuses on two best friends
Audrey and Lolo (Ashley Sullivan and Sherry Cola) end up getting roped up into a trip to Asia,
they end up on gals pal cross-continent trek to find Audrey’s long lost birth mother so she
doesn’t lose a huge business deal.
The chemistry in this movie is superb. Every character has their moment to shine and there’s
rarely a scene where you don’t get a belly laugh. I was shocked at how crazy and bold this
movie got, continually pushing the line to get a laugh. The movie does a good job of getting to
the point and getting to the scenes that really make you chuckle. There are some editing choices where the story flies by some stuff, and it feels a little incomplete, but never at the expense of really enjoying being around for the journey.
I thought that this was a sleeper for this year and certainly a movie worth watching with your
friends some weekend. It’s great to throw on if you want a laugh and really just enjoy some
great actors riffing off each other. The focus on culture was a nice touch and really elevated the movie to another level. While I would say if you’re easily offended, this movie is not for you – if you’re looking for a no holds barred comedy, Joy Ride is a trip worth taking.
Who Doesn’t Want To Wear The Ninja Suit Of Snake-Eyes Or Dress Like The Mandalorian?
Hasbro has had their pulse app out for a while now. It allows for access to items to buy, preorder, and a look into future projects and releases. It also allows for a very cool thing most nerds (a group of which I am a proud card-carrying member) have always wanted, the ability to make yourself into an action figure. I’ve contemplated making one for a time but, I finally got my chance to get my hands on one at Comic-Con this year. Now, of course, I had to wait in line as it was a pretty sought-after item. Who doesn’t want to have themselves wear the ninja suit of Snake-Eyes or dressed like a Mandalorian? I was approached by one of the booth staff as I was showing my nephew all the cool ways we could get him his own MIles Morales action figure with his face (as he’s a massive fan) and invited to take a seat and scan our faces into the Hasbro Pulse app with the help of their awesome team and make this dream a reality. My wife was with us, so of course she got in on the fun too. We scanned our faces in and it was very simple and quick. Then we all selected our figures to add our heads to. We all chose Power Rangers(Me as the Black Ranger, my wife chose the pink ranger and the nephew got the red ranger). Then we were told that we needed to wait about 4-6 weeks and we’d have our custom action figure team in our hands. This was a major part of our Comic-Con adventure and definitely, a memory my wife and nephew won’t forget (as it was both of their first Con ever). Thank you to Hasbro for being so generous(also getting me brownie points that home) and I highly suggest checking out Hasbro Pulse and all the cool stuff it has to offer.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter: Double-knock on wood!
Adapted and written largely from the Captain’s Log chapter of Bram Stoker’s magnum opus Dracula, The Last Voyage of the Demeter tells the story of Dracula’s journey by ship from Carpathia to London, and what happened to her crew in the interim.
So here we are in Bulgaria, middle of 1897, and Captain Eliot (Liam Cunningham) of the Russian schooner Demeter is here to take on some strange cargo from some unknown client and transport it to Carfax Abbey in London. In need of some extra hands, the Captain sends out his capable Second Wojchek (David Dastmalchian) to scout for some, and initially the roving black doctor and aspiring philosopher Clemens (Corey Hawkins) is passed over in favor of more work-roughened men. The adorable cabin boy of the Demeter, Toby (Woody Norman), narrowly misses being crushed by the mysterious dragon-marked crates being loaded onto the ship, saved by Clemens himself and switched out with the superstitious sailors running from the Demeter like they had been poisoned by the sign of Dracul. And now, armed with some nine or so crewmen, Doc Clemens, and Captain Eliot himself, the twenty-four strange what looks like coffins adorned with dragon signs brought mostly safely aboard, the Demeter can make for open water and the Hell that awaits them there.
The duty of showing Clemens around the ship falls to a cheerful Toby, who proudly shows him the living areas, the Captain’s quarters, the very-large cargo hold, the galley and kitchen where the overly-devout Joseph (Jon Jon Briones) cooks the crews meals, the various above decks, even the sails, and the rigging are all at least touched on, and the livestock pens that Toby himself is in charge of, including the handsome good-boy doggy Huckleberry, or just Huck. We the audience get a very clear feeling of what it’s like to actually be aboard the Demeter, just how large she really is, and what living on a ship for months at sea is really like, the reality and practicality and the dangers of it.
Everyone more or less settles in for a hopefully uneventful voyage, taking mess around the common table and exchanging ideas or aspirations for when they arrive in London early thanks to the fair winds, and receive a handsome bonus for their troubles. But that involves being alive and making it to London to spend said bonus and pay, and the coffin crates spilling dark soil from the motherland and disgorging all sorts of other nasty secrets, have some serious plans to the contrary.
First, it’s the livestock, innocent and shrieking in their locked pens as a monster takes great furious bites out of their necks, and of course, the creature just straight up ruins poor doggy Huck. Then there’s the fully grown girl that gets dislodged from an open coffin-crate, covered in bite scars and as pale as death, she eventually starts interacting and talking after several blood transfusions from Doc Clemens, Toby learns her name is Anna (Aisling Franciosi). And then, as the weather turns foul and the winds begin to be a serious problem, the attacks turn toward the remaining humans onboard the Demeter.
Most people these days are familiar with Dracula, that gorgeous cunning vampire Elder who can supposedly transform into a bat or a wolf, seducing women to voluntarily offer up their veins like an unholy sacrament, a being at once beautiful and powerful, but also horrific and murderous if given half a heartbeat to smell your blood. This is not Dracula.
Instead, the creature that hunts the humans occupying the Demeter is an absolute monster, not a single human feature left to it, barely even recognizable as humanoid-shaped, instead boasting not just full-length bat wings but an entire exo-skin of bat membranes that can be used for feeding, a mouth full of needle-like teeth akin to a predator of the deepest darkest parts of the ocean, those yellowed Nosferatu eyes that will not tolerate light in any way, and of course giant pointy bat-ears. This is a thing, a grotesque straight from the depths of Hell, and no amount of glamor magic can make this Dracula (Javier Botet) seem like anything other than what he, is – a parasitic demon who only wants your blood. There is no reasoning with it, no trapping it, not even really any talking to it (kinda hard to talk when your throat has been ripped out), and, like the much more frightening Dracula stories of old, no amount of pure faith behind a symbol does anything other than give false hope.
Coming face to face with an actual abomination does different things to different people. The formerly delightfully foul-mouthed Abrams (Chris Walley) dissolves into a blubbering mess; poor Larsen (Martin Furulund) didn’t even get to see his own death coming; and it turns out Olgaren (Stefan Kapicic) wants to live so badly, he’ll suffer becoming a blank-eyed Renfield if that’s what it takes. All of Cook Joseph’s purported pure faith didn’t stop him from trying to take the coward’s way out and didn’t save him anyway when the sound of unnatural bat wings descended on him. I find that kind of irony delicious. Dear Anna, resigned to her fate to be eternal food for the horror that terrorized her village, nevertheless wants to try and save whoever is left of the Demeter with her own sacrifice, and there aren’t many. Wojchek of course wants to kill Dracula, but for all his logic and solid practical nature, has no experience whatsoever with this sort of thing, and sure doesn’t want to sacrifice the Demeter, the beloved ship he called home that was promised to him by Captain Eliot himself, in order to destroy that demon. Even poor sweet Toby isn’t safe from the creature’s clutches, and what happens to the cabin boy of the Demeter is what finally sends Captain Eliot over the blooming edge. And who could blame him? For this sort of thing to happen during the last voyage of such a proud, solid ship as the Demeter, is some serious bullsh*t.
To leave such a film open for a potential sequel, especially when called the last voyage of something, was a pretty hefty ask, and somehow the filmmakers managed it. I personally think a different version of Van Helsing, the infamous vampire hunter, teaming up with a certain black doctor who nurses a serious grudge against Dracula, could be a kickass sequel. Until then, experience the doomed final journey of the Demeter and her poor crew in all it’s bloodstained glory, in theaters now!