NEW YORK (AP) — If the Tony Award for best director was handed out on quantity alone, Jeremy Herrin would easily be the winner.
He has helmed the double bill stage adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor-era “Wolf Hall” saga and the sheer amount of work the Englishman has done over six hours of spellbinding theater is astounding.
Herrin trained at both the National Theatre and the Royal Court, where he became deputy artistic director in 2009 until 2012. He is currently the artistic director of Headlong theater company, which is known for its bold, fresh works.
In his hands, “Wolf Hall,” which follows Thomas Cromwell as he maneuvers through the court of King Henry VIII, feels less like a slog through history and more like “House of Cards” or “The Godfather.”
AP: These plays are fast and furious. Is that your directing style?
Herrin: I always feel it’s important to treat the audience with utmost respect. I’m a terrible audience member myself. I’ve got a terrible boredom threshold. That’s the thing that informs my work the most. I really want to mainline experience and sensation and excitement and intrigue and plot and theme and character development to the audience. I don’t want to waste a second.
AP: You identify with the audience first?
Herrin: They’re busy people. They’ve got baby sitters or parking bills adding up. They could be hundreds of other places. They paid for the privilege to be in your space. You’ve got to just give them everything you can. It felt like that was a really respectful way of keeping the audiences’ attention really taut onto Cromwell’s journey and not wasting a second.
AP: The result is that your cast deserves credit for almost an athletic achievement.
Herrin: I’ve always felt that you don’t want to come out to watch people doing things that you can see at home. When you go to a basketball game or a soccer game, you want to see utter skill, don’t you? You want to see virtuosos. I think an audience will go with you if they see that you’re working hard.
AP: Have you made any concessions to us Americans?
Herrin: I certainly didn’t feel that the audience needed patronizing in any way. In fact, in terms of the references and the knowledge, I would argue that the American audiences are much more knowledgeable than the London or the Stratford audiences. We were really pleased to find that they would laugh at references that people wouldn’t get in London.
AP: Your Cromwell is not really a classic hero, is he?
Herrin: I’d say he’s an anti-hero, really, because there’s something a bit unclear about his motivations. And that gives him an enigmatic quality. It means that we can stay with him over the course of the two novels and two plays and still be investigating what we think his deeper motivations are.
AP: Our audiences will recognize this Cromwell, won’t they?
Herrin: Yes. Cromwell, to me, feels very contemporary, in that his political motivations are probably pragmatic — about survival and about making small change within a system.
AP: He’s also a man of humble background who rises high.
Herrin: He’s there on merit, which is a very American narrative, isn’t it? It’s about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps — to start with nothing and to become all-powerful. It’s not dissimilar to Michael Corleone, in a way.
AP: Do you have to see ‘Part One’ before seeing ‘Part Two’?
Herrin: I think they should stand alone, so whatever suits peoples’ schedule. I would suggest going to see ‘Part One’ and, if you want to know more, stick around.
AP: What if someone only has three hours in New York. Which one should they see?
Herrin: You should see the second half of ‘Part One’ and the first half of ‘Part Two.’
AP: Do you hope to direct ‘Part Three’ when it’s finished?
Herrin: It’d be great. We’ve all worked really well together. Hilary is a novelist of genius. That’s really not in dispute. I think the thing is she needs to write what she needs to write and then, all being well, if she’s up for it — and I see no reason why she won’t be — then we’ll have a look at it and see how we can make it work.
AP: Have you managed to watch the six-part TV series that stars Mark Rylance?
Herrin: I only saw one in the middle of the night in a hotel room in New York. It struck me that ours is very different in terms of energy. It’s quite meditative and the shots are very slow. You’d be surprised if Cromwell gets anything achieved. The episode I saw, he spent a lot of the time looking out the window.
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