• This interview is featured on broadway.com •
Since holding his own as a newcomer opposite powerhouses like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Linda Emond and Andrew Garfield in Mike Nichols’ Death of a Salesman on Broadway in 2012, Finn Wittrock has enjoyed many well-deserved big moments in Hollywood: an Emmy-nominated turn on American Horror Story: Freak Show (and showy roles on each subsequent season of the FX hit), a part in the SAG Award-nominated ensemble of the indie hit The Big Short and high-profile turns in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, the acclaimed HBO film version of The Normal Heart and more. Now, he’s back on the theater scene doing back to back productions of Othello at New York Theater Workshop, which opens December 12 with David Oyelowo as Othello and Daniel Craig as Iago, and the hotly-anticipated The Glass Menagerie with Sally Field and Joe Mantello on Broadway in February. Broadway.com recently caught up with the stage and screen talent to talk about his golden year.
Hey Finn! So happy to have you back on the boards this season. It’s nice to see you doing great in Hollywood, but we like to think of you as one of us.
In my bones you know I am.
I was looking back on your Broadway.com Fresh Face feature during the run of Death of a Salesman. At that time, you said, “I would love to do Shakespeare in New York. You get thirsty to say those words again.” Safe to say the thirst is now quenched?
Definitely being quenched. It’s funny—I remember saying that.
I assume playing Cassio in director Sam Gold’s Othello with this incredible cast was too good of an offer to pass up.
It sure was. It’s never an easy decision to move your whole life and come back to the city you just left a year before, but it really was a project I couldn’t pass up on. This group of people and the chance to do Shakespeare. And the chance to work with Sam—he has a vision that is something exciting to help bring to the world. I’m really happy he brought me on.
So what are audiences in for with this new Othello?
It’s not your grandfather’s Othello. Tagline. [Laughs] So far, audiences have been very surprised and shocked and moved at the same time. It’s a modern setting—when you walk in, you’re in some kind of military barracks somewhere in the Middle East. There’s guns, uniforms, video games. But other than that, we’re really just doing the play. It’s very exciting. Sam is very good at making things relevant to the modern audience—visceral, raw and current—but the most important thing is we’re telling the play as written. It’s a big, bold task that Sam is pulling off so it’s really exciting.
<blockquote class=”instagram-media” data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-version=”7″ style=” background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% – 2px); width:calc(100% – 2px);”><div style=”padding:8px;”> <div style=” background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50.0% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;”> <div style=” background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAABGdBTUEAALGPC/xhBQAAAAFzUkdCAK7OHOkAAAAMUExURczMzPf399fX1+bm5mzY9AMAAADiSURBVDjLvZXbEsMgCES5/P8/t9FuRVCRmU73JWlzosgSIIZURCjo/ad+EQJJB4Hv8BFt+IDpQoCx1wjOSBFhh2XssxEIYn3ulI/6MNReE07UIWJEv8UEOWDS88LY97kqyTliJKKtuYBbruAyVh5wOHiXmpi5we58Ek028czwyuQdLKPG1Bkb4NnM+VeAnfHqn1k4+GPT6uGQcvu2h2OVuIf/gWUFyy8OWEpdyZSa3aVCqpVoVvzZZ2VTnn2wU8qzVjDDetO90GSy9mVLqtgYSy231MxrY6I2gGqjrTY0L8fxCxfCBbhWrsYYAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;”></div></div> <p style=” margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;”> <a href=”https://www.instagram.com/p/BLTXyT3DiPi/” style=” color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;” target=”_blank”>It really is a dream to have written something for the New York Times. Shakespeare and Company, coming back to you! Check out link in bio.</a></p> <p style=” color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;”>A photo posted by @finnwittrock on <time style=” font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;” datetime=”2016-10-08T12:55:00+00:00″>Oct 8, 2016 at 5:55am PDT</time></p></div></blockquote>
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Does being around the words take you back to your childhood, getting up on stage at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts?
We never did a production quite like this! [Laughs] But just to get to listen to the play… Most of us are onstage for the entirety of the show or, when not onstage, not far enough away that we have any choice but to listen to it, so hearing it every night does bring me back to my youth.
You shot a new movie of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, didn’t you? Isn’t that also modern?
Yes, I’m Demetrius. I don’t know what’s up with that film. It was very cool and modern. Basically the woods of Athens are the woods of Malibu. And the house of Hermia is a Hollywood movie studio. It’s a clever idea and Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe are also in it, so we got to finally do Shakespeare together, which we’d been dying to do. I hope it comes to a theater near you soon!
I loved see you pop on screen in the new movie musical La La Land as Emma Stone’s date. But no singing and dancing for you!
For everyone’s sake! [Laughs]
What was it like being on the set? That movie has such a fresh energy.
It does, I know. I had a scene with Emma Stone that was actually cut out. It was mostly a great opportunity to work with her. During the read-through of the whole script, [director] Damien Chazelle was reading the scene directions and played us songs off a tape and you could tell just by the way he was reading it that he had the whole thing in his head and the concept was already living in his brain. Whenever that happens, it’s a very unique and special thing. I knew it was gonna be great, even when they all weren’t so sure!
But bummer that your big musical number wound up on the cutting room floor!
Ha! Sure, our big tap dancing, flying on the ceiling scene was cut! [Laughs] Such is Hollywood.
I’m a big Dandy Mott fan. It’s been so fun to watch you come back every season for American Horror Story and play all these crazy characters opposite so many great stage actors. Is it ridiculous that I dream of a Broadway version that you can all star in together?
[Laughs] You should put that in print because [AHS creator] Ryan Murphy reads everything and he might just have a great idea!
Would you be game to do it?
Yeah, sure. I’ll bring Dandy to the stage!
You were terrific in Sweet Bird of Youth at the Goodman Theatre. So happy to see you doing more Tennessee Williams, playing the Gentleman Caller in the upcoming Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie. Again, with Sam Gold directing!
Yeah, it’s my year with Sam Gold. My golden year! You know, we were actually at Julliard together. He directed a few plays while I was there and, randomly, he directed our senior showcase! [Laughs] So it’s been fun to watch his meteoric rise. It’s all come full circle and now I can’t get away from him. This is really a one-two punch doing these back to back. I’ll be rehearsing Glass and then running down to Othello at night. I’ve always wanted to do the Gentleman Caller since I was in school. In my first year of Julliard, I did a scene from it in Richard Feldman’s directing class and I’ve always been enthralled by it. I feel like there’s more to that character than meets the eye or some people think. He’s not a stereotype. And the rest of the play is so magical and so sad so I said, what the hell and decided to do both shows. We did a three-week workshop in July with Sally [Fields], Joe [Mantello] and Madison [Ferris] and, knock on wood, it was magical. The chemistry of all of us together, with Sam and then [producer] Scott Rudin, who’s at the helm. You just know you’re in good hands.
So did anyone explain what the big sculpture on the Glass Menagerie poster symbolizes?
[Laughs] I have no idea! I have an idea, but I’ll leave it to your own imagination!