Interviews - James Reynard

James Reynard
Role: Timon

Do you recall what your first ever Shakespeare role was and can you tell us your thoughts on your first performance?

Hmm... have to cast the mind back for this one! I recall a workshop on “Macbeth” at school, but I think my first professional performance was as Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet”. I remember doing what I thought might work, but without much actual knowledge about acting! I think it was very exterior – someone in the cast said “Like a Christmas Tree, lots on the outside, but not much inside!” Anyway, I guess there was something inside as I got some very nice critiques and I learned a lot from the production (I played the same character twice more during subsequent years).

You have been incredibly prolific with Shakespeare in your career, more so than any other cast member. What draws you to Shakespeare again and again?

I’ve always liked Shakespeare, from quite an early age; I recall seeing a “Macbeth” opera on TV and being struck by the assassination of Banquo! I think the stories and characters are pretty amazing and can appeal to all ages if done with passion, fun and excitement. I’ve had the chance to play some incredible roles (a number of them more than once); there’s always more to discover and the fact they were written over 400 years ago by someone who could write as a King, Queen, peasant, soldier, layman and many others is pretty amazing.

I've actually got some numbers for you: you've acted in over 40+ Shakespeare productions. The rest of the cast put together have been in 61. How does that make you feel, to know we all look to you for Shakespeare brilliance.

Well, I wouldn’t look to me for Shakespearian brilliance! I just feel fortunate to have done so many productions in almost two thirds of the plays that were written. In “Misanthropos” I’m surrounded by a wonderful cast, which is an immense help, two of whom I’ve worked with before.

Of the Shakespeare roles you've done, which one would you like to have like another crack at? A role you feel you could encapsulate even more successfully a second (or third) time round?

Always an interesting question and one to which the answer probably always evolves; at present I’d have to say Leontes from “A Winter’s Tale”, which is a cracking role and I really enjoyed playing him; fascinating journey and character.

Now I have to mention this; we've actually acted together before. You directed me in a tour of “The Tempest" where you were Prospero and I was Caliban. Ironically I was your servant in that too. There are many parallels between the roles. Prospero and Timon are both noblemen, both good men and both find themselves in exile as a result of human greed (the greed of power and the greed of wealth). What differentiates the two men, for you?

One day we’ll swap and you can order me around! HA! I think both are pretty strong minded, but Prospero more so during his story and Timon more so before the play starts perhaps. The former let things slip whilst in charge and paid a price, but was skilful enough to regain his place; the latter was evidently a very successful General but maybe lost his focus once back in civilian society. He wants to be benevolent rather than giving the orders and is taken advantage of, even though he may be aware of this in the back of his mind. After his fall he becomes pretty violent, in thought at least, something Prospero holds back on with his brother and others, even though he has the capacity to do so, as he shows with his treatment of Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo.

Specifically focusing on “Misanthropos” now. The role of ritual is key in this film. How do you feel your character is part of/or detached from such ceremonies?

I feel ritual is very important to Timon; he wants to ‘do the right thing’; I don’t think he likes the idea of change, so in his mind what has been, must always be. Everything has to be done correctly and politely, rules of dining and social events adhered to, custom respected, ceremony performed precisely; even his treatment of his false friends has to be done with dignity, at least at first. Once he falls, it all changes though as he wants order to fall apart and humankind to suffer.

What challenges you most about this role, outside from the colossal number of lines? (FUN FACT: one of the largest roles in Shakespeare after Hamlet, Richard III and a couple of others).

Well, yes, lines, lines, lines... words, words, words... I think, with something like 16 or so pretty big speeches, it’s avoiding it all becoming one long rant against everything and everyone. During the second half, he is on the attack virtually all the time, which would become very tedious and tiring for an audience (and my voice!) so it’s finding those moments when he holds back and has reflection and lucidity within his attacks on all around him.

Was there any expectation you had about your character initially, that has now changed through the process of rehearsing with Maximianno?

This is tricky! I’m not sure there was any as such. Max gave me three very specific thoughts to do with Timon that are always in my mind: silently ambiguous, superficially joyful and introspectively sad. So I draw on those and they are ever present. Outside of that I really tried not to have too much expectation, I wanted to approach it all as a blank canvas. Though I knew a little about it, the play wasn’t one I’d read or seen, so I wasn’t really coming to it with any idea of how to portray the role.

Maximianno often speaks about the ‘false friends’ that surround Timon, do you feel they are the true antagonists of the film? And if not them, then what or whom is the TRUE antagonist?

I’m not sure the ‘false friends’ are antagonists as such, as they don’t really oppose him, though maybe they could be described as leeches! The councillors don’t particularly like him now his military service and use is over and reject his monetary requests. Apemantus could be considered an opponent, certainly in attitude, which Timon seems to know and maybe even needs; however, I don’t think he is there to actively destroy Timon. So, possibly the true antagonist is Timon’s own mind, in the sense that inside, he knows the truth regarding the ‘false friends’ and others around him, but won’t accept that he is being taken advantage of or that his world is on the edge of collapse.

Lastly, what do you take away from the story of Timon of Athens?

A sense of sadness, tinged with hope that things might change for the better, though I’m not sure they will. Hard to say when I’m buried under the sands...