An interview with Tom Hardy & Philip Seymour Hoffman about the play The Long Red Road from the Chicago Sun Times, Feb 19 2010 (no link available):
Enter the Internet’s information highway — and follow the signs to American Indian sites — and you will discover the profoundly spiritual meaning of the term “red road.” One guidepost reads this way: “To walk the Red Road is to know sacrifice, suffering. It is to understand humility. It is the ability to stand naked before the Creator in all things for your wrong doings, for your lack of strength, for your discompassionate way, for your arrogance — because to walk the Red Road, you always know you can do better. And you know, when you do good things, it is through the Creator, and you are grateful.”
All this (or maybe it’s just the frigid Chicago weather) might help explain the mix of mild obfuscation, borderline depression and self-deprecating humor that seems to wrap itself around all three of the men most closely involved in the Goodman Theatre’s world-premiere production of “The Long Red Road.”
The trio includes playwright Brett C. Leonard (whose starkly poetic “Guinea Pig Solo,” a play about an Iraq war veteran, was produced here in 2005 by Collaboraction), director Philip Seymour Hoffman (the Academy Award-winning actor, whose uncanny portrayal of Truman Capote is just one of his many masterful turns) and British actor Tom Hardy (the busy young star of theater, films and television who played Heathcliff in the Masterpiece Classic version of “Wuthering Heights” seen on PBS, and whose important early roles were in the TV miniseries “Band of Brothers” and the film “Black Hawk Down”).
At lunch recently, the 32-year-old Hardy — a slim, dark, bad-boy handsome man with uneven teeth and full lips — sat hunched over his Blackberry, tightly zipped into his North Face jacket, with a plaid wool scarf wrapped securely around his neck and stubbly chin. Sharing the table was Hoffman, 42, looking as disheveled and unwashed as a college student, with scraggly hair and beard, grungy jeans and layers of T-shirts.
Both men ordered the veal meatloaf, and as they cleaned their plates they spoke nervously about the dark drama they were probing. “The play is the story of two brothers and two families,” Hoffman said. “Sam [Hardy’s character] lives in a studio apartment on a South Dakota Indian reservation, where he and his girlfriend work as teachers and he drinks heavily. His wife lives back in Kansas with their 13-year-old daughter and with Sam’s older brother. Nine years earlier, Sam was responsible for a terrible accident that left his wife severely maimed and one of their twin daughters dead.”
As for how Leonard, a California-bred, New York-based playwright, came to write an American character for a young English actor (whose appearance on a U.S. stage required considerable wrangling with Equity), the answer is simple. “Brett [Leonard] is one of my best friends, and we have a shared love of work, and life, and being men,” Hardy said.
As for bringing the show to the Goodman, Hoffman noted that his ties to Robert Falls and the theater date back to 1994 when he played a role here (opposite Del Close, as his father) in the Peter Sellars version of “The Merchant of Venice.” “‘Red Road’ is about a man who doesn’t have the ideal skill set for life — for being a father, husband, boyfriend,” Hardy said. “It’s about wanting to fulfill your potential and failing to do so. It’s about alcohol, and the different roles played by those who find themselves in the life of the carrier of that disease. It’s about people who end up together in rather dysfunctional units, people who have gone to a community where they hope they’ll not feel so alone. “It is about the shame, fear and embarrassment that comes with alcoholism, and about trying to ‘keep it in the family’ until it spills over in often traumatic ways. And it’s about the saver, the enabler, the fixer, the co-dependent. Everybody has a part to play.”
Hardy has been with the play throughout its long development process, flying on his own dime to the United States from London a couple of times for workshops, including a Summer Intensive in Vermont done under the auspices of LAByrinth, the New York-based theater ensemble Hoffman joined in 1995. And clearly he feels emotionally connected to Leonard’s play, having had his own alcohol and drug problems to conquer early on. Once divorced and the father of a 21-month-old son with an ex-girlfriend, Hardy also has had his share of relationship issues.
For Hoffman, who trained at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the career mix of acting and directing is just a natural part of the LAByrinth formula. During his many years as co-artistic director of that company, he championed the plays of Stephen Adly Guirgis, directing “In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings” and “Jesus Hopped the A Train.” “Mostly I’m a member of that gypsy tribe known as actors — the people whose job it is to mirror life,” Hoffman said.
As for Hardy, acting is simply “the first thing that was solid in my life, and the only thing I could do. I’ve always been a good liar, and quite obsessive, and strived to be the best. Acting was the way I found I could get paid for it. Anything where I could play and have adults smiling at the same time was where I wanted to be, and still do.”
Hardy, who studied at the Drama Centre London and Richmond Drama School, finds few differences between stage and film work. “For me, there are only two kinds of acting — convincing and not convincing,” said the actor, who is working on an American accent for the play. “You’re trying to create truth in illusion. What makes the stage harder is trying to be intimate while reaching a thousand people without a microphone.”
As for being directed by a stellar actor like Hoffman, Hardy confesses: “On one hand, nothing could be more satisfying. But it also is difficult to deal with a guy who could do it so well himself.” Hoffman brushes that off, observing that “all actors feel someone else can do it better, but they can’t. I feel like that all the time.”
So, what do actors want? “Money and time off,” quipped Hardy, who nevertheless confessed he spends some nights rehearsing alone on the Goodman stage, and others playing with his Xbox. “We want to be told we have the job, and then we want it to be over and be told we were really good.” Hoffman agreed wholeheartedly but said his job as a director was “to create an ensemble while dealing honestly with each actor individually, according to his or her own pace and way of working.”