Update (November 16, 2015 at 1:00 a.m.):
Photos of the show were added (scroll to the bottom of the article).
The last time I sat in the Hart House lobby to interview actors, they were working on a new play, one that’s almost as contemporary as it’s possible to get. Now, though, Dan Mousseau and Sheelagh Daly are facing something completely different—a production of Hamlet, one of the most famous pieces of literature in the English language. Hamlet also displays some UTM talent—both the director, Paolo Santalucia, and Daly are graduates of UTM’s Theatre and Drama Studies program.
The Medium: How does it feel to be playing Hamlet—such an iconic role—right out of theatre school?
Dan Mousseau: It’s a bit intimidating; I won’t lie. When you have a cast of brilliant actors around you of all different ages and experience levels, it kind of feels like you have to lead the ship a bit. The majority of the play is me speaking—and very, very personally, too. So, having to reach that personal level, while at the same time communicating that to everyone and keeping myself intact physically and emotionally while doing it, it’s really a strain on the training. And you worry that because you’re right out of theatre school, everyone is going to be like, “Well, this newbie, let’s see how he does.” But everyone’s been super supportive and lovely in the cast, which has meant the world.
TM: What’s Paolo like to work with?
DM: He’s very in tune, because he is also an actor. He works at Soulpepper. He knows how to speak to actors, and the way he talks, and the way he puts these massive concepts, and the way he phrases these different things that Hamlet’s trying to do, or is going through, he has really spoken to me.
TM: And besides playing Hamlet, which I assume is on your actor bucket list, are there any other roles you’d like to play?
DM: Oh boy. Mission Impossible [laughs]. If the Lord of the Rings musical wasn’t such a flop, I’d have loved to have played Aragorn. I really want to play Hosanna [in Hosanna, written by Michel Tremblay]. That’s always been a favourite of mine. Oh, Henry V. [Shakespeare’s] history plays are so fun, and so rarely done.
TM: What’s your process for playing Hamlet? What do you do to play this part?
DM: I guess my main process would be a big “why?” Why is he doing all this? And once I’ve talked through—usually with the help of Paolo—why [Hamlet is] doing all this, it kind of leads into how he does it, and then from there you kind of have to fill in yourself, I find. Because some roles are very different from the person who is playing them, and that’s when a lot more work has to go into it, or a different kind of work has to go into it. They’re such real people, with thoughts that we have, too, that I have to challenge myself to make it as personal as possible.
TM: Do you relate to Hamlet?
DM: Yeah, in several ways. He’s a lot smarter than I am. He’s like an action super hero with a massive brain. But overthinking things is a big thing I do, and thinking through things, and needing people to help you for support. Not being able to really sit with yourself on a thought, and being comfortable enough to move forward with it. There’s a reason there are all these massive soliloquies. Hamlet needs to talk to someone. He’s got a big heart.
TM: Sheelagh, what’s it like being a woman in a play that is so dominated by men?
Sheelagh Daly: As an actor it’s interesting on its own, because you’re a woman in a cast almost entirely made up of men, other than Gertrude and a couple of the players. But everyone’s been so wonderful, so that makes it very easy. I think that so much of what Ophelia comes up against still exists in many ways today.
TM: What do you find is the same?
SD: I think although a lot is changing, [the world] is a patriarchy. I was definitely raised with some of those, “Be careful, take care of yourself,” ideas, which is something I could definitely relate to Ophelia about while growing up.
TM: Do you find that there’s a difference between the way the play treats women and the way the production treats them?
SD: Yes, because there are scenes in Hamlet where Gertrude and Ophelia are really getting torn to shreds and it’s this crazy journey when you’re in that world, but then you come back and you’re surrounded by so many caring people and caring men.
TM: Do you like your characters? Would you want to be friends with them?
SD: I love Ophelia. I think her capacity for love is something we can all strive for. She’s very real in her fears and in her loss.
DM: You have to love your character. I think being Hamlet’s friend would be so intense and so draining. He’s a very extreme, very passionate character. I live through being Hamlet’s friend.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hamlet opens at the Hart House Theatre on November 4.