Sunday, February 19, 2017

2017 Interview with Will Holbrook

What a great pleasure to speak with young Will Holbrook, 19, who is currently playing Romeo in Archway's production of Romeo and Juliet. Will happens to be the grandson of one of our greatest living actors Hal Holbrook.

Will, your grandpa is a truly great actor, one of the best. What is it like to perform for him? How has he inspired you? Is he attentive to your needs - both giving and constructively critical ... or does he leave you on your own to overcome your own failures? Is he happy or unhappy that you have chosen the acting profession?

It isn't particularly different for me having him in the audience. He is an inspirational figure to me because he loves what he does and he works hard. There are many lessons in watching him work at his senior age, and observing his passion to keep moving is an incredible thing. I am very glad we get to have the grandfather-grandson relationship we do, and he is always asking me how he can help or if I have any questions. He has always been my grandpa first, and it is very comforting to know that I have someone who I can ask anything, about life or about the business. I think he is happy for me that I am pursuing my passion, and he sees where my heart is at, in the work and the pursuit of my goals, so he is confident that I will get out of it what I put into it. He is one of my biggest fans and in a career path that is totally inconsistent; he is one of my rocks I can rely on for support.

Tell us how your interest in acting got started. Are you studying it formally in school?

I can't remember not wanting to be an actor. I started putting on shows for my parents when I was four and five years old. I love storytelling, and I love performing for people. My passion for the craft grew rapidly from a love of performing, and my respect for it has grown through a love of dedicating and committing my energy to something bigger than myself. I've always felt that the best way for me to communicate to others was through telling stories. Acting feels like my window into the world. Because I wanted it from a very young age, there were never really any discussions about what I would do for work or what I would do after high school, it became very matter of fact among everyone I knew that 'Will is going to go be an actor'. School was always difficult for me because I knew exactly what I wanted to be doing, and everything else felt like a distraction from that. For my first three years of high school I went to a technical school where we had career shops, and mine was theater. We had our own big theater and we put on a few shows a year, those were important experiences. I never planned to go to college because I was itching so much to begin my career, I just wanted to work and learn by doing. I do spend a lot of time with classes and currently I am studying at Ivana Chubbuck studio.

Let's talk about Romeo and Juliet. You are certainly starting in the right place with Shakespeare. Classical training is wonderful for the actor, as it frees you to be big and bold and unafraid with your actions, as you tackle all that beautiful poetic language. How are you enjoying the role and what challenges are you facing in playing Romeo? Do you think he is a typical leading man?

I never expected to have the opportunity to play Romeo while young, but when it happened I was elated. Performing Shakespeare is a completely unique experience for me. I think there is simply more to be mined from his writing than others, so much rich emotional, contextual, and linguistic information there, and he is a great writer for actors, giving lots of freedom to explore within his brilliant guidelines. Preparing this role has been pretty much the time of my life, and I am excited to now bring in the audiences. It is a very challenging role and I have given my best effort to take those challenges head on. The hardest part for me was getting to the extremely vulnerable place he is at, and cracking open my chest for that. It is exhausting and very rewarding. Whether Romeo is a typical leading man I think depends on one's definition of typical. I think the stereotype of Romeo is that of a typical leading man, but I think a lot of his depth can get lost depending on the production. He is at his peak developmental age and is at that teenage crossroad; about to enter to the adult world and trying to figure out what it has in store for him while also having one foot still in the extreme but playful world of childhood. There is certainly a lot to him, he is special, so in that way I would say he is not typical.

Has your grandfather been of help to you in any way in preparing for this role?

My grandpa has been helpful in my preparation both as a fellow actor and as a close friend. He is always there for encouragement, and there for acting advice when I seek it out. He respects my work, which is wonderful for me; many young actors don't get to live with a family member let alone somebody who truly respects their work. There have been many cases where talking to him can help simplify various knots I come across in both the material and my performance of it.

How did you happen to join Archway? Talk a bit about this company.

I first came across the Archway Theatre last year on a casting call for Hamlet. I auditioned and was cast as Marcellus, and after a successful run of that show Steven Sabel (artistic director) asked me to join the actors company. The Archway is a splendid home for me, a place where I can count on friendly faces and artists who take pride in their work. Our company works very hard to grow the theatre and it’s rewarding to see the results. At this time, I prefer the classics to many modern shows, so the Archway is a good fit for me.

You are wise to do theatre, as the live audience always gives the actor instant gratification. What other plays have you done so far and how did it go for you? What have you learned?

Theatre is the best way for me to grow right now, and I've had several of those experiences at the Archway, first as Marcellus in Hamlet last year, then last summer as Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest, and now as Romeo. Each show has served as a marker for me in my growth, and by getting out there and doing theatre I think you discover a lot about yourself as a performer as far as what you do or do not like and preferences in preparation. You learn how to handle time effectively and how to play an audience; you really learn how to be an actor in many ways. Theatre requires being totally in the moment and focused, and those things can be hard to find in the other mediums. There is no going back when you step on stage, whatever may have happened in life before you step onstage, you are in a new world once you are there. There is something beautiful about doing your best at something and then leaving it behind. I'm always fascinated by how the shows you do end up reminding you of periods in your life; the opportunity to grow as a human and character at the same time is special.

What is this Romeo and Juliet like? Is it traditional or are there surprises in store for the audience? Tell me about the director and his approach.

I think this production of Romeo and Juliet is unique in it's truth to the text and tradition. It seems to me many Shakespeare productions are now put on with some twist, to adapt to a modern sensibility, but ours is classical. I don't think people get many chances to see Shakespeare plays done classically with a knowledge of the text, which is why those few you get to see are very memorable. Our director (and artistic director of the theatre) Steven Sabel likes to say our production is 'as hot as a Verona summer day'. Our director Steven is wonderful to work with. He possesses a vast knowledge of the text and his passion for theater is something to behold and rubs off on those around him. He has over 40 Shakespeare productions under his belt and this is his fourth Romeo and Juliet. Steven encourages us to take risks and looks out for his actors in a big way. He is the passionate, open-minded leader that as an actor you relish getting to work with.

If you had to ask your grandfather for advice, just one thing, what one thing would you ask him?

I don't know if there is any particular piece of advice I would ask him, because I often reach out to him when I am looking for advice. I am lucky that I have somebody so wise and generous with his experiences that he is an open book with me. We often talk about life and acting. I think he trusts I will follow my heart, and that there isn't much more that is needed beyond that.

Anything you care to add.about the play, your career in acting, or ...?.

I waited and prepared my whole life to come to LA and work, and I am glad I get to pursue my goals. Playing Romeo has been a process I will always remember, and we are very excited to share our work with audiences. See you in Verona!

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