Actor Brian d’Arcy James delivers a tour de force performance as the dashing and tormented Quinn Carney in the Broadway play, Ferry Shipmanwinner of four 2019 Tony Awards including Best Play, Best Writer (Jez Butterworth) and Best Director (Sam Mendes).
In this acclaimed three-act play, d’Arcy James leads a tapestry of extraordinary ensemble actors through a mid-20th century piece set in Northern Ireland during a time of conflict between England and Ireland, against the backdrop of a family celebration of the event. annual harvest season. Victims of war and forbidden love emerge between the emotionally charged generational relationships that play out on a multi-textured stage. For frequent and occasional theater goers, you are welcome, Ferry Shipman is a Broadway experience not to be missed.
This year, d’Arcy James can even be seen in similar films Kitchen starring Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish, a west side story reboot directed by Steven Spielberg, and Dark Phoenix starring Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy.
I sat down with Brian d’Arcy James to discuss his role Ferry Shipmandirected by the brilliant Sam Mendes, and has one foot on Broadway and the other in some of next year’s most anticipated films.
Allison Kugel: Your Show, Ferry Shipman, is a perfect work of theatrical art; probably the most incredible theater experiences I’ve ever had.
Brian d’Arcy James: That makes me really happy to hear that.
Allison Kugel: The play is three hours and fifteen minutes with an intermission, but I do not feel the time.
Brian d’Arcy James: I hear that a lot. People sign in admitting time, but then they say that’s not a factor at all, which is a testament to the storytelling.
Allison Kugel: In movies, you can rest and regenerate between takes, but with theater, and particularly with an intense game like this, how do you keep your character alive on stage for three hours?
Brian d’Arcy James: I’d even go one step further, to include the actual show. Not only do you do it every night, for three hours a night, but you must keep that character alive for months on end. Let me first give credit to the previous cast who spent more time in these characters’ shoes than we have. I take my hat off to them for that reason, alone. This is a tough command, and you must leave the pilot light on at all times, with the burners running low. That emotional life, the complexity of the situations in which my character, and all characters for that matter, find themselves, requires connecting with that emotional life on an ongoing basis throughout the course of the show. You must be open and let that flame burn higher as you put on a show. To do this, you must keep it low down in your life, so you are not sitting by the campfire with two logs rubbing against one another, wishing you could start a fire during every performance.
Allison Kugel: Ferry Shipman is a few family living in Northern Ireland and it takes place during their annual harvest. One thing that I found interesting, is that I learned a lot about the Irish people. I learned a lot about Irish culture and customs, in addition to some of the past Irish challenges in the conflict they had with the British.
Brian d’Arcy James: Well, that is what The Troubles is all about (also called the Northern Ireland Conflict/c. 1968-1998). It goes back decades, and even centuries. The United Kingdom claims their space in the world and designates Northern Ireland as a British territory. This is the essence of the struggle for freedom and oppression that was going on in Northern Ireland at that time. That’s the larger context in the play. I’m aligned with that by virtue of my family, and my own heritage (James of Irish descent). My great grandparents were from Ireland and they came here. My grandparents were Irish-American, but they were first generation, so I’ve at all times had a powerful connection to my Irish heritage. Becoming an actor is the best sociological education you can get, because it has to explore and understand whatever it’s you are working on. In my case I was able to do plenty of different Irish plays, some of them in Ireland. So, my awareness of history and culture is immediate.
Allison Kugel: Even although it is a dramatic play, there are some priceless comedic moments that make me roll in my chair. Some of the generational humor with the older characters is priceless, and the moments are all over the place.
Brian d’Arcy James: The play is also stuffed with great love, and all the complicated relationships that a large family brings. Plenty of times when you have really funny and witty people attacking one another and trying to cheer one another up, essentially doing their best to keep things alive; it is funny because these people are incredible characters. There is plenty of humor and levity in this drama just because of the love these characters have for each other. The show’s writer, Jez Butterworth, has pulled off this excellent balancing act of keeping people entertained and awed by the humor of these people, and then having their worlds come crashing down by the circumstances they find themselves in.
Allison Kugel: Let’s speak about the director of the play, Sam Mendes. Many people know him from his work, directing Academy Award winning films such as American beauty And Revolutionary way, starring his wife at the time, Kate Winslet. Does a director who has worked in film and theater bring a broader perspective to your event?
Brian d’Arcy James: Sam’s gift is his ability to take big ideas and create moments that present the play and create a story where all of these themes can be heard and understood clearly. He’s an expert at it. I believe you are right in eschewing his skills as a film director. I’m in training for West Side Story (remake of the 1961 classic)which was directed by Steven Spielberg, and which we’re talking about Ferry Shipman. He told me he saw the production Boy and Doll at the National Theater and it appears to be directed like a movie. He saw the parallels of what was happening on stage in a cinematic sense. On mentioning the director, he said, “If this person could direct a play like this, he would be able to direct a film without even getting out of bed.” In terms of my experience with Sam Mendes, he’s a brilliant thinker. He has a robust view of each moment of our game. It’s great for any actor to receive direction like that, because it gives actors confidence, and provides actors plenty of room to develop to the better of their ability.
Allison Kugel: Ferry Shipman the cast has many generations of actors, from small babies to kids, teenagers, young men and girls, and much older characters. You guys have a baby on stage! The actors carried her, turned her, walked up and down the stairs with her in their arms. I was surprised that the baby was obedient and well behaved during the performance. To me, there’s certainly a breath holding aspect to it all, like “What’s going to happen here?” How do you orient the baby?
Brian d’Arcy James: You do not. You let it, that is what makes it so strong. That’s the best acting you could ask for. Obviously, the main concern is logistics; ensuring the baby is there, and having a few different babies there all the time if one gets cranky or cannot make it. Then they simply must be in someone’s arms or be on stage, on the ground, you know, on the changing table. I’ve heard of Jez [Butterworth] (writer and show creator) speak about this a few times in terms of the live babies and animals that we have in this drama. There is nothing more thrilling and thrilling than knowing that something is wrong. I believe he even said it was the first image he had, was of a baby on stage with the character Aunt Maggie. It was the first drawing he had for the play; essentially, the oldest and youngest of a family. And then he filled in everything in between. It adds a component of, “What’s going to happen?” and, “How will this baby respond?” All bets are off with babies and animals.
Allison Kugel: You get rave reviews from New York Timewhere do they call Ferry Shipman “production of the year.” What do you think to make Ferry Shipman such a gem show?
Brian d’Arcy James: Specifically, the way the play is written [writer] It’s Jez Butterworth’s imagination in creating this compelling, electrifying material, and making each of these people on stage so different, vibrant, and unique; but has a sense of family history. Then obviously there’s the structure of the play and drama. The obstacles this character faces and despair. It’s a robust combination of imagination at work. [This play] can make you laugh and make you cry in two distinct lines back to back. This is an absolute gift.
Allison Kugel: You’re going in X-Men: Dark Phoenix which is a real departure for you. What was it like to be on the set of X-men?
Brian d’Arcy James: In a strange way I equate two different experiences, because they’re all art forms at the highest level. These are the experts who understand how to create this world full of superheroes. For me, it was an eye-opening experience to see how things occur. You take the action sequences for granted when you see them on screen but seeing all the nuts and bolts of how they occur is quite educational. Anytime you work with people who are at the top of their game it’s extremely special.
Allison Kugel: Since you have done so much great theater in addition to several films, what would your advice be for popular film and tv actors who might be nervous about trying their hardest on Broadway? Or for television and film actors about to debut on Broadway?
Brian d’Arcy James: For someone who’s never done it, it is a baptism of fire. There’s no way to find out aside from just logging in. It’s important to recognize that this does require some conditioning, and the pacing is different, in terms of doing a two-and-a-half hour or three hour game. Not a fifteen second increment captured over a two month period. It is an awareness of the difference in terms of what tempo is and what it takes to sustain it. It’s just a different animal. To use a sports analogy, this is like training for a marathon, as opposed to training for short sprints. Both media have their advantages, and both are essential when you need to do so. But they require a different kind of conditioning.
Brian d’Arcy James appears in the Tony Award-winning Broadway play, “The Ferryman,” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater at 242 W. 45th Street in New York City. For tickets and knowledge, visit TheFerrymanBroadway.com.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment columnist, memoirist, Journaling Fame: A memoir a few life that bends and recordsand the owner of a communications company, Full Scale Media. Follow him on Instagram @theallisonkugel And AllisonKugel. com.