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Interview: André Sills Talks “Coriolanus”


André Sills. Photography by Clay Stang – The Garden.

To be a movie actor is not easy even though the actor may get hundreds of takes to produce one good shot. However, the same never applies to a stage actor who has no second chance to correct himself/herself, repeat the line that did not work before, or get some rest because it is not allowed.

Watching the new adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”, Robert Lepage‘s breathtaking production, to fit into the current realities of the world of politics, the play from the start to the end amazes us with its realism, mind-blowing decoration, and overall full of outstanding performances from all the actors.

Andre Sills, who portrayed the lead character named Coriolanus, was not only able to capture the depth of the character he portrayed, but also manages to combine two different eras in one person whom you will be happy he took over to interpret.

During my interview with André Sills, who I had the pleasure of speaking over the phone right before his rehearsal was about to begin, the actor provided an insightful look into how he pictured for himself the character he was about to become, and of course the opportunity he never had of meeting Shakespeare himself.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you end up in this play? What drew you into this?

André Sills: A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of doing a play at the Shaw Festival, which got a Toronto Theatre Critics Award. And going to that particular ceremony, there was somebody else who was in the room receiving an award for a play that he had done called 887 and that was Robert Lepage. So I had the brief opportunity to meet him at that point. And then later on in the year, receiving a call asking if I wanted to be cast in Coriolanus directed by Robert Lepage, to play Coriolanus. And it was a bit of a no brainer just cause of the man he is, the sort of visionary of theater of Robert is. And especially that play, I knew that Coriolanus is a hard play to do, but in the hands of somebody who has a great creative mind I think it was something that could’ve been really special. So I was excited to get in the room with Robert and see what sort of playground he wanted to set up for all of us to play on. And yeah that’s how it kind of came to be from a couple of years ago.

MOVIEMOVESME: As you just mentioned, this is a very difficult play. How did you manage to tackle such a complex role by keeping the outside of the world aside and keep being Coriolanus while you were on stage?

André Sills:  Yeah. Well, that’s just part of being an actor I guess cause for me knowing what that story was about before, knowing that he’s a warrior first. First and foremost he’s a warrior. And I guess my background … The closest thing I could get to that is I used to play Rugby. And I could connect with what … I guess the closest thing for me being on a battle field would be being on that field for 80 minutes and knowing what happens to my mind or my body, psychologically and physically, with the use of adrenalin. And then I’m just thinking of amping that up to actual war. So guys who can actually take that energy and adrenalin and really focus in to what they need to do on the battle field and that’s who this guy is. Right? And that’s where he thrives. His main place to be is on the battle field.

And then when his mother and other people of upper class of Rome decide, “I think it’ll be good for you to be in politics.” And at first I don’t think it’s something that he wants himself because he knows what he’s good at but then you also have other people saying, “He can’t do that.” Then all of a sudden it becomes that … When somebody says you can’t do something then you kind of want to prove to them that you can. So, keeping in mind that this man is a warrior but then you try to put him inside of office and then he’s a bull inside a china shop right? So he needs some room to buck, he needs some room to maneuver. But as soon as you try to put him in a box or try to owner him he will fight back to get out of that cause he’s a fighter first. So it was interesting to explore the warrior in politics. Makes any sense.

MOVIEMOVESME: But as soon as he got into the politics, things changed. Since this play draws an interesting parallel between the past and the present, how much do you think the world of politics has changed since then? Or is it still as it is, ungrateful and a lack of empathy towards people?

André Sills:  Well it is funny because this past summer we would have some student audiences where we would ask them, “What makes a good leader.” Someone who’s honest, someone who is empathetic, someone who can be a great example to the people and the world for the country that they’re representing. And then you turn them around then you ask this question, “Can you name any of those leaders that have those qualities?” And then they couldn’t. So we all know what makes a good leader but for whatever reason we haven’t chosen that person. And I think it’s a same sort of … I think that’s what’s happening in Coriolanus as well. He’s a man who sits for office and you have some people who are trying to make that a priority for him. And I think at the end of the day we have to ask ourselves, “What type of leader do we want?” You know what I mean?

MOVIEMOVESME: Yeah. I understand.

André Sills:  Because yeah, we’re so busy saying, “Yeah we want someone who’s a business man but then we don’t want that, we want somebody who’s going to represent our country, get things done in efficient way, and also be a prime example of who we are as a people.” But signing that person in isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. And right now it feels like we have … We don’t have those examples of good leaders so much.

From left: Graham Abbey as Tullus Aufidius, André Sills as Coriolanus, Tom McCamus as Menenius Agrippa and Farhang Ghajar as Sentinel #2 in Coriolanus. Photography by David Hou.

MOVIEMOVESME: Going back to the politics in “Coriolanus”, do you think it’s interesting that after all his achievements, serving his country with dignity and honor, yet he was dishonored and banished for speaking the truth? So what was your take on it?

André Sills:   He’s the man who gives his blood, his sweat, his tears for his country and I think he believes that if you serve for Rome then you should get rewards. But there are people in that system who are not serving, who expect the world from Rome. So you have this man who’s willing to give his life on most days on the battle field to secure security or corn or food for his country. But then the common people just expect, expect rewards for no service. And I think that was the main thing for him that drove him crazy. Just because the amount of work that he does for Rome and then at the end of the day to be banished, drove him through the roof. So he had a revenge plot in place to come back and maybe tear it all down.

MOVIEMOVESME: Coriolanus is not a real character and I am pretty sure you never met Shakespeare in person. I wonder what kind of research you had done to portray Coriolanus?

André Sills: Well, the thing with Shakespeare is that he gives you so many clues with the script. Yeah I don’t have the pleasure of meeting Shakespeare himself, but he wrote all of his plays with little clues hidden within each persons lines and throughout the whole play. So I can get an idea of the type of guy he is. And that was the one thing I started to realize very early on is that Coriolanus doesn’t really … He’s not necessarily in his straight mind to often. So he’s already off of his pins and there’s something … An inner beast that is really driving him. So it was interesting to explore to see when he was speaking his most direct truth. And when everything else around him was affecting him. So it was an interesting exploration to play with, with that particular play, especially since we don’t have the pleasure of meeting Shakespeare. And as I said earlier on before, with somebody else, this is only the fifth time Stratford has done Coriolanus in sixty years. But one thing that I had at my advantage too, is that one of the actors in the cast, that I worked with Tom McCamus. He played Coriolanus in Stratford in 1999. So having him beside me, kind of as a father figure in the play, was really beneficial. So I could really tap in his experience from being there before to applying to our particular production.

MOVIEMOVESME: What do you think Coriolanus’ fate would have been if he had played politics and pretended to be a bit more loyal leaving honesty behind? Because politics and honesty and loyalty are so many different things.

André Sills: Right. Well, okay so for him politics is all about working within the gray area. And with Coriolanus he deals with black and white. So it’s either this or it’s that. Everybody else can maneuver. That’s the one thing you see in this play is you see all the people around him maneuver and they can shift the politics to make it work for them. Whereas for Coriolanus he is steadfast in his beliefs and he will not move from it. So that’s one main thing that you have Coriolanus having a hard time in this play because, yeah he is truthful but he also has a code that he lives by and everybody else can maneuver within the gray area but he doesn’t and he won’t. So that’s also a part of why he in a kind of a great fault because he can’t be shaken and he can’t be moved. And the only person who can really move him is his mother. Partly to his … Not partly to his betterment but to his betterment.

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