Exclusive Q&A: Louis Cancelmi of The Public’s Coriolanus

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The Public’s Free Shakespeare in the Park is a summer essential to New Yorkers. This year’s second show is Coriolanus, a historical drama which has not been staged for over forty years. We got the opportunity to speak to Louis Cancelmi, who plays Aufidius before he hits the stage in Central Park starting July 16.

How are you preparing for the role of Aufidius?
More or less as I would for any role: memorizing the text, reading it over and over, saying it over and over, taking all the practical steps that leave the door open for inspiration. And, of course, rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. Add the imaginations of our design team, the brilliance of my fellow actors, the guidance of our wonderful director, Dan Sullivan, plus invaluable input from the great Shakespeare scholar Jim Shapiro, and it feels less like me preparing apart than all of us building a world together.

Do you relate to your character Aufidius in any way? Is it fun to play the enemy?
Aufidius is patient, calculating, brutal, and, like most good villains, hurting inside. I think of him as acting more with Coriolanus than against him, less the enemy than a kind of fatal mirror. But yeah, playing “the bad guy” is fun, especially in Shakespeare, who gives his darker characters so much to work with.

What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
Coriolanus is rarely produced, at least in this country, so I hope people come away feeling as though they’ve discovered a great new thing. It’s not pretty, and often it’s cynical about human nature and our efforts to govern ourselves; in a word, it couldn’t be more relevant to our times. Hopefully, it will give audiences something to wrestle with, or fresh stimulation for their wrestling.

What is your favorite piece of work from Shakespeare?
The Tempest. Measure for Measure. Macbeth. Many more I’d like to name but these contain most of the great difficulties, strangenesses, desires, horrors, paradoxes, failures…

How do you compare working in television, to working on Broadway, to working at The Public?
There’s no real comparison. The Public feels like an artistic home for me at this point, and that necessarily sets it apart. This will be my fifth production here, and my third time performing in the Park, which provides its own incomparable magic.

When was that eureka moment when you realized acting was your calling?
I’ve never had that eureka moment, to be honest, and I suppose I distrust eureka moments generally. Acting has been a slow burn for me, but somehow every time it loses my interest, it manages to win it back…

Do you have a dream role you wish to play?

What advice would you give to young actors?
Don’t do it. Or if you absolutely need to do it, I bet you’ll find the way, which nobody else can really help you with anyway except by happenstance. There’s a joke about a person who wishes there were more trees in the world. Life has a very simple answer for this, and everybody already knows it: go plant a tree. “Plant a tree? But I want lots of trees, big trees, forests and forests of trees, and it takes twenty years for a tree to grow to anything like the size I’m talking about, BIG, and I can’t wait around for twenty years!” Twenty years later, the same person has the same wish, but still no trees. So: don’t wait to begin, don’t stop once you’ve begun. Wish as big as you like but don’t let wishing prevent you from doing the necessary work, however small, however apparently trivial. Of course, seeds don’t always beget trees, but there are no trees without them.

Find more information about the production HERE.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus.