Plenary Interview: Fred Cross
Interview by Saraya Haddad, BritGrad 2020 Co-Secretary
Originally posted: 28 February, 2020
Lear’s Shadow (2018) is an award winning film directed by Brian Elerding. Heartbreakingly beautiful, the piece seamlessly weaves together the life of a post-trauma theatre company director with that of King Lear. Here is what leading actor, Fred Cross, had to say about the film.
Saraya: What first attracted you to the role of Jack? Fred: I gravitated towards Jack because he had the most lines in the show. But, seriously, there were several things that made Jack intriguing to me. He constantly balances between extremes – someone who is usually in complete control and then is completely lost from moment to moment. It’s a fascinating dynamic to play. Also, being fairly young for the part of Lear, I don’t think I’ll get a chance to properly play him for at least a decade or so, depending on how badly I age. This was my opportunity to take on Lear as a role now. I’m looking forward for my next go-around at him. Saraya: How did you prepare for the role, and did the rehearsal process alter your perception of the character at all? Fred: The film was a product of the stage version of Lear’s Shadow that our theater company [Ensemble Shakespeare Theater] put up a few years ago. I’ve been acting onstage for over 25 years now and I’ve always felt that – whether for film or stage – rehearsal begets quality. Especially with Shakespeare. The more you can work something, the more layers, the more moments you can find. So for this film, we had the fortune of having worked through a lengthy rehearsal process as well as a full run of the show before we even turned on the cameras. And, in rehearsals, your character often evolves as the actors around you evolve. Your character reacts to and is refined by the reactions of your co-stars. I didn’t understand Jack completely until I saw him in the world that we – the actors and director – created during rehearsals. It’s one of the things I love most about rehearsals – watching your specific version of a play’s character come to life and evolve. Saraya: Where (if at all) do you feel Jack stops and Lear begins? Fred: Oh, that’s a good question. I mean, there are some specific differences, obviously. But probably more similarities. Both were respected leaders of their ‘kingdoms’ but have become unable to lead any longer. Both have not-small egos. And both obviously have daughter issues. I have hope for Jack, though. I like to think that he gets at least a little better, eventually. Lear dies so, if he got better, he’d probably be a zombie. And then there’d be a King Lear sequel. With a zombie. I don’t think that’d be well-received. Saraya: Did flickering between modern day speech and Shakespeare’s text change your experience of acting Shakespeare at all? Fred: The switching back and forth from modern day felt almost appropriate for a Shakespearean work since it was basically a play within a play. The next show I did after this was Midsummer, playing Bottom. It was a similar switching of energies for that play within a play. And switching from modern to Shakespeare wasn’t too odd. It just felt like putting a different filter on the moment. Which is what actors do. Switching back and forth definitely compartmentalized the Shakespearean moments, though. So instead of organically going from one scene to the next, we jumped around quite a bit and so you, as the actor, have to very quickly tap into the emotion of the moment without the emotional exposition you’d normally get from a natural progression of the play. Saraya: What do you feel the film says about the actor’s process, particularly in regards to acting Shakespeare? Fred: I think that Jack’s line “You’ve got to give yourself somewhere to go” says a lot about the acting process. It speaks to the fact that you need to save your most explosive or joyful or heartfelt moments for when they will serve the play best. Tangentially, it speaks to the fact that you have to always keep in mind the overall arc of the show and to know where your character fits into the grander scheme. A lot of that is the director’s job, sure, but – to go with an analogy – the cleaner the cog, the sweeter the hum of the machine. Saraya: Did playing Jack alter your perception of King Lear and/or Shakespeare’s writing at all? Fred: Jack is very opinionated about how, specifically, to perform Shakespeare as, I think, many Shakespearean scholars are. I don’t know if I agree that there is a very specific way to perform it. I mean, obviously there are choices that are just flat out wrong – as anyone who has seen a really awful high school performance of Romeo and Juliet can attest to – but one of my favorite things with the text is finding choices that are not taken very often. They might not work in the finished product, but working those choices often lead to other choices, which lead to other choices, and so on. But to your question, my understanding of Lear – after performing him through Jack – is definitely much deeper now. And the next time I play Lear – the rate I’m going, about five years from now – it will be hard to separate Jack from Lear. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Everything we bring to a character – our experiences, our emotional states – makes that character unique from anyone else’s version. My Jack may just now and forever be entwined through the helix of my Lear’s DNA.