The play’s the thing in The Dresser. King Lear, to be exact. And whether — apologies, Hamlet — it is to be or not to be.
And a pair of Sirs make Starz’ upcoming film adaptation of the Ronald Harwood play a must-see, whether you’re a Shakespeare lover or not.
The Dresser follows Sir (Sir Anthony Hopkins), an embittered, once-famous actor whose star has faded to twilight in a local Shakespeare troupe. As Sir’s anger and despair get the better of him — and World War II rages across England — Sir’s faithful dresser Norman (Sir Ian McKellen) tries to ensure that Lear (and its star) will go on.
The Dresser marks the first time Hopkins and McKellen have worked together, and they talked about it at a recent press event for the film — Hopkins on hand with reporters and McKellen via satellite from England.
“I had a pretty bad history in the theater, so I skedaddled and came to America. That’s an honest appraisement of my relationship with Shakespeare,” Hopkins revealed. “I left the National Theatre in a dark cloud; I said, ‘To hell with you all.’ That was my nature then. But it moved me out, and I found another life. When I read the play The Dresser, and I got news Sir Richard [Eyre] was going to direct it and Ian was going to play the dresser, I thought, I know this. … I know how to do this, and I know how to do Lear now, after all these years. … I knew I was going to crack it.”
“After that wonderful, honest speech of Anthony’s about his feelings, all of which play into his performance — it’s full of frailty and strength at the same time — will somebody please give him a big kiss for me?” cracked McKellen. “And check that he’s all right? He sounds fine.”
Both men found inspiration — and catharsis — in the material.
“I was always intrigued by what particular nature it is that makes actors want to act,” Hopkins mused. “Why do they want to do Shakespeare? Why do they — night after night after night — go onstage and repeat the same performances over and over and over? And this play, The Dresser, more or less answers that: that you have to go half-mad to survive that kind of life. … And now I can understand why Sir and so many actors, great actors, love Shakespeare.”
“I think every actor recognizes themselves and their past in this play,” McKellen chimed in. “And if you, as an outsider, want to know what it feels like to be in a dressing room and a desperate performance is minutes away, this play tells you exactly what it’s like.”
The Dresser premieres May 30 on Starz.