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Johan Persson

‘Being haunted by the past is something I’m creatively turned on by’ - An Interview with Brian J Smith

29 March 2017 Belphoebe New

Science fiction fans may be particularly familiar with Texas born Brian J Smith. He got his big break playing Lieutenant Matthew Scott in military science fiction drama Stargate Universe, and appeared in the acclaimed Netflix drama series Sense 8 as Will Gorski, a police officer haunted by a difficult past. He’s now focusing his efforts on the stage, having just been nominated for an Olivier award for his role as The Gentleman Caller in John Tiffany’s adaption of the Glass Menagerie, which has transitioned from a hit run on Broadway to London’s West End. An evocative and visually rich production, it’s a faithful yet imaginative interpretation of Tennessee William’s classic memory play. We spoke to Brian about the production, the roles that inspire him and the surprising purchase he made with his first acting paycheck.

London Calling: You’ve been nominated for an Olivier for your performance in The Glass Menagerie, which must feel really exciting! What has it been like to work on this production?
 
Brian J Smith: We got 7 nominations for the show, and we were all really pleasantly surprised. It’s an American production and an American play, and you never know how it will be embraced. It’s great to see how warm London has been towards us and the show.
 
It’s been in and out of my life for the last three years now. And I heard that they wanted to bring it to London and they asked me if I wanted to come. It was funny because I hadn’t even been on a stage for 3 years in between closing on Broadway and bringing it out here. We all did a really good job of trying to keep it fresh whilst still keeping it the way it’s always been.
 
LC: How did you prepare for the role of The Gentlemen Caller?
 
BJS: I remember looking at a lot of photographs and listening to music from that time period. I read a lot of Tennessee William’s notebooks and biographies and tried to figure out where exactly he was when he was writing it.
 
And working with John Tiffany, who had this magical, gentle yet deep connection to doing the play - he was responsible for making these characters come alive. I can’t tell you how exciting it is every night to get up on that stage and swim around in that juice – the lights, the set, the fact that it’s a memory play. He did such an amazing job of keeping us creatively inspired, and pushing us in really interesting directions.
 
He let me bring a lot of my own weirdness to the role too. He’s this young man who has to live up to so much and be so many different things, but ultimately he’s a sad, neurotic and somewhat broken young man. In some ways I think the performance is one of the most stylised I’ve ever given, but in another way, the most personal.


Photo credit: Johan Persson                                   
 
LC: What do you think has been the role you’ve enjoyed most throughout your entire career?
 
BJS: A big one was Stargate Universe, a while back. That was my first big job, the first one where I thought ‘oh my god, someone is paying me to act!’ I can pay off my student loans and live with a little bit of dignity. The first thing I did with that paycheck was go and buy a packet of underwear and a packet of socks because all of my socks had holes in them! It really saved me in a way. In a lot of ways, it’s the role that meant the most to me.
 
LC: Is there a type of role that you’re particularly drawn to?
 
BJS: I guess it changes over time. There was a point in my twenties when I was certainly interested in military roles. I had quite a bit of military in my family, and I guess maybe I felt some masculine shame that I didn’t go into it myself, instead of doing what any sensible Texas boy would do! Right now, I’m quite attracted to roles where guys are looking back at their lives, and you start to take stock of who you are. I guess that sense of being haunted by the past is something I’m creatively turned on by, which is certainly the case for the Glass Menagerie.
 
LC: Are you enjoying spending all this time in London, what do you think of the city and is there anything you particularly like doing here?
 
BJS: You get really careful with your energy when you’re doing a play, so I tend to keep it pretty simple. I’ve been put up right here in Covent Garden, and really I just like walking around the streets with some good coffee and people watching. I could just sit outside on my stoop all day! I also really got into techno when I was filming in Berlin, and I love Fabric, it’s the only place I can find the same type of techno they play in Berlin.
 
The Glass Menagerie will be performed at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 29 April. Find out more and book tickets here.
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