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A Conversation with King Richard III and Queen Margaret

[Return to Introduction]

I had this in my review, but I’m going to go ahead and throw it out here: When you spewed the wine or whatever it was you had in your mouth at her as she’s cursing at you, was that moment three years in the making?

[Both laugh almost sinisterly.]

BEN: No, I don’t think so. In fact, the funny story about that moment is that—was it the dress rehearsal or preview?

SARAH: Opening night.

BEN: Opening night?

SARAH: It was opening night.

BEN: So we did the preview in front of an audience, and some time on the night of the preview, I said [to myself], "You know what you should do? You should just spit right in her face. You work with Sarah enough times that had you done it, she would have just gone with it, you know?” But, I was also sick that week, and I was like, “Noooo, don’t spread that crap.” But I called her the next morning, it was like 8:30 in the morning, and I said, “When you wake up call me, I have to talk to you.” I saw her at the theater, and she said, “What’s up?” And I said, “Here’s what I want to do,” and she’s like, “I’m totally fine with it, you should have done it last night.” And I said, “Yeah, I thought you might say that.”

SARAH: What was great was we didn’t tell anyone else in the scene, so everybody else is watching. So, for opening night, we knew what was coming: the two actors that were involved and taking care of one another knew what was coming. But everybody else on stage did not, and as Allison and René have both said, “our reaction has never been as good as it was that night,” because they were like OOOOOOHHHHH! They didn’t know what was coming at all.

BEN: They all thought that Sarah didn’t know either, and they were like, “That’s pretty bold.” But people seem to dig it.

SARAH: Yeah. It’s a good moment. I was at first worried that the [audience] on the [gallant] stools were maybe getting a little bit of the water, but they seem to be OK, too.

BEN: What’s funny is when we did Henry VI Three, I had the idea to spit water on her when she faints after Edward is killed, and King Edward says, “Use some means for her revival.”

Instead they break her finger.

SARAH: That’s what [Chris] Johnston [playing Hastings] came up with.

BEN: What we wound up doing was having Hastings break her finger, but I did have an idea, “Well, we could spit water on her face.” I like the finger break better myself, but I’m glad we got the spit in finally.

Is that because you two are actors who have worked together, or do you think that also comes out of the fact you’ve been Richard and Margaret for three years?

SARAH: I would say both.

BEN: Yeah, both. Both. And it’s not only Richard and Margaret, it’s both Gloucesters and Margaret. She and Humphrey of Gloucester from minute one—the moment Margaret is mentioned—are butting heads and that ultimately winds up with Humphrey getting murdered.

SARAH: We joke that one of my special skills as an actress is Gloucester-hating. I’m well-versed in Gloucester-hating.

BEN: Yeah. In the three parts of Henry VI, Richard III, King Lear, and Look about You, she hates Gloucester.

SARAH: It’s true.

That’s right, you played Regan [in King Lear]. And what was the other one?

SARAH: Look about You. The role is not big I play in that—

BEN: The Earl of Leicester.

SARAH: —Yeah, but Leicester hated Gloucester. And, yet again, we’re in this play that we didn’t even know before day one and I’m like, “Oh, right, I hate Gloucester. I’ve got that.”

And you played Humphrey, and then you came back as Richard toward the end of the play.

BEN: Resurrected.

Sarah, we did our interview a year ago, any new impressions of Margaret?

SARAH: Well, the whole journey is bittersweet. It’s been a real privilege to be able to play her through all of these parts, and I don’t think many people get to do that. It’s been lovely. I’m very, very pleased that I’ve gotten to do it with this cast, and Ben’s doing a fantastic job as Richard.

What I’m realizing from people who maybe haven’t seen the other parts is that it’s easy to feel very sympathetic toward Margaret in this play. You only have two scenes in Richard III, they’re great scenes, but she’s really just telling you how it’s going to be, that basically it’s going to go poorly for all of the others. So, I think it’s easy to forget what she’s been responsible for in the other plays. I’m sure that Ben feels that way, too.

It’s interesting that she starts this play as a woman who’s lost everything, and Richard starts this play as a man who’s got everything to lose, and does. And Margaret says it’s going to happen, all of you are going to go down and it’s going to be with him. But it’s so interesting, and I was just thinking about it last night, that in I.3, the only scene that we have together, she tells everybody how it’s going to be, she curses him, and then Richard doesn’t see her again for the rest of the play. I think that’s really important because he’s on his own journey. Everybody else in the play whom Margaret curses in that scene, it comes back around. They say, "Now Margaret’s curse is come, now Margaret’s curse is lighted on my head." But Richard doesn’t. You don’t say anything about Margaret at the end, do you?

BEN: No. He doesn’t evoke her, but her curse comes true.

SARAH: Yes, but everybody else says that.

BEN: Sure.

SARAH: And Richard doesn’t actually bring her up again. I think it’s interesting because, I think they’re a lot alike in a lot of ways. They would probably not like to say that. Sarah and Ben don’t like to say that. They really are a lot alike. Margaret’s just at a different point in her journey than Richard is. And I would love to say, “Oh yeah, Richard is willing to do things that Margaret is not willing to do," but that is just not true.

BEN: I will begrudgingly agree. I do think they are a lot alike. Sarah keeps using this word journey, and I think if you look at them going as far back as you could, not even as far back as Shakespeare goes, but as far back as you can imagine, she was the daughter of a king who doesn’t have the best reputation with the rest of the continent and certainly not in England. Just being in that position and then being auctioned off as this prize, she’s got all these men in her life treating her as a trophy and then finally she says, “Enough. I am a woman and I have got my own feelings and my own desires, and you all are going to listen up or you’re going to be sorry.”

I feel like Richard is the same in the fact that he’s got two older brothers who are by all accounts better looking, better spoken, more well-revered throughout England, and he knows that, like Margaret, he’s going to have to work really hard if he wants to get these things. And he’s going to have to learn to not take no for an answer. They’re both used to having people whose title dictates that they are surrounded by people who are more powerful than they are. But in the end it’s like, “I don’t care about your title, where is your real strength?” Henry VI doesn’t seem to have that strength; Margaret has it.

SARAH: Yeah.

BEN: Edward and George don’t seem to have it.

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