Posted on June 11, 2014 by Basement
I have to admit that I felt a little guilty heading to my interview with actor Calum Gittins. I felt guilty because I was feeling skeptical. I was feeling skeptical that a cast full of Kiwi’s could pull off a play built around New York’s Puerto Rican culture and I was even more skeptical that this blond haired, blue-eyed WHITE guy was going to pull off Jackie. I was even oddly offended by the casting, which is a bit ridiculous considering that there isn’t a drop of anything but pale European in me and I was once painted brown for a production of The King And I.
However, I showed up in the dressing rooms at the time allotted with pen and paper in hand and my recorder app all ready to go. To his credit, Calum Gittins, was also ready to go with thoughtful answers and no apologies for his unorthodox casting.
Dawn Glover: What was your reaction to “The Motherfucker With The Hat,” when you first read it?
Calum Gittins: This needs to go on here. This is the best play that I have read in a long time. The first scene is so incredibly dynamic and visceral. The play grabs you by the throat from the very beginning.
DG: Being an atypical choice for the role of Jackie how did you get into his head space? How did you find him?
CG: I mean, Jackie should probably be Puerto Rican, but I’m playing him so I’m not going to try to play him Puerto Rican…because I can’t….these guys (the cast around him) aren’t Puerto Rican but they are going to try to play it Puerto Rican because they can pull it off. I think it is really interesting to try to play it (Jackie) as a white guy who was brought up and raised around Puerto Rican culture and see what kind of effect that has on him and how he views himself, because I think he views himself quite Puerto Rican.
DG: What is our favorite part about the role? What really gets you about the character?
CG: That he is so different to me but I also identify with him strongly. The outward differences…but at the same time emotionally there are a lot of similarities. In that we both struggle with temptations, are incredibly prone to messing up and hurting people that we love, but our hearts are in the right place. My favorite part is that he is a guy who has fucked up a lot in his life but he never gives up. He has a good heart and he is trying to do the right thing no matter how incompetent he might be at doing that.
Calum and I went on to chat a bit about the reactions and feedback that they have gotten on the production and roughly two and half hours later I left the downstairs theatre full of feedback of my own…which I won’t share here because I don’t review.
However, I will say this and it might sound a bit like a review, but it is actually a rebuttal to a reviewer from Metro Magazine. These characters, this play, this production doesn’t have a problem because “they spend so much time strutting and shouting.” Or because “no one has time to be lost and alone. No one is given the chance to cry.” These characters, this play, this production isn’t a romanticized vision of the deeper psyche of the Puerto Rican hood, or a poetic look on the injustices of life. What the actors got, the Kiwis that I was worried about got, was that these people are aggressive, up front, fucked up and not educated enough to recognize needing a moment to feel lost and alone and have a cry.
They are people who probably grew up being told as children that if they “didn’t stop crying they were going to get something to cry about.” This play may not have “transcended” in the way that Romeo and Juliet does, but it sure played true. It ended with realistic, ugly, heart breaking truth and like Calum Gittins, it doesn’t make any apologies.