Frank Wood is playing the role of Orgon in Moliere’s Tartuffe for Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company. You’ve seen Frank on dozens of TV shows, from the Sopranos to Modern Family. So how does an actor who has worked mostly in TV and film prepare for such a challenging part?
The answer is that his background – and his first love – is the stage. Wood ditched the family business, politics, for an acting career. His father is a noted political scientist and his sister, Maggie Hassan, is a U.S. Senator of New Hampshire.
The actor took a few moments from rehearsals to talk with HuffPost about taking on the challenging classical role.
Michael: You come from a family that’s deeply involved in politics. You’ve played Ed Koch, the Police Commissioner of New York, Roy Cohn, and some of the leading figures in politics, but somehow you escaped the family business. How’d you do that?
Frank: Just by luck of the draw and my sensibility in what I could and couldn’t do. I was a terrible student, and I’m going to claim some low-grade dyslexia that more or less just dissipated. I didn’t like to be in school. I liked school socially. I didn’t love the academics. What I connected to was watching people in plays. And I remember having a very fundamental reaction to people onstage, which was jealousy.
What happens is, you want to be onstage, and then you realize you’re not good enough to be onstage, so you figure out how to be onstage, and that’s more or less what I’ve done with my life.
Michael: Is theater a first love, or is it equal with TV and film?
Frank: Theater is the first love. That’s the thing that I cut my teeth on, and that’s how I got to know myself as an actor, on the stage.
I went to Wesleyan at a theater major, and then I went to NYU, and everything that I was taught to love consisted essentially of plays. When I watched actors in films, I would ask myself, how did they look like they weren’t self-conscious? You don’t want to be self-conscious onstage. The opportunity to engage the audience is what I understood as a way of getting past self-consciousness. And when a camera is looking at me, it took me a long time to not think of myself as being recorded and therefore more in danger of making a mistake.
Michael: How do you prepare for Tartuffe?
Frank: I chose to get into rehearsal and start reading the scripts with the other actors. You ask questions, as you do for all the characters you might play. And, as you do typically in rehearsal, you use the table work time, sometimes one, two, or three days of being around the table with the director and all the other actors, stopping in the middle and saying, “Why do I say this?” Or, “If I say this here, how come I say that there?” Or, “Do I mean what I say, or am I lying?”
And it can be the same for virtually any role, but then you have all this lovely meter to consider, these rhyming couplets to both challenge you, but also aid you sometimes in keeping the ball in the air, keeping the pleasure of thoughts in that rhyme. They have their own little engine, and if you acknowledge that, if you bite into that, then that’s part of the preparation. You say to yourself, “Okay, look at the way they speak here. Let it get inside me.” That’s how you prepare.
Michael: Is it fun?
Frank: It’s really fun. It is incredibly playful. It sometimes risks being so playful you can forget that there’s more serious work to do, but it’s a room full of, in this case, 12 actors and the director, all getting a chance to hear each other say these words in this particular kind of poetry is almost always fun.
Michael: We live in an era when people have no regard for what happened last month. How do you entice an audience to stay with a story that’s hundreds of years old?
Frank: It’s because Moliere was a genius, and he remains popular for the same reason Shakespeare’s still done. These are admittedly self-selecting audiences, people who want to go to things that aren’t typical. You put faith in the fact that Moliere’s sensibility was really contemporary, or at least it hasn’t aged. He has enormous insight into the conflicts people have with each other. They’re not really just constructed from his time period; they’re constructed from his experience.
He was also a really good writer. He lived in a really fertile time for theater – there was a lot of conflict, a lot of intrigue, and it seems to me that he must have had a lot of fun making the plays.
Michael: Tell me about the new translation.
Frank: The translation, by Ranjit Bolt, is also a really energetic translation. It’s got eight beats to the meter instead of 10, and it’s accelerated in a sense. Moliere is so beloved means that there are always people looking to see if they can adapt him or translate him for our times. I think this version is the best possible adaptation for our times.
Tartuffe, through December 10, Huntington Theatre Company, Boston.
For further information, https://www.huntingtontheatre.org/