Lucian Msamati – interview
Amadeus, National Theatre
Afridiziak Theatre News caught up with Lucian Msamati ahead of the National Theatre’s live worldwide broadcast of Amadeus on February 2, 2017.
How did you land this role?
There were a series of conversations with the National Theatre and the director, Michael Longhurst as well as others involved. They were keen to revive the play; I’m not sure if you know but it was an Oscar winning film in the 1980s and they wanted to go back to the original theatre script by Peter Shaffer from 1979. There was a flow of conversations and for the key role of Antonio Salieri there were two names on the list. Who was the second name? (Laughs) I can’t tell you that, out of respect that will remain a secret but I can tell you that I was humbled and flattered to be one of the names. To be considered for this part was a great compliment.
The word Amadeus, loosely translates as beloved of God and this play has many questions about man and God so it was a good move to name the play Amadeus.
You are the lead character, but actually he’s not called Amadeus. Tell us more about your character.
Yes, I play Antonio Salieri and at some point the play was called Salieri for a short time, this was in the early days. But the name change is satisfying I think not only for the play but also for the audience. The word Amadeus, loosely translates as beloved of God and this play has many questions about man and God so it was a good move to name the play Amadeus.
What’s it’s like playing this role?
There are a lot of things about this role that I absolutely love. When I’m performing I love to step into the soul of the character I love to get into the mind of the character and understand where he is coming from, what are his human motivations. When I go on stage and perform I want to let the audience decide on what they think of the character so I cannot say if he is good or bad.
The play will be performed for the cinema as part of the NT Live initiative on February 2. How do you prepare for this, are there a lot of changes necessary?
As you’re an actor and a playwright, what is your favourite part of the play?
Everything! That is a tough question. Everything is my favourite. There are so many beautiful and poignant parts.
Ok so what is your favourite line?
Goodness is nothing in the furnace of art. (Wow) Yes that is a line that gives both the actor and the audience something to think about.
Random question alert! How would you describe the play, Amadeus to an alien from out of space in one sentence?
This is a story of man’s love/hate story with immortality. That is the simplest but best way I can describe it in one sentence.
Going back to your early years, what took you into acting?
It was always something that I wanted to do even as a child. Performing was an outlet for my passion and I was encouraged by my family which was wonderful. It was not until I was in adolescence that I truly knew that acting was going to be my profession and that I was truly capable. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else or being involved in anything else.
Congratulations on being the first black man to play Iago in the classic Shakespeare play Othello at the RSC. How did you approach that role?
Thank you, it was an exciting and interesting role to play. What sticks out to me in a character comes out in my first reading of the script and for me Iago sounded like a jilted lover. His best friend, Othello, was turning his back on him and I think for a long time Iago has been misunderstood. Iago had been by his side from the beginning and being in the military together had created a strong bond so he was heartbroken and almost like a petulant teenage boy who had lost his best friend. (Their bromance was broken) Yes exactly! I loved playing Iago and bringing out these elements of his character. Overall I felt that we bought Othello the play kicking and screaming into the modern world with that production.
It is a fantastic buzz though, performing on a live stream to so many people in and out of the theatre is exciting and it is amazing to know that the audience, wherever they are in the world, are getting an experience of the show.
Who has been your favourite actor to perform with?
Gosh, there are so many I can’t list all of them. I have been so blessed to work with many talented people and not just those on stage or screen but also the behind the scenes people who don’t often get noticed. I can name Jenny Jules (read interview), she is a wonderful actress and doesn’t get enough recognition in this country; Marianne Jean-Baptiste; Clint Dyer (read interview); O-T Fagbenle (read interview) and Sharon D Clarke (read interview) – all of the Ma Rainey cast were fantastic and I enjoyed working with them, it was a special experience
How do you juggle being both an actor and a playwright?
First and foremost I am a theatre-maker. I have always acted and written but I am always a performer. When I am in the room as an actor I just act nothing else. I do the job that I have been assigned to do out of respect for the playwright and director, and to exercise respect and discipline so that I can do my best in that role as an actor. The great part about acting, apart from being on stage and entertaining an audience, is that you don’t have any other responsibility (laughs) you don’t have to worry about technicalities or costumes or finances, all of the nitty gritty everyday things that go on in any production.
Do you have any pearls of wisdom for aspiring actors?
This is a question that I have been asked a few times as I am now in the next chapter of my career. My pearl of wisdom is; to do the work. Do it, don’t make it. By that I mean don’t be so consumed with “making it” that you don’t get on with doing it. The idea nowadays is that fame is the endgame of many creative professions, whether that is music or acting, and this is not reality. Doing the work makes you better, not the fame. Some people are famous nowadays and they have not done any work so that does not make them better at anything it just makes them famous. If you have a passion you should work on it and concentrate on doing it.
Info: Amadeus (see listing) is on at the National Theatre into March 18, 2017. Catch the NT Live performance on February 2, 2017; find out more | Review of Amadeus | Get £15 tickets to see Amadeus using this link |Amadeus returns to the National Theatre in January 2018