Bobby Cannavale on the Physical Challenge of ‘The Hairy Ape’ and the Advice Bruce Springsteen Gave Him

Actor Bobby Cannavale

“I get to the theater two hours early and run the play in my head, because it’s a lot of words and it takes me there.” – Bobby Cannavale

For Tony Award-nominated actor Bobby Cannavale, the show must go on — even if he tears his meniscus during rehearsals. Cannavale stars in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, which is currently being staged in New York City at the Park Avenue Armory’s Thompson Arts Center. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Cannavale spoke about how he is dealing with his injury during the production and how he prepares for his role nightly.

Cannavale explains why his The Hairy Ape is one of the most difficult roles of his career. He says, “I’m always looking to do something I haven’t done before, but it’s the most physically demanding role I’ve ever had. I knew it would be when I read it — this guy is a beast, and the part is really written for somebody 20 years younger than me. I lose my voice, I hurt myself a lot. I tore my meniscus during rehearsals two weeks ago; I took a cortisone shot and I have to have surgery on it after the show. But I felt I have to do it because I’ll probably never get to play something quite this physical again.”

The demands of the role require Cannavale to go through extensive pre-show preparation. He explains, “I try to stay quiet as much as I can, but [my wife Rose Byrne and I] have a 14-month-old at home. I do a good, long workout, and I get to the theater two hours early and run the play in my head, because it’s a lot of words and it takes me there. But I don’t overthink it too much.”

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That also includes a strict diet before performances. He reveals, “I don’t eat much beforehand — just soup or something — because I like to be hungry for the show. Not to drop a name, but one time I had dinner with Bruce Springsteen — he’s my hero — and I asked him, ‘When you’re playing in New Jersey, do you eat at home or do you eat the shit they give you at the stadium?’ He laughed and said, ‘No one’s ever asked me that before. I don’t eat before a show because I like to be hungry.’ Then I like to have a steak afterwards to replenish.”

Despite all that preparation, Cannavale keeps his dressing room sufficiently clear. He says, “Just [a steamer] and stuff for my voice and knee braces. I’m not a guy who puts talismans and shit. I love what I do and I take it really seriously, but it’s my job. I just have what I need, and everything else is inside of me.”

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