Though it is still in previews, Orphans is one of the most talked about Broadway plays in recent memory. This is because it not only stars Alec Baldwin making his Broadway return for the first time in nine years and it is directed by Tony Award winner Daniel Sullivan, but because of the extensive behind the scenes drama that led to the exit of Shia LaBeouf from the cast and its very public aftermath.
In an interview with The New York Times, Baldwin spoke about his hand in bringing the play to Broadway and his feelings on LaBeouf making their behind-the-scenes drama very public.
Baldwin reveals that he was the driving force behind the play’s return to New York. He explains, “I knew Al Pacino was circling it. He did it once at a 75-seat theater in L.A. in 2005. I thought, ‘I have to see that,’ and flew out. Then when Al said he’d do Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway this season, I knew Orphans was available. So I went to producers and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ You spend years tracking plays until you’re right for them and then try to make the other factors happen — getting the right theater, the producers, the money, the rights, the director, the cast. I’m at the age where, in the Tennessee Williams canon, all that’s available is Shannon [in The Night of the Iguana]. After that it’s Big Daddy.”
He also adds that there were several reasons why he decided to stage Orphans, pointing out, “Having knocked around New York pitching shows to producers with 20 people in the cast I realized that was a problem. Orphans is a three hander. Things happen quicker if it’s a small cast. Also I like shows with a language that I never get tired of. And the last thing is the director. I’ve always wanted to work with Sullivan.”
Another thing Baldwin was interested in is how the play’s text has changed now that the cultural has changed. He explains, “In Orphans you have me saying to a young guy: ‘Come on over here, son, you’re a good boy, let me encourage you. You want some encouragement? Let me give you some encouragement.’ Back then (the play premiered in 1983) this was straightforward dialogue, received by the audience without much irony. Today it’s a gay and sitcomy world, where innuendo is seen in everything. We asked ourselves, ‘How do we say those lines and stay with it,’ because there’s no gay subtext to what Harold is doing. But at the first preview people snickered at that… You just play the lines straightforwardly. And you focus on your intention. My character grew up in an orphanage, and he’s determined to give these two other orphan boys a chance.”
When asked what he finds most difficult about being in a play, Baldwin seems to callback to ex-co-star Shia LaBeouf’s criticism that he did not have the play memorized during the first read-throughs. He confesses, “Rehearsal is painful. Not knowing the lines, not having a mastery of the text is painful, because until you have it you can’t play the scenes. When we’re up onstage now I kind of dig it. It’s fun. Though I know half the audience is going to like it for the wrong reason, half of them are not going to like it for the wrong reason. You just do the show.”
In fact, Baldwin specifically addresses LaBeouf’s exit by saying that he didn’t feel it was his sole responsibility to ensure that their performances meshed if he wasn’t right for the part. He explains, “I didn’t look at it as my job. The only thing I have to say about that is: We ended up with exactly the people we were meant to end up with. The problem with what happened was, there is a definite rhythm to a play. In Week 1 of rehearsals you should be here, Week 2 you should be there, and so on. I tend to panic at the onset of rehearsal — and then take a deep breath and tell yourself at the end of the Week 3 you will be O.K. I didn’t really care about whether the person was gone or what his own personal issues were. It was kind of a jug-handle turn, but we got here.”
Baldwin also adds that he felt LaBeouf should not have gone public with the behind-the-scenes e-mails, saying, “My greatest regret is that the rehearsal process got exposed by the person himself.” However, he also admits it isn’t close to being among the worst behind-the-scenes behavior that audiences never hear about, adding, “I just want to say: The worst cases you never hear about. Hollywood studios bury that stuff — actors who punch directors in the face and try to run producers over with cars — insanity, criminal behavior. But the studios are invested in that star, they can’t have that person’s name dirtied up. The problem here is it became public.”