Though Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are obviously the stars of the productions of Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land now on Broadway, even those two can’t play all the roles themselves (thought who wouldn’t like to see them try?) One of the other actors involved is Shuler Hensley, who spoke to NJ.com about taking a role in such a high-profile and challenging production.
Hensley admits that when his friends asked him if it possible to do both plays in the same day, he honestly didn’t know if he could pull it off. He points out, “It’s the same as when you say, ‘Are you ready for children?’ You don’t know. You can’t answer that question until you do it.”
Of course, Hensley is not the amateur he implies with those words. He has a long history starring in Broadway musicals and operas and won a Tony and a Drama Desk awards for his role in Oklahoma! and has a number of film and television appearances to his credit. Still, he isn’t lying when he says that starring in two acclaimed plays in one night is daunting.
He reveals that the production began to tackle the double bill by discussing amongst themselves how to approach it. He recalls, “We sat around the table an awful lot and discussed each play. Then, we would get on our feet and experiment, and when you’re experimenting with two Sirs, good things happen.”
Hensley is the rare breed of actor who grew up equally devoted to theater as he was to sports. He says, “I did sports and I did ballet and theater in a time when you just didn’t do that. But I didn’t know any better. I was always the biggest guy anyway, so no one teased me.” In a way, Hensley’s varied resume ever since an early age ties into his goal to avoid being pigeonholed. He explains, “It’s trying to escape labels. I encourage people not to look in the mirror and say ‘I’m this’ or ‘I’m that’ if you have a desire to do multiple things.”
One thing that he enjoys about adding Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land to his resume is that the plays aren’t “frozen” like the performances in his musical theater experience. He enjoys the challenge of having to react to different circumstances during each performance. He explains, “It does mirror life in that what you find to be true one day, the next day is not going to be so true anymore. Just when you think you understand, there can be something else that leaps out that profoundly changes your whole opinion. We’re always finding new hidden things in these pieces.”