Interview with Rory Kinnear of NT Live: Macbeth - Picturehouse Spotlight

Interview with Rory Kinnear of NT Live: Macbeth

Shakespeare’s most intense and terrifying tragedy will grace our cinema screens this week, broadcast live from the National Theatre. Directed by Rufus Norris with Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the latest adaptation from the National Theatre sees the Macbeths ruthlessly fight to survive following a bloody civil war.

Rory Kinnear tells us what drew him to this production and the practicalities of bringing Macbeth to life.


What drew you to this production of Macbeth?

It’s a role I’ve always wanted to play. Also, I’ve known Rufus [Norris, the director] for a long time and I thought his imaginative sensitivities and capabilities with a play that requires so much imagination – both from a creative and an audience standpoint – would be a great fit. Then when Anne-Marie Duff [as Lady Macbeth] agreed to do it as well it seemed like the perfect marriage of everything.

What do you feel makes Shakespeare’s work so timeless?

I’m drawn to his work is because you get the exquisite sensation of being able to say these words to an audience and you get to try and unpick the motivations of the characters and the lives behind the words. The words are extraordinary enough in themselves but what Shakespeare leaves out and what he requires his actors to do, and directors as well is to create the worlds behind the words. That’s a great sort of act of generosity from someone who was obviously so skilled himself and who could have written detailed directions telling actors how to play the roles but he doesn’t – he just gives you what the characters need to say and it’s your responsibility to flesh out those characters as much as possible.

And what do you feel makes his work ripe for reinvention?

I think it’s that thing that he doesn’t give you judgement. You as actors and you as audiences are left to make your own minds up. His plays are very un-didactic and as a result, they’re very elastic so not only do they continue to breathe throughout time, in the 400 years since they were written, but also from production to production they continue to be able to withstand the different energies that a different group of people will bring to them. They’re plays where were you to do them every year with the same group of people you’d still find different ways of doing them. In some ways, the difficulty with doing one of the plays is making a decision because if you only get the chance to do it once then that’s what your production is going to be yet there are obviously 1,000 other ways you could possibly have done it. Making a decision and limiting yourself to one choice is sort of the agony of it.

Are there any other Shakespeare parts you’d like to play one day, like King Lear maybe further down the line?

You’d hope I wasn’t old enough yet to play King Lear. But I don’t feel like you get to Macbeth and go ‘I’m going to stop doing this now’. I’ve loved all the Shakespeares that I’ve done because however good some plays are, if you’ve been doing them for a few months you think ‘There might be different ways to do this but I think I’ve explored it to its extent’. With these plays, they’re bottomless and you make discoveries every night as well as getting a richer understanding of the character. They just continue to change and grow and deepen.

Do you approach a classic role such as Macbeth differently to something contemporary like Black Mirror?

No matter what you’re playing that’s always the deal – you’ve got to learn the lines, although in the theatre you’re doing it every night while with TV you might do three or four takes on camera then move onto something else. The practicalities of bringing it to life are different but in terms of the bigger picture, it’s the same in that you’re creating characters according to what somebody has written for you.


NT Live: Macbeth (2018)

Duration: 168 min 

In the ruined aftermath of a bloody civil war, the Macbeths ruthlessly fight to survive, and forces of elemental darkness propel them towards the crown. Rufus Norris (The Threepenny Opera, London Road) directs Shakespeare’s most intense and terrifying tragedy, starring Rory Kinnear (Young Marx, Othello) and Anne-Marie Duff (Oil, Suffragette) as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

NT Live: Macbeth is in cinemas Thursday 10 May

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Photography by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

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