Actor Larry Yando, who plays Malvolio, met with members of the CST Education Department to discuss his approach to the role and his experiences with Shakespeare and CST.
Larry Yando as Malvolio in Twelfth Night
CST: While rehearsal hasnít started yet and your understanding and relationship to this character will certainly evolve, what can you tell us at this point about the character of Malvolio?
Larry Yando: Malvolio is somewhat of a Chief of Staff for Olivia, heís the head of the ďdownstairsĒ household, really, and I believe that heís in love with Olivia. Heís made fun of by the servants of the household, who prey on these true feelings he has for Olivia. But this is someone who doesnít show emotions, who keeps everything bottled up. He is one of those people whoís not in touch with his feelings or doesnít quite know how to deal with them, so is shut down. You couldnít call them ďvillains,Ē but theyíre the people we donít like—icy, cold, distant, remote, and nasty. When those roles are written well, as Shakespeare does and this is a brilliant one, underneath there is pain, desperation, hurt, and need. All that is exposed throughout the course of the play, which is just a goldmine for an actor. Itís why I love those roles. You see a multi-faceted, exciting and ultimately sympathetic character, although most people think of him as the ďBaddieĒ because he behaves badly. But Shakespeare shows us why and allows us to see whatís underneath.
CST: Is this a role that youíve been drawn to in some particular way?
LY: Iím totally excited about doing it and even more so when I met Josie Rourke, the director. I feel like Iím getting to play all these malcontents. All these people, these damaged individuals—Prospero, Timon, Henry IV, Scrooge, even Scar in Lion King—theyíre the most interesting people to me.
Iím lucky that a lot of times people offer me parts without auditioning because theyíve worked with me before. Josie didnít know me, of course, because she hasnít worked over here. And Iíve been auditioning long enough to know not to put too much weight on whether Iím going to get a part or not. I do my best, and whatever happens, happens. Thatís how I went into the audition. But after spending 40 minutes sitting next to Josie—just my first impressions, how she spoke and how she listened to me—when I left I was nervous because all of the sudden I really wanted the part. We clicked, and she excites me. And thatís fun to me—the role and her, and the play.
CST: Larry, youíve performed so many great roles over the years with Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Can you look back for a moment with us at some of the first productions that started your career really as a Shakespearean actor?
LY: The first shows I did with the company were Cymbeline and Shrew, in the 93/94 season. I played Hortensio in Taming of the Shrew, one of Biancaís many suitors, the one who gets the lute smashed over his head. And I played the Storyteller in Cymbeline, which is the other end of the spectrum—a commanding, all-knowing, powerful, omni-present character Barbara created in her production out of a number of other characters in the script. Then I played Master Page in Barbaraís Merry Wives of Windsor in the 96/97 season, and I started working here a lot after that. I was cast as the Painter or the Poet—one of those two roles, in Timon of Athens. I donít know the back story of this, all I know is I ended up playing Timon with about eight days notice. Michael Bogdanov was the director coming over from England, and I think it was the first contemporary setting that the company staged. Then, as we closed our last season at the Ruth Page, we did Barbaraís Henry IV, Parts I and II the first time. I was Henry and that was a fabulous production. And then we moved to the new space here on the Pier, and it goes on...
CST: Had you performed Shakespeare already when you started performing it here with this company? How did this career of yours begin here in Chicago?
LY: No, Shakespeare was not something I had pursued. I was doing lots of musicals, lots of straight plays, but I wasnít doing Shakespeare until I started doing it here at this theater. I was a dancer my whole life and had a dance scholarship to Boston Conservatory. I lasted almost a year and realized that all my friends were actors and doing everything I wanted to do, and I was in the right part of town but just not on the right street, so I just had to shift over. So I shifted, left that school and went to upstate to SUNY New Paltz, this fabulous Liberal Arts college that had this incredible little theater program. Then I came here to get my MFA at DePaulís Theatre School because Chicago sounded fun. And I thought Iíd go right back to New York where ďeverybodyĒ was, and then got out of school and luckily got in a non-Equity show at Pegasus, then another non-Equity show at Pegasus, and then got cast in Kiss of the Spiderwoman, the play that Eric Simonson was directing with Harry Lennix, Jr. No one knew who I was really, but I got a Jeff Award, and I remember hearing at that ceremony as I was walking up to get the award someone saying ĎWHO?!?í I was definitely in the performing arts from very little. My kindergarten teacher told my mother on four report cards in a row to ďgive him lessons, he sings and dances in classĒ—and my motherís from a family of like 14 football-playing brothers, a huge Irish jock family...
Larry Yando as Henry IV in
Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 (1999)
CST: Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play that youíve done here?
LY: I loved Timon, with this disintegration of a faÁade of a man. The two acts are so completely different from one another—one I have all the elegance and money one could ever want, and the other Iím living in a junk pile. The journey was great. That was the same with The Tempest I did here, with Prospero, a wrathful, angry man who somehow finds it in his heart to forgive and love again. Itís those long arcs that Shakespeare does so incredibly. I also loved doing the Henrys [Henry IV Parts 1 and 2]. It surprised me. It was an amazing experience. It was much more of an emotional roller coaster than I ever thought it would be and very fulfilling. I think that might be my favorite thing I did here. I was young for the part, but it set on me well and I really loved it. That role may have been my ďEureka momentĒ with Shakespeare, where you somehow get it. When everything you know as an actor becomes one with the language and the characters, who talk in iambic pentameter—and thereís no difference, it all becomes a piece. Itís a Eureka moment.
Listen to Larry Yando talk about Eureka moments
CST: Youíve been teaching Shakespeare to actors here at CST. You seem to truly enjoy that part of your career, perhaps as much as acting itself.
LY: For me, it just keeps me investigating Shakespeare. But really I teach it because of what Shakespeare did for me. There are a lot of good actors who are intimidated and feel like they hit a wall when it comes to Shakespeare or other classical language. Because it was so transformative to me, and because I love it, I feel I can make that path a little easier for people, at least I hope I can. And, yes, I do love doing it.
The trick is, everything that actors know—Stanislavski, Method, that acting approach to contemporary realism—thatís all essential. That all personalizes the role, making the part your own, and understanding who these people are on a deep, human level. Acting is hard enough, putting all the pieces together. With Shakespeare, thereís the added element that we donít speak in iambic pentameter, or use the vocabulary in the prose. It feels like a big hurdle to add into the mix. But it has to cease being a hurdle and has to become how you speak. With Shakespeare, there is a technical responsibility that you have, especially with the verse. The trick is melding the two, the content and form. Thereís the danger that we get a lot of form, a lot of technique, and all the content that you already knew how to bring to your work gets thrown out. Itís a tricky negotiation—you need both. Itís not just technique to the exclusion of inner life, itís all that stuff together. Thatís the tricky part for actors and why people shy away from it.
Audiences come to see Shakespeare—yes for the costumes, yes for the set, yes for whatever actors may bring—but they come to see Shakespeare for the language. Actors must deliver it with vitality, with clarity, and with a unique understanding so that every single person in the audience receives it, understands it, and feels it. Thatís the intimidating part of it. The audience wonít feel anything unless you do, too. It requires a great, great deal of energy, mentally and physically.
Listen to Larry Yando talk about performing on the Chicago Shakespeare stage.
Listen to Larry Yando talk about the audience at CST.
Learn more in an interview with Director Josie Rourke.