In Theater
May 10, 1999

Marber's Men

By Paul Wontorek
On stage, as the male punching bags of Patrick Marber's Closer, they are polar opposites. Rupert Graves is Dan, the flirty writer who charms both Natasha Richardson and Anna Friel with cunning ease. Ciaran Hinds, meanwhile, plays a dermatologist named Larry, who performs similarly cruel acts of mating with an almost wimpish air.

These two London gentlemen cross paths most memorably in a cybersex chat scene written with a filthy wit that has made Closer one of the season's most talked-about plays.

The only holdover from the London production [sic], Hinds has acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Glasgow Citizen's Theatre, the Abbey, and other theaters in his native Ireland. In addition to numerous theater credits, Graves has starred in the best of British cinema: A Room With a View, Maurice, Mrs. Dalloway, and The Madness of King George, among others.

The two stars chatted with InTheater before a performance. Off stage, they're low-key, private, and seemingly oblivious to the lure of high profile careers in America.

What was your reaction when you got your hands on this script? Rupert: It scared me a bit, actually. It's written kind of sparingly, which is scary. It's done in an episodic sort of way. And the story evoked fear in me.

Fear as a performer? Rupert: Fear as a reader. And just as a person. Ciaran: I just couldn't believe that Patrick sort of let the cat out of the bag about how horrible men can be. Did it make you want to be involved, or were you intimidated? Rupert: I wanted to do it. Oh, yeah. I was taken with it. Ciaran: I've been doing this show for years now. And it's changed a lot. It's really been cut back and rearranged.

Performers say that American audiences are more puritanical than those in London. How are they reacting to the raciness of Closer? Ciaran: We had some trouble with the use of the word "cunt" yesterday. Bur normally, we don't have a problem. After a while, audiences get used to the language. But the first few times these words are said, it's pretty graphic. Rupert: We get such varied reactions from night to night. [To Ciaran] Don't you think you get more people talking here? Ciaran: Yes, it's like, "Shut up."

Before I saw Closer, someone told me that it was just about sex; everyone slept with everyone else. Rupert: That's it! Yeah, even you guys did... Ciaran: We did? Yes, that cybersex scene was hysterical. Rupert: Well, that's not really what's happening in that scene. It's not about us having sex...

I realize that, but you two have some raunchy dialogue. Are sex chat rooms big in London? Rupert: Oh yeah, sure. It happens over there. Ciaran: A bit, yes.

Speaking of the Net, you guys both have worship sites on the Web. Ciaran: I've heard that. I haven't been there, but I was told about it. You must have seen yours, Rupert. Rupert: No, I haven't either.

Yours has an extensive photo gallery... Ciaran: They probably have your nude pictures. Which movies were you nude in? Rupert: A Room with a View and some others. A few.

A female friend of mine thought that your characters were bastards in Closer. I didn't feel that. Do you notice a difference in reactions between men and women? Rupert: Well, yes. I don't think my character is a bastard, but he does do things that are destructive. But not really, I mean, what does he do that's so bad? He falls in love with two women.

Your character is more of a victim, Ciaran. Ciaran: I suppose, and I see how people find his actions bad, but isn't that true of all the characters? Well, year, everyone seems a bit evil except perhaps Anna [Friel's] character. Rupert: Except that she's living a lie. She's been leading my character on for years.

This play is comfortable with its sexuality. Is it odd to have a co-star's rear end in your face on stage? Ciaran: It's an emotional relationship, you have to have some sort of trust amongst one another. Rupert: It's the emotional scenes that are much more challenging than the sexual things. Although there are no actual sex scenes in the show. Just a lot of talk. Ciaran: Yes, there is an amazing amount of trust between the four of us.

That came naturally? Ciaran: No, but it came. It was a part of the process.

It seems like it would be a hard show to do if you hated a co-star. [They both look at each other and laugh.] Rupert: Yes.

So... Rupert: We're getting on fine.

It's a great ensemble. Rupert: Well, these are four extraordinarily strong characters. They're so rich and they compliment each other nicely. So, it's fun to do. Yes, it might not be as successful with another group of people.

A married couple I know saw Closer. She loved it; He hated it. Rupert: Yeah, that happens. Ciaran: Men have a problem with it. Rupert: It's true. Men don't like to watch this. They don't like how the male characters are treated. I mean, it's not civilized behavior, is it?

Do you like New York? Ciaran: Oh yeah. We were really fond of O'Flaherty's last night! [They both laugh.]

Do you guys hang out often? Rupert: Well, yeah. Ciaran and I are staying in the same apartment building. With Anna.

Oh, the Closer dorm? Is it like college? Rupert: Not quite. Ciaran: We're getting a bit old for that.

How is Broadway different from the West End? Rupert: Well, there's more of a community here. Ciaran: Yeah, we get invited to all these parties and such. But I never go. Do you? Rupert: No. [They laugh.] Ciaran: It seems like there's so much work here to sell a show. There's always a big fear about how many tickets the show is selling.

Does that keep yo on edge? Ciaran: Sure it does.

Actors have been known to stand at the TKTS booth convincing people to buy tickets to their show. [They both burst our laughing.] Ciaran: It's hard enough to perform in a show, without doing all of that!

Do you have desires to have bigger careers in America? Rupert: Not really. Ciaran: No.

Rupert, aren't you in that big new Cleopatra TV movie? Rupert: Yeah, I am.

I just saw a big billboard in Times Square, with Cleopatra naked. Rupert: What? I haven't seen that. Where's the billboard?!?

It's right on Broadway, between 43rd and 44th. It's her lying there naked. Rupert: She's very beautiful. Ciaran: Where did you say it was?

Just walk to Broadway and look up. Ciaran: [to Rupert] Let's take a look, shall we? Rupert: Right now. Shall we?