Spotlight on The Spoils
Jesse Eisenberg, Alfie Allen and Katie Brayben in rehearsals. (Photograph by Oliver Rosser)
Hi Jesse. Its a really impressive feat to both write and star in a piece of theatre. How have you found balancing these two roles with The Spoils?
Jesse: Its great. When Im acting Im completely engaged in that aspect of my work and when Im writing Im completely engaged in that - Im able to separate them very easily. I love it when something strange happens on stage that is unplanned because it enlivens us as actors in a way that keeps us fresh and engaged. So as much as I labour over every word when Im writing, I enjoy the kind of spontaneous aspect of live theatre.
For everybody else, what has it been like bringing a play to life alongside the mind behind it?
Scott: Its an honour, hes an incredible artist. Ive known him as a friend for a long time so when he gave me the play, I was so excited that I loved it so much. We have a good friendship - he trusts me and I trust him. In the rehearsal process we collaborated on the script, but it was close when he handed it in. I think he's very meticulous when he does things, which isn't always the case, so he's very talented!
Katie: Whats fantastic about Jesse is that hes so open to things. Hes open to Scott, the director, and hes very open to us. I think its a wonderful thing. Hes not someone thats precious about it. Hes really open to ideas and its lovely to be in the rehearsal room.
Jesse Eisenberg and Kunal Nayyar in rehearsals. (Photograph by Oliver Rosser)
Now youve had several of your plays staged off-Broadway, do you feel like youve found your rhythm as a writer, Jesse?
Jesse: No, no - Ive had three plays done in New York and each time, as soon as Ive finished it, I have no idea how I was able to do it. Theyre very personal plays, they all come from very personal feelings that Im feeling at the moment. When its over I dont know how to harness that feeling again, and its the most unnerving part of my job that I feel at a loss for how I was able to previously do it.
What do you think it is that sparks a new project for you?
Jesse: Writing for me has always been the last resort. I try to work everything out in my life and if something is not fitting then my last resort is to put it down in characters and at least create the world that Id like to see when the world that Im living in is not right... and when everything is going okay for me, I cant write a word.
Alfie Allen and Katie Brayben in rehearsals. (Photograph by Oliver Rosser)
Could you tell us a bit about the characters we will meet in The Spoils?
Katie: The characters are all very complex and interesting, especially Ben. We all orbit Ben, whos played by Jesse. Hes become this hardened narcissist - hes become this monster, if you will, of his own creation. I play Sarah whos interested in him because hes such a fascinating character. Theyve all got their agendas and everyones got their objectives though. But its done in a very subtle way, and thats whats interesting about it - it's that people will sit there and think I know that dinner party!
Jesse: Its a five character play and really I was experiencing what all five characters were going through. Whether it be kind of feelings of pining after somebody or being stuck in a friendship that might be dysfunctional. So I was definitely feeling all the things that these characters are feeling. I was also interested in the politics of Nepal at the time and I was reading a lot about it. So the second main character is a Nepalese immigrant who is struggling against being a new immigrant in an exclusive white culture.
Kunal, how has it been for you to play a character on stage after so much screen work?
Kunal: I love The Big Bang Theory, but its really fun coming into theatre and I dont feel like Im doing this to change perceptions or to show I can do other things. I just think its a wonderful character and the writing is phenomenal. I love theatre because you have time to find very deep layers of a character. TV is a different medium - were shooting a 22 minute episode. This show is so well done that its really gratifying, so its the dream of every actor - to be in a rehearsal space that you feel safe in but where you can take risks, and discover things that you want to carry through.
Annapurna Sriram and Kunal Nayyar in rehearsals. (Photograph by Oliver Rosser)
Whats it like working on The Spoils again almost a year after its acclaimed run in New York?
Jesse: Ive really now heard the play three different ways. Ive heard it with my own voice as all of the characters while Im writing it, and Ive heard it with four actors in America and their voices took over from what was my voice doing with it. And now Alfie (Allen) and Katie have taken over from those American actors, and the way theyre doing it now is the only way I hear it.
Kunal: Because I know the play and I know these words, I do have to reconnect with a lot of things. But Ive also become different. Twelve months is a long time - you change as a human being too. So Im noticing a lot of different things in myself, and I change how Im reacting to my character doing it for a second time and after living for an entire year. I feel very relaxed though. Last time I was very nervous because I hadnt done a play in ten years!
So how do you think British audiences are going to react to it?
Scott: I hope that people are going to find it as funny and gut-wrenching as they did in America. One of the things that we all felt was that when people were watching it, one person would relate to Character X and one person would relate to Character Y, and so they would come away from it with a totally different point of view. I think a cool thing about ensemble plays when theyre well-written and well-performed, is how much people can relate to different characters in them.
Jesse Eisenberg and Katie Brayben in rehearsals. (Photograph by Oliver Rosser)
How have you found being in rehearsals as part of this new ensemble?
Katie: Its so funny with theatre - you just bond so quickly because youve got to. Me and Alfie, our characters are all over each other a lot, so on the first day youre thinking I dont know where to touch you or whats comfortable or what we should do! But we soon got into feeling comfortable with each other. Everyones been so welcoming and Scott Elliot is just so spot on. He just finds these amazing moments for you.
Kunal: Scott is one of the best directors I have ever worked with because he knows how to push you far enough and he also allows you to do things. He doesnt micro-manage. He wants people to discover for themselves.
Jesse: Its wonderful. Alfie is so funny in this, and so charming and dorky in an adorable way. I think it will be such a surprise for an English audience that might know him a certain way from Game of Thrones to see him in this role. And Katie is such a phenomenal actress, with so much emotion. You could throw her into any scene and she would be the most comfortable one on stage. Id be remiss if I didnt say how lucky I am to have four of the greatest actors around be a part of it.
Jesse Eisenberg in rehearsals. (Photograph by Oliver Rosser)
The Spoils runs at Trafalgar Studios until 13th August.