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Spotlight on The Spoils

We interrupted rehearsals to catch up with Jesse Eisenberg (writer and actor), Kunal Nayyar (actor), Katie Brayben (actor) and Scott Elliot (director) and find out a bit more about The Spoils and its stars ahead of the highly-anticipated opening night at Trafalgar Studios.

Jesse Eisenberg, Alfie Allen and Katie Brayben in rehearsals. (Photograph by Oliver Rosser)

Hi Jesse. It’s 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: It’s great. When I’m acting I’m completely engaged in that aspect of my work and when I’m writing I’m completely engaged in that - I’m 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 I’m 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: It’s an honour, he’s an incredible artist. I’ve 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: What’s fantastic about Jesse is that he’s so open to things. He’s open to Scott, the director, and he’s very open to us. I think it’s a wonderful thing. He’s not someone that’s precious about it. He’s really open to ideas and it’s lovely to be in the rehearsal room.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kunal Nayyar in rehearsals. (Photograph by Oliver Rosser)

Now you’ve had several of your plays staged off-Broadway, do you feel like you’ve found your rhythm as a writer, Jesse?

Jesse: No, no - I’ve had three plays done in New York and each time, as soon as I’ve finished it, I have no idea how I was able to do it. They’re very personal plays, they all come from very personal feelings that I’m feeling at the moment. When it’s over I don’t know how to harness that feeling again, and it’s 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 I’d like to see when the world that I’m living in is not right... and when everything is going okay for me, I can’t 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, who’s played by Jesse. He’s become this hardened narcissist - he’s become this monster, if you will, of his own creation. I play Sarah who’s interested in him because he’s such a fascinating character. They’ve all got their agendas and everyone’s got their objectives though. But it’s done in a very subtle way, and that’s what’s interesting about it - it's that people will sit there and think “I know that dinner party!”

Jesse: It’s 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 it’s really fun coming into theatre and I don’t feel like I’m doing this to change perceptions or to show I can do other things. I just think it’s 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 - we’re shooting a 22 minute episode. This show is so well done that it’s really gratifying, so it’s 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)

What’s it  like working on The Spoils again almost a year after its acclaimed run in New York?

Jesse: I’ve really now heard the play three different ways. I’ve heard it with my own voice as all of the characters while I’m writing it, and I’ve 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 they’re 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 I’ve also become different. Twelve months is a long time - you change as a human being too. So I’m noticing a lot of different things in myself, and I change how I’m 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 hadn’t 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 they’re 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: It’s so funny with theatre - you just bond so quickly because you’ve got to. Me and Alfie, our characters are all over each other a lot, so on the first day you’re thinking “I don’t know where to touch you or what’s comfortable or what we should do!” But we soon got into feeling comfortable with each other. Everyone’s 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 doesn’t micro-manage. He wants people to discover for themselves.

Jesse: It’s 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. I’d be remiss if I didn’t 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.

Click here to book your tickets.