By Angie Kamel, ACT Artistic Engagement Manager
Lorenzo Roberts moved to Seattle from New York in January 2015 and he’s been working steadily as an actor on our stages ever since. You’ve seen him around town with Seattle Shakespeare Company, Seattle Immersive Theatre, and in ACTLab as part of the 2015 Kenan Directing Fellowship. I sat down with him over a smoothie in April. He has an infectious smile, a casual manner, and the grace of a southern gentleman. This should come as no surprise as he has spent his youth between New York City and South Carolina, where he says he became an artist.
What was your initial response when you read this play?
When I first read the play, I was like, honestly, “I don’t know if I know who this guy is.” Normally, when I have a role, I’m like, “Oh, I know exactly who this person is and where I’m gonna go,” or I have an idea of where this is gonna go. And I read this and I was like, “He scares me.” Which, I think for actors is always a great feeling: to be scared by something. We want to jump into the fear. I really fell in love with the relationships between the characters, but it’s been a long process of me having that fear of who this guy is and using the different tools in my belt to kind of work backwards, [to] bring him closer to me.
What do you like about Jonny?
He holds secrets and I don’t. He’s very grounded, which I think I am as well, but he’s grounded in a different way. There is a mystery to Jonny—he holds people at a distance, and I think there’s power in that and I’m very interested in that power. I also love how smart he is.
He was raised by an old Black Baptist woman; respect is one of the number one rules in a southern household, which I know from experience. It’s an endearing quality but I think there’s also power in the change. Respect is having a certain feeling and reserving it, in a way, but there’s also power in letting that out.
Jonny grew up without a father. Howard is the closest father figure in his life. But it’s complicated because he’s a white Jewish man from New York who is also the father of his best friend. He’s been over at this guy’s house everyday for the past 10 years, just about. There’s a friction that happens when you spend enough time with someone, but it’s different when they’re not your blood relative. There’s a choice that needs to be made, whether you’re going to stick it out or not, and I think Jonny and Howard are bumping heads all the time. And Howard’s position … he kinda has to deal with it because Charlotte’s his world. I’m at the point now where I’m dreaming about these guys—I can’t stop thinking about it now, which is great.
Already? Before you even start rehearsal?
That’s part of the point of the Core [Company]. We can kind of do that, we can have this long-form theatre conversation. Normally in a theatre process you get maybe five or six weeks for the entire thing. You get cast, you get maybe a week or two of prep, and then you go into rehearsal for two or three weeks, then you’re up. With this, I knew in November. So I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, you know, which is great. And I think nothing but good things can come from that if you handle it the right way. Early on, I just read the play once every week. Last month I started reading the play every day just to kinda, see what my opinions are. Now I’m starting to do the deep research before I go in [to rehearsal].
Tell me more about your process when preparing for a role.
It changes with everything, but for this I have been people-watching. Reading the play every day. [I] started doing simple things like [asking], what’s my backstory with my mom, with Charlotte? What’s Charlotte’s favorite color? What’s the restaurant we go to all the time?
Do you feel like there’s been a significant change in the way you function as an artist since you joined the Core Company?
Yeah, I think this year in Seattle, this year in America, this year in the Core Company specifically have all inspired me to look at art differently.
What do you mean by that?
I mean, I don’t want to get too political. For me, black men and women are still dying. The racial tension is huge. I think the conversations are happening. I don’t know if the conversation is going the way it should be, right now. If we’re hearing all the voices.
If you could program one show next season what would it be?
Let’s do Hamilton!
Catch Lorenzo at ACT this season in The Mystery of Love & Sex, The Royale, and A Christmas Carol.