The wonderfully talented Warren Kelley, starring in the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre productions of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Merry Wives of Windsor shares with The Pickwyck his personal and career beginnings, his extensive acting career and what he is most passionate about.
You received your MFA at Temple University in Philadelphia. Tell us about the education you received there and the most valuable lessons you learned that you have applied to your technique today.
- "I cannot imagine how my life and career would have turned out without the training I received at Temple. It was three intensive years spent on movement, voice, dialects, stage combat, and most importantly, building a real technique for the craft of acting. Plus I was in 8 major productions, in different genres, which were directed by amazing professional directors brought in from around the country. All of my teachers were experts in their fields. But, the main acting teacher at that time was Joel Friedman. I credit him, as does everyone who studied with him, for having given me a real foundation for “the work.” He was all about technique. But, if I was to pick one thing that was core to his work, and now mine, it is “intention.” Starting with Shakespeare and then working through to modern plays…Mr. Friedman showed us how to completely invest in “wanting something” and how the moment to moment work is discovered and inspired by that powerful “need”. I carry his words and work with me to this day."
Who are some of the strongest costars you have worked with and why?
- "A great director once said to me, “You find your performance in your partner’s eyes.” That is very true, and after 200 plays and some TV and film roles, I have “looked into the eyes” of so many extraordinary actors who have absolutely made me better. I will give one example that I’m working with currently. Jean Tafler has played my wife, lover, partner, etc., in many theatres and in many genres. I would say that we are both very technique oriented. But, there is a kind of ease in Ms. Tafler’s work that I think makes me more open and present. And, there is no doubt that we have a comfort level with each other that serves us whether we are doing Shakespeare, Coward, or a modern play by Donald Margulies. But again…I have had the privilege of working with many very fine actors…and we should be always striving to make each other stronger in the work. "
What are you most passionate about in your own life?
- "The single thing that is most important to me is my marriage. I know it is not true for everyone…but for me, having a partner in life makes me stronger, clearer and more fulfilled. That person is the ultimate “mirror” by which I measure my personal ethic, my career, my choices, and my sense of well-being. My husband, Steven Katz, is truly the finest person I know. We have been together for 20 years now and I cannot imagine my life without him. And, happily…I know he feels the same. "
What shows have inspired you personally to maybe see something in a new light? (It doesn't have to be something you have performed in, in general)
- "Seeing the Broadway production of THE FIFTH OF JULY by Landford Wilson, and later playing the lead in it myself, changed the way I looked at dramatic literature and the power of ensemble acting."
What is your earliest memory of theatre?
- "When I was in the 1st grade my parents took me to see the national tour of THE SOUND OF MUSIC at the opera house in San Francisco…starring Florence Henderson. I remember parts of it to this day. My parents said I stood through the entire performance…and when they looked over at me and saw me transfixed for nearly 3 hours…they knew they were “in trouble”! By the time I was in the 8th grade I was already playing major roles in the musicals at school and I had made my decision to be a professional actor. "
You have done an array of theater, film and television work. What has been the most rewarding experience you have had so far? Which style do you prefer?
- "Well, there is no doubt that I am a theatre actor… first and foremost. And, after more than 200 plays, I have been so fortunate to have played countless roles that have been astoundingly rewarding…all in very different ways and for very different reasons. And, there is nothing more gratifying, engaging, and demanding than the task of preparing to go on stage, then standing in the wings, and then for the next 2 or 3 hours immersing myself in the journey of the character that I’m playing, and asking myself to be as present and authentic as I can possibly be…in service of the play. Having said that…I have found television work incredibly rewarding in a very different way. My first day on HBO’s BOARDWALK EMPIRE I spent 9 hours shooting one scene opposite Gretchen Moll and the wonderful Ron Livingston. It was fascinating to do the same scene 20+ times. It was a very subtly tense scene with so much that was “unsaid.” I loved how it continued to change, evolve and be explored simply by having to relive it over and over again."
Tell us about your first car, first job as a teenager and first acting job.
- "My first car was a little used Toyota Station Wagon. It was a stick shift and it had been painted bright red to make it look “new”. The first time I washed it the red came off and ran down the drain. But I drove it all over Philadelphia when I was in Acting School and loved it."
- "My first job was a paper route. It was not a daily paper…it was “The Weekend Shopper.” I just did it Saturday mornings…and, I was obsessively good at that job."
- "My first real professional acting job was playing Simon in Noel Coward’s HAY FEVER at Boston’s American Repertory Theatre. It was in the summer and I still had one more year to finish my MFA at Temple. It was a role that I was perfect for and a genre I have played countless times now. I think I have played almost all of the Coward leads now. Anyway, I got the most scathing reviews. Kevin Kelly, not a relation, but a very important Boston critic at the time said, “Warren Kelley plays Simon Bliss as a son no mother could love.” Luckily I had been schooled not to read reviews ‘till the show closes. But, that was my first major job and review."
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
- "My pre-show ritual is two-fold. Of course I always warm up. What I need to do depends on the vocal and physical demands of the show. But, it always includes Kristin Linklater exercises for the voice and body. "
- "In addition, I have developed a very specific process for my character preparation. I keep a journal on my dressing table and before every performance I write notes to myself about the character…his wants, his needs, his challenges…plus images or phrases that guide me into his world and psyche."
Where did you grow up? Do you have a theatrical family?
- "I was born in Osaka, Japan…on an army base during the Korean Conflict. And, I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. My father was a Doctor, Dr. Warren Kelley, an orthopedic surgeon. In my early years in New York my Dad would admit to me that he felt so helpless that I had chosen a field that was so difficult and one in which he could not help me at all."
What is your favorite book, TV show, movie?
- "My favorite book…at least from my youth was “Portnoy’s Complaint”. I have no doubt that’s because it was the first “sexy” book I ever read. I was in high school and I remember thinking I was just like the protagonist…that I had all his anger and angst."
- "My favorite TV show…”Seinfeld”. I was a 30-something New Yorker and they “talked” the way my friends and me talked."
- "My favorite movie…”A Room With A View”…because it is so incredibly and lusciously romantic. I can watch it again and again."
What kind of acting roles are you most attracted to? Is there a particular play or musical that you would like to take on in the future?
- "There is no question that the roles that are most gratifying to me are those that have wonderful arcs. I love exploring and experiencing how a character is changed…for better or worse…by the events of the play. It can be an outrageous comedy, a period drama, or even a classical tragedy. Life changes us…that is so human and endlessly fascinating to play."
- "I have been so lucky to get to play many of the great roles that I have dreamed about playing. But, of course, the “dream list” is forever growing and changing. Currently high on my list are Salieri in AMADEUS, and the Albee leading men…VIRGINIA WOOLF, THE GOAT, and in a few years, A DELICATE BALANCE. "
Currently, you are playing Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater. This is a role that you are revisiting. What is your take on this treasured character in American literature? Can you relate to him?
- "Atticus Finch is absolutely one of my favorite roles of my career…and, I know, will always remain so. Of course he is a “treasured” character…because of the book, because of the film, and because of what he represents. But, having gotten to play him, twice now, is absolutely extraordinary. His world, his manner, his approach to facing challenges and problems…are very different from mine. But, I absolutely relate to him…as so many people do…because he “voices” what we aspire to. He asks the world, and all of us that inhabit it, to look squarely at ourselves and to attempt to be “better.” I do passionately believe what Atticus believes. So I feel so honored that I’ve gotten to…as Atticus says…”Climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
To Kill A Mockingbird has been written for the stage, adapted from the book by Harper Lee. This is a story that has resonated with people for decades. How does it feel performing this show? What is a pivotal moment in the piece that you feel sums up the entire show?
- "It would have to be sections of the final summation: Here are just two lines: “That is a truth that applies to the entire human race, and to no particular race”… and… “In our courts, all men are created equal. That is no ideal to me. That is a living, working, reality.”
You are also currently starring in The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, which puts a fresh twist on the Shakespearean comedy. How do you feel this interpretation speaks to the audience?
- "I think this setting for MERRY WIVES is wonderful. The sitcom that was developed in the early years of television, and the ensuing decades, has been so popular because it is about the “every day lives of every day people”. And, it has been brought into the homes of “everybody”. And, in the case of this particular Shakespeare play… he’s writing about marriage, parenting, and community in a way that so many of us can relate to and recognize."
Tell us about your character in The Merry Wives of Windsor. You play a character that has a duality or an alter ego. What is it like playing this sort of character?
- "I’ve done many plays where I’ve played multiple characters…sometimes as many as a dozen…with different accents, body types, etc. But, this is a fascinating challenge because these two personas are very different “characters” that lie within the same person. But, wouldn’t it be wonderful if when we had to “face our demons”…we could do it completely disguised as someone else? What qualities might we discover within ourselves? What is joyous about playing Master Ford is that he finds a new kind of abandon, and even bravery. And, most importantly…he comes to realize that his wife is as devoted to him as he is to her. "
What is your weakness/something you would like to improve on, personally and professionally?
- "My biggest challenge, and something that I’m always working on, is my unhealthy and counter-productive concern about what others think. Now, after all…I’m an actor. My work, my performance, my resume, etc.…are constantly being assessed. But ultimately, when I truly commit to the work…it is often fearless. But, in life…I still catch myself being affected, and even motivated, by what I imagine the response of others will be. I’ve gotten better with this issue…but, life is a process, isn’t it? "