British actor Bertie Carvel has been called “the new Benedict Cumberbatch,” partly for his good looks — tall, athletic, that boyish grin — and partly for a certain “braininess” he can’t quite shake.
Carvel is known in the United States mostly for his star turn as the wicked, hulking headmistress (and former Olympian hammer thrower) Miss Trunchbull in the Broadway musical “Matilda.” He’s also earned raves on BBC series, as a quirky magician in “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” and a cheating husband in “Doctor Foster,” seen here on Lifetime and Netflix.
Now he’s playing Rupert Murdoch on Broadway in James Graham’s provocative “Ink,” a role that earned him an Olivier Award for 2017’s London run. This Manhattan Theatre Club production, which co-stars Jonny Lee Miller, depicts Murdoch not as we know him now (the media mogul behind Fox News who helped transform the journalism industry), but as a scrappy young Australian who buys a failing British paper, The Sun, in 1969 and transforms it (with blaring headlines, sensationalist coverage and photos of topless women) into Britain’s top-selling daily paper.
Carvel (pronounced CAR-vill), 41, met with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio before a recent performance.
In the opening scene, Murdoch orders a steak. “Just hold [it] in your hands,” Murdoch tells the waiter, “and point out the flame from across the kitchen.” So how do you like your steak?
Definitely … rare. Why ruin a good piece of meat? It’s best described by the French. You can try saignant — basically, bloody. Or you can have the steak bleu. (He smiles.) That’s how it should be.
So rare it’s still alive.
It’s a good symbolic moment — a symbol of his huge appetite.
I hear you met Murdoch, briefly, when he saw the show in London.
Yes. We all shook his hand. He was genial. I said, “This is strange.” He said, “Yes, it is.” And we left it at that.
If he’d been chattier, what would you have asked?
I hadn’t asked him for an interview preparing to play the role. Umm, it didn’t really occur to me to do that, I have to say, partly because I just assumed — maybe wrongly — that … he wouldn’t be interested. I’ve been of two minds about it.
Well, it is uncomfortable, if I’m really honest. My father was a journalist … and his father … and his father. I think there is a kinship between acting and journalism. Particularly when you’re playing [real] people. I know the rules have gone out the window with journalism, but … what is your duty to the source? Should I … write Mr. Murdoch asking if he’d like to meet? He might. But would … it help? I don’t know. I suppose I’m a bit confused as to what the right thing to do is when you’re playing someone who’s alive and kicking. We’re not re-enacting his diary. We’re doing a play that’s imagined by someone else that’s really about broader themes. It’s all very convoluted, isn’t it?
Sounds like you try your best. I gather you do a lot of research.
I do obsess [over the details]. You’ve noticed I’ve shaved my hairline. (He points out the upper corners of his forehead, which to an audience look like a receding hairline.) I’ve got contact lenses and makeup on my teeth — all the tricks in the book. That’s trying to help an audience to imagine. I remember talking about “Matilda” when I was here last — playing [Miss Trunchbull], someone I very clearly was not. People were obsessed by that. To me … it’s an act of collective imagination. Audiences say, yes, we all agree you are, in this case, Rupert Murdoch. And so you just want to reward them for that by getting the details right. But if they just want to see Rupert Murdoch, they could go hang out by his town house. They don’t want to see that. They want to see an artist or group of artists tell us something about the world.
So what do you think about the world? Rupert Murdoch changed journalism — and some say the world’s now angrier, louder. Others say he’s giving people what they want. Our whole culture is wrestling with this. Do you see a silver lining?
I don’t know … I don’t think we’ll get to the point where journalism’s dead. It’ll carry on morphing. It feels like a dark time. But … I’m hopeful. I believe in humanity, in sort of the essential … I mean, I don’t know why, but I sort of believe in the essential goodness of people. (He pauses.) I think we’re all right. You’re still giving me the time of day, to write a piece about art. I mean … there’s a long way still to slip, isn’t there?