For a bloke who tends to play big, bloody tough guys, Ciarán Hinds is remarkably soft-spoken. But you’d never know it from the veteran character actor’s outsize portrayals of Mance Rayder, king of the wildings (in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), Julius Caesar (HBO’s “Rome”) and now the righteous and determined Judge Danforth, overseeing the Salem witch trials in the new Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” which opens at the Walter Kerr Theatre March 31 .
This isn’t your typical witch trial — bad-boy director Ivo van Hove has done away with the standard Pilgrim-like costumes and old-timey set. Cast members, including Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw (James Bond’s latest Q in “Spectre” and “Skyfall”), find themselves in a classroom dressed in modern-day clothes.
Hinds, 63, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and now lives in Paris with his longtime partner, French actress Hélène Patarot.
What an auspicious day to speak with you.
Yes — St. Patrick’s Day. And as you see, there’s not one drop of green on me. I’m green on the inside.
Yes — you and Saoirse Ronan, with all your vowels and consonants in the wrong places.
I know. They thought my name was bad till she came along. Some people are like, “So-ARSE?” And you go, nooo, it’s “SEER-shuh.” Well that’s how I say it because I’m from the north of Ireland. In the south they say “SEHR-shuh.” Like in the South of Ireland I’m called “kee-RON.” But in the north I’m “KEE-rin.” My daughter’s name is spelled A-o-i-f-e. That a-o-i spelling is the Irish way of stretching the sound. So it’s “EEEE-feh.”
OK, I’m failing this class. On to “Crucible” — there are a lot of surprises here: the clothes, the set . . .
Ivo [van Hove, the director] has broken a lot of rules of how you should do this play. It’s not just a clean-cut story about 1690s Puritans. He mixes it up. The lighting is interesting, too. Usually, the audience is in the dark, but here there’s a huge light-spill into the audience. Onstage, we’re very aware of the first eight or 10 rows. Which is kind of scary. People keep moving in our eye-line. You have to let them drift into soft focus. But that’s Ivo — he includes the audience. They’re all a part of it, colluding on this story.
You don’t go on until act two. Cushy gig.
It’s very strange. There’s no time to gauge the audience. My character enters with no doubts, no fears — whereas I’m riddled with them. People say I have an ease about me. But when it comes to work, I’m a great doubter.
Yet you’re always cast as tough, imposing characters.
Maybe it’s the way I look or hold myself, I’ve played emperors, kings . . . . It’s this! [He holds his shoulders like The Incredible Hulk, then laughs.] I take the work, but it’s always a bloody challenge.
That’s an interesting quote framed on your wall. “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
It’s a [Samuel] Beckett quote. A friend gave it to me. His family — they’re theater people. And they’ve always passed this between them. But none of them are working onstage at the moment, so my friend said I should have it.
Besides “Crucible,” you’re also in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film, “Silence,” about Jesuit missionaries in Japan — starring your fellow Belfast brother, Liam Neeson.
That quote on the wall came from him, actually. Through Natasha [Richardson], his [late] wife.
Ohhh. Liam Neeson, and the acclaimed Richardson family — that’s the little family of “theater people” you meant? Nice. Did you and Liam get to hang out while shooting the film?
No. We’ve spent Christmases together, we’re close, but we shot the film at different times.
Then there’s “Bleed for This,” an indie biopic on boxer Vinny Pazienza.
He’s this extraordinary boxer who broke his neck, was told he couldn’t fight again and instead put his head in a cage and kept training till his neck healed naturally. He won the world title. Miles Teller plays Vinny and he looks like a boxer! His body fat was down to like 8 percent. He was extraordinary. To go to such lengths — but that’s the American style that always bamboozles me. That huuuge physical commitment to a role. I play Vinny’s dad, this big, Italian, Rhode Island guy, you know, with all the jewelry, who’s very proud of his son. They kept saying, nooo, bigger — that’s the way he was.
Another big-guy role for you. Speaking of which, I should let you go. I hear it’s almost time for your vocal warm-up.
Yes, but first I’ve got to have a cup of tea.