Lou Liberatore is currently tearing up the stage at Actors Theatre of Louisville as Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” Lou is a veteran of the Circle Repertory Company, a Lifetime Member Artist at Ensemble Studio Theater and a member of The Actors’ Center, and has appeared in As Is, Sight Unseen and Burn This, for which he was nominated for the Drama Desk and Tony Awards.
#FairWageOnstage caught up with Lou to talk about how he works, and about how acting is indeed LABOR.
FWOS: What was the preparation like for playing Roy Cohn?
Lou: I read and re-read the play, obviously. 1st as the play, then focusing on Roy, his lines, his scenes…(and not just once, over & over). A well written play will have all the answers for you. And well, ANGELS obviously is that …amazingly so. It provides answers and pushes you to question and expand your approach. It’s highly theatrical (which I love) and grounded so beautifully in reality (which I love) that makes you understand the characters wants, needs, objectives, POV, etc…
Tony writes so well for actors, meaning, it doesn’t ever sound as if the writer’s voice is heard. The characters are speaking loud and clear in their own voice. I cannot tell you how helpful that is while working on his plays.
We were blessed to have a wonderful Dramaturg, Jenni Page-White, who provided us w countless articles, images, interviews, video, etc., on all the topics that Tony touches on in the play. In addition, I read anything I could get my hands on about Roy and I was lucky to have long-time friends of mine that actually knew Roy Cohn, he was their lawyer for a time, so I just pounded them w questions. I was relentless, they were so gracious and had some delicious dirt…(if you could imagine there was more…)
FWOS: How much time did you have in New York between accepting the job and starting rehearsal in Louisville?
Lou: I was cast on April 20 (and accepted immediately) while I was in my final weeks of performing DANIEL’S HUSBAND w Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre. We began rehearsals on July 5 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn! (I was like…”where is this Brooklyn you speak of??”) It was 2 weeks of table work and all Manhattan-centric snobbery aside, it was invaluable. We traveled to Louisville on July 16 and started staging the play on July 18.
FWOS: About how many hours did you spend preparing before rehearsal?
Lou: I lost count. I read the play every day and night (right before bed)…ya know, something “light” to help you dream (insert smirk here). Then again as I woke. This way, it’s always on my mind, subconsciously and then re-enforcing it again during the day.(But most importantly, I recorded all my scenes, not just my cue lines, the entire scene, beginning to end, on my phone and listened every day, (thank you, Ryan Spahn for that great tip), all day, (on the subway, at the gym on the elliptical machine, doing laundry…), so when I then got down to writing my lines out (my process) the lines were coming to me quite easily. Then, I would say them aloud. And then, repeat, repeat, repeat…
FWOS: What is an average workday for you like in Louisville?
Lou: Average? Ha! There is nothing average when you are working on this play! Think about it, it’s 2 massive plays (running time: approx 6.5 hrs – 3 hrs for Millennium, 3.5 for Perestroika) and the director, the amazing Meredith McDonough, made it very clear from day 1 that we were to approach this as 1 play. So we all took a deep, deep breath and dove in. Of, course we had our rehearsal schedule set, all w/in AEA guidelines w breaks and lunch, etc…but what was packed into those hours was dense. And we worked at a furious pace, not so fast that we missed anything, just a pace that kept us on our toes and focused. So, to finally answer your question; our days, once we arrived in Louisville were from 11-7. Of course, we weren’t all called all day, every day, so we would use our off time to study, to discover Louisville, to settle into our new living conditions, etc…
FWOS: How many hours of work, warm up and preparation do you do before you enter the room in the morning?
Lou: That’s another question that’s tough to answer as I’m always “preparing” myself for the day. Whether it’s a physical warm-up (the gym, stretching) mental (staying focused, confident) practical (getting a good night’s sleep, eating well, doing laundry, doing my homework) spiritual (meditating, breathing, focusing on the day) etc… it”s constant. And it all feeds the work. It’s focused on being present, available, healthy; like an athlete preparing for the marathon that is ANGELS IN AMERICA.
FWOS: How much time do you spend working on the play in the evening?
Lou: Depends. This experience has been unique for me. I was “off-book” on day 1 for both plays. That’s a first for me. While in prior productions I was certainly “familiar” w my characters lines and “knew” them, I was never completely off-book as I wanted to discover my characters actions & movement onstage in rehearsal, thus, it was an “easier” way to remember my lines. It’s how I did it…but, now, this play…well, I can’t see doing it any other way. So, I eliminated a ton of stress when rehearsals began because of being so well prepared. Again, to finally answer your question; in the first couple of weeks, after rehearsal, some of us would get together and run our scenes together in our apartments. Now, of course being off-book and working w a scene partner is 2 very different things. So, you forget a line, you jump, you go back…it’s all part of the process. But it’s been much easier than past gigs. Here, I would study at night, then if I felt I hit a wall; tired, unfocused, whatever, I’d be ok w putting the script down and not stress that I wasn’t “working, working, working!” (the Catholic school-boy guilt)
FWOS: What are the physical challenges of the production
Lou: The first time we see Roy is in his office on the telephone, w Joe sitting nearby. That scene is a musical comedy w choreography and all…but rather than dance steps, I’m waltzing w the telephone. Talking, yelling, manipulating, scheming all while picking up and putting people on hold and keeping Joe in his chair. Roy is a very challenging physical role as well as a psychological one. There’s a power and drive that he has that keeps me “riding the front of the surfboard”, on your front toes, rather than on your heels. Roy is also sick, so his deterioration is also a challenge.(that deterioration is more evident in Perestroika, which we open on Sept 21) Roy also doubles as “Prior 2” which is a 17th C Nobleman, an ancestor of Prior Walter, the lead character in the play. Prior 2 is fun and very grand, so his physical challenge is being more “formal” than Roy, who is more feral.
FWOS: Have the character’s physical ailments taken a toll on your body as you portray them?
Lou: Not yet! (laugh) There is a fight scene at the end of Millennium in which Roy gets tossed around some, then has spasms. After working w the fight director in creating those moments, we made sure I was not going to hurt myself doing it 8 times a week. I mix it up (not the fight!)— the fall, the spasms, so that I’m not falling on the same body part all the time. I have been wrestling since grade school (still do) so I know how to fall and roll and protect myself. Plus, I always remember what the great fight director BH Barry said in class at Fordham: “The floor is your friend.”
FWOS: Does the psychology of the character ever have an effect on your body outside of performance or rehearsal?
Lou: I can, at times, bring a character home (unconsciously)…so, Roy pops up occasionally, like, oh, let’s say when my FedEx package hasn’t arrived in the promised and paid for 2 Days time and I have speak w a customer service rep. Believe me, that package gets delivered fast and with an apology! (hmmm, Roy might just stick around well after we close…).
FWOS: Have you volunteered your time at all at ATL to doing talkbacks, attending fundraising events or teaching?
Lou: Not yet. I’ll have more time to do that once we have both shows up & running. We will begin to tech Perestroika this week and after we open I’ll be available. The show is priority one right now, though I am looking forward to participating any way I can. I love doing talkbacks (are you kidding, a forum where I can talk about myself? I’m there! (smile, joke, smirk, emojis abound) Also, here at ATL they have this amazing apprentice program and an education program that exists to teach, engage, prepare, and learn. Cannot wait to be a part of that! I’ll get back to you when that happens.
FWOS: How do you keep your body, mind and heart in shape while doing two such physically demanding plays?
Lou: As I stated earlier, the everyday exercises that encompass the body, mind, spirit and reality (laundry) keep me focused and prepared, ready for anything. There is also a component that cannot be forgotten and which keeps me focused, stress-free, relaxed, prepared and eager to get to work, and that is the amazing community, “family”, that is this company. (Meredith, Pablo, our PSM, Potter and Leah,our ASM’s, Therese Barbato, Richard Gallagher, Mark Junek, Rami Margron, Richard Prioleau, Brain Slaten, and Barbara Walsh) That’s the “heart” part of your question. (Plus, the loved ones who keep us grounded and connected to “home”, that is invaluable). We have all been in shows where not everybody gels as people outside of the rehearsal room or the theatre. Not so here. Again from day 1, Meredith (our director) has created such a stress-free, loving, inspiring and fun room. And this play needs that. We are all each others champions and we lift-up and joke and play and challenge and work so hard to make this the very best play that it can be. We want to make Tony proud, make Meredith proud, make Actors Theatre proud because we have been blessed w this special opportunity & responsibility to perform one of the greatest plays that was ever written. This is my religion, my God…the theatre means everything to me: nothing else matters.
FWOS: What is the most fun way you have found to blow off steam in Louisville?
Lou: Hmmm, let me count the way. (ha!) Ya know, Louisville is very different than I had imagined. One: it ain’t the “deep south”, which I thought would be a challenge doing this play here, not so! And B: it’s quite north in Kentucky…”I can see Indiana from my porch!” It’s a very livable city. I have a bike (thank you, Actors Theatre!) and so that’s been wonderful to be mobile. The waterfront, which is nearby, is beautiful. Louisville has everything you need; bars, great restaurants (insert “Mayan Cafe” plug here), museums, parks, (designed by the Olmstead Brothers, they designed NYC’s Central Park), drag bars, dance clubs, Kentucky Performing Arts Center, the largest community of Victorian Houses in the country (what?!), a minor league baseball team (we went! Go, Louisville Bats!), did I mention the great restaurants?! (insert “Milkwood” plug here)…exhausting!… like we have all this time! (laughing) And then there’s sleep, yeah…that’s it. Sleep is the best. After you do your job and all your steam is blown off…there’s sleep.