Carbone role a lifetime ambition

HIS VIEW: Gavin Rutherford, centre, plays Eddie Carbone in A View from the Bridge, with left to right, Acushla-Tara Sutton as Catherine, Paul Waggott as Rodolpho, Alex Greig as Marco and Jude Gibson as Beatrice.
HIS VIEW: Gavin Rutherford, centre, plays Eddie Carbone in A View from the Bridge, with left to right, Acushla-Tara Sutton as Catherine, Paul Waggott as Rodolpho, Alex Greig as Marco and Jude Gibson as Beatrice.

Actor Gavin Rutherford knows he's filling some very big shoes. In playwright Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge he stars as Italian American Eddie Carbone, who works on the Brooklyn docks.

Carbone is considered one of the pre-eminent roles in American theatre and one of the most memorable in Miller's works, up there with Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

Carbone has been performed by some big names overseas, including Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schreiber - with Scarlett Johansson as Carbone's niece Catherine - and, most recently, British actor Mark Strong in London earlier this year.

But for Rutherford, who was in Miller's The Price at Circa Theatre last year, landing the part was a lifetime ambition. Since he was a teenager he had been passionate about Miller's 1955 play.

"I fell in love with this play when I saw it at the Mercury Theatre [in Auckland] many years ago with Paul Gittins [as Carbone] and George Henare [as narrator Alfieri]. As a kid I was just gobsmacked by it. A little bit later on when doing amateur dramatics as a teenager, I chose the script [of the play] to do a reading from."

In the play Carbone and his wife Beatrice (Jude Gibson) welcome into their home two of Beatrice's cousins Rodolpho (Paul Waggott) and Marco (Alex Greig) from Sicily, who have illegally entered the United States. But Carbone later turns on the two when Catherine (Acushla-Tara Sutton) becomes romantically involved with Rodolpho. The more Carbone tries to assert control, the more everything gets out of control.

Rutherford says when he was a teenager one of the reasons he was so attracted to the play and Carbone, despite the character being a married man, was that Carbone's struggles resonated with him. "There is such a huge masculinity about the Eddie Carbone character and it is a destructive masculinity. It's an over-the-top passion and an over-the-top desire for honour and protecting his own, which becomes obsessive.

"All those sorts of male things, especially when you are a teenager of ‘what is my name? What is my self-respect?' It's trying to find your role. Are you the alpha male or the beta male or the omega male in your group of friends? It's how those kind of shake-downs happen, especially when you are full of hormones. That is what struck me."

But to actually play Carbone was another matter for Rutherford. While working on The Price last year with director Sue Wilson, it was Wilson who first suggested that he consider auditioning for the part.

"I was excited and also scared because so many big names have done this through the years. Even [Kiwi actor] Bruce Phillips, who played a version in Auckland recently, is coming to opening night. That's intimidating because he is such a fine actor."

Being Carbone "from the inside" has been eye-opening for the actor. Of special importance to master is that Carbone is Italian American. It included the accent and Carbone's physical presence. Rutherford says audiences like the accent thanks to its use in numerous films and television shows, including On the Waterfront - which directly grew out of the same framework as A View from the Bridge - and The Sopranos. "The accent itself is now so famous, so that comes relatively easy. But Arthur Miller writes in a very precise cadence and so getting those finicky words right: ‘am I saying ain't this time or am I saying didn't?'. . . There are double negatives and all of these things to play with, but learning them is a great challenge."

To help get it right the Circa Theatre production called on two Italians based in Wellington for advice, Massimo Tolve and Antonio De Martino from Pizza Pomodoro. "Just to hear them talk and see the physical gestures that go with it, and see the way they hold themselves -there's a humility about them, but at the same time there's a passion," says Rutherford.

"I've had to look a little more Italian, so I've got darker hair and darker eyebrows. I see myself in the mirror and I see this different man, who seems to strut more. I think it comes from that passion of the physicality. I find myself strutting more just walking around town."

Miller first wrote A View from the Bridge as a one-act play, but he re-wrote it as a two-act work, which legendary director Peter Brook staged in London in 1956. While it is considered one of Miller's greatest plays, it isn't performed as often or is as well-known as The Crucible or Death of a Salesman. Rutherford isn't sure why. "It's quite raw and passionate. It may have something to do with it being produced when he [Miller] was working on a screenplay with [film-maker] Elia Kazan and they had a falling out. The film is On the Waterfront, which everybody knows. But A View from the Bridge, which was done [as a] film later, didn't have that same thing as Marlon Brando doing On the Waterfront, so perhaps that's one of the reasons why."

Regardless, Rutherford is happy to inhabit Carbone in a play that encouraged him to take up acting in the first place. "There is part of me - and maybe it's the misogynist male-type masculinity in me - that does kind of enjoy the strut."


A View from the Bridge is at Wellington's Circa One until August 23.