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Behind the Theatre Curtain: Interview with Hainsley Lloyd Bennett on Portraying Shakespeare’s Othello

Behind the Theatre Curtain: Interview with Hainsley Lloyd Bennett on Portraying Shakespeare’s Othello

Breakaway Magazine

Othello comes from a long pantheon of great characters written by the master himself, Shakespeare. Having seen various incarnations of the character in an array of settings it would take something fairly fresh and inventive to see another. Back in the summer of September 2014 at the Drayton Arms I got just that. An exciting update of an old tale revived and told through fresh eyes, modern context and a young and vivacious cast. This led up by Ben Kavanagh as the scheming Iago, Felicity McCormack as the rebooted stronger but still loyal Desdemona, Kate Cooper as the cynical Emilia, Fergus Leathem as the upstanding Cassio and Hainsley Lloyd Bennett as Othello himself. 


Set in a casino with our hero on mob boss duty this take on the tale was tense and psychologically driven but also surprising not without laughs. As the latter half of the play draws in it turns as dark as you could imagine and I watched Hainsley go from an honourable man in love to a scary, twisted psychosis driven lover, drunk on jealousy and hell bent on sacrifice. Chilling. It took me some time but I finally caught up with the man himself to talk all things Shakespeare, hammers, stage kissing and drinking on stage. 

BREAKAWAY DAILY: How did you get the role?

HAINSLEY: I was called in for a group casting with various other actors going up for all the roles and about two minutes down the road leaving I got the call saying they wanted me. 

BREAKAWAY DAILY:What was your reaction when cast?

HAINSLEY:At first disbelief. After I made sure he had the right telephone number and no other actors called Hainsley auditioned for the role.. it was panic. Yeah, hyperventilating and general fear.

BREAKAWAY DAILY:Does fear motivate you or hinder you? 

HAINSLEY:Fear makes you focus. Fight longer and work harder than you probably thought was possible yourself. If I’m honest fear motivates me more than confidence. 


BREAKAWAY DAILY:How did you prepare?

HAINSLEY:People are divided about whether or not you should watch other interpretations. I watched a few just to look in to the dynamic of the characters generally and the essence of the man and his code..his fibre and ethics. I would dial his attributes in to my own levels but I just wanted an overview. The rest I knew would come during rehearsal. From there I would probably say I called up lots of ex girlfriends and accused them of cheating indirectly to get a vibe of what it felt like..ha..and watched Casino

What’s your opinion on Othello as a character?


He’s like a child. An honourable child. So naive, so trusting and doesn’t see the world in shades of grey. Dealing in absolutes and that level of commitment to all he does has got him to where he is and made him the loving and devoted husband that he is. Of course when you twist the knife and poison the mind of somebody with such a depth of passion some very interesting things happen. 

How does your interpretation differ from other productions?

There have been modern army updates and modern contexts. Mobile phones, modern music and the like but bringing it to the casino setting makes for a very claustrophobic and visually confined setting that not only makes it relatable but justifies all the back stabbing and the fact that these people never get to truly communicate. The casino is always alive, punters moving around, live singing happening and people never quite getting to say what they mean or want. It was very important that we justified that and cranked up the psychological thriller aspect to the play. Iago is the puppet master and the dressing room, basement and dark corners of the casino serve as his playground beautifully in this setting. 

Desdemona and you had great chemistry. What was it like working with Felicity? 

She’s great. I feel like she brought an instantly relatable glamour, backbone and loving fragility to Desdemona. Our Desdemona is feistier than some may be used to seeing. She loves her man and is devoted yes, but she doesn’t take his incessant accusations passively, but eventually it of course wears her down and that confusion and heartache is played so well. It took us (or should I probably say me) a little time to ease in to this intensely loving relationship. Its a weird thing as an actor expected to occupy space you haven’t earned with a person you hardly know and be convincing. It took us a bit but we got there in the end. 


Are you a good kisser? 

Haha..I’ve never kissed myself so i don’t know. I guess you’d have to ask somebody I’ve kissed. If you’re referring to Desdemona she’d probably say no..but bad review doesn’t make it a crap movie… right? 

Similarly you and Iago share many scenes and are great. What was it like working with Ben?

I’ve done a few theatre gigs in my time but the majority of my experience is on screen. I’m not sure I’ve worked with anybody who loves, understands and excels theatrically like Ben does. I learned so much from him, some things I knew and had forgotten others I was learning for the first time. He’s a master crafts man who loves what he does and is essentially there to be in the moment. To make choices and play essentially, and that made everything I had to do that much easier. I’d do any play he was in. 

You guys weren’t really drinking on stage were you?

Haha! No.. I’m not sure if Ben would’ve been OK going method, not sure if he believes in all that but i would’ve happily put some actual Jack Daniels in one night just to see what would happen.

How do you view Iago? 

he is Loki, the trickster. The jealous friend who appears wronged. Whats great about this interpretation is that everything about his motivations is somewhat ambiguous. Even down to his sexuality which allows the audience to make up their own mind about his actions if they want to choose or simply indulge in his sociopathic behavior. From the perspective of Othello he is honest Iago the upstanding friend as he knows nothing else. As me, Hainsley the actor he is the Joker to my Batman, The Loki to my Thor and in the words of the Joker “like a dog chasing cars”. He’s an opportunist, an improviser who manipulates for sport and his own twisted justice. 

Why the hammer and not a knife or gun? 

Well I was up for having a 9mm and holding it side ways ha! Seriously the gun felt cliche and too immediate as well as safety and production issues. The knife again didn’t represent the way we wanted Othello to handle the violence and the intent behind it. It wasn’t premeditated in our version it was resourceful. Just a case of using his environment and that’s what happened to be around. 


Do you share any traits with Othello? 

I think i share his sense of humor among friends. I would never betray my friends. I have a capacity to be passionate. Other than that probably not much I would say. He’s naive and jealous to the point of well..insanity. I don’t think I’m like that..crazy! But then crazy people never think they’re crazy do they. 

What are the varying reactions you got on nights? 

That’s the beauty of theatre, you just never know what you’re gonna get or what mood or vibe the audience will be on. We had nights where they wanted to embrace the comedy and others where they were there for the drama. Getting an immediate reaction is the greatest part of the stage and seeing people moved to tears was a great feeling. 

Any funny backstage stories?

There’s always laughter and fun. Weird considering how heavy this play is. I think my favorite moment was when we had an ongoing gag between just myself and Ludovico played by Rob Frimston where as part of the play he has to hand Othello a letter. Every night for a week he’d write something obscene in it that I had to look at during the scene. He didn’t realize the funnier it was the angrier I would be as Othello in the scene to compensate. 

Did anybody really mess up? 

We had all sorts. Everybody fluffed a line or mumbled or (if you’re me) just completely make one up if you can’t remember. Better than just being quiet, although I’m sure I did that at least once. Its a two and a half hour play, its gonna happen. 


How has this progressed you as an actor? 

Confidence, self belief and fresh tools to add to the skill set. You go on a roller coaster emotionally.

Did this have any toll on you as a person or physically? 

When i was learning lines and stage moves in the rehearsal process I had trouble sleeping and would wake up early saying dialogue. I was exhausted during the run of the play and couldn’t simmer down for hours after a performance, I was completely wired. On the plus side I got pretty lean and toned…Could actually make out some cheekbones.

Finally, when can we expect to see you on stage again?

No idea for now. If something comes up that pricks my interest I’d be up for it. If Ben wants me for a production I’d be there.

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