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Stars of National Theatre's 'Frankenstein' on Sharing Lead Roles

Frankenstein_jonny lee miller and benedict cumberbatch

In director Danny Boyle's critically acclaimed new production of Frankenstein -- currently playing to sold-out crowds at the National Theatre in London and on screens at select theaters in the States -- lead actors Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternate as Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his monster, switching back and forth between roles every other night.

In an interview for More Intelligent Life, the actors describe the unique challenges and rewards of preparing for not just one, but two lead roles in the production, and how inhabiting both characters added depth to their performances.

Read excerpts from the Q&A below:

Benedict Cumberbatch: The creature is an extraordinary mountain and feast and gift for an actor. The discovery of what the creature is, his extraordinary physical education, the discovery of his body, but then also his mind, the alacrity with which he eats language with the force and hunger that he has for food, with the same strength, he’s extraordinary—but you can’t do it every night.

Jonny Lee Miller: To be able to stand back during rehearsals, when it was daily and all the time we were switching it around, to be able to stand back and watch another actor do the work you’ve just been working on—once you get over the initial weirdness of that—it’s fascinating, because you get to see things that you think are working, and things that aren’t working.

We were very generous, open-minded and open-hearted, me and Benedict, in not being precious. We’d ask, “I like this that you’re doing, can I take that?” And then you pick and choose. You try not to use the other person’s ideas too much, but it inevitably happens, because you realise that they’re right, you know? So that’s been an amazing thing, to sit and watch—and I’m not sure that all actors could do that. It took us a long long time, 'cause you’re working on two parts, it takes a lot longer to feel comfortable with them, but we had that time.

...What I do know is that I feel I bleed some of the creature into Victor, quite a lot, Victor being the parent really in my view, but it’s difficult to say from an audience perspective. We can only gauge how we’re doing from their reaction, and that’s seems to have been quite positive.

Read the full Q&A at MoreIntelligentLife.com.

Frankenstein runs through May 2, 2011 at the National Theatre in London. The filmed version is playing in select theaters; read David Sheward's review at BackStage.com.

-- Daniel Lehman

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