Danny Gavigan plays the title role in our upcoming production of Zorro. We got him talking about his experience thus far~
Are you a fan of the Zorro stories and films?
Before I got the role I had never read any of the original pulps or novels and the only Zorro I had ever seen on film was Antonio Banderas in the Martin Campbell flicks from a few years back, which I thought were fun in a fiery, swachbuckling, Antonio Banderas sort of way, but my only source of true reverence for Zorro came through Batman.
I always secretly wanted to be Batman. When I was 8 or 9 years old I remember taking my mom’s yellow dishwashing gloves, painting them black with a sharpie, cutting eye holes in a black winter hat, and taking my black cape and Batman t-shirt from an earlier Halloween costume, stuffing them in a backpack, and sneaking out of my window once it got dark with this idea that I would don this secret costume in the woods behind my house and maybe sneak up on evil doers. Although, once my adrenaline settled and I found myself in a small wood surrounded by nothing but a quiet suburb, there was really nowhere to go from there and as exciting as it was to play dress up, humility got the better of me, so I just hid the costume in the woods. When I went back to find it another day it had disappeared. I like to think that someone in Columbia, Maryland has been fighting crime in a little boy’s Batman costume all these years.
But the excitement of it all, of actually going outside and dressing up in the dark, as ridiculous and embarrassing as it is, was something that I remember as profoundly exhilarating and personally empowering. Bruce Wayne finding inspiration to become something greater by seeing Tyrone Power in “The Mark of Zorro” as a young man was something that I greatly identified with, especially as I began to find inspiration from watching actors in movies and later explored my impulses to put on masks in a more socially acceptable way on stage. But I had never seen “The Mark of Zorro” so it always existed as this mythical film to me. I always saw Zorro as the Batman of an earlier generation, the grandfather that I always loved and revered and respected, but never quite knew that well. I definitely plan to see the Tyrone Power film some day, but not until our show closes.
If so, who is your favorite Zorro?
While I didn’t want to influence my choices by going back and seeing the great Zorros of the past, I did watch the original silent film “The Mark of Zorro” with Douglas Fairbanks. I figured that as a silent film it wouldn’t be too much of an influence, and my curiosity, since it was the original, got the better of me. But Douglas Fairbanks’ influence was impossible to avoid. What he does physically, comically, and the stunts he pulls off in that film had me stunned and transfixed. He’s basically doing Parkour 70 years before it became known as Parkour, without the aid of safety nets or special effects. You can watch the entire film on YouTube. I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it, it’s breathtaking to watch him. Obviously, in my limited experience, his only contender is Antonio Banderas, but my favorite at this point has to be Douglas Fairbanks. He captured the genuine sense of fun, mischief, athletic daring-do, humor, charm that we all associate with Zorro today.
How have you researched & developed your character?
This is a fresh and truly unique version of Zorro, mostly based on the original pulp, “The Curse of Capistrano” first published in 1919, but entirely reimagined and restructured by Eleanor Holdridge and Janet Allard as a coming of age, origin story. So I was very careful not to get caught up in the Zorro mythos developed by other incarnations. Our Don Diego (Zorro) is described as bookish, his heroes are Calderon and Cervantes. Aside from reading the original pulp by Johnston McCulley and as much as I could find about the Mexican War of Independence, I read Calderon’s “Life is a Dream” and am currently in the middle of Cervantes’ “The Siege of Numantia”. “Don Quixote” is also on my list.
Diego’s father prematurely calls him home from University in Spain back to Alta, California, so his life away from home and discovering himself is cut short, which I feel personally is my strongest connection to the character. I never finished college and that feeling that I missed out on all the independence and discovery that college offers has always haunted me. So I draw from that a great deal.
There’s an undeniable passion and romance to the Spanish language that Eleanor wanted to capture not only with the text, but also with our voices. As I worked on what could be, at the very least, passable as a Spanish dialect I saw as many Spanish-speaking actors in film and television as I could, not only for dialect but for all aspects of performance. Javier Bardem and Edgar Ramirez particularly inspired me, I highly recommend seeing Edgar Ramirez in the miniseries “Carlos”.
Don Diego develops a sort of dual mask, one as Zorro, and the other as the son of a wealthy landowner, which he presents as a weak-willed, arrogant, foppish appearance to those that may suspect him as Zorro, so I also took a look at Richard E. Grant in “The Scarlet Pimpernel” miniseries.
Tell us a little about the rehearsal process for a show with such a new script?
Eleanor and Janet have written something very special, a new take on a beloved character with an ensemble of characters that are as equally fleshed out and complex. It’s one of those stories that has such fertile ground for discovery that the ideas have never stopped coming from all of us involved and Eleanor has created such an encouraging rehearsal room and open mind for us to truly explore those ideas. I cannot credit her enough for juggling the dual mask as director and writer, having an open mind, inviting everyone into the creation of something I know has been near and dear to her for many years, all the while maintaining the integrity of the story and the characters and having the good taste to change her mind if something wasn’t working.
We are now over a month into the process and the script is still changing, but with something so new and unexplored, that’s expected. The changes have been more like epiphanies than nuisances. There were several times where certain moments were just not working either because an action may not have fit a character’s objective or we needed more time to transition or whatever and it would ultimately bring about a true collaborative discussion amongst everyone in the room and when we tried an idea, regardless of who suggested it, and if it worked, man, it was like the clouds parted and sunshine radiated this clairvoyant moment of truth. It really was. When it worked, it worked, and we all knew it, and we all owned it.
To give you an example without giving too much away, early in the play, during one of Zorro’s first appearances, he visits Sergeant Gonzalez in a tavern to seek vengeance for his wrongdoing. As it was initially written, Zorro enters the scene with a pistol drawn on the Sergeant and has all the power in the scene and accuses the Sergeant of being a bully, of doing only what he’s told, of not thinking for himself. Every time we did it, it just wasn’t working. There is a past relationship that Diego had with Gonzalez when they were growing up in which Gonzalez always saved Diego from bullies, so the layer of personal betrayal that is in the text for Zorro was overshadowed by the fact that he was the aggressor in the scene. We talked about it in terms of that relationship between Diego and Gonzalez and Michael Kramer who plays Fray Felipe happened to be in the room and was part of the conversation and offered his opinion that the pistol, which I was having frustrations with practically as a prop in the scene, made me the bully in that moment. So we got rid of the pistol and let my cape and mask and speech do all the work and it was just so much more powerful. It was a profoundly welcome relief to me and has become one of my favorite moments of the play.
Thank you Danny!
Learn more about Danny Gavigan on his website.