Today we go straight to the heart of the Gilgamesh journey and talk to the King himself. Of Joel David Santner, The Washington Times wrote: “On stage for nearly one hundred per cent of the time, Joel David Santner creates a powerful, heroic, arrogant Gilgamesh. Full of himself, steeped in the knowledge that he’s actually part god, his Gilgamesh is capable of recalibrating and learning—particularly that most important of lessons whereby he’s able to pull back much of his overweening, arrogant pride, which the Greeks called hubris, the better to replace it with wisdom and understanding.”
Is this your first role as a King? Have you enjoyed the experience of stepping into the shoes of an ancient ruler?
Yes, this is my first role as a King. The closest I’ve got to this point is Hamlet, but he never quite made it to the throne!
The experience has been enjoyable, but also challenging, intimidating and insightful. Gilgamesh does not start off as a great guy so you need to toss out all the impulses to make him likable. That is hard to do, because you want the audience to come with you on the journey, and if you are too despicable they may not be there for you. That was the gamble and it was incredibly interesting to me as an actor. It was also very important to learn from his friendship with Enkidu, which humbles Gilgamesh. That needed to be a physical transformation as much as a mental one. It was fun to watch what Andreu created physically and find moments to mirror that movement, and to ground Gilgamesh as someone who is more connected with the earth than the heavens. King Gilgamesh ends the play as a ruler who is of the people – that idea was also appealing to me.
How did you prepare for this role – what sorts of inspiration did you find?
My way into the role was to prepare physically. Gilgamesh is described as “a bull of a man” and a “fierce warrior” so I had my work cut out for me…I am a runner and have a slight frame. I hired a trainer named Tim Bruffy who runs Atlas Fitness and we began a regiment that consisted of working out with him twice a week and then I did three to four days on my own. I also met with a nutritionist to manipulate my diet and take in the right amount and kinds of food. I ended up putting on 15 pounds. I’m a huge movie-goer so this also gave me a great excuse to go back and watch some epic movies like “300” and “Last of the Mohicans” – stories that have vast scopes. I watched a lot of Tom Hardy movies too, like the last “Batman,” “Warrior” and “Bronson.” He’s not a huge guy either but he put on serious weight for those movies and gives really great physical performances. The way he moves is incredible, and I stole from him.
This is your first production with Constellation. Was this a different rehearsal experience than at some other theaters you’ve worked for?
It was incredibly collaborative and Allison is a very giving director. She liked to hear thoughts on the character and gave me quite a bit of room to play – all the while keenly observing. As the rehearsal process went on she would tighten and shape the performance and together we found an honest interpretation of the character. I enjoyed that process quite a bit. In terms of the company as a whole, they were also great collaborators. The story is very episodic and it’s really fun to go from scene to scene and get to play with a cast who have all created strong, memorable characters. That’s a lot of fun.
What I appreciate about the whole experience is seeing the cast and crew have fun. They enjoy each other and the work they are doing and that translates to the stage and performances. I think Constellation audiences have a great time at the shows because the cast and crew are having fun creating the stories, and that all stems from Allison’s enthusiasm to tell these epic tales.
What is next for you?
Next up I am directing some ten-minute plays for the Source Festival and will start the festival submission process for my feature film, “Bare Knuckle.” I will also perform in the Henry IV Reps at The Shakespeare Theatre.
Finally, two VERY important questions!
Are you going to keep the haircut?
As much as I’ve enjoyed the hair cut and having an excuse to change my appearance I will not be keeping it. It would be too expensive to maintain!
Have you tried the Gilgamesh drink at Matchbox? [editor’s note: Matchbox is part of the Gilgamesh 14th St. Bar Crawl with custom made, Gilgamesh inspired cocktails available through the end of the run!)
I have and it’s good and my girlfriend orders it every time we go to Matchbox!