National's New Chief Cats Black Actor as Henry V

By Leitch, Luke | The Evening Standard (London, England), August 16, 2002 | Go to article overview

National's New Chief Cats Black Actor as Henry V


Leitch, Luke, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: LUKE LEITCH

THE National Theatre's new artistic director Nicholas Hytner will signal his intent to "bring new life to the old plays" by casting the British black actor Adrian Lester as Henry V in his first production next spring.

The news of Hytner's first highprofile directorial decision to cast Lester was leaked today, and a NT source confirmed: "Nick and Adrian are talking about doing Henry V together - but it isn't confirmed quite yet."

Lester's last Shakespearean outing was in the acclaimed Peter Brook-directed Hamlet, which was a hit in New York, Paris and at the Young Vic.

However, Lester conceded that he feared the audience might see the Danish prince as "an aggressive black man".

He told a US newspaper: "A Hamlet with an Afro? No way. People have this thing about what they want to see. They'll look at me and go: 'Oh, dreadlocks. Oh, no'."

Last year black actor David Oyelowo played Henry VI in a Royal Shakespeare Company production but Henry V - the conqueror of the French at Agincourt - is a far better known role, with some of the greatest patriotic speeches in Shakespeare's work.

Lester, 33, has already achieved Hollywood success, appearing alongside John Travolta, Emma Thompson and Billy Bob Thornton in the political thriller Primary Colors.

He has spoken in the past of his desire to find roles for which he might seem an unlikely candidate.

In a 1996 interview, he admitted to being "extremely ambitious" and pledged: "I'll do everything in my power to make myself a more usable product. I'll make sure directors have no trouble envisaging me in any role that's around my age."

Two years later he told the Standard he would not take roles for "black guys" at all. …

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