Kelly AuCoin has made a lot of fans during his Labyrinth debut. On stage, he pulls impressive double duty, playing both a fierce, Russian-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the sweet-hearted, down-on-his-luck owner of a Los Angeles dive bar. Off stage, his ready smile and easygoing Oregonian demeanor has won over just about everyone orbiting in the Labyrinth universe. We talked with Kelly recently about his journey to Labyrinth, his thoughts on playing a member of the media, and his approach to originating two very different roles in our production of Radiance . Here’s what he had to say.
Where are you from? What got you started acting?
I am from Oregon. I was born outside of Portland, and my family is all from the mountainy Bend/Redmond area in Central Oregon. I got my professional start in Portland. Great town. And then down at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Another great town.
Because my father was in politics, I spent half my early life in Washington DC, where I fell in love with places like Woolly Mammoth and the Folger Library. DC is a great theater city and being around all those theaters, along with spending so much time around Capital Hill in my early life, probably directly interested me in an acting life.
Also when I was in the 4th grade, Mrs. Denny wrote this play called The Trial Of Mother Goose, where Old King Cole put The Mother on trial for defamation of character. She asked me to play Old King Cole, and I felt that if this issue was going to be dramatized, it had to be done right. I thought I could bring an integrity to the role and not just make him a monster, so I accepted. Also no other boys signed up.
They were intimidated. Now — this is your first show with Labyrinth — what on Earth have you been doing until now?
Beats the hell out of me! I mean WTF have I been doing with my self until now? It all seems so hazy and so … inconsequential.
No, seriously, I’m a big fan of this company and what you guys do. I’m honored to be a part of it for this great play.
And you’re great in it! In fact, in the show, you play two very different roles — what do you make of that kind of challenge? Do you prepare for it differently? Or is it just a matter of compartmentalization?
It’s a combination really. On the one hand, as with creating any role, you have to be true in your exploration to discovering who each person is, authentically. But when you’re playing multiple people there is the added demand of making the characters distinct. The myriad acting choices you may have in a vacuum, narrow appreciably when you must weigh them against choices you may have already made for another character. Simply from a storytelling perspective, these people, and their journeys, must be unique to them. Sometimes it might just come down to finding three things that work equally well for Guy One and choosing the thing that is most distinct from what you’ve doing with Guy Two.
It’s fun. It can be like a puzzle.
And an outside eye is really, really helpful. Especially if they’re like the ones our director Suzie Agins has.
She’s got good eyes. Also, without giving too much away, one of your roles in the show is as a journalist during World War II — have you given much thought to the role of the media in society, especially when it relates to shaping public opinion about military operations? Either during WWII or today?
Oh, yes definitely!
I’m playing a guy who was, I believe, the first dedicated science journalist for the New York Times, which is a very cool thing. Somewhat less cool was the fact that while he was reporting for the Times on the Atomic bomb and it’s effects, he was simultaneously on the payroll of the War Department. Obviously a conflict of interest, and there is even a push to have Laurence’s Pulitzer (won for his reporting on the Bomb. Reporting that included the official government line that radiation was not killing people) posthumously revoked. When I learned about this, FOX News immediately sprang to my mind. But that generally happens to me when I get angry.
But I also think of the role the media played in turning public opinion against the Vietnam War; how, subsequently, the Government has learned more effective way of Controlling The Story; how recently that has effected, among other things, the build up to the war in Iraq; and I also think about the general lemming-like behavior of most of the mainstream media in reporting what are essentially incontrovertibly scientific facts, such as climate change, as opinion rather truth.
Oh! And the rise of “Fact Checking” as something distinct from “Journalism.” Candy Crowley was slammed after the second Presidential debate by pundits who raged that “the time for fact checking is AFTER the debate!” Seriously??
There is always time for fact checking. Alright, last question, what have you enjoyed about the Radiance rehearsal process and production? What speaks to you most about the show?
Well, working with Suzie Agins is always delightful. We actually worked in this same theater a few years ago, on a brilliant Deirdre O’Conner play called Jailbait.
This play, Radiance, seems very timely to me. Our relationship to violence, to war, the media, to our own sense of responsibility and guilt.. to what constitutes morality.. This all feels very relevant to me. Very modern. How we navigate our pain and memory. How we deal with our ghosts.
And really, it’s just exciting to get to come to the theater every day and play with this brilliant cast. Very attractive too. Really easy on the eyes. So that’s been fun.