Olivier Award winner Nathaniel Parker talks Wolf Hall and portraying King Henry VIII
Broadway's best shows
14 April 2015
Broadway’s Best Shows: What about the character is engaging and how are you connected to the character?
Nathaniel Parker: If you play Henry VIII you are playing the most famous king in the world. 500 years after he died he was going to be the most famous king partly because he did kill a lot of people and also because he was an extraordinary character. Up until the time he had an accident he was seen as a vibrant, engaging, and sporty king. When I approached playing him I had to break out of all of the Henry stereotypes. Hilary has created a different Henry because he is not the Henry we know. She is presenting a different picture of history, she is presenting Cromwell’s version of Henry. There is a wonderful line in the show that the character Wolsey says, “Henry believes everything he says at the time he says it.” Which means every single line I can play for its value and I can turn on a dime because that’s who he was. Luckily, Jeremy Herrin has pulled me back from being too over the top.
BBS: What is special about this production?
NP: I think it is more than the theatrical event of the season. From the moment I sat down in rehearsal I knew getting to the West End wasn’t going to be a problem, for me the question was when and how soon would we go to Broadway. This is an extraordinary play not just because of the words but also because of the company and Hilary Mantel. Hilary is a historical word genius and having her a part of this is very special.
BBS: What is the moment you look forward to every night?
NP: There is a moment in the play that moves me every single time. When Liz (Cromwell’s wife) dies there is a little moment, she says, “Don’t die, don’t die Thomas.” Cromwell responses by saying, “I’m not planning on dying.” She then moves behind him and he puts his hand out for her and they miss each other’s hands because she has died. It is an incredibly moving moment.
BBS: If people don’t know the books why should they come see the show?
NP: It is such an original take on the Tudor story; it is a take that has never been done. I asked a friend’s child if he followed it well and he said yes, it’s not Shakespeare. That is very important because the show is a slice of Tudor life and that opens it up to everybody.
BBS: Did you have any hesitations in playing Henry VIII?
NP: The big question for me was how do I make it different? I find the world of theatre freighting in many ways because we often judge before we have seen something. Luckily, this is such a different Henry, and I have enjoyed playing him!