Theater Talk


Wolf Hall

We focus on Wolf Hall, the two-part stage adaptation of Dame Hilary Mantel’s brilliant historical novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies about the fickle and spoiled Henry VIII, King of England, ambitious chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, who facilitated Henry’s disposing of his wives. Our guests are Dame Hilary, actors Ben Miles (Thomas Cromwell) and Nathaniel Parker (King Henry VIII).

AIRED: April 17, 2015 | 0:26:47

>> The biggest part of our

company, really, has been this

emerging force of Hilary

because she wasn't -

She was there at the beginning

but she's now there every da

and helping us with rewrites and

spotting things all the time

It's as though she's on stag

with us.

>> I usually hang out with

a crowd of dead people


>> HASKINS: "Theater Talk" i

made possible in part by..

>> ♪♪

>> From New York City,

this is "Theater Talk.

I'm Susan Haskins.

>> And I'm Michael Riede

ofThe New York Post.

>> "Wolf Hall" is the name

of Dame Hilary Mantel'

award-winning novel on the lif

and career of Thomas Cromwell,

the ambitious secretary of

Henry VIII

It is now also two grippin

plays at

the Winter Garden Theatr

on Broadway.

We are pleased to be joined by

the actors Ben Miles, who play

Thomas Cromwell.

>> RIEDEL: Boo! The villain.

>> Off with your head.

>> RIEDEL: Hiss!


Nathaniel Parker, who play

the highly maladjusted

Henry VIII

>> Mally high adjusted, I think.

>> We also welcome the

production's director,

Jeremy Herrin, and..

>> And the woman who began

it all

Hilary Mantel, who i

the author, of course, o

this runaway best-seller book,

"Wolf Hall," winner of the

Man Booker Prize, one of the

great reads of all time.

>> HASKINS: Because "Wolf Hall,"

two evenings are bot

"Wolf Hall," and

"Bring Up the Bodies."

>> And you're at work on

the third, right

>> I am.

>> And how is that going

>> It's...

going with great energy,


I'm more fascinated by the

project, the whole subject

than when I began.

And the production i

actually a great help.

It's unique, because normall

when there's an adaptation

the primary work's finished.

The book's closed.

In this case, the book's still

in progress.

It is in some ways

feeding what happens in th

shows, the shows are feeding

what happens in the book

It's a marvelous way to work

and I think quite unique

>> Did you have any sense when

you -- 'cause I know you'd

written several novels befor

this -- did you have any sense

it could be a play, or did you

ever have any desire to writ

a play or to be in the theater

>> I've written radio drama.

And I love the theater

But the opportunity had neve

come along

But I do see everything as I

write, I hear everything

as I write

So, in my imagination, it's no

a big jump

Technically, of course, bringing

the project to the stage i

quite a difficult thing to do.

It's highly complex.

Something like 159 character

in the books

>> Yes. A little cutting had t

be done there, Jeremy, for

the stage play

>> Yeah.

>> HILARY: 22 hardworkin


And some wigs.

>> HASKINS: You're working wit

the adapter...

>> HILARY: That's right.

>> Mike Poulton.

>> RIEDEL: So how did this

project come together?

Was this something that you were

interested in in the beginning

>> I read the book when it first

came out, and loved it

and read it sort of obsessively.

And didn't for one second thin

that it would ever exist

on stage, and never though

about that in any way.

But when I got the call from

Playful, Matt Byam Shaw,

the producer, to say that Mike

and Hilary had been working on

adaptations and would I be

interested in talking about it

it just struck me as the mos

perfect idea, partly because

it was so challenging an


As Hilary said, there's so man

characters and there's suc

a sort of interiority in

Cromwell's -

You know, the books are writte

from his point of view, so i

felt like that was our first big

moment, was to work out how to

translate the specificity of his

world onto the stage, withou

doing it from behind his eyes.

So that was the challenge,


And I suppose, like lots o

good projects, the ones that

seem impossible are often th

ones that are most enjoyable

>> We should say that, here in

New York, the buzz about thi

production is akin to th

excitement generated b

"Nicholas Nickleby" many years

ago, that the RSC di

in 1980 or '81

They introduced Trevor Nunn to

us all, and that was a two-part,

eight-hour extravaganza, too

that, much like "Wolf Hall,"

captures the public's fancy an

is selling extremely well.

>> And it's thrilling.

I was at the first preview, an

it is thrilling.

>> Now, Nathaniel Parker plays

Henry VIII

When he comes in for auditions

is it just that voice, you say

"That's it"?

>> I wish things were that easy.

>> It was the ax that really

sold us.

>> The train of wives.

>> Yes, the train of wives, th

harem that I brought with me

>> What did you audition with to

audition for Henry VIII?

What was your piece?

>> Uh...

>> Nat is beyond that stage of

having to do a piece

>> Oh, offer only?

>> Well, he did come in and meet

for it, and he was utterly


>> I did a rather naughty thing,

to be honest, which was that -

And I wasn't in a great mood

that day

But I'd read it and, having said

no to it a couple times --

'cause I was doing

"The Audience" in London

at the time --

with Matt Byam Shaw again,

Playful being the producers --

and I just didn'

want to do any more theater.

It takes you out of home s

much, and so I said no, and they

came back and said, "Please.

No, no money in it, really

And then they gave me the script

and I went, "Oh, okay.

I'll have a look

I'll meet with Jeremy, then.

And I met with Jeremy, and h

said after it, "Can we just read

the scene?

And I went, "No, I don't want to

read the scene."

That's the kind of moo

I was in

And he turned to the cas

and he said,

"I thought we'd agreed he woul

read the scene."

I said, "All right, I'll rea

a scene," and I'd learnt it.

>> RIEDEL: Ah!

>> It was a bit naughty.

>> RIEDEL: Did you know this

>> No, I just thought, "Oh, God,

what an idiot.


I didn't actually think that

I thought much worse

I won't say that, but what was

brilliant is, it seems to kind

of sum up --

I think Nat was really cleve

because he just came in.

He'd obviously committed t

the project.

And it's a difficult thing for

an actor when you go and you

have to read and you get judge

on something that is the start

of a kind of creative journey.

But what was amazing was that he

just pulled the rug out from

under us, and it was a kind of

pitch-perfect production

>> But I still came away

actually, thinking there's still

a slight doubt in my mind, and I

was working with Penelope Wilton

at the time on the radio

and she said, "Oh, I hear you're

working with Jeremy.

I don't know how she'd heard

so quickly

Maybe you'd spoken to her.

But I said, "Hmm..."

"No, no, you must.

He's the best director around.

And he is.

I know he's here right now, an

I'm hoping he doesn't give m

notes on last night's show i

front of the whole audience, but

he is the best I've ever

worked with.

>> How brilliant of you to b

Henry VIII at your audition.

Now, did you act like --

did you act like the divisive,

the sneaky Thomas Cromwell

at your audition

>> I didn't get an audition.

I got a phone call in my car

out of the blu

saying they wanted me to pla

Thomas Cromwell at the RSC

in "Wolf Hall," and, uh...

I sort of dropped the phone an

picked it up again

and said, "Really?

Are you serious?

And they said, "Yeah."

So it was an entirely differen

process for me

And then Jeremy and I met and we

had dinner a

the Globe Theatr

on the South Bank in London.

We talked about the project.

We talked about approaches t

work and styles of theater

stuff we liked and stuff

we didn't.

And that was it, really.

It was kind of sealed over

a bottle of wine and a steak

which is my kind of audition


I'm going to insist on doing

that from now on

>> Did you have castin

approval, though, Hilary

Did you sit in when they ran

these names by you and...?

>> No, no, I didn't.

I wasn't really so involved with

the project at that stage.

I was very much at arm's length.

I was working away wit

Mike Poulton, the adapter, but

very much in the back room

at that stage.

>> It's incredible the amoun

of work that you do.

I wanted to ask you, would you

give a thumbnail o

the personality of

Thomas Cromwell, the central


For those who don't know this,

could you describe this ma


>> Thomas Cromwell was

a blacksmith's son

He rose to be the king's

right-hand man, his chie

minister, a reshaper o

the nation

Stayed at the top for almost 1

years, which was quite a fea

in Henry's time.

My question was, how did h

do it?


How do you -

in those times, when society was

very rigid -- rise through

the ranks so rapidly

and with such impact

He was extremely clever.

He was cool.

He kept his nerve.

He was a "big picture" man

which made him audacious

a visionary.

>> And it's interesting, you

start the book by telling us

that he's an abused child.

That's not so much in the play

but that the blacksmith is

beating him up all the time, and

so he has this background.

>> His father, yes

>> HASKINS: You factored

that in, right

>> I did, yeah

I remember very early on talking

in sort of script conversation

we had

I was...

I was quite sort of insisten

that that scene was in

that somehow we got to sho

the audience that.

You know, we had ideas of like

getting a young 7-year-old kid

in and..

>> HASKINS: Beating him up


>> But having that scene happe

at the top of the show, but...

dramatizing your books was

a process of kind of elimination


>> HASKINS: They're so rich.

>> Of what has -

You know, we can't hav

the whole story in the plays

but funny enough, we kind of

have got the whole story i

the plays.

>> You don't need it i

the play

>> We allude to so many othe

things that aren't in the play

>> It seemed to be the biggest

discussion in the press in

England before we opened, wa

can this possibly be done?

Nobody can

>> What, you mean a skeptica

British press?

Never heard of that before

>> And we hit them between

the eyes, from the word "go,


I remember sitting at the tabl

reading, when I hadn't met any

of the cast before, didn't kno

any of them, and..

I just thought, this is a hit.

We don't need to worry

about West End

This is where we need to focus

is Broadway.

>> RIEDEL: Really?

>> HERRIN: I've never had that


>> I wasn't thinking that.

I was thinking, "How do we get

the running time down?

From five hours to 2 1/2

>> You always said New Yor

would like Thomas Cromwell

>> Yeah, I had this idea early

on that, if this town existed,

he would have come over here

He would have been mayor i

a month, as well

>> It feels very contemporary.

That's why I suppose thi

story's been reinterpreted ove

the years so successfully is

that, in one way or another,

it ends up talking to th


I think Hilary's genius has been

to locate in Thoma

a character that really speaks

about where we are, culturally

He's antiheroic in the mos

engaging and exciting way, and

he's kind of unknowable,

which is brilliant for

two shows.

Because the audience constantly,

on the back foot, on the front

foot, they think they've got

him, he slips out of

their grasp.

He's always moving and alway

changing, and he's terrifying,

but he's utterly charmin

as well, so there's a sort o

guilty pleasure in there

as well.

>> He's a sort of Tudo

Tony Soprano, if you will.

>> I mean, actually, rather than

any of the historical examples

that "The Sopranos" an

"Godfather" and "House o

Cards," things like that wer

the kind of great influences for

us in terms of how do we mak

this character alive, how do w

see him as a real person and not

some kind of dusty, historical


>> Well, that's the genius

of the book.

I was going to ask you about

Henry VIII

I mean, Henry VIII, we all

have the image

You know, the pictures

Charles Laughton

>> HASKINS: And how much doe

your costume weigh

>> PARKER: Well, it varies

I've got quite a few different

costumes, but by the end of it

my last one, which I have to

race into in a matter of

seconds, is about 40 pounds.

And so I'm going in and ou

of these things.

There's a very light one, whic

is easy to wear, a nightgown

but otherwise I'm in and out o

armor and various costumes, an

it's such fun.

It doesn't give you a chance

to breathe, really

And he is a very different

Henry, you're right.

Normally, that Laughton stuff of

the chicken bone-sucking

thigh-slapping, wench-grabbing

Henry isn't here

And one of -

>> That's off-stage.

>> That's off-stage, yeah.

Thank you, I was hopin

you would.

But one of Hilary's genius

moments in this, I think, is

that, I remember on our second

night in Stratford, a friend o

mine brought his 13-year-old

son, and I said to him

afterwards in the dressing room,

"Did you understand it?"

slightly nervous about

his reaction

And he said, "Oh, absolutely

it's not Shakespeare."

And that is, for the dusty old

historical thing, if anybody's

out there thinking, "Oh, God

I'm not going to have to sit

through rhyming couplets

all evening," no, you don't.

It's absolutely --

It's not completely updated,

modern, and with Henry, I won'

say "didn't," I'll say

"did not."

There's a certain amount o

things which I will almost

always try and lift.

But it's absolutely vibrant,

and as open as it possibly can

be for today's audience.

And Henry's just great

Everybody has a picture of Henry


And they've all got this idea of

him being --

but I'm not playing that guy

I'm playing Hilary's version o

Cromwell's version of Henry.

So when Henry turns to him and

says, "Tell me what to do,

Thomas," it could actually hav

been just him going, "So, Thomas

what are we going to do?

But it's Cromwell's version --

This is what he said to me -

He said, "Tell me what to do!"

You know, and it's through

Hilary, so I'm having a ball not

playing the one that we al


>> You defeat the audience's

expectations the moment you walk

on and open your mouth

that's the thing

And that is...

you know, that surprise fo

the audience..

gives them some work to do

It pulls them into the play.

We're not telling them

something they already know.

We're asking them to use their

imaginations and..

>> RIEDEL: And you're going to

meet these people for the firs

time, in a way, not the imag

you have of them from th

history books.

>> Exactly

>> That's the great thing that

this story's done, these books

have done, that Hilary's done,

is sort of redefined

these icons that we've had

in our consciousness

You know, Henry VIII

Anne Boleyn.

You've sort reminted them fo

a whole new generation o

people, of readers and

theatergoers, and it's

now you...

This period is fascinating for

the English, and I think for

people abroad as well.

It's a very important stage in

the history of England, th

history of Europe, and the

history of the world, and fo

you to kind of -- and for us t

shed new light on these figure

that we think we know, is very

thrilling, very exciting

particularly for

Thomas Cromwell, which i

a character that not many people

have heard of.

>> RIEDEL: We'll know him from

"The Man For All Seasons," where

he really is the villain

and Thomas More is

Paul Scofield, who's totally

pure and innocent.

And, of course, you flip

the perspectives on these.

>> Well, you know,

in "A Man For All Seasons,

Thomas More is a 1960s liberal


>> Yes, exactly.

>> The world just moved on

a bit.

You know, he was a politician.

It's hard to be a politician

and a saint.

And I question the saint

>> You got rid o

the saint part

Were you an historian by

training at all?

>> No, I'm not

>> So where does this come from?

You've written other novels,

then all of the sudden, yo

decide, "I know a lot of thi

and I'm going to put it in," o

did you have to spend year

doing the research

>> Well, I have written a number

of historical novels as well

as contemporary novels

I love research.

I don't think of it as

a phase you go through -

there's the research, then

there's the writing.

Research is creative

Until you sit down to writ

a scene, you don't know what you

need to know

So the process of research i


What you're looking for is

the tiny detail that lights up

a page

Or the word that lights up

a character.

And most of what you know is

kept below the waterline

It's only the tip of the


>> Did you have access t

a lot of materials

and documents that most people

can't get to see because they're

so rare and valuable

Do have a special key to

the British Museum -

the Hilary Mantel Room

where you get to look at boxes

of things that no one else get

to look at

>> No, what I've got i

the documents that are available

to everybody

And that many of them you ca

see online

But, I think the trick is,

to broaden out your research

You have to drill down into it

like a historian would

but also you have to think about

music, art, literature, what

pictures would they have looke

at, what books would they have


That builds the world picture.

So, you come at it very narrowly

and then you broaden

the scope out.

And it's a question of, findin

out where the facts run out.

Then, on the basis o

the facts you have

your best evidence that you ca

get, then you can star

to imagine

>> That's where the novelist

comes in

>> Exactly, yes.

That's where you go to work,

when the historian stops

>> RIEDEL: Interesting

>> You recommend the book, i

many of your interviews, about


>> Yes

>> HASKINS: Which is readily


>> HILARY: The magnificent

flamboyant Cardinal Wolsey

most powerful man in England

before Thomas Cromwell cam

along, was the king's adviser.

Uh, Wolsey had

a gentleman servant called

George Cavendish

who was with him, some of th

big events of his life, and at

his deathbed

George wrote a memoir.

He wrote it all down

And it's marvelous

It's the first biography

in English

This book teaches you to tal


I owe everything t

George Cavendish

>> Good thing that book's no

copyrighted anymore, Hilary.


It's in the public domain.

>> He wrote it like a novel,

you see, because there was n

template for doing this.

So he will do a scene for you,

and then he'll say, "Now, let'

leave that and let's see how

Thomas Cromwell has sped since

we last met him.

>> RIEDEL: I've got to rea

this book.

What's it called

>> It's called

"The Life of Cardinal Wolsey,"

the Late Cardinal Wolsey

>> Now, Jeremy, as the director,

do you do this kind of researc

that Hilary does

>> What's the point?

We've got the foun

of all wisdom.

I used to joke in Stratford that

Hilary could spot an

inappropriate prop a

a hundred yards.

She'd just go, "No, they

wouldn't have that."

So it's a fantastic resource t

have for the production.

>> The biggest part of our

company, really, has been this

emerging force of Hilary

because she wasn't -

She was there at the beginning

but she's now ther

every day.

And helping us with rewrites and

spotting things all the time

It's as though she's on stag

with us.

>> I usually hang out with

a crowd of dead people


>> We're not there yet, surely

>> Give us some time

give us some time.

>> Wait till that matine

audience on Sunday

>> How did you researc

your role?

>> I read Hilary's books

>> HASKINS: That's all you


>> That's perfect characte

studies for an actor

I need go nowhere else, really

They were fantastic source

material, still are.

I'm still reading them

Still talking to Hilar

about it

Still e-mailing Hilary about it.

Still trying to figure out why

he does what he does

You know, these are perfec

books in terms of characte

analysis, they really are.

>> But the questions Ben has

asked me throughout the proces

have been feeding the thir

book, because I have to come u

with answers

And some of those answers...

You know, there may be scene

in the third book that I

wouldn't have done if Ben hadn't

prompted them with a question or

an image

>> Can you give us an example of

something that he's brought up

that got you thinking of

Cromwell in a different way?

>> Cromwell ran away from home

at the age of 15

After, as I describe it in m

book, a very violent inciden

with his father, who was

a drunk and a bully.

We know this much about him.

Why? What happened the night

before the book starts

I never...

I'd asked myself that question

I hadn't come up with an


Ben said to me that he

in a certain scene in the play

he kept getting an image o

being under a bridge

And I said, "No, you're no

under a bridge, you're i

a cellar

That arch you're looking at --

You're in an undercroft.

It's the vaulting abov

your head.

Somehow, I thought

I know that instantly.

And I built the scene from


So now we know what happen

the night before the first boo


It will work around and come and

there's a flashback in

the third book

>> I asked Hilary very early

on, the play starts,

Cromwell returning from an

assignment in Yorkshire, i

the north of England, that

Wolsey sent him on to try an

get as much money as he ca

from the monasteries

And I remember very early on i

Stratford in rehearsals asking

Hilary, e-malling Hilary and

saying, "What do you think

Cromwell might be thinking about

on his journey down from

Yorkshire to London,

this sort of two-week ride

Any thoughts?"

And back comes a kind of

four-page e-mail, which was like

a chapter from the book,

telling me the number of horse

he would have had to use

the weather on the way

the condition of the roads

the state of the English church,

who he might be writing to

And I'm reading this with my jaw

on the floor, and from tha

first question has come this

fantastic sort o

correspondence, which has just

given me so much

>> Do you have Henry VII


>> Well, we started with

a little printout for each of us

of our characters.

>> Yes, they were great.

>> Which I've never had before

I've been around for a long time

now, and I've never had that

and it was so helpful.

I'm a slightly different

kind of actor.

I approach it in a different

way, which is, I've go

a script, and if I transgres

too far out of it,

I try to put too muc

information in and then

implode mentally, so I'm tryin

to do what's on the page and

figure out how to say what's o

the page and why it's there.

I had a father who always used

to say to me, I remember doing

"Vanity Fair" --

"For God's sake, read the book

read the book, read the book,"

and I read half way through an

there's just too much here

I've got to come back and just

do what the script says and make

it work within that environment.

And that I really enjoy.

That's my challenge.

Obviously, I've read the books

and adore the books, but if

kept going back to them, I'd b

going to Hilary, "Look,

really want that bit bac

in there, okay?"

>> That is the danger, and i

rehearsal we had a moratorium.

I would see a copy of the novel,

and I'd go, "What's going on?"

Because there'd be someone

who's playing somebody jus

going, "Actually, there's this

great bit...

>> It is full of great bits an

you really do have to --

I remember doing "Hamlet" al

those moons ago with

Zeffirelli -- Laertes ha

an 80-line speech when h

basically says to Ophelia,

"Don't touch him with a barg

pole when I go off t

university, he's crackers.

Shakespeare put it better.

And it was reduced to two lines.

And I got -- uggh! -

You know what, I can't

fight that

He's not going to give m

an 80-line speech.

If he shot it, he'd just edit it

or not turn the camera on.

So you've got to do what's o

the page

And I think that's reall

important for something which is

so full, for this.

I do Hilary's version of

Cromwell's version of Henry.

>> 'Cause it was always really

important for us

I mean, the novels are the

novels, and if anyone out ther

hasn't yet read them, they

should read them because they're

a fantastic and magnificen

achievement and a wonderfu


But our approach is different.

We're making these stories -

we're animating them for

the stage.

So it's a different experience

>> And you can't presume tha

everyone in the audience i

going to have read the books

and it's got to be a theatrica

experience, not just the novel

on the stage

>> And it's really important

and as the director, it's always

my job just to try and put

myself in a state of innocence

almost, when I'm watching it

and work out, okay, if I was

coming to this for the first

time with no information at all,

what would I be picking up

Just to make sure that, as far

as our audience is concerned

they don't need any prio

knowledge, they didn't need to

have read the novels, they

don't need to know anythin

about the history.

It's all in there, presented i

a really dramati

and exciting way

So that's our kind of --

It's almost that there have been

two ambitions with it.

On the one hand, to satisf

someone who doesn't know

anything about it, and o

the other hand, to be so

accurate and deft with i

that it satisfies Hilary and her

researcher/historian friends and

make sure that they don't have

a problem with it as well.

And if we can keep those two

things in balance, then it's a

great achievement.

>> You could actually see part

two without seeing part one an

still have a blast

In England, when they were

called "Wolf Hall" and

"Bring Up the Bodies," I had

a lot of mates who couldn't ge

to see "Wolf Hall," so they came

to "Bring Up Bodies," and they

loved it, and it wasn't out of

place at all

>> Yeah, it's like the great old

Ian Richardson "House of Cards,"

the three installments o

"House of Cards," where yo

can watch them independently

The one where he kills -

>> He did what

>> He dethrones the king

>> Thanks, jeez!

>> Well, we've seen that you'v

succeeded, since the woman who

wrote the book

Hilary Mantel, approves of

the stage adaptation

of these clowns running around

with your wonderful characters

All right, "Wolf Hall" a

the Winter Garden.

It is adapted from

Hilary Mantel's best-selling

book, "Wolf Hall" an

"Bring Up the Bodies."

>> HASKINS: "Bring U

the Bodies," and we cannot wai

for the third novel, and I hop

it's a play, too

>> RIEDEL: Jeremy Herrin

the director

Nathaniel Parker, Henry VIII

Ben Miles, the misunderstood

perhaps, somewhat,

Thomas Cromwell.

>> Thank you

>> No, I think we understand

him fine

>> And Hilary Mantel, thank yo

all for being our guests tonight

on "Theater Talk."

>> Thank you

>> Our thanks to the friends

of "Theater Talk" for thei

significant contribution t

this production. public funds fro

the New York City Department

of Cultural Affairs; and

the New York State Council o

the Arts, a state agency

>> We welcome your questions o

comments for "Theater Talk."

Thank you, and good night.


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