From Bobby to Lenny: Raúl Esparza

Photo: Djamilla Rosa Cochran/WireImage

It’s been quite a year for Raúl Esparza. He was widely praised for his warm, almost boyish performance as Bobby in the not terribly warm Sondheim musical Company (though he didn’t get that Tony). He also had a very public coming out in the New York Times. And now he’s doing something of an about-face from Bobby, in the revival of Harold Pinter’s ice-cold classic The Homecoming, in which he plays Lenny, a small-time London pimp with a heart of stone. He talked with Boris Kachka about how that’s working for him.

I think the best way into your character is through his long, razor-sharp sideburns. How did you come up with that look?
I started looking at old pictures from the sixties, and there was a picture of Roman Polanski that kind of inspired me. I had a beard all summer, and I wanted my face to be a little more brutal, because it isn’t incredibly angular. Bobby was soft, and I wanted Lenny to feel kind of hard.

Does doing the play make you feel harder offstage?
No, I’m a very open, soft mass of a person in life. I could learn something from someone as brutal as Lenny. It would be an awful way to get through life, but it’s a way to survive, I suppose.

And missing out on the Tony didn’t harden you up?
Of course, I was disappointed, because I was working at what I felt was the very best level I had ever achieved. But I sometimes wonder if the attention that’s followed would have been the same if I’d won, because it’s been intense.

How different is it to be doing a pitch-black nonmusical?
It isn’t all that different from doing Sondheim. The writing is entirely about things that are unspoken in both cases. Lenny explodes one time, and the whole thing is a piece of bullshit. Bobby in Company was full of crap, too. He could not tell himself the truth about anything.

But you gave him a tender side. Did you try to do that here?
Lenny’s not lovable at all. One of the things [director Daniel Sullivan] kept saying was, “You’re trying to put a positive spin on this, there is no positive spin on this! You want to dominate her and destroy her.” As we go on, hopefully we’ll get even more aggressive and arrogant about the way we perform it.

Did you get any notes from Pinter?
We had e-mails, but we were never looking for clear answers, because he was never going to give them. He’s writing characters who are not very articulate about what they feel.

You were very open about your own life when you told a Times reporter that you were bisexual and separated from your wife.
I think I need to be more careful when I’m talking about the people in my life who are not in the public eye. I wish I had not said stuff about my mom that caused her pain.

But do you regret doing the profile?
I think in the end the profile was a very good thing. Yeah, my life is messy. One of the best things that came out of it is my dad telling me how proud he is of me as a man, regardless of who I’m with or what I’ve accomplished.

The Homecoming
At the Cort Theater.

From Bobby to Lenny: Raúl Esparza