An Easy Sell

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Bobby Cannavale is fresh off a season-long arc on Nurse Jackie, a run on Boardwalk Empire, shooting Woody Allen’s new movie in San Francisco—and he’s leaping right into rehearsal on David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, where he’ll star as Richard Roma opposite Al Pacino’s Shelly Levene. How did he close the deal? He told Kera Bolonik exactly how long it took him to get to yes.

So you’ll be standing across from Al Pacino, reading the lines that he made famous. I think we want to hear about that.
I’ve seen every play he’s done in New York in my lifetime. But I don’t think about that. I think about what a perfect play it is. You get the sense of desperation from all these characters, which to me makes great drama—desperate characters using whatever is in front of them to get what they want.

It’s a pretty contemporary feeling, even though the play’s from 1983.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures”—we’re in that time right now. One of the characters has been lying his ass off for the entire play to get what he wants, and says, “I gotta eat.”

Had you met Pacino before?
Twice. Every play I’ve ever done in New York since my twenties—and I’ve done a lot—my little mantra was, “Al’s coming tonight.” Hurlyburly— everyone would make fun of me and say, “Pacino’s in the audience tonight.” He never came. Then I sat next to him at the Tonys, and I had to turn to him and say, “It would mean everything to me if you could come to see my play.” He said, “I’m gonna come, I promise.” And he came to the last show [of The Motherfucker With the Hat], and stayed in my dressing room for two hours. He wouldn’t leave! I sat on my little dressing table, and he stood in front of me and talked to me and the mirror, about acting, about me, about him, about how we should find a good play. And then a few months later I got the call [for Glengarry], asking me if I’d have an interest. It was the most “duh” phone call I ever got [laughs].

Do you expect him to direct you on how to play Ricky Roma?
He’s got his own thing to do. I imagine he’s going to attack his role the way he needs to and let me do my thing. But the story isn’t that I’m playing a part that he played—the story is that he’s playing Shelly Levene. Richard Roma and Shelly Levene are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they’re both desperate. I can’t wait to see how Pacino’s going to play a guy at the end of the road like that.

Glengarry Glen Ross
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
Previews Oct. 16; opening Nov. 11.

An Easy Sell