Role Play

Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Ben Whishaw and Hugh Dancy are two boyish British actors (the latter married to Claire Danes) cast as lovers in The Pride, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play, which opens February 16 at the MCC Theater. The story takes place in two very different cultural moments for male-male relationships. In the first scene, set in 1958 London, Whishaw is a writer who becomes entangled with Hugh Dancy’s character, a married man. Then, in 2008 London, he portrays an unfaithful lover and Dancy his monogamy-seeking ex-boyfriend. During the show, doe-eyed Whishaw professes a predilection for acts including (but not limited to) Nazi role-play and simulated rape. Mike Vilensky talked with them about all that—plus Qigong massage.

Did you have any hesitations about taking explicit gay roles?
Hugh Dancy:
Ben Whishaw: I think of it as a very hopeful play. It’s all about people wanting to know themselves better.

Still, Ben, your character says he’s into bondage, rubber, chains.
Sure, I have thought about my mom seeing it. [To Dancy] Has that thought crossed your mind?
HD: Oh, God, yes. But people seem convinced that after I agreed to do the play, all my agents begged me not to. It’s just not true—not really.

What connections did you make between the show’s two time periods?
That the self-loathing in the fifties has perhaps, in some way, remained and informed some element of gay identity.

So the trap that your character faces in 2008 is …
Still very specifically about gayness. Or his sexuality. [My character] can feel love for one person, and still have sex with strangers in parks. It’s a problem.

Were you glad to see a mature Nazi fetish depiction in the script?
Oh, I’ve been waiting.

Hugh, since you live in New York now, did you give Ben tips on what to do?
HD: I did give you the address of that Qigong place on Grand Street.
BW: Oh, yeah! That massage place. It was pretty good, but it could have been harder.

What kind of other support do you two give each other?
I’ve never felt in great need of emotional support because we get on well.
BW: Yeah. If you make a big kind of [whispers nervously] “We’re doing the sex scene today,” you make it a drama. But actually we’re like, “Okay, we’re gonna do the sex scene! [Claps] So pull down your pants.” You have to be matter-of-fact about it.
HD: There’s a perception that in the rehearsal room, actors are always hugging each other and checking if they’re okay. I think it’s much more matter-of-fact, usually.
BW: But we do sometimes hug.

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Role Play