Jack Ellis on playing Danforth in The Crucible

Jack Ellis Danforth The Crucible

Jack Ellis discusses his work in The Crucible. Screencap.

This was a shorter interview than the rest of them so far. Some interesting points:

Ellis had talked to Farber about the role around six weeks before rehearsals for the play started, but he was only offered it a week in advance. He has a principle of not working on a role until it is offered to him, so he did not do any pre-play research, although eventually he researched the incident of the Ipswich (Suffolk) witch hunts and the role of the Witchfinder General (Matthew Hopkins) in prosecuting them.

He found in himself a desire to have the character to be understood — and thus played the role too sympathetically. Yael was constantly encouraging him to “go deeper into [his] darkness.” He did an imitation of her narrowing her eyes and said the words mimicking her accent.

Ellis feels the closest parallel to Salem today is societies governed by Sharia law. (Servetus coughs.) He mentioned a lot of historical parallels that didn’t really apply, including saying that Joseph McCarthy was like Hitler or Mussolini. (Servetus coughs again.)

I think I had heard this before, but he mentioned that the cast read and discussed a lot of Primo Levi and events in concentration camps.

Ellis came to understand Danforth as motivated by the lust for power, the desire for a monumentalization of his contribution to society, and a jealousy that he feels towards others — he mentioned Proctor, and the girls — that makes him want to kill that feeling as soon as he notices it. In the end, he feels Danforth was motivated by a kind of masochism.

~ by Servetus on April 12, 2015.

8 Responses to “Jack Ellis on playing Danforth in The Crucible”

  1. Thanks.

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  2. Oh. I am always surprised how easy people in England and America using “Hitler” and “Moussolini”, while in Germany you get this “What the…”-Feeling.

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    • well, lots of people in the US get that “what the” feeling, too. Especially historians. And Germans have made their own slips in this regard over the years; I remember a female politician a few years ago whose name escapes my mind, an SPD or a Green.

      I think, after watching a lot of this type of press now for the last five years, that there’s a confusion in the minds of people in theater between historical parallels and metaphors. Maybe thinking of himself as Hitler was what Ellis needed to do to get into character, which is fine (cf. Armitage’s remarks about looking at Hitler to understand Thorin’s “bunker mentality” https://meandrichard.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/spoilers-influences-or-richard-armitage-thorin-oakenshield-bruno-ganz-hitler/ ). Saying that you are interested in a piece of how something appears (a feature of a synecdoche) is very different than saying that things are parallel or the same; Thorin has a bunker mentality like that of Hitler does not automatically mean Thorin is like Hitler.

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  3. I saw Danforth more as a George W. Bush kind of man, seeing the world only in black and white… I guess, we may not really agree with the parallels that Jack Ellis draws but he sure was excellent in that role!

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    • Yes, he did a great job.

      I think this might have been happening because it sounded like, from things she said, that Yael Farber was throwing Hannah Arendt’s name around a lot. (I’m a bit of an Arendt hobbyist — I really admire her work). To me, though, the point of Arendt’s work on the ground level of the Holocaust isn’t about villainy on a grand scale; it’s about the compliance of the average person. We can debate whether Eichmann was the kind of person Arendt understood him to be, but the parallel for Arendt would have been Eichmann (or the thousands of people like him), not Hitler.

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      • Yes!!! Very true – about the ‘banality of evil’ and how the average person participates which is really what the whole play is about. I think these parallels to world leaders are drawn because Danforth is the most powerful man making the decisions which makes you think of other leaders and that calls up these Hitler and Mussolini images. We are 70 years on now, however, and I think more modern day parallels can be drawn – what irks me to some degree is that people tend to look to far away times and cultures (WWII, Islamic State) and while yes, those parallels certainly could be drawn we can also find examples in our own culture in the present day and should stop always pointing the finger to others.

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        • Yes. I really appreciated that Armitage referenced in his “conversation” on stage that Guantánamo Bay is still open. We still do it, we, ourselves and no others. (One of those moments that made me want to kiss him — that I voted for our current present in great part because he wanted to close it and it’s STILL open is a major stone in my shoe in terms of voting for another Democrat at the moment)

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  4. Awww, thanks a lot Serv! I had the chance to talk to Mr. Ellis in London and I was particular interested in his interview

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