The Hot Seat: Oliver Platt

Shakespeare in the Park and the Public Theater welcome Oliver Platt, who stars in an Off Broadway production of As You Like It.

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Oliver Platt leaves movies and The Big C aside for the moment to tackle a New York summer favorite: Shakespeare in the Park. Read on to find out who he'd choose to be his own personal court jester.

RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews

You did Twelfth Night as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival in 2002, and you also trained at Shakespeare & Company. How have those experiences influenced your approach for this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of As You Like It?
I could be misunderstanding this, but I think there’s a tendency to over-revere the language. You get the sense that Shakespeare himself would be disappointed, given how adventurous he was with words. [I think he’d say,] “For God’s sake, just make it entertaining!”

Right. It’s okay to take a few chances with the material.

Sure, reinvent the hell out of it. But having said that, people can also go too far. [The words are] why Shakespeare is Shakespeare.

Yeah, my high school drama teacher turned As You Like It into a Western, actually.
Did he lose the essence of it?

Speaking as an audience member, the faux cactus was a bit distracting.
There you go. We’ve all seen ten thousand overly liberated productions, and it’s so clear when it goes too far.

Your character, Touchstone, is a court jester. Personally, are you pro- or anti-clown?
When [director] Dan Sullivan and I first met, we bonded over our shared disdain of the stock Shakespearean clown. You know, that “merry nuncle” kind of crap. We approached Touchstone sort of as an eccentric fellow. If you look at Shakespeare’s chronology of the fools and the clowns, [Touchstone is] a complex jester that isn’t just making puns—he is commenting, in a very sophisticated way, about what is going on around him.

Any particular moments of brilliance on his part?
There’s a line of his where he says, “Nay, I shall ne’er be ware of mine own wit till I break my shins against it.” And that’s a very easy line to throw away or gloss over, but I think it gets to the heart of who the guy is.

With all that in mind, if you were to have your own personal court jester, who would you pick?
For some reason, Dave Chappelle comes to mind.

Why’s that?
To be honest, jokes don’t necessarily make me laugh. It’s more about perspective. I’m terrible at telling jokes. So humor that reflects a point of view, or just reflects the world a certain way—or shows a certain sensitivity to the situation—is actually a curious thing to me. Comedy is very mysterious to me, and that’s one of the reasons that this is such an adventure.

The Public Theater’s As You Like It begins previews at the Delacorte Theater June 5.

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