A few days ago, Keegan-Michael Key took time off from rehearsals for director Sam Gold’s production of Hamlet at the Public Theater – in which he plays Horatio, the best friend of Oscar Isaac’s melancholy prince – to see the Tony best-musical nominee Groundhog Day. After the show, Key chatted with Andy Karl, the Tony-nominated star, in Karl’s dressing room at the August Wilson Theatre. They talked shop and compared notes, discussing everything from the nuts-and-bolts of performing the same role night after night (and, in Karl’s case, repeating scene after scene within the same show) to what it’s like to play the White House. Here’s a sample:

Boneau/Bryan-Brown

Andy Karl: So, you’re about to embark on Hamlet…There are probably going to be a lot of expectations, since you’ve done all the comedies that you’ve done. Do you push that aside, or do you sort of welcome your funny side in to keep it, to make it, real.

Keegan-Michael Key: The director that I’m working with is insisting that we bring a lot of ourselves to the roles, and he doesn’t want it to feel super Shakespearean. So, for me, yes, there’s a certain amount of humor that’s been brought into the piece, and like you said, it’s one of the big whoppers, into the piece. But I think there’s a sense of buoyancy and felicity about what we’re doing, more than, “we’re trying to get some laughs.” Now, you might – you may see, if you come see Hamlet, that there will be some moments where Sam [Gold] very cleverly figured out a way to utilize this skill set…

Karl: Mm-hm. Mm-hm.

Key:  …in one of the most well-known tragedies of all time. So, yes. I’m not shying away from it, but like anything, like I watched you do so deftly in this show, is you just got to play these moments real. It’s just, everything’s real, and you…

Karl: …can earn it.

Key:  You know, something else that’s interesting is that Phil – you know Phil is kind of a jerk throughout a lot of the show.

Karl: Yeah.

Keegan:  And he’s got a lot of armor on, physic armor and emotional armor. Was it a concern of yours at all that he would be funny? Or was there a concern that you would not be able to get the [audience] on board?

Karl:  You know, I love characters that you love to hate.

Key: Oh, you do? Okay.

You can listen to the whole conversation here:

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