TBB Talks To… Giles Terera

Giles Terera is an Olivier Award-winning actor, filmmaker and musician.

Terera has starred in West End productions including Rent, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Hamilton to his current role in the new adaption of Ibsen’s 1886 drama Rosmersholm. Giles has had a long-standing career not only in theatre but also as a film-maker, his first documentary titled Muse Of Fire featured interviews with actors and filmmakers and was centred around modern perspectives of Shakespeare, further demonstrating his love for the arts along with the extensive work with the National Theatre.

We caught up with Giles to speak about his new role and the ways in which he takes on such strong characters in some of the most revered stage productions …

Introduce yourself…

Giles Terera. Actor.

For those who have never heard of the production can you tell us about Rosmersholm?

Rosmersholm is a play written by the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It’s about a man torn between the idealised hope of the future and his traditional heritage.

You play the character Andreas Kroll, who is Andreas and how important is his position in the play?

Andreas Kroll is the brother-in-law and lifelong friend of the main character of the piece John Rosmer. Rosmer’s wife (my sister) has died a year before the play begins and we have drifted apart. In the play, I try and make Rosmer see and acknowledge the significance of his position as head of an incredibly influential family and the importance of maintaining tradition. Especially in the midst of a crucial election which is taking place during the story.

This is a new adaption of Ibsen’s 1886 drama, has it been modernised at all?

The beauty of Ibsen’s play is that so much of what he expresses and explores speaks directly to life right now in 2019. Duncan Macmillan and Ian Rickson didn’t have to change the setting or time of the play because Ibsen’s concerns, like all great writers are perpetually contemporary. Of course Duncan and Ian brilliantly bring out and highlight those concerns and questions but Ibsen was occupied with the same questions we ask ourselves today; equality, empowerment, justice, family.

Can you expand on how you think as a society we face some of the political themes of the play?

The play is directly concerned with our dilemmas and social questions today. It’s been great to hear so many people who have seen the play reflect that. Ibsen looks at the direct consequences of inequality, disenfranchisement, traditionalist exploitative institutions. He looks at the consequences of failure to listen to the public. The response of the individual to the society she or he is living in. How best to run our societies in a just, moral, fair way.

Giles Terera and Hayley Atwell in Rosmersholm
Photo credit: Johan Persson

How does a black actor fit into a production set in this era or does this not impact the feel of the production – was this a colour-blind casting?

Each person watching the play will have their own response as to how the race of a given actor informs their receiving of the story. How it threatens or releases them. For myself I had often perhaps thought that Ibsen is for and about middle-class white people. As soon as I started to honestly look at his play I realised that Ibsen, like all truly great writers, is interested only in people.

Tell us about the process of getting into character, how did you develop Andreas and can you tell us about his journey, throughout the play; what’s his purpose?

Andreas fascinated me from the moment I read the play. Someone who could be considered on the right of the political spectrum, yes, but someone who I observe believes that he is fighting for the land of his forefathers. For his brother. For the future of his children. As an actor it is my task to observe the person first.

You won an Olivier award for Hamilton a production where you played the character, Aaron Burr. What was the experience like working on such a record-breaking, ground-breaking, revolutionary production?

Working on Hamilton was one of the best experiences of my life. But before the success or record-breaking, award-winning aspects, comes the essential hard work. I loved the piece and felt an incredibly strong connection to the character. The most important aspect of the experience was the people I got to work with, the brothers and sisters I got to tell the story with and the audiences we got to tell the story to. I would always try and spot a black or brown or beige face or a young person who seemed like they might be seeing theatre for the first time and really try and tell them the story.

Was there any pressure knowing you were filling Tony Award-winning shoes of Leslie Odom Jr. who was the original Aaron Burr – did you two ever speak about the role?

My main focus from the moment I read the script was Aaron Burr. To me this was a very real person. I felt I knew him. I knew how he thought and walked and spoke and laughed and listened and stood. I felt like I’d known him all my life. So that was my main focus. To do him justice. I never felt a pressure to do more or less than the original NY production because what those artists created was so pure and perfect to me, but I simply wanted to face Aaron Burr and Hamilton fresh and tell the story as it appeared to me.

Do you think the UK could have its own Hamilton – If so which King or Queen do you think would make for a great musical?

The UK has its own Lin Manuel Mirandas. Throughout the country, there are thousands of young people who are expressing their stories and experiences and passions through music, spoken word, poetry, movies, and theatre.
The possibilities to have works created here in the UK which have the potential to be as effective and successful as Hamilton is very real and exciting right now.
Given that Hamilton is about an immigrant who changed his nation I certainly believe there are similar figures in British history whose stories need to be rediscovered and re-told. Prince Harry and Meghan came to see Hamilton a number of times. They’ve just celebrated the birth of their first child. That young royal’s story will be an incredible one.

We often see new adaptions and reinterpretations of productions from the last century, is it important for us to keep retelling these stories or is it important for us to create new ones?

Both. In every culture on earth, the retelling of stories is the means by which we know ourselves. It is important to rediscover, re-hear and re-understand the stories which have been told before. The great writers of theatre, regardless of where they come from, are interested in the essential dilemmas of the human condition. These will speak to us no matter what time or city or village they are performed in. Most importantly they can teach us about ourselves. It is equally important however to find new stories. Stories which match the actual circumstances of the present. It’s vital for the storytellers of the present to express the experience of living in the world they are in.

What can we expect from you for the remainder of the year, anything new coming up?

I am currently working on a guide book for young actors and theatre artists called The Balancing Act. So I’ll continue to work on that. A play I have been developing and writing with the Bristol Old Vic is on its way so I’m very excited for people to see that also.

Three things you’d do if you were King for a day?

I would make sure that all the Grenfell families are properly and immediately rehoused. Erase and rectify the disgrace of the Windrush scandal. Spend time with my mother.

Rosmersholm is at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 20 July. Find out more and book tickets here.


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