Meet Al Lanier in ‘The Best Man’
The following interview is part of the ongoing "Meet the Cast and Crew" series for The Actors' Group. Rebecca Lea McCarthy conducts interviews with cast and crew of upcoming productions.
Aloha Friends of TAG, and welcome to our 2016 - 2017 Season. Every four years during the presidential election cycle, The Actors' Group likes to mount a production that helps us focus on politics in America. This year we will be presenting Gore Vidal's The Best Man. To keep with the spirit of the production at the upcoming election, I am asking those participating in the production a different series of questions relating to the play and our current election cycle.
Meet Al Lanier who plays Senator Joe Cantwell in TAG's production of The Best Man, running September 2 - 25th.
Aloha Al and welcome to our meet the cast series here at TAG. I understand you are playing Senator Joe Cantwell. As a person, do you relate to your character at all?
No, I don't relate to him personally at all. For one, he's a US Senator and Presidential Candidate and I am a journalist and writer who has-at best-met a couple of US Senators. I have also interviewed a number of local politicians and covered a handful of elections here on Oahu. That's the closest I have to politics. Finally, Joe is an extremely ambitious, supremely confident and highly focused person. The confidence and focus we both share-the ambition is all his. I m not an ambitious person-not at my age.
The Best Man was written by Gore Vidal in 1960. So in a sense, the script might be considered by some as being a bit dated. What do you think? Are there any themes this particular script that also reflects the current presidential election?
The saying I have coined after covering elections as a reporter is "Some things change but the game remains the same." This election year has been atypical, not typical. I guess if Albert Camus wrote about American politics you would get Trump against Clinton (Laughs). The Best Man is actually a lot calmer and logical- even with the tensions and anxieties felt by the characters throughout-then the two different real campaigns this year. I think the only thing that ties both the 2016 election year to Gore Vidal's 1960 play is the rise of the unexpected and unforeseen.
You are playing a senator who wants to be president. Let me ask you Al, do have you have any inclination whatsoever to run for office?
Let me just be brutally frank here and quote General William Sherman, "If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve." I have never had any interest in being President. None whatsoever.
You better be careful! I think it was Gore Vidal himself that said: "Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so." But let's pretend you were going to run, what would be your platform?
As for my platform if I were forced to run, basically I would try to void the TPP and fight against any unilateral, multination trade deal on the order of past deals such as NAFTA, CAFTA etc. I would try to work with the UK on a post-Brexit economy for them. I would try to close as many foreign US bases as possible and bring back as many troops as possible in an effort to save funds. I would try to fight intellectual property, copyright and other types of theft including an emphasis on theft of plans for technology. I would look at expanding manufacturing and looking at expanding basic wages such as the minimum wage for American workers. How's that? (Laughs)
LOL well, to be honest, it sounds like you put some thought into this! Should we nominate you? I'm just kidding. On a more serious note, what attracted you to this production in the first place? Why did you audition?
The major reason I'm doing this play is that I am a huge admirer of Gore Vidal. Vidal was a tough, elegant and brutally direct critic of US policy and the nation. If you look at The Best Man both characters are flawed, there is no real good guy or bad guy. Just two men with two different takes on how to get to be President. Vidal had run for Congress as this play was being mounted on Broadway in 1960; he ran I think for the 24th District in New York and lost. He understood the nature of politics in this country not only as a candidate for office but coming from a political family-his grandfather was a Senator from Oklahoma.
That is terrific Al; I love how passionate you are about Gore Vidal and this particular work. With this play and your character, are there any particular challenges that you're facing as an actor?
Basically, two. One I am a character actor who is playing a leading role here so I have to get used to that and the other is that this is my first play as an actor in 16 years. So, returning to theater acting is the second.
Wow, well we are happy to get you back to the stage! Relating to what you said here, I am also a character actor who occasionally gets thrown into lead roles. I find as long as I can identify with the character I am playing, appreciate that character, I'm fine. What is it about Cantwell that you particularly appreciate?
The only thing I like about Cantwell is that he treats his wife with respect and clearly loves her. I love their relationship in the play. It made me comfortable in playing the part.
Next, I want to touch upon the language used in this play. The art playwriting is all about language, and the art of the actor is about finding a way to relate to phrase all a G and words that might be different than our own. What is it about the language in this play that grabs your attention?
My speech when I talk about how I was born to be a politician and run for President-I like that part. Also when Vidal discussed how to obtain power.
Finally, I'm often curious what the actors think the audience will gain from coming to see the show. What truth might they leave with about the world at large?
That politics is not about good or evil or wrong or right but who timing and ability.
Terrific, and that's a good thing to reconnect with. Thank you very much Al for taking the time to sit with me today and talk about The Best Man. We are really looking forward to seeing you in the show!
The Best Man is running at TAG September 9 - 25th.
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