Gisli Gardarsson

“No one blazes a trail of theatrical excitement and thrilling invention quite like the Icelandic actor/director Gísli Gardarsson.”


Reese Moore: What’s been your favorite experience during Spoleto so far?

Gisli Gardarsson: Definitely Folly Beach! I haven’t had a chance to see very much because we’ve been working so hard. When we have time off, I spend it on the beach where we’re staying. It’s very nice when you come from Iceland!

RM: You have a very dynamic, athletic style of performing, which relates to your background in gymnastics. Was acting always the end goal?

GG: No, I never intended to become an actor. I remember thinking that I spent so much time at gymnastics that it would be a shame to throw it all away to just sit down at an office. I thought even if I didn’t do theater, I could do some things that most people can’t do. After I stopped doing gymnastics, I attended university in Norway and participated in a show, and that’s when I got interested in theater. I applied to the only drama school in Iceland. They accept 8 people every year, and I did get in, and that sort of sealed my fate.

RM:  You act, you direct, you write, you produce… What’s your favorite hat to wear?

GG: Well, in my heart I’m always an actor. When I direct I get really excited about seeing a production in a certain way on stage, but it’s not really career driven. When I’m acting I long to direct, and when I direct I long to act, so it’s a fantastic mix for me. Also when I act I get a lot of ideas stage-wise for the next show I’m going to direct.

RM: We’ve talked about you personally and your transition between acting and gymnastics, but what is the philosophy behind your style of performance?

GG: When I act it sort of just depends on the show, and I try to follow the director’s concept. Because of my gymnastic background I tend to be very physical, and that’s just the way I am. It’s very natural for me to do a backwards somersault. So the director will say, “Do a little bit of dancing,” and I’ll accidently dance around, end up on a table, and throw myself off it or something! It just feels natural, you know. And the director will go, “Yeah that’s great! Let’s keep that.” But there’s all sorts of acting, I’ve done the whole spectrum and every way is different and challenging.

RM: Do you have a favorite style?

GG: Obviously it’s easier when it’s not so physical. It’s easier to show up at work when you’re not risking your life swinging from trapezes or something like that!

RM: Tell me about your current role in Don John.

GG: What I found interesting was that the director wanted to set it in the 1980s. I remember it really well from Iceland, and everyone was sniffing glue and things like that! It’s funny. I was taking that step from being a kid into being a teenager, and I have a lot of memories from that time, which made it really appealing. If it had been a period piece set in the 1700s I don’t know how interesting I would have found it. But that element of rock ‘n’ roll and grotesqueness, and the fact that he’s on a destructive journey is an interesting aspect for me.

RM: So why do you think the myth of Don Juan still captivates modern audiences? Why aren’t we tired of Don Juan?

GG: You’re always interested in knowing why people fall for such a guy, and why people are destructive like Don John or Kurt Cobain or Jim Morrison. Why are people like that? Why do we get attached to them? Why don’t we leave? They treat people really badly, and still we get drawn back. That’s worth exploring again and again.

RM: You’ve played a range of characters, from Shakespeare to Kafka’s Metamorphosis to Don John. Is there anyone you’ve always wanted to portray?

GG: I’ve never had any dream characters, if I had I would have produced it already! I guess when I directed Romeo and Juliet and played Romeo. I played a lot of lovesick characters in school, and it’s really hard to portray love. How do you act being in love? So I fulfilled my first acting dream where I put a character in a physical state where he was so much in love that he would actually fly. And that was fulfilling a dream of portraying a certain type of character.

RM: What character has been the most challenging for you to play?

GG: Gregor Samsa of Metamorphosis is the most difficult part I’ve played purely because I was hanging upside down for an hour. That’s a tough battle both emotionally and physically, but at the same time the journey is a good feeling as an actor. If it’s difficult it’s more rewarding.

RM: You’ve performed in a lot of countries, do you have a favorite place to perform or favorite audience?

GG: Yeah, there is a difference between audiences! Not a big difference, but in Korea everyone is extremely polite. And for instance playing Gregor Samsa in Hong Kong: his character brings provides for the family, and in China that’s very much the case. When a son becomes dysfunctional within a family, the whole family falls apart, and in China everyone related to that. But America is great because America has the most open audience I’ve ever performed for. There’s no sarcasm. They’re open, and they genuinely tell you what they think. They come up onto the stage and shake your hand, and I think that’s fantastic! In England that would never happen, they would all be too worried about making a fool of themselves. So I love American audiences, Metamorphosis is coming to New York in December 2010 and I’m really looking forward to that.

RM: Do you have a preference between film and theater?

GG: No, I do a lot of film in Iceland. I don’t really distinguish between the two. In a film, you can always stop in the middle of a take in a film and say, “Ah, fuck! Can I do it again?” But on stage it’s like “Ah, shit!” You have to be on your toes the whole time. And you do with films as well, but you can get a second chance.

RM: How do you like Charleston?

GG: It’s great! I really, really love America! It’s so laid back and people are really friendly and I love the climate. I really like it, I really really do! I’m going to try and get Metamorphosis on a US tour so I can explore more.

RM: What’s next for you?

GG: They’re finishing a film that I was shooting called Prince of Persia, and it’s produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, so it’s a massive blockbuster film. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the lead and Ben Kingsley is in it, and I play the bad guy. It was an extremely fanstastic film experience. But I’m also directing a circus/ballet version of The Nutcracker, and then I’m going to Iceland where I’m going to direct Faust.

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