Michael McKean talks becoming J. Edgar Hoover for A.R.T.’s ‘All the Way’

ENTB_AlltheWay3_0912

Sometimes a sequel follows something so bright that it simply can’t get the attention it deserves, until enough time has passed to give it the space it needs to shine on its own.

Such is the case with American Repertory Theatre’s season-opener, “All the Way,” which examines the 11 dramatic months between John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 and Lyndon Johnson’s path to victory in the 1964 presidential election.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Schenkkan’s play (directed by Bill Rauch) features a star-studded cast led by “Breaking Bad”’s Bryan Cranston in the role of Johnson, who stakes his presidency on the July 1964 passing of the Civil Rights Act. The play also features a gallery of historical heroes, such as Martin Luther King Jr. (Brandon J. Dirden), and villains like FBI head (and relentless King antagonist) J. Edgar Hoover — here portrayed by character actor Michael McKean.

“It’s history. It’s a suspense play. It’s a nail-biter. Even though we know [Johnson] won in 1964, it’s all about the machinations,” says the New York native between rehearsals in a sit-down with Metro at A.R.T.’s Loeb Drama Center, where he made his stage debut in 1968 with “Troilus and Cressida” — and where he has been spending his days fine-tuning his portrayal of the eccentric Hoover.

Although most know McKean as Hollywood’s satirical funny man (notably in mockumentaries “This Is Spinal Tap” and “A Mighty Wind”), his work in “All the Way” marks his third consecutive historical play (following runs in Gore Vidal’s drama “The Best Man” and Jonathan Lynn’s “Yes, Prime Minister”). His latest role presents a new challenge for the actor, however, as he finds himself in the rare position of playing not only an actual historical figure, but one of the most elusive that modern history has known.

In constructing Hoover, McKean draws partly from his memories of growing up in the 1960s, as the son of Louisiana expats who migrated north after WWII to enjoy the more liberal climate. “The first thing that I ever published in the high school newspaper was a piece about the [Mississippi] civil rights murders,” recalls McKean of one of his primary memories of the real-life characters and situations explored in “All the Way.” “I remember my father on the phone with Western Union sending a telegram to LBJ saying, ‘Suggest you give Hoover one week to solve murders, then fire his ass. … OK, then fire him!’”

Everyone knew of Hoover, but when it came to studying the FBI founder, McKean couldn’t find any footage of Hoover talking extemporaneously. “It was all about image,” he says. “And knowing what we now know about Hoover’s private life, image is very important — especially if who you really are is not for public consumption.”

For McKean, the desires, emotions and secrets (including his rumored homosexuality) of the inner Hoover are more interesting than the personality and affectations of the outer Hoover who hated, and was hated by, so many — especially King.

“Why am I obsessed with King? I have my secret reasons,” says the actor, reflecting on why King — a character Hoover does not speak to once in the play — looms so large over Hoover’s psyche. “[King] is my bugbear. He is my bete noire. Hoover is very much afraid of the ‘wrong people’ having too much power.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…