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
National

US military tried, but failed to rescue journalist…

The U.S. military earlier this year tried to rescue journalist James Foley and other American hostages held in Syria ,but failed to find the captives.

National

Fate of captured beluga whales in hands of…

A Georgia aquarium went to court on Wednesday seeking federal permission to bring 18 captured beluga whales to the United States from Russia.

Local

After Eric Garner death, religious leaders meet to…

Interfaith leaders convened with city officials to discuss what the community can do to help dial down heightened tensions after Eric Garner's death.

Local

'Suspicious' Hamilton Heights fire caused by power strip:…

An extension cord overload caused the deadly fire in Hamilton Heights late Monday that killed a 15-year-old girl and injured at least 12 others.

Television

'Doctor Who' personality profile: the 4 Doctors

When the time comes for a new Doctor, there's always some anxiety over the big question: Who will he be? The series owes its longevity…

Television

Billy Crystal to commemorate late actor Robin Williams…

  Comedian Billy Crystal will pay tribute to late actor Robin Williams at television's Primetime Emmy Awards on Aug. 25, the show's organizers said on…

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

GAMES Hudson Common Open Aug. 21, 7 p.m. Hudson Common 356 W. 58 St. Free, www.hudsoncommonnyc.com The U.S. Open begins on Monday, but most of…

Movies

Review: Sadly, Matthew Weiner's 'Are You Here' is…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner tries his hand at movies with "Are You Here," a misjudged Owen Wilson-Zach Galifianakis comedy that turns into a drama.

NFL

Jalen Saunders still unsure what caused car accident…

Jets rookie wide receiver Jalen Saunders spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since his car accident, but he didn't say a whole lot.

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL defense (DEF)

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL quarterbacks (QB)

MLB

Shane Greene travels unlikely road to Yankees stardom

Shane Greene was throwing a bullpen session on a quiet field at Daytona Beach Community College one day when the ball started moving.

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Wellbeing

Metabolic syndrome could have a sugar link

Scientists in St. Louis may have found another culprit in metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Uric acid is…

Wellbeing

Another way stress hurts your unborn baby

Mothers know to try staying calm during pregnancy, as stress has been linked to behavioral and developmental problems for their babies. But now, a new…