Spot the Difference: Amber Gray Talks Morality and Playing Macbeth’s Banquo | Playbill

Special Features Spot the Difference: Amber Gray Talks Morality and Playing Macbeth’s Banquo

The actor takes on the Shakespeare classic after originating Hadestown’s Persephone.

Maria Dizzia, Daniel Craig, and Amber Gray Joan Marcus

“I’m not quite sure how much I’m allowed to share,” Amber Gray says. “But, I will say we’re all double cast.” Director Sam Gold’s vision, she continues, “is very carefully thought out, it foreshadows moments, haunts others. It reflects back as the story unfolds.”

Gray joins the cast of Macbeth as Banquo after originating the role of Persephone in Hadestown in 2019. “I was excited by Macbeth as a production more than anything because it was totally unexpected for my next move,” the actor says. For Gray, there is an excitement to playing a character that balanced and sturdy “especially after having played roles on Broadway that I’m known for like Helene and Persephone which are really off balance and have their weight on one leg.”

Calling the shift “a total palate cleanser,” Gray explains, “I’m going back to skills I haven’t used in over a decade, it’s fun to nerd out on the actual verse of it all.” Moving from a Broadway musical to a classical straight play, the actor does seem some connections between the two. “When you’re honoring the poetry of Shakespeare, it’s quite musical. There is a structure and a rhythm to hold you as a starting place especially and then you can interpret it as you get more comfortable with it, you can make it your own.”

Amber Gray Joan Marcus

Of the roles Gray plays in Macbeth, the actor was announced as the production’s Banquo, a character Gray will play as a woman. “It’s exciting because it changes how the prophecy applies,” says Gray, referring to a divination revealed to Banquo by one of Macbeth’s three witches: “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.” The actor continues, “It’s never meant for Banquo to become king, it’s always been meant for Banquo’s descendants. Now we get to question the prophecy in these new ways. Can I not be king because I’m a woman?”

The prophecy promises Banquo’s children will become a dynasty of monarchs; “Your children and your children’s children are set up for life,” Gray says. “You’re probably going to want to take it. But, prophecies are tricky right? Do you need to intervene or not? Macbeth feels like he needs to act so that the prophecy comes true.” Gray believes that Banquo wants her prophecy to come true as well, but that she is unsure of how to guarantee it. “I think she’s really torn,” the actor says. “There’s a whole moment where she’s really considering taking action to make it come true. And then Fleance comes out and catches her and they have this moment where she hands over all her weapons to her child.”

Though Banquo is often played as an upstanding character, Gray’s approach embraces the role’s potential moral ambiguity. “So many people love to talk about Banquo being the moral compass. I don’t know that I agree.” She explains, “I think the only difference between Banquo and Macbeth is he has a Lady Macbeth encouraging the behavior and I have a kid to protect.”

For Gray, connecting with Banquo’s motivations as a parent has been a new experience as it is her first time playing a parent on stage since becoming one. “Those are fun nuances to explore now that I really understand them,” she says. Gray’s experience as a mother is also mirrored by her knowledge as a child of military parents. “In rehearsals, I’ve been wearing my mom’s last pair of fatigues and boots that she had before she retired. The fatigues, they’re stiff and pretty crisp still from her having starched them so many times,” the actor shares.

Ruth Negga and Amber Gray Joan Marcus

“A ritual that military people have is to wake up every morning and polish their boots,” Gray states. “And I know how to do it.” For her, the military habits Gray is familiar with add to the play’s exploration of ritual, layering on top of the ways it already does through witchcraft and prophecy.

Delving into Banquo as a soldier does not end there for the actor. “I’m excited to explore those military shapes, what we think of as masculine shapes that are square and flat as they teach in military basic training to be ready to attack,” she shares. Gray continues on thought that “They’re also shapes to stay in your lane and know your position inside the power structure.”

That double-edged sword of those shapes that Gray explores and the resulting investigation into the ways power structures are upheld is integral to this production. “There are all these questions that come up around power in structure, why it has to be the way it is, and can the structures change.” She goes on, “We’ve been questioning power structures for the last 2, 6, 15 years depending on who you ask or all of humanity. We’re in a moment right now dealing with autocrats, and I think the power structures and power struggles that you witness in our production are going to really resonate.”

Macbeth presents audiences the chance to see three very different monarchs, three different ways of attaining, maintaining, and using power. For the show’s audiences, Gray shares “I think some of its going to be a little too close to home for people and make people cringe in the best of ways.”

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