Neal Ghant steps into Jack Nicholson’s legendary Cuckoo’s Nest role
September 3, 2015Wendell BrockComments
There is a way of thinking that states if you are an actress recreating a job made famous with a Hollywood star, don’t study it. This way, you will not be enticed to mimic. But Neal Ghant-the Atlanta actor leading the cast from the Alliance Theatre’s manufacture of One Travelled Within the Cuckoo’s Nest this month-didn’t have qualms about watching Jack Nicholson’s gonzo, Oscar-winning portrayal of mental-ward patient Randle P. McMurphy.
“I seem like [Nicholson’s] type of acting was something I couldn’t even attempt to perpetuate,” states Ghant, 37, a quicksilver artist who are able to muster visceral edge and aching tenderness, frequently within the same breath. It’s proof of his stage intensity, possibly, that both his Suzi Bass award nominations happen to be for performances in plays through the bristling David Mamet: Race, at True Colors Theatre this past year, and Glengarry Glen Ross, in the Alliance in 2007. Now he’s wanting to reunite with familiar co-workers in Cuckoo’s almost all-Atlanta cast, including Tess Malis Kincaid (Nurse Ratched) former Georgia Shakespeare mind Richard Garner (Scanlon) and Andrew Benator (Dale Harding). On the chicken biscuit in your own home Grown, Ghant shared his ideas around the approaching production:
This is arguably your biggest part to date. What’s your take on Randle?
He’s kind of lost. Spent some time in jail. Crook. Shark. Probably deals with running numbers. A gambler. But smart! And honest, caring. The playwright goes to great lengths to try to describe his rough edges, so I guess the tenderness that he shows throughout is that juxtaposition. That’s the fun stuff for me!
How is Dale Wasserman’s 1963 Broadway script, which the Alliance is staging, different from the Milos Forman film, which swept the 1976 Oscars?
The film has that 1970s bustin’ loose kind of vibe. “We are going to be ‘anti’ this and that.” At the end, the play feels like there is far more opportunity for joy and uplift, even amidst the real dark sadness in the piece.
The story is so funny and also so bleak. How will you balance that?
I’m going to keep it as light as I can, as long as I can. I think those [tragic] moments land better when the audience has truly had a blast getting there.
On the calendar: A mostly local cast brings Dale Wasserman’s stage adaptation to the Alliance from September 2 through 20.
This article originally appeared in our September 2015 issue under the headline “Breaking Out.”