In the Wings: Chatting With Ian Merrill Peakes, Star of Arden Theatre Company’s Macbeth

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Shakespeare’s bloody tale of fate, power and madness takes over the Arden’s stage starting in March, with Ian Merrill Peakes in the title role of Macbeth. We sat down with the actor to chat about the challenges of performing such a multifaceted character, and about that time he played an aborted fetus.

My name is … Ian Merrill Peakes. My dad’s name is John and he had two sons that were named Jonathon and Ian (Scottish for John), so originality runs in the family. My initials also spell IMP, which is fitting. I am definitely impish.

I am … Sometimes forgetful of how lucky I am. I have a stunningly amazing wife, a wonderfully precocious 6-year-old boy, surrounded by family and friends, I love my job and I get to play golf sometimes. Just wanted to publicly say, I am one blessed fellow. Oh, and I’m good at ping-pong.

On opening night … I reach down and hold my son’s hand in my mind right before hitting the stage. It keeps things in perspective.

My favorite part of the show is … Hard to pick. It’s all fantastic. But if pressed, I’m pretty partial to the “tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. So well written. And the tragedy of the play is all right there. Oh, and hitting shields with my sword. That’s become one of my favorite things to do. Very satisfying.

Arden Associate Artistic Director Matt Decker and  Ian Merrill Peakes during a Macbeth rehearsal.

Arden Associate Artistic Director Matt Decker and Ian Merrill Peakes during a Macbeth rehearsal.

To get into character for this show I … Just try to put myself where Macbeth is at the start: triumphant and exhausted. He’s a hero and a great man. He then makes some questionable choices. Just allowing the given circumstances to exist is most important, especially in a well-crafted play.

My first stage kiss … Was so long ago I can’t remember. But, my wife’s first stage kiss was with me. Poor thing. The whole reason you get into the theater is to kiss people you don’t know. One night we’d had a lot of garlic for dinner and I burped right after we kissed. It was unpleasant and seemed to create a cloud of hell around us. Her next line was, “You want to kiss me again, don’t you?” She was supposed to be excited by the prospect. She was not.

The first play I was in was … At five I was in Stop the World I Want to Get Off at my dad’s theater in Michigan. I played the lush role of an aborted fetus. This is not made up. I believe I was very effective.

My dream role is … Whatever is next. This question is asked a lot and I never have a better answer. There are so many great roles out there, waiting. I’m playing a dream role now. So, that’s a biscuit.

My surprising celebrity crush is … Don Cheadle. Yep, surprised me too. First thing that came to mind. The scene in Hotel Rwanda where he tries to put on his tie, yeah, that pretty much sealed the deal.

The most famous person I’ve ever met … I had a scholarship to play golf at Michigan State University, and played in many tournaments before, during, and after college. One was a Magic Johnson fundraiser. I was pretty excited to meet him. Oh my, he is so very tall. Still have a photo of us. I look wee next to him.

The last thing I binge-watched … I had to do an Inuit accent for my last show, and my wife got me into a show she happened on while on the road called Life Below Zero. It’s a reality show about subsistence living in the arctic. One family is Inuit. So while it started as research, I am now hooked.

To stay in shape I … Play Macbeth.

The last time I dined out in Philadelphia, I ate… Not the last time, but I’ve become partial to Sbraga on Broad and Pine. Their menu is always changing, but the last time I had a pasta with escargot and peas and other goodies. Tasty. And they make fantastic cocktails. I had an Old Fashioned. It pleased me.

The best show I saw in Philly recently … The Whale at Theatre Exile. Oh my goodness, that Scott Greer can act. His performance is gigantic in subtlety and nuance. It’s the kind of theater that makes me proud of what we do.

The best thing about Philadelphia’s theater scene is … The people and the passion. We all know each other and see each other’s work. We all push each other to keep striving for that impossible perfection. I am astounded at the constant brave and boundary defying work I see in this town. I must work with you all!

Macbeth runs at the Arden Theatre Company from March 5 through April 19. Tickets and more information can be found here.