In the Wings: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Star Jered McLenigan
When Wilma Theater’s Artistic Director Blanka Zizka decided to direct both Hamlet and Tom Stoppard’s dark comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, she made a radical decision to hire one cast to perform both shows. The lead actors, including Jered McLenigan, began rehearsals for the latter two weeks before Hamlet rehearsals. Now, after the opening of the Shakespeare drama, they are continuing the rehearsal process. McLenigan took our rapid-fire Q&A, where he discusses drinking his bottled tears on opening night, making himself up to look like Morgan Freeman and that time he made eggs for Eddie Vedder.
My name is … Jered McLenigan. I’m named after my father Gerard, whose name is pronounced like mine. My parents decided to spell my name phonetically and gifted me with a lifetime of misspellings. (Just kidding, mom and dad. Love you.) A lot of my friends and family call me Jerry.
I am … saltwater and stardust. Also I am allergic to shrimp.
On opening night … I wake before dawn, and in the deep blue ultraviolet early morning hues I bathe in dew and plant a seed in the earth with my mouth. I let the First Rays of Our Sun that break over the horizon shine into my eyes as I weep into a glass jar, saving the tears. I spend the next 12 hours wrapped in a coat of Spanish moss, meditating, chanting and purging; I hold a rose of Jericho and watch it bloom. Just before stepping onstage I drink my bottled tears.
My favorite part of the show is … Well right now we’re still in rehearsals and we’re just beginning to incorporate the full cast. It’s prime creation time with plenty of exploration left, which is just so much fun, especially with material like this. We have one week of Hamlet performances remaining, and it’s really incredible experiencing all the characters transition between the two plays. The Tragedians are at an interesting spot right now; Mongo in particular is currently undergoing a beautiful chrysalis. Working with essentially the same company for both productions is absolutely joyous, and it’s even better having my wife Sarah right there with me.
To get into character for this show, I … make myself up to look exactly like Morgan Freeman. The whole process takes about 3 1/2 hours and requires 3 assistants and some very expensive prosthetics. Then at about 5 minutes to curtain I wipe it all off.
My first stage kiss … was in a provocative, boundary-pushing school play called Below Deck: Shiver Me Tender. Oh wait I’ve blocked that out. Never mind.
The first play I was in was … a Christmas pageant when I was in 1st grade. I was the narrator. I also played a shepherd and I wore my Captain America bathrobe as a costume. Another early performance of note was a time when I was maybe 13 and in the chorus of a musical. I played a walk-on character called “Bill Poster.” My sole duty in the scene was, in fact, to post a bill, but I was nonetheless confused as to whether “Bill Poster” was my name or my occupation. Pretty much all downhill from there.
My dream role is … I get asked this every so often and I never have a good answer. It’s impossible to pick just one. I’m certainly working on one right now. There are some I’m looking forward to if I make it to be old and grizzled and crotchety and I’m still doing this.
My surprising celebrity crush is … Well, I remember as a kid being all heavy-hearted about the girl Kevin meets over summer vacation on The Wonder Years. It was a longing, melancholy kind of crush not only for a girl who didn’t really exist but also for the situation itself, in a fleeting time that had already passed.
The most famous person I’ve ever met … Man, you guys are into your celebs, huh? Ok, here’s a juicy tidbit for ya: I used to cook breakfast and lunch at a record store/café in Seattle. Eddie Vedder came in occasionally. I can’t say that I met him, but I made him eggs a few times. He sat in a corner with a cap on. From a distance I watched him eat through the kitchen window. I hummed “From A Distance” quietly and stood mouth-breathing, glassy-eyed, runny-nosed and slack-jawed. I moved my tongue around inside my mouth when he chewed. I also had a very brief, verrrry awkward encounter with Paul Giamatti after literally bumping into him in a bookstore. I called myself a “young actor.” I think I was 31 and I was mortified as soon as I said it. Sssssssizzlin’!
The last thing I binge-watched … I find this term offensive.
To stay in shape I … watch a LOT of Soul Train. It’s exhausting.
The last time I dined out in Philadelphia, I ate … at Schlesinger’s. Always solid. Although (and don’t tell them I said this) the best pastrami on rye is at High Street on Market, but of course you know that already.
The best show I saw in Philly recently … Matteo Scammell threw it down as Yank in The Hairy Ape with EgoPo. He knocked me out of my seat.
The best thing about Philadelphia’s theater scene is … The churning, symbiotic vat of creativity and the stunning array of people who make up the scene. So many beautiful, rich souls with pure intentions. I mean that. There really aren’t many assholes here. Well, ok, there’s definitely at least one asshole. You know who you are. Wink, wink. No, not you, Charlie.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead runs May 20th to June 14th at The Wilma. For tickets and more information, go here.