“Hie thee to a theater” is the lesson one could take from Wednesday’s announcement of the nominees for the Screen Actors Guild Award — often a precursor for Oscar nods. Of the 20 named in the performance categories, 14 had made Broadway or West End debuts, and a clear majority had begun their careers in theater. True, Tommy Lee Jones, nominated for his brilliant turn in “Lincoln,” has not returned to Broadway since he played opposite Zero Mostel in “Ulysses in Nighttown” in 1974. But Bradley Cooper (a nominee for “Silver Linings Playbook”) just starred in a summer revival of “The Elephant Man,” at Williamstown, Massachusetts, which will almost surely transfer to Broadway if and when his schedule allows. It was there that “the sexiest man in the world” made his debut opposite Julia Roberts in a 2006 revival of “Three Days of Rain.” And you can presently see Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) in a Broadway revival of “The Heiress” opposite Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” fame.
Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables”) has made no secret of her desire to make her Broadway debut after growing up in the theater. (Her mother Kathleen Ann McCauley was an actress.) The New Jersey-born Hathaway made a splash in 2002 when she starred in an Encores revival of “Carnival” at City Center and reignited interest among producers earlier this fall with her dazzling one-night-only performance as Sally Bowles in an evening of songs from “Cabaret” at the Public Theatre. Hugh Jackman, her fellow nominee from “Les Mis,” won a Tony Award for “The Boy from Oz” which he followed up with “Back on Broadway,” last season’s box-office bonanza. Next season, he is gearing up for the title role of “Houdini,” a musical written by Aaron Sorkin and Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”).
But the most curious relationship between one of this year’s SAG nominees and the stage has to belong to Daniel Day Lewis who, at this point, must be considered something of a lock for his performance in “Lincoln.” At 18, Day-Lewis initially discovered his vocation at the National Youth Theatre in London. But then abandoned any thought of a stage career to become a cabinet maker. Stage acting beckoned once more in the early ’80s at the Bristol Old Vic and then at London’s prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company where among his roles was Shakespeare’s Romeo. His film career then began to take precedence, coming into full flower in 1989 when he won an Oscar in “My Left Foot.” That same year, however, he returned to the stage in Richard Eyre’s production of “Hamlet” at the National Theatre. Famous for totally immersing himself into his roles, Day-Lewis had what amounted to a nervous breakdown in the middle of a performance of “Hamlet.” During the scene in which Hamlet confronts his father’s ghost, Day-Lewis began to sob uncontrollably. He then left the stage and never returned. He has not assayed the stage since, dogged by rumors that during that performance of “Hamlet” he had actually seen the ghost of his real father, the British poet Cecil Day-Lewis. He recently addressed those rumors in an interview with Time Magazine. “To some extent I probably saw my father’s ghost every night,” he told the reporter, “because of course if you’re working in a play like Hamlet, you explore everything through your own experience.” While he admitted that it was “utterly delusional” to say that an actor actually becomes the person being played, Day-Lewis added that his father’s death deeply affected his performance. “So yes, of course, it was communication with my own dead father. But I don’t remember seeing any ghosts of my father on that dreadful night!” It would seem inevitable that at some point in the future Day-Lewis may return to the stage, perhaps in a revival of an Arthur Miller play. He was in the film version of that iconic playwright’s “The Crucible.” And he is married, after all, to his daughter, Rebecca Miller. Or maybe his return vehicle will be in a new play by Tony Kushner, who wrote “Lincoln,” whose provocative and politically-engaged plays are in the tradition of Miller.
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