A stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Iwuji is finally playing Hamlet, in a production inspired by Black Lives Matter and which is being performed in homeless shelters and prisons
For the Nigerian-born British actor Chuk Iwuji, to be or not to be wasnt remotely the question when it came to playing Hamlet. He has pursued the role ever since his days as a glorified spear carrier at the Royal Shakespeare Company, watching from the wings as celebrated actors spoke the famous soliloquies. As the ambassador Cornelius, Iwuji had one line, shared with another character.
Hes since gone on to lengthier Shakespeare parts: Henry VI in the history plays (a role he toured with for more than two years), Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra, Buckingham in Richard III, Edgar in King Lear. But Hamlet had always eluded him until New Yorks Public Theater asked if hed star in a Mobile Unit production. This bus and truck version, directed by Patricia McGregor, cuts the tragedy to under two hours and tours it to prisons, homeless shelters and senior centers before it returns to the Public for a three-week run.
Iwuji, who will soon return to England to star in Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre opposite Ruth Wilson, spoke about how playing Hamlet has changed his craft and maybe his life.
How did you become interested in theater?
I did theater as a kid in Nigeria. But I didnt think anything of it. When I moved to boarding school in England, you have the athletes and the non-athletes. And I love sports, I did my rugby and my track, so theater went out the window. But when I found myself heading for law and economics, there was a side of me that quietly panicked. At Yale, I decided to start experimenting with theater again.
Do you have a particular affinity for Shakespeare?
Yes, I do. As soon as I became an actor and started accidentally doing Shakespeare, it became something that I loved. People seem to believe I know what Im doing! I have never been worried about who Im up against when I go in for a Shakespeare audition. I dont feel intimidated by it, I feel excited by it.