Christian Slater: “This is the craziest I’ve ever seen the world”

Christian Slater on returning to the London stage in Glengarry Glen Ross and the state of everything.

1 / 1

Christian Slater can’t stay away from the West End. While some Hollywood headliners might pop up on in London’s Theatreland once to tick it off their to-do list, the Mr Robot actor is now on his third London production.

The star of True Romance and Heathers plays smooth-talking salesman Ricky Roma in David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Glengarry Glen Ross. The story is one of rabid capitalism, as colleagues at a Chicago real estate company fight against each other in a no-holds-barred sales competition.

Slater is the only American in an impressive cast compiled by rising director Sam Yates. A formidable cast including Kris Marshall, Don Warrington, Robert Glenister and Stanley Townsend join him in the production.

As Glengarry Glen Ross opens in the West End, Christian Slater tells us more about the show and the world as he sees it:

Christian Slater and Daniel Ryan in Glengarry Glen Ross at Playhouse Theatre (Image: Marc Brenner)
Christian Slater and Daniel Ryan in Glengarry Glen Ross at Playhouse Theatre (Image: Marc Brenner)

How do you feel about returning to London?

I love being in London. London is heaven to me. I feel a real affinity for this place and I’ve loved every experience I’ve had here. Theatrically, it has been wonderful. And to get the opportunity to do this play and introduce it to a new audience is great.

How did this opportunity come about?

My agent called me six months ago and asked if this was something I’d be interested in doing. I said yes immediately. This is a play that I do my best to see whenever there’s a production of it. I like to see what the actors do with these roles. They’re such iconic characters. It’s almost required viewing, as an actor, to see this play. And the movie, too. I’m a great admirer of it and always have been. To get the chance to do it has been very exciting.

What is it about this play that you so admire?

The writing is unique and special. It has a quality that I don’t think anybody other than David Mamet has been able to capture in quite the same way. He managed to tap into a world that only he really knew something about and convey it in a very relatable way. He made it very accessible to audiences.

The play is a lot funnier than the movie. The movie focuses a lot on the darkness of this world. The play focuses a lot more on the camaraderie aspects. But as funny as it is, it’s also heartbreaking. It’s a time capsule of a very male-dominated, testosterone-riddled world. It’s competitive, it’s riddled with anxiety and fear, and it’s very cutthroat.

The play is about competitiveness in the work environment. These guys are pitted against each other to win the big prize. They want to sell as much real estate as they possibly can to as many people as they can, and try and outdo one another. That makes for a very toxic atmosphere. But at the same time there’s still elements of camaraderie and appreciation and love. There’s a mentor aspect to the play. It’s also an opportunity to hold a mirror up to where we are today, reflect that back and ask questions: This is what it was like, have we come far enough? Can we go further? What can we learn from this?

Christian Slater and Kris Marshall in Glengarry Glen Ross at Playhouse Theatre (Image: Marc Brenner)
Christian Slater and Kris Marshall in Glengarry Glen Ross at Playhouse Theatre (Image: Marc Brenner)

Has that reflection altered in the light of recent events?

This is the craziest I’ve ever seen the world. I’ve never been more obsessed with paying attention to the news. I want to be there on the day when the big change happens. I don’t want to miss it.

I’m devastated and heartbroken about events of the last five weeks in Las Vegas, New York, Texas. The issues in my industry and the things that are being exposed there. Politically we’re living in the craziest situation I’ve ever witnessed. It’s just a head-scratching time. When you start adding it all up, looking at all these examples of chaos, you can’t help but worry about the future and where we’re going. But, maybe all of this is being brought to light so that we can see it as clearly as possible and make as many necessary changes as possible for the future.

It is the responsibility of the arts to hold up that mirror. It’s what great writers do, they expose those kinds of things. We get to perform it, so people can see it and hopefully not have to relive it. It frightens me when we have people in places of power that don’t understand the value of the arts. That don’t support it. That don’t get it. It’s a much bigger picture that they don’t seem to understand. That’s incredible to me.

This play certainly holds up the mirror. One of the things that immediately comes to mind is diversity in the office space. There’s no women in this play. That’s an issue I wouldn’t have thought about 20 years ago. Now I think about it. It makes us question why that presence doesn’t exist. You see that it’s chaos. These men with their egos and their vanity and their pride and their competitiveness. That lack of diversity is a real problem. But if there was a woman in this play, you can only imagine what that relationship would be like. It certainly wouldn’t be respectful. I’m sure these guys would create a brutal and abusive environment.

How are you finding your British co-stars?

I love them. It’s an honour to share the stage with them. They’re phenomenal professionals. The only difficulty I have is that some of the writing is so brutal. Some of the things I have to say to Kris Marshall, it hurts because I like him so much.

How does it feel to be back on stage and performing live?

Theatre is definitely one of my first loves. There’s nothing more enriching than having the raw theatrical experience of sitting there and watching a play. I think London really gets that. London audiences have a great deal of respect and appreciation for theatre. There are moments in this play when you could hear a pin drop, and this place seats 800 people. For them to be that focused and appreciative is remarkable. Nothing beats it.

Christian Slater stars in Glengarry Glen Ross at Playhouse Theatre until 3 February.