Jonathan Cake Interviewed on Backstage

“CAKE has been preparing to play Benedick in William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing since he was 9 years old. He even earned trophies for his performance.

‘I would compete against other snotty nosed young kids for trophies doing speeches of Shakespeare,’ says Cake, chatting before an evening performance at the Duke Theater, where Theatre for a New Audience’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is currently playing. “I won quite a lot, I have to say, which is a terrible grounding in acting. I had a whole side port full of acting cups. It’s just the worst way to try and figure out how to do some acting.’

Cake is winning again with his critically-lauded portrayal of Benedick opposite ‘Sons of Anarchy’ star Maggie Siff as Beatrice in the Bard’s famous battle of the wits. Cake was last seen on the New York stage in the Broadway revival of ‘The Philanthropist’ in 2009.’

‘It always feels very uncomfortable when I don’t do a play for a while,’ Cake says. ‘I just feel like something’s not right.’

What attracted you to this play?

Jonathan Cake: Shakespeare attracted me by writing this extraordinary play. Can you believe this play, really? There are so many aspects of it that are so extraordinary. I played the part in university when I was 20 years old, and I have some vague sort of completely self-deluded, youthful memory of loving it and having a rather good time and people saying they liked it. But there are aspects of the play that I never even noticed when I was 20 years old, of course. And now being safely ensconced in middle age it just feels like so much more of it is noticeable, at least to me.

Where did your love of Shakespeare come from?

Cake: I came from a family that wasn’t involved in the theater but was very involved in language and very involved in novels and plays. And I was exposed to Shakespeare from quite early on. And then the most wonderful thing happened to me. When I was 14, I auditioned for a company in London called the National Youth Theatre and inexplicably—because I’d done very little acting at that point—got in. And then spent every summer holiday from then on until I was 19 in London doing Shakespeare plays in these professional theaters with professional directors, being reviewed mercilessly by professional critics. And you know, playing these extraordinary parts. I played Falstaff when I was 17 terribly badly. ‘Wingeingly awful’ as ‘Time Out’ said.

You still remember the review!

Cake: It’s hard to forget ‘wingeingly awful’; that one has stuck with me. It didn’t quite kill me off so I suppose it did make me stronger…I had this fond idea that having this grounding in it, I would do them for the rest of my life and it’s really not been the case. I did Cymbeline at Lincoln Center. I did Coriolanus at the Globe in London, and before that, I did very little in a production of “As You Like It” in Stratford right after I got out of university, and those are the only Shakespeares I’ve ever done in my life. It’s a perpetual sadness to me and why I’m so overjoyed to have been able to do this.

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