I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Mousseau at Ryerson Theatre School, a remarkable training ground for many of the best actors in this country. You can surmise his range from the fact he’s been cast as both John in Miss Julie and Fluther Good in The Plough and the Stars, two of the most divergent parts one could imagine from the same young actor. It’s rare enough for an actor in his early 20s to be cast as Hamlet (although this is surely how I would prefer the casting, not with some virtuoso who is too old for the part), rarer still for an actor to get to do the part twice at such a young age. But so it is for Dan, who has already undertaken the role of Hamlet for Shakespeare at Play, an online compleat Shakespeare.
And he’ll portray the Prince of Denmark at Hart House Theatre beginning November 4th. I was glad to ask Dan ten questions: five about himself and five more about playing Hamlet.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
This is a tough question because I think that everyone is inherently a sort of combination of both. I see how I am a lot like both my Mom and my Dad. It’s funny actually as I get older I feel like I’m more like my Dad where I felt more like my mom in my younger years. My Mom has a wonderful compassion and sensitivity that I think I have inherited. My Dad has an incredible spirit, drive and fortitude. My Mom can also be a bit too sensitive and anxious and my Dad has a temper, both of which I’ve also inherited. At the risk of not answering the question, I think I’m a pretty equal serving of both and I am grateful for it!
2-what is the best thing about what you do?
I struggled with this for a long time when I really decided I wanted to be an actor. I desperately wanted to help people as a kid and always saw acting as an extraneous, elite career.
However, the deeper I get into this career the more I realize how absolutely necessary it is for all of us. I’m going to broaden this to all of the arts for right now, because I think that’s the necessary thing. People need art as a reflection of themselves and the world around them. To criticize the world and who we are as individuals in this world.
Hamlet himself says it in his speech about the players. He says the purpose of playing is “to hold, as twere the mirror up to nature; show virtue her own feautre, scorn her own image and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” I think that says it all. There was a very specific reason that art was created and it fills a very important hole for humanity to see who they are, to escape and to relate with each other through honest communication.
Break that down into acting, the ability to tell these incredible stories with my incredible fellow actors, is the best part. And it’s in these stories that I think people see themselves. To have the job of portraying these things as honestly as possible to connect to someone is a really cool thing. It’s like everyone in that room believes in magic for that one moment of connection.
3-who do you like to listen to or watch?
Surprisingly, I’m not a really avid music listener. I love music but for whatever reason I just never got into listening to it in my day to day life. I do become obsessed with certain songs or albums. I keep listening to Kendrick Lamar, Kings of Leon and Pink Floyd right now. I love George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” actually, as a random side note. But overall, my love for music is just growing, but music is such a huge part of the show it feels like it fit to start listening to more now.
I love movies and TV, I’ve been watching a lot of Parks and Rec, Rick and Morty, Walking Dead, and the Graham Norton Show. I just finished Mad Men, which was a treat, I’m sad its over.
I really love dramatic movies, I have a taste for the drama and the weird, I guess. I just saw Goodnight, Mommy at Tiff Bell Lightbox, which was creepy as hell. But I love watching Sam Rockwell’s work, Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Thomas Anderson, and I really love Ryan Gosling. Haha, I feel like there’s a type that like Ryan Gosling, but I do dig his work. Number one for movies though is Stanley Kubrick, hands down.
4-what ability or skill do you wish you had that you don’t have.
Practically, for my work, I wish I had a photographic memory and a capacity to relate to any person and circumstance.
But I would either love to learn to play an instrument or learn another language. I would love to fill in the holes of my French knowledge. Those may be cliché answers but that’s it for me.
5-when you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
Spend time with my girlfriend. Haha, but all mushiness aside, I love videogames and I love reading. It would most definitely be one of the two. And the joy of having an amazing girlfriend is you can do either or both while you’re together.
Five more about preparing Hamlet.
1-Tell us about the challenges of learning the role of Hamlet, one of the longest roles in the language.
Before doing Hamlet for Hart House, I was fortunate enough to do it for a company called Shakespeare at Play. SAP is an App that combines a filmed video of a Shakespearean play with the text itself, which allows the reader to read along with the video simultaneously.
Doing that version, which is technically educational, we couldn’t cut a single word from Hamlet, which meant I had to learn all 2600 lines, or thereabouts. And each line is up to 10 words. Shakespeare also wrote in what is called Verse, a kind of arrangement of poetry, and prose, which is just like everyday writing. This means that the 2600 line number is a bit relative.
Basically Hamlet is onstage for 85-90% of a 5 hour play, and the majority of the text is him speaking to his friends, parents or the audience. And when he speaks to the audience, and often when he’s speaking to everyone else, he uses monologues (14 or more lines in a row). It’s a ton.
I am fortunate enough to be a bit of a sponge with lines. I find they sink in quite easily, especially when it comes to Shakespeare because the words have a rhythm that finds its way into the actor’s body. Although there were plenty of parts where I had to just repeat, repeat, repeat the lines to get them firmly in my head. I try to repeat one line, then learn the next line and repeat them both and I keep doing that until I’ve made a bit of a tower of lines, if that makes sense.
So having done Hamlet before, uncut, it was nice during this process, in which our amazing director Paolo and dramaturg Susan Bond, have made cuts, that I could just allow some of the lines to come back to me. Sometimes I have to watch that I don’t say too much!
2- Talk about the age of the character of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, and how you feel about portraying him in Paolo Santalucia’s production at Hart House.
This is a great question, as Hamlet is technically 30, it says in the script. There’s an interesting thing that happens as a result of Hamlet being a younger person, I think. So much of what Hamlet does is impulsive, while at the same time being withdrawn or thought out to the point of cowardice.
I’m 22 and we’re playing my Hamlet a little bit older since I think I read a little bit older onstage, 24-5 or so, which means I’m still younger than Hamlet himself and definitely younger than the usual casting of Hamlet. It’s strange to me that usually an older man or woman plays Hamlet. although I understand the need to have an experienced player at the centre of a show, what comes out of a younger or age appropriate actor playing Hamlet is something quite tragic in my opinion.
It’s the difference between seeing a young person with potential, a heart full of love, and a confused mind tossed about between these massive forces versus a middle aged person going through a bit of a crisis. The intensity of the parental relationships makes more sense to me since Hamlet is in the transition of letting go of his parents when this happens, he is going to Wittenburg, but he isn’t fully independent yet, which is a stage that is very vulnerable. To have this all (the play) happen at that stage, a stage we’ve all been at, is heartbreaking. The play happens right when Hamlet is discovering who he is as a person.
And right when he has it, he dies. It’s the loss of a great potential, a young, beautiful person who had their whole life ahead of them but is torn away too soon. I think Shakespeare wrote it that way for a reason.
3- in Shakespeare at Play – a Canadian website where one can see entire plays on video—you play Hamlet. Talk about the differences between the intimacy of a video reading and what you’ll be doing on the Hart House Theatre stage.
There definitely is a huge difference. As I mentioned before I had to know every single word for the video, which was one hell of a challenge but we could take multiple takes and it was broken up into shots.
There is nothing like “doing it live” as they say. Once we started doing the show from start to finish, I actually got to feel in my body what it felt like for Hamlet to go through this play. Who the people around him are and what happens to him. And it’s one hell of a journey, he goes through a lot.
When we filmed Shakespeare at Play, we started with the final scene. On the first day of shooting, I died. If was a challenge, and was an excellent acting challenge, to make that real and give the audience the feeling of what he’s been through before that moment. There are certain realities in shooting a film, who is available and when, that have to be taken into account. It’s different when you do a show top to bottom.
That also means its hard on the body, it has been hard on my voice and it is tiring. I’m swimming in buckets of sweat by the end of the first act. The set we have is amazing and tactile but that also means I’m climbing throughout the show too. And, in terms of vocal performance, I have to make sure every word I say is heard, even to the back row of the theatre. That’s a lot different than when I had a mic attached to me in the filming and I could whisper some lines.
That being said, having the energy of the audience is something that can’t be replaced. And going on the full journey that Hamlet goes through is extremely humbling and touching, plus this is several years later which means I’ve grown as a person and I hope my performance reflects that.
4- Playing Hamlet can be a humbling experience, a role where you are inevitably compared to some great actors from previous generations. Please talk about how it feels stepping into the role at this time in your career.
It is pretty humbling thinking about the amount of actors that have done this before me and the calibre of actors they all were or are. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet is being screened in theatres at the same time, no pressure! He’s amazing! Hopefully people will still want to see ours. Because the thing is, no two Hamlet’s can ever be the same.
I try to limit my intake of interpretations while I’m working on something, because I often worry that I will see something I like and then try to use it for my Hamlet. Doing this will feel fake to the audience and actor alike because it is a thing that didn’t come out of the actor, it isn’t organic, its like doing an impression of someone else playing Hamlet. I just saw Jonathan Goad’s Hamlet at Stratford too, which was hard to get out of my brain!
I try to look at Hamlet in terms of my life and what he means to me. I also look at the different ways I can connect to him, relate to him. We talk about what he wants and I find out what and who is important to him, how he reacts to events and situations and what his hopes and dreams are.
Despite the vast history of this character, the more he is me and mine, I think the more true and resonant it will be with the audience. That’s the goal.
5- Is there a teacher or influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
There are too many to count! I am always influenced by my parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and teachers.
I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in the cast, in the crew, Paolo, Susan, Emma our assistant director, Jeremy our stage manager and everyone involved. It’s the people that im surrounded by every day doing this show that inspire me.
Hamlet begins at Hart House Theatre November 4th, running Wednesday – Saturdays until November 21st.