5 Questions in 5 Minutes with John Patrick Shanley

“Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and *die*. The storybooks are *bullshit*. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and *get* in my bed!” 

–    John Patrick Shanley, “Moonstruck”

In the age of the Kardashians and social media it is no secret that the number of Instagram followers can be of great importance when securing an agent or landing an acting role, sometimes even more than actual talent. However, social media followers aside it is essential to remember that actors are first and foremost, storytellers; the success of this storytelling starts in the hands of the writer. The dynamics of emotion and language build a momentum that ignites the passion of storytelling for an actor. When all the pieces come together, that’s where the magic happens and that’s a story that needs to be heard.

John Patrick Shanley is a true master in his craft, and absolutely one of my favourite contemporary playwrights.  From stage to screen his unique style of writing embodies just the right amount of chutzpah and elegance to satisfy the most jaded audience member. He even has a plethora of awards to prove it including an Academy Award, Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Writers Guild of America Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award and two Lucille Lortel Awards.

Is it any wonder Shanley won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for “Moonstruck” whilst Cher’s epic performance in the film earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress?

He not only wrote the stage and screenplay “Doubt: A Parable” he also directed two of the finest Actors of our time, Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman whilst winning five awards for the production including a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and Pulitzer Prize.

He is the author of more than 23 plays, which have been translated and performed around the world, including 80 productions a year in North America. In 2015 I produced Shanley’s “The Big Funk”, an invigorating play about how the power of compassion and faith in others will help us triumph over the modern condition.

It is this unapologetic honesty, which I cannot help but love about this man’s work. He finds strength and humour in all that he writes. John Patrick Shanley’s body of work comprises that of the ultimate storyteller. If you have never read, performed or watched any of his work you simply must. Don’t hesitate. Just do it!

Born and raised in The Bronx, New York when was it that you first discovered your talent for writing, what made you want to do it for a living?

From about the age of 7, I was very interested in plot. I liked to watch television shows and predict what was going to happen after the commercial. By the time I was 11, I was writing short genre pieces, and poetry. I remember writing a gangster piece, and an Edgar Allan Poe poem about a dreamer waking with a bloody knife. I was always a writer. I was born that way. There was not one day when I chose it. It chose me, and it has never let me go. I was also not practical. I didn’t really think about how I could make money. I thought about how I could construct beautiful things that uplifted myself and others. My vocation was what ultimately demanded I leave the Bronx. Playwrights head for Manhattan.

Did you anticipate “Moonstruck” being such a success and how did this accomplishment influence your career?

I was living in a tenement in Washington Heights. I was quite poor, but I loved my life. I loved the cracks in my walls, the broken windows in my living room, all of it really. And one day I loved the gritty facts of my existence so much, I wrote Moonstruck. Life is a beautiful woman I was chasing, courting. I wrote a story to win her love. I enjoyed writing the script very much. I played Puccini, wept and laughed, and wrote like a werewolf under the moon. When the film was made, and I won the Oscar, I was given the statue by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. I was still living in the tenement at that time, and let me tell you, the collision of those two realities was not lost on me. I have had many ups and downs since then, but Moonstruck lifted me from poverty and affirmed that life can catch fire if you dream hard.

The success of “Doubt: A Parable” was incredibly well deserved. What was it like to direct the exceptional Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman?

Working with likes of Phil and Meryl and Amy Adams and Viola Davis is easy and hard. It’s easy because they were deeply prepared, completely committed, and certainly weren’t looking to me to perfect their craft. The hard part of working with these folks is simple. They bring their A game, and it’s your job to reciprocate. I had to be very prepared, but not entrenched. I had to listen with my whole self to their questions, and respond to their choices from the perspective of storyteller. The director is in charge of the story.

Having worked closely with actors as a playwright and a director what would be some advice you would give to anyone pursuing an acting career?

My advice is to take yourself by the shoulders, and shake. Toss aside the idea of safety and go for it. Declare your hunger to the world, and never stop until the doubters stand aside and your object is in sight. You must believe not so much in yourself, as in your mission. And you must have a mission that is greater than you. Life is a castle, and you must storm it.

From writing short plays for downtown Manhattan theatre festivals to Tony Award winning Broadway plays, you are always creating new and fabulous works. What’s coming up for John Patrick Shanley?

For the most part, I usually have several irons in the fire. At the moment, my play Prodigal Son is in performance, and as I am the director, I have to maintain the quality of the show. That said, two days ago I did my first reading of a new play called The Portuguese Kid, a comedy, and it was beyond fun. I’m doing a miniseries with Tom Hanks company for HBO, and I’m slated to direct a film version of my play Outside Mullingar. That’s the story. For the moment

JPS

Alixandra Kupcik
xxx
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