I catch Billy Postlethwaite before he goes to rehearsals for a quick chat over the phone. He is playing Macbeth in Paul Hart’s production at the New Theatre, Cardiff. I ask him whether compassion plays a role in approaching a character like Macbeth.
‘Everybody should have compassion and kindness, no matter who you are. In life, I try to do my best. In relation to Macbeth, he is someone who loses sight of those attributes while trying to gain something that he thinks he wants.’
It is hard if not impossible to identify with Macbeth, so how does an actor interpret the role?
‘I look for the humanity in everybody I suppose. No one is inherently villain, so you try to work out what their motive is for doing what they are doing. People do villainous acts but they are not inherently evil. For Macbeth, it comes from a place of love, love for Lady Macbeth, for her, for what they have done together, for what they have lost. He is also a very ambitious human being.
Postlethwaite tells me that he can recognise the love for another person and wanting to make that person happy as a driving force. He tries to ‘amplify’ emotions in his portrayal of Macbeth while making him a rounded human being. What distinguishes Macbeth is how love and ambition get twisted.
‘Macbeth’s love for his wife and thirst for power are a powerful concoction of energy that he puts in murdering people. … That energy gets twisted.’
Postlethwaite’s interpretation of Macbeth is certainly energetic and intense. He tells me Macbeth is very draining. It is very physical. That physicality, in his voice as well as his bodily agility, gives Postlethwaite remarkable presence on stage.
Billy Postlethwaite can currently be seen in Macbeth at the New Theatre, Cardiff,