Juan José Campanella debuts in Madrid
The director of The Secret in Their Eyes, which won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year in 2010, has just made his directorial debut at Madrid’s Teatro Figaro with Parque Lezama, which enjoyed a total audience of more than 300,000 spectators in Buenos Aires.
Your relationship with Parque Lezama began more than 30 years ago.
In 1984 or ‘85, I went to see it on Broadway because its author, Herb Gardner, had made a film called A Thousand Clowns that I liked a lot, and I discovered a play that changed my life. Its mixture of comedy and emotion changed my style. I was very surprised. It also dealt with topics that I always liked that had nothing to do with age, but rather with conformity and compromise, which is the main theme. We debuted it in 2013 in Buenos Aires and it was like making a dream come true.
Why did you take so long?
Because I wanted to make a lot of adaptations. It’s not a free version, but there is a significant amount of adaptation. At first, the author didn’t let me do it. Then, with the Oscar for The Secret in Their Eyes, the author’s widow gave me permission. She didn’t come to Buenos Aires, but she’s probably going to come here, because it’s the second most successful version after the one on Broadway.
What is special about your version?
It has been changed to reflect our own idiosyncrasies. I’ve brought it more into our world. The original takes place in Central Park and one of the characters is black. Since the play doesn’t take place in the US, the racial component isn’t part of it. The second character – the conformist, performed by Eduardo Blanco – becomes more important. I’m very interested in the duel between conformism and compromise, and I made it very funny.
Are the characters a bit like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza?
Yes; León is not crazy, but he finds his battles against his windmills wherever he can. And there’s a Sancho Panza with his “don’t get involved” wisdom... This dialogue has been around since the beginning of time. Let me clarify that they’re not the only characters; they coexist with five other characters in a world that surrounds them. This makes it feel timeless and we might well compare that universal theme with Don Quixote.
If you hadn’t chosen to get closer to that “Quixote”, do you think you would have worked in another field?
Not so much now, but in the late 1970s, it was a decision that had to be taken with your heart. However, once I made it with my heart, I tried to do things with my head.
How has the profession changed over these years?
Theatre hasn’t changed so much, just technology on the stage. My other two fields –- television and film – have certainly changed a lot. And I’m not talking about technology, but about consumption and habit. Before, film was the event and television was the entertainment. Today, television is the event and cinema is the entertainment. This is a radical change that makes people my age sad, not because of the years, but because of the films we grew up with.
What is the cost of the explosion of fiction on television?
It has raised the level of direction and writing to one that is more cinematic. The best authors have gradually migrated from film to television. The lack of stars makes me suffer a lot. A big part of the magic of film was watching those magnetic and larger-than-life personalities that you’d fall in love with. Today’s television is based on an “anti-star-system”. Actors worldwide are much more disposable.
Has your success in film – especially after the Oscar for The Secret in Their Eyes – delayed your debut as a theatrical director?
The theatre thing was more of a reaction, a holiday from technology after spending three years with Metegol (the 2D animation film known as The Unbeatables in the UK), where I felt distanced from my source, which is working with actors. When I finished, I said to myself, “I want to do something with actors and text to cleanse myself of technology, so that if something has to be moved, we’ll do it with a rope and a pulley like the Greeks did.” We did Parque Lezama because it was the best play I had ever seen. And I fell in love with the theatre to the point that now I’m building a theatre for 700 people in Buenos Aires.
Is working with actors in the theatre rather than in films very different?
The work is the same when it comes to what’s inside the actor. The difference is that a theatre director has to get used to the lack of control. You’re directing a long shot of all the action. There’s no cuts to close-ups or anything. Unlike films, where all the spectators see what I want them to see, here, all the spectators in the theatre at the same performance see different plays. Some see it as a long shot, others from the first row as the close-ups they choose; half the theatre sees the back of one character and half sees the back of the other... For a film director, this is very moving and for me, it’s what is so wonderful about theatre.
What was working with Luis Brandon and Eduardo Blanco like?
Very simple, because they’re excellent actors. When you cook with good ingredients, it’s easy for the dish to come out right. It’s not hard to be a good cook. They have good ideas, a lot of experience and are intelligent. The audience ends up cheering them like rock stars.
You’ve done more than 800 performances and 300,000 spectators in Argentina, and a lot of awards. What do you expect from Madrid, where you debut at the Teatro Figaro on 28 August?
A lot of Spaniards came to see us in Buenos Aires, and I hope there is that same empathy for a very universal theme, and that the Spanish audiences laugh and enjoy themselves. This play could easily take place in Retiro Park, and Madrid and Buenos Aires have a lot of cultural similarities.
When you travel, in what destinations are theatres a can’t-miss part of your plans?
New York, because, besides having lived there for 20 years, I’m always up on what’s going on. Because I like words as well as the show, I look for places where I can understand the language well. I’ve got four big theatre capitals: Buenos Aires, Madrid, London and New York.
Images by Smedia