A few months before filming for director Joel Cohen’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, he and film producer and star Frances McDormand met in a London hotel room with British theater veteran Catherine Hunter, who was to play a supernaturally prophetic play. Three witches.
There was no bubbling cauldron, no newt’s eye, no frog’s finger. But McDormand says there was some kind of charm at work.
“We said, ‘Let’s just talk about how you represent it physically,’ says McDormand, who plays Lady Macbeth in the film and is married to Cohen. “Katherine stood on the coffee table, took the black tights out of her backpack and pulled them over her head, and she began to flex into the shapes she does in the movie. This is what someone who loves to play does – and this is the magic that Katherine brought to the whole process. “
The Tragedy of Macbeth, which will be released on December 25 and on Apple TV + on January 14, features an all-star cast on both sides of the Atlantic, starring Denzel Washington as the ambitious Lord Macbeth and McDormand as his wily wife. But for viewers who may not be familiar with 64-year-old Hunter’s long and legendary stage career, her acting as a witch, which predicts Macbeth’s bloody rise and fall in a series of fiction’s most famous mysteries, may well be the film’s biggest revelation. …
By bending his body into seemingly impossible shapes and speaking in a low guttural wheeze (the result of years of smoking cigarettes), Hunter gives a nervous and hypnotic – and indeed weird – interpretation of the Strange Sisters that upsets any previous ideas you might have about them. what a witch looks and sounds like.
For Hunter, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in England and established herself as a virtuoso physical performer through her work with London’s Complicité theater troupe, the key to unlocking the Witches was an early conversation with Cohen in which he connected the characters to the crows.
“Ravens, especially in Shakespeare’s time, would have lived on the battlefield picking up trash,” says the actress, who first met Cohen and McDormand 30 years ago when she came to America to stage The Visit. “So instead of following the stereotyped path of a witch as a nasty person with a big nose, I thought of exiles like the untouchables in India who live on the battlefield, watch these ravens and somehow become one with them. how people do when they are raised by wolves. “
Werewolf Hunter as witches in Macbeth is so bizarre that some viewers may even wonder if her performance was enhanced with special effects. “A lot of people think Joel has improved her work with CGI,” McDormand says. “But all this is her.”
Throughout her stage career, Olivier Hunter – artistic partner of the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she has directed and performed in a number of Bard’s plays – has demonstrated a remarkable ability to embody characters of any gender and age. … In Macbeth, she also plays a minor role as an old man, the latest in a series of cross-gender representations she has given over the years, including King Lear and Richard III. Hunter even transformed himself into a different species onstage, gaining acclaim for his role as the chimpanzee performer of variety in his 2009 solo show Kafka the Monkey.
Born Aikaterini Hadjipateras to a Greek family in New York and raised in England, Hunter adopted her physical approach to acting in part in response to an accident that nearly derailed her career while attending RADA.
“I’ve always loved movement, and our training in ballet, jazz, fencing and acrobatics – I loved it all,” says Hunter. “Then I got into a very serious car accident and was in a wheelchair for a long time. I think everyone said, “Is she really going to perform on the radio?” My legs didn’t work very well, but, oddly enough, somewhere in the limitation, I realized that the upper body has such expressive capabilities. “
Having spent her career almost entirely on stage, Hunter has not appeared in as many films as she would have liked; She may be best known to American moviegoers for her role as Arabella Figg in the 2007 film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
“About 10 years ago, I kept saying to my agent, ‘Please, I want to do more films,’ and he said, ‘Well, you will never be available, you are doing theater,” says Hunter. to play a supporting role opposite Emma Stone in Poor Things, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. “The film is a very different animal, but I like it because of the focus. In the theater, you inevitably project outward. What’s amazing about film is that it can see these deeper human layers in a way that is not immediately available. “
With Cohen’s stylized take on Macbeth, which has garnered rave reviews since its world premiere in September at the New York Film Festival, Hunter hopes viewers will find a new portal to a 500-year-old work that many never encounter outside of the middle. schools. classroom.
“When you meet people who are passionate about Shakespeare, they say, ‘Well, he’s the greatest writer ever, blah, blah, blah,’” says Hunter. “However, we must recognize that language can alienate people, and young people read Shakespeare as a duty. You have to build a bridge, and for Joel, who brought Macbeth to the screen, along with Fran and Denzel and all these wonderful film actors, this is an unusual bridge. “
Whatever her other hopes for the film, McDormand would like Macbeth to serve as a bridge for viewers to find Hunter’s work on stage or wherever they are.
“You do not discover someone like Catherine, says McDormand. “Katherine has worked her entire life. You are just lucky enough to see her in different forms. I am very pleased that we were able to record some of her work in such a way that people can access them. But I also want this to be an invitation to see her live. “