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Shakespeare & Beyond

Q&A: Director Sam Gold on his 'Macbeth' with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga

Cast of Macbeth on a stage with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga sitting on purple chairs
Cast of Macbeth on a stage with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga sitting on purple chairs
Cast of Macbeth on a stage with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga sitting on purple chairs

(l to r) Asia Kate Dillon, Che Ayende, Danny Wolohan, Amber Gray, Daniel Craig, Emeka Guindo, Paul Lazar, Ruth Negga, Maria Dizzia, Grantham Coleman, Bobbi MacKenzie, Phillip James Brannon, Eboni Flowers. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Director Sam Gold shares what he loves most about Macbeth, why it stands out from other Shakespeare tragedies he’s directed, and how his ideas about the play have changed over time. His current Broadway production, starring Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga, runs through July 10.

“My first encounter with the play was memorizing the ‘If it were done’ speech in sixth grade, so that was really when I fell in love with poetry and with theater,” he says. Read more in the Q&A below.

Macbeth is the latest in a Shakespeare streak for Gold, who won a Tony Award for directing Fun Home in 2015. He previously directed Craig as Iago in 2016’s Othello (with David Oyelowo as Othello), followed by Hamlet (starring Oscar Isaac) in 2017 and King Lear (starring Glenda Jackson) in 2019.

Related: Shakespeare Unlimited podcast interview with Glenda Jackson

Sam Gold headshotWhat’s your favorite line in the play?

That changes all the time. There are so many wild lines and phrases in the play. Almost hallucinogenic. Right now I am loving the exchanges between Macbeth and the murderer during the Banquet. There are some funny weird jokes and some nutty language. I love this:

Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect;
Whole as the marble, founded as the rock,
As broad and general as the casing air:
But now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d, bound in
To saucy doubts and fears.—But Banquo’s safe?

I mean his brain is on overdrive!!

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s more well-known plays. For audience members who are familiar with the story, is there anything that you think they might find surprising or unusual with this production? If you were telling someone to “watch closely for this particular moment,” what would that moment (or moments) be? 

One is to watch this marriage fall apart. To watch two people who love and support one another fall so completely away from each other in such a short amount of time with so few scenes to do it with.

Another is to watch the way the ensemble of actors embodies the “witchcraft” of the play. I think all actors are witches and this production really runs with that idea…

What are the productions or interpretations of Macbeth that you consider iconic or hold as personal touchstones? Or that you simply admire?

My first encounter with the play was memorizing the “If it were done” speech in sixth grade, so that was really when I fell in love with poetry and with theater. So that’s pretty iconic for me. I also think about the first scene in the [Roman] Polanski film, which I saw in high school for a class. I’ve never really seen a stage production that captivated me. So much earnestness, so much pseudo-spookiness. That kind of thing doesn’t connect for me to what I love about the wild journey and bananas poetry of this play.

Were there any conceptions of the play and its characters that you had before beginning to work on the production, but which changed over time?

The play explores conceptions of masculinity and femininity, explores the roles we all play around gender, in marriage, in society, inside ourselves. I had a lot of thoughts about that as I read and reread the play and prepped for production, but I would say those thoughts changed and deepened tremendously as I began to collaborate with some brilliant folks like Ruth Negga, Ayanna Thompson [dramaturgy and text consultant for the production], and Asia Kate Dillon [who plays Malcolm]. I’m really proud of what’s on stage in that regard, what it says about the roles that the particular married couple plays in their marriage in the play, but then also the audience can widen their lens and think about all sorts of other power structures that you see in the play. In the end, white cis male power implodes and is replaced by a vision for the future that to me feels quite hopeful and beautiful when I watch the production. Which is a bit of a surprise because it’s not exactly what Shakespeare envisioned, I don’t think, but we all followed a thread and got there, and I do love the end of our show.

You’ve directed multiple Shakespeare tragedies. Is Macbeth unique among them in any way that particularly stands out to you? Are there specific points of connection between Macbeth and other Shakespeare tragedies that you find fascinating?

It’s most unique in its simplicity. It’s one short plot told in a very straightforward way. Honestly, my biggest surprise working on the play is how sort of simple and one-note the characters are. The LANGUAGE is brilliant, the language is so out of this world, I am in love with the poetry of Macbeth, but as a piece of drama it has none of the ambiguity, the layers, the twists and turns and digressions that add up to a Lear or a Hamlet. Probably that’s why it’s done so much. People like things simple.