I've arranged to meet with Everard Grim in Mileth, at a thriving hole-in-the-wall bakery run by a branch of the beloved Tealeaf family. There is plenty of light, and the air itself smells delicious and uplifting. I'm surprised: as a fan of Grim's work, I've come to associate him with stark lighting and ominous shadows, the creeping mist of conjured fog, and the spine-chilling, doleful clang of bells. This wonderfully cozy bakery is a reminder that Grim's actual personality doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the cloak of tragedy he dons for an audience.
The man himself appears, weaving his way deftly through the bakery crowd towards the corner table I've reserved for us. He is as impossibly long-limbed in person as he looks onstage, and he wears close-fitting dark clothes, although when he comes near enough, I see that his shirt is not black but a beautiful iridescent midnight blue, reminiscent of raven feathers. Grim has brought a steaming carafe of coffee and a whole basketful of pastries, which he presents with a flourish before giving me a firm, friendly handshake. I notice that, aside from a few double-take glances, none of the other bakery patrons make any move to engage with Grim. When I ask whether he's a regular, he laughs and admits that he comes here whenever productions or other travels bring him to Mileth. Grim, I quickly realize, laughs often and smiles easily, something else I might not have guessed after watching him run a gauntlet of tragedy onstage.
I thank Grim for taking the time to meet with me. We sample our pastries and get down to the business of our interview.
You must be very busy. You're about halfway through a run of Wrattlehammer's King Angar. How has that experience been?
Well, it's every actor's dream, isn't it? Play Angar! It's been a delight. It's a murder of a runtime, and the cast have been giving it their all. I worked with Kara Marske on Lucian -- she usurped me there, and now she's playing my sister! It's lovely working with her again.
I don't know whether I actually thought I'd get to playing Angar. It really is the part. You're among the greats then. I don't think that's really sunk in. Back when I was in the Young Company, we had this joke: any of us could play Angar, but only if it was in a production of The Death of Randal and Gorstagg. I'd have loved to be in a production of Randal and Gorstagg, really, but that sort of thing gets classified as comedy. Is anyone putting it on just now? I feel like every time an Angar goes into production, someone else puts on R and G.
Yes, the White Rose Theatre is starting a run soon.
Are they? Wonderful. I'll see if I can slip into a matinee.
Speaking of what gets classified as comedy or tragedy, you're famous for doing all the great tragedies. Have you ever considered branching out?
No, not really. That's for a number of reasons. The boring one is that I have a wonderful contract with Cracked Bell [Theatre Company], and while I do get opportunities to play parts at other venues, I'm always happy to come back home to the Bell. A slightly less boring reason is that I've been trained as a tragic actor, and while there is certainly overlap between various acting traditions, I have no experience being funny in a way that doesn't feel utterly artificial. I'm sure I could learn, and maybe in my old age I'll try my hand, but if I switched tracks now, I'm afraid it would come off looking like a stunt rather than a genuine artistic exploration. The most exciting reason, if you'll forgive my theatrical superstition, is that my Lady Corvus is the least forgiving of the Bard Gods. Someone in the service of Attrin or Terraw can play at different traditions and keep their favor, but a tragedian really must be careful they don't neglect Corvus's worship for too long. As I said, superstition, but I'm not keen to test it.
Understandably! Every actor has some theatrical superstitions. Do you have any rituals for good luck before a show? Or superstitions you really follow, like not saying the name of the cleric from The Cleric of Inym?
Ah yes, saying the cleric's name! That's one everyone seems to know. The funny thing is, Cracked Bell doesn't have an especially intense tradition around that slip. The Cleric of Inym tends to get put on by theaters which don't specialize in tragedy, and I suspect that a lot of the superstitions that have cropped up around that one are companies discovering through trial and error which rituals work best for staving off behind-the-scenes mishaps. That's how you end up with the well-known ones like the offending speaker running widdershins around the playhouse and shouting elaborate improvised prayers to Alokas for luck.
You sound as though you don't think that's very effective.
I'm sure it's quite effective! I have a very healthy respect for our Luck God. Besides Merineth the Researcher, they're the god us theater types tend to call upon most besides the Bards. But as someone with a background in tragedy, it's a bit like watching someone attempt to invent breadmaking from scratch when you're already holding the recipe. This isn't to say that no one who works in tragedy ever calls upon Alokas! Far from it. But to return to your last question: yes, certainly I have my own pre-show rituals, and I'd do the same for Cleric of Inym as I'd do for any other -- it holds no special power for misfortune, is what I mean.
My own ritual is fairly simple: I leave a raven feather and some shiny bauble at my own altar to Corvus on every opening night. The important thing is to do it after the show, as a thanks rather than a bribe. I also have the whole cast and crew of a production sign my copy of the script at the end of the run, and I burn it at the Bards' temple in Halr. It's a good way to close out a show.
That sounds like a respectful ritual of closure. Now, moving away from theater for a moment, what sort of activities do you do in your free time, or between seasons?
Ah, I'm afraid this isn't going to be very exciting. The horrible thing is, I love my job, so I tend to fill up my free time with theater. Sometimes I'll travel hundreds of miles just to go see a play I haven't had a chance to see before, or which I have a lot of fondness for, or that has received really good reviews. I also read a lot -- plays, poetry, the latest Outer Planes travelogue, really anything I can get my hands on. I came up in the Cracked Bell's Young Company, so I'm always on the lookout for good plays to pass along to the directors there for summer runs with the kids. I do also keep some plants, very badly. I'm not confident enough to attempt proper gardening, but I have a handful of succulents that I haven't managed to kill yet.
And do you do all of this alone?
The terrible gardening, certainly! I'll often bring friends or colleagues with me when I go traveling. As far as any other details of my personal life go, I've voluntarily put a lot of myself in the public eye, and I'd probably go mad if literally every aspect of my life was being examined. I'm aware that any caginess on my part only makes it seem desperately intriguing, but it's simply a desire for a clear boundary. Shall we move on?
Yes, of course. What is your favorite play?
I have several. Do we have the time for me to expound, or should I be decisive?
We certainly have the time! Go ahead.
Right then! Well, let's get the obvious out of the way first. There's a reason Wrattlehammer is considered the greatest playwright so far this millennium, and at the risk of being an absolute cliché, I adore Galien and Elysande. Anyone who says that the language in that play is the greatest love poetry ever written is hitting fairly near the mark. But for me, it's not what the play is saying about love, it's what it's asking us about the inevitability of tragedy, and the role that our entrenched beliefs about people unlike us plays into that. Doesn't hurt that the language is beautiful, though, does it?
And as I said, I'm having a delight of a time playing Angar. The monologues are really the best an actor could ask for, and it's such a wonderful, vicious meditation on family and mortality and what a ruler owes to their people. Wrattlehammer certainly knew what she was about.
As far as favorite plays I've been a part of, that will be a tie between The Sun Empress and The Pact. Empress is a good play, and the closest I've come to doing a proper historical -- there's so much love and so much research that went into the script, it just shines right out -- but really my fondness has to do with the circumstances in which I was involved with the production. I was in the first blush of fame and I was going a little mad. That production steadied me. Hilde Flamewater as Dyr, and Mhurren de Sul as Tsadok -- getting to work with them was an absolute dream. Finest actors of their generation, and it was such a privilege.
Now, The Pact -- The Pact is just a damned good play. I had the great fortune to play Young Pavel in '69, and Melech in '91. It felt rather like coming full circle. As a young man first venturing into the world of theater, I played a young man beginning to dabble in forces he had no idea how to control -- and what is theater but a great force all of us get swept up in? We're the instruments through which the story gets told. Now, of course, I'm old and jaded and you have to listen when I say nonsense about actors being the instruments of story, and the Bell let me play that terrible, clever old demon. One likes variety even within genre, and I do enjoy playing a tragic hero, but by the gods it's fun to play a scheming instrument of destruction every now and then. Very popular, that run, which really pleased me.
Do we still have time for me to bang on? Right, I've just got the one more. Part of an actor's education is learning the whole history of theater, different sorts of plays and poetics, all of that. The Murder of Ajora, all the First Revival classics. Possibly my favorite period is a really odd one -- there was this very weird burst of playwriting, from about 500-550, where the clergy were writing possibility plays. The Cracked Bell and such never put them on, because none of them are tragedies. They're all speculations, more or less. What if the Sun Empire never formed, what if Saren Raithe and Rai never had their schism, what if Leila and Bashal were a mortal and the wolf she nursed to health, etcetera. I love that sort of thing: wildly imaginative, just the faintest spice of the heretical. And there's one, unfortunately referred to only as Possibility Play #23, that might be a morality tale about fealty or might just be someone's lovely romantic daydream. It's about Merineth as vassal and protector of Dyr and Tsadok. Frankly it's why I'm not willing to credit Galien and Elysande with having the most romantic poetry -- this lovely little possibility play packs in so much longing and devotion it can knock the breath right out of you. Fantastic.
Wow, thank you! Those are some great answers. Okay, one last question to finish. What is your next project coming along after King Angar is done?
Gods, right, where does one go after Angar? That will be up to Tildy [Larch], our artistic director. There are plenty of Wrattlehammer plays I haven't had opportunity to do yet, and I do have the rather nonsense idea that it would be nice to bang out a part in all of them by the time I'm done. I'd also love the opportunity to do more contemporaries -- the bard colleges educate at least a dozen new playwrights every year, and there have been a few I've played at the Fringe that were genuinely excellent. In my heart, though, the biggest longing right now is to revisit some of the old classics. Being given the opportunity to come back to The Pact was so eye-opening, just in terms of learning about my own growth as an actor. I'd love to do Galien and Elysande again, maybe as Lord Greythorn, or Lyon in Sun Empress. If I could think of a god I could portray with any competence, I'd take another shot at The Cleric of Inym. But I'm excited for all the next directions my career might take.
We're all looking forward to seeing what's next! Thank you so much for you time, Mr Grim.