New York native Christian Camargo gives life to Mercutio in the Broadway revival of Romeo and Juliet
Not many New Yorkers can pull off reciting Shakespeare. But Christian Camargo doesn’t play by the book. When the Julliard graduate takes the stage in his skinny jeans and leather jacket (this is a modernized take on the classic play) all eyes and ears are on him as he effortlessly rattles off Mercutio’s lines and weaves playfully across the floor. It is not surprising to learn that the 42-year-old has extensive training in Shakespeare, having been part of the Globe Theatre in London. Now he’s back in New York again, living in Harlem and traveling to the Richard Rodgers Theatre each night to play the sidekick to Orlando Bloom’s Romeo. Although you already know what tragedy awaits his character, you wish the outcome was changed in this version, just to have Camargo on stage a little longer. For the audience, Mercutio’s parting is such sweet sorrow.
I may be biased, but I saw the play and think yours stands out as the best performance.
You know what, that’s an alright bias. [Laughs]
Even though I knew what was going to happen, I didn’t want you to leave.
I know. Well that’s the trick- to suck everyone in and then say goodbye.
You’ve done Shakespeare before.
I have. I sort of love it. I didn’t always love it, but I do now. I did Coriolanus, Hamlet, As You Like It, The Tempest. I also worked The Globe in London. I happen to be a New Yorker who does a lot of Shakespeare. That’s not very common.
While you were at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, you met your wife.
I did. I got hired by her dad. I couldn’t touch her because she was too young. So I waited a couple of years and we got together. And Mark Ryland went from my friend to my father-in-law, so I call him “dad.”
So you really owe a lot to Shakespeare.
I do. Yeah, Shakespeare in love. I guess so. [Laughs]
How did you prepare for this play?
Basically just reading it over and over and over again. Because with Shakespeare, the first time I read it, it doesn’t go in for me. And I think that happens with a lot of people. They read it once and go, “I can’t understand this.” But you read it three times and then after the third time, you’re like, “This is like a bottomless pit. It can go on and on.”
Did you base Mercutio on anyone in particular?
After a couple times reading the play, I said, “I know someone like this.” And I studied that person unbeknownst to him. I didn’t tell him at all. He’s in a band and he’s a real nihilist and free spirit. He never thinks he’s gonna get old. And he’s a little older, so it’s perfect, like Peter Pan, a guy who never grows up. And then I just used my own kind of characterization. Mercutio has sort of a neutral sexuality. Is he gay or straight? Who knows? He’s just a guy who’s full of life.
How did you create his accent?
Well Orlando’s British, and the guy playing Benvolio is South African. So you got two non-Americans. I wanted to make it neutral so you can’t tell where Mercutio is really from. It sounds like there’s some British, but then sometimes it sounds very New York. Try to throw people off the scent. Mercutio is a mix of highbrow and lowbrow – very fancy in words and then all of the sudden, gross humor. I just play with the accent – giving him a posh accent sometimes and then a real street one.
Mercutio’s accent has a New York influence because you grew up in the city.
Well, it was a split family, so one parent was in the city and one was out in Westchester. So I went back and forth. I was really into lacrosse and got recruited to play sports in college, but injured myself. I decided to try the family business because my mom, my grandfather, my great grandmother…I’m like the fourth or fifth-generation actor. I thought, I’ll audition for Julliard, if I get in, that means I’m meant to do it.
Now where are you living in the city? What are your favorite places there?
I’m in Harlem. I’m very excited that they are restoring the playhouse up on 118th Street, which is a legendary jazz place. That will be my favorite place because I live very close. Vinateria just opened up. I love that.
You were also in two Twilight movies. Do people recognize you around town for that?
They do. Mainly from “Dexter” to tell you the truth. I had enough makeup on in Twilight. It was fun doing those movies; it’s a great group of people. I made some really good friends. That’s the most important.
I feel like this show is geared toward a younger audience.
It’s not necessarily to a young audience because there’s some adult humor.
I meant more 20 and 30-year-olds.
Yeah, I think so, if you look at who Orlando is and his draw of fans. We’re creating a modern production to that fan base in a way. There’s going to be plenty of Original Practice Shakespeare that comes through town. This is not one of them. This takes the play and makes it very relevant and accessible to our day. Instead of corsets, we have leather jackets. It’s much more what Baz Luhrmann was doing with his movie [1996’s Romeo and Juliet] than your typical image of a Shakespeare play.
They even have Romeo and Juliet-themed mixed drinks you can bring into the theater.
Yeah, the more people are having fun in the audience, the more we’re having fun on stage.
After the fun of this show ends, what are your future plans?
To take a vacation because this play goes ‘til the end of January. I have a house in the middle of the desert, so I go there and chill out. But I’m also writing a movie. I wrote and directed my first movie last year, so I’m in the middle of writing another one. I want to take a little bit of a creative break. Now I say that and some other job’s gonna come through and you’re going to be calling me later, saying, “I thought you said you were going to take a break.”
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