Q&A: Green Goblin Actor Patrick Page on the Hard Lessons of “Spider-Man” and Joining “Cyrano“

Q&A: Green Goblin Actor Patrick Page on the Hard Lessons of “Spider-Man” and Joining “Cyrano“
"If a narrative becomes 'out-of-control train wreck,' it becomes very difficult to change": Page.
(Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)

In 2010, Patrick Page was about to leave for San Diego to appear in “The Madness of King George” and “King Lear” when he got a call from his agent, who said, “Don’t get on that plane — we got an offer for  ‘Spider-Man.’ ” Little did Page know that being cast in the dual role of  Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin would put him at the cynosure of the most controversial production in Broadway history, one that continues with both commercial success (the musical grossed $1.7 million last week) and bitter litigation between the producers and the original director, Julie Taymor. After two and a half years, Page leaves the $75 million production on August 5th in order to play the Comte de Guiche in this fall’s Roundabout Theatre revival of “Cyrano,” starring Douglas Hodge. (The role of the Green Goblin will be taken over by Robert Cuccioli of “Jekyll and Hyde” fame.)   

Page’s presence will be missed. In a statement, producers Michael Cohl and Jere Harris praised him as “a colleague, friend, brother, confidante, mentor and star.” After the 50-year-old actor dons the green costume for the last time, he will be taking with him bittersweet memories and hard lessons, some of which he recently shared with ARTINFO.

A friend involved in the production said you kept up company morale during the darkest days, the nadir obviously being when Chris Tierney, a stunt Spiderman, was nearly killed in a mishap during a performance. How’d you do it?
I remember crying when Chris fell and feeling terrified and praying that he would be all right. Those are real stakes. I certainly didn’t feel the same stakes about the show itself. It was a traumatic and devastating event for the company and by then the narrative in the media was that this was show that hurts people. I realized that it would be an easy thing to get caught up in that narrative and become terrified by it, irrespective of the actual facts in the building.

The accident came in the wake of other injuries. How did you calm the company’s fears and your own?
When I was a kid and our family took long trips, my father would ask us to count orange VWs. It would seem as though there were no orange VWs, until you started to count them. Then when you did, it seemed as though there were nothing but orange VWs. When you have real people in a real space and something like Chris’s accident happens, you can’t start seeing nothing but orange VWs. We needed to know that the media was just seeing orange VWs, and we had to not let that terrify us.

What did this teach you about the media?
I imagine I got a little ticked off, but they were just doing their jobs. They’ve got a story to tell, and its an “A , B, C, D” narrative, and one that has to continue in a certain kind of  linear way. If it ceases to have a “hook” then it cease to be interesting. If that narrative becomes “out-of-control train wreck,” it becomes very difficult to change. But you can’t allow yourself to get caught up in that narrative. The story outside the theater didn’t have to become our story. We got to create our own experience no matter what a critic or gossip columnist might write.

What did you learn about yourself, personally and as an actor?
Nothing prepared me for that level of public scrutiny, but I learned that you don’t have to become part of that whirlwind if you choose not to. You can keep your eye on the ball. The other thing I learned, and what I’ll take with me now to everything I do, is that you can’t possibly know the whole story. Withholding judgment is something that’s much easier [for me] to do than before. I have no opinion about Kim Kardashian or about any politician on any given story. Because I am much more aware that the situation is probably much more complex and on some level, likely unsayable. There were some aspects of “Spider-Man” that were impossible to communicate.

Like what?
You had to be there! [Laughs.] There are hundreds of tiny personal dynamics behind every event. That’s what makes Shakespeare such a great writer: In  "Julius Caesar," it's one man’s envy against another man’s personal ambition against another man’s narcissism against another person’s human frailty or pride. There are two or three hundred things that go into making one event and we always want to ascribe one cause to it. But it’s all these tiny things.

Will  those “tiny things” might be revealed in the behind-the-scenes documentary on “Spider-Man” [by Jacob Cohl, the son of the producer Michael Cohl]? That is, if it ever comes to light. It’s caught up in litigation.
I don’t know. Sometimes we were aware of them filming and some times not, and some times I’d tell them to go away if I was trying to work on something and the camera got too close. When you’re working on a show, you feel so vulnerable and silly. If you don’t feel silly, you’re not doing  your job. I just hope they got my good side and not my nasty bits.

Nasty bits?
[Laughs.] I’m just sure I’m a jerk 90 percent of the time.

Can you take that into another villain, the lusty and vengeful Comte de Guiche in “Cyrano”?
When I was playing Cyrano [in 2009 at San Diego’s Old Globe], I loved De Guiche. He’s the anti-Cyrano. Unlike Cyrano, who is a man who never compromises his integrity, de Guiche does nothing but compromise in his life and on the battlefield. In his last scene, he says, “I don’t think that I’ve ever felt that I’ve done anything truly wrong, and yet I feel somehow dirty.” I think we can all identify because we’ve all made compromises in our life like that. That’s why it’s always difficult when I hear somebody say, “I have no regrets.” Life being what it is, there always moments of compromise, some of them regrettable.

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