Be a Scrooge
A Christmas Carol's John Judd explains how he assumes his cantankerous character.
The Goodman’s annual production of A Christmas Carol has a new grumpy face this year: John Judd, who recently played Lord Capulet in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Romeo and Juliet, takes over the Scrooge role from Larry Yando. Not a Scrooge in real life—“I like the holidays as long as I’m working,” he says—Judd explains how he transforms himself nightly into a miserable miser.
1. Stick to the story. Playing an icon means living up to the audience’s expectations, Judd says, and that means immersing oneself in the script. “The text tells you everything you need to know, and if it’s good writing, you never need to invent anything. It’s just there.”
2. Look for clues. One Saturday night this fall, Judd found himself backstage during a performance staring down the exhausting prospect of a Sunday doubleheader of Romeo and Juliet, plus a full run-through of A Christmas Carol. At 54, “you start thinking about, How long am I going to be able to do this?” The thoughts about his own stamina, and by extension, mortality, led him to conclude that on the Christmas Eve of the play, Scrooge is fearful of his own death.
3. Get therapy. Creating a properly walled-off, mean-spirited Scrooge for the top of the show is essential, Judd says, because the rest of the play acts like therapy, with the other characters and the audience itself conspiring for Scrooge’s redemption. “The show works on you,” he says, so he’s sought to find the places where Scrooge retrenches, resisting his inevitable conversion.
4. Walk the walk. Directors are continually telling Judd to stand up straight, but to play Scrooge, he gives in to his natural slouch. It makes visible the burden of the character’s self-imposed isolation. Of course, the play also calls for a harnessed Scrooge to fly through the ether to reach his past. “I’m a little afraid,” he says. “It’s being hoisted up in the air by your crotch.”
5. Talk the talk. “If you say, ‘Bah humbug,’ that’s generally enough for most people.”
A Christmas Carol plays at the Goodman Theatre through December 31.
Scrooges in waiting
Should John Judd need an understudy, these notorious local grumps easily could step in.
Photos: stroger and zambrano, Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo; zell, M. Spencer Green/AP Photo
His schedule recently opened up, and he can count his Cook County Board President term as one long Method acting lesson—he deeply knows the feeling of being almost universally disliked.
With his facial-expression repertoire ranging from deep scowl to pissy sneer, Cutler’s a natural Scrooge. Maybe Kristin Cavallari can play the skeletal Ghost of Christmas Future?
Bah fuckin’ humbug!
Let’s see, he has the venom down pat…the contempt for colleagues…if the Goodman can change the script so Bob Cratchit gets a punch to the throat, we’d be in business! —Laura Baginski