Brian d’Arcy James interview: ‘The Cathedral’
“There’s a lot of internal struggle,” reveals actor Brian d’Arcy James about his complex character in Ricky D’Ambrose’s film “The Cathedral.” The performer stars as Richard Damrosch, a father who over the course of his son Jesse’s formative years struggles to adequately express his feelings for his wife, parents, in-laws, and even his child. The commanding performance just earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination, at which he feels “completely flabbergasted.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“The Cathedral” tells its family story uniquely, using narration and a series of vignettes to chronicle decades of life, from the time Richard and his future wife Monica meet in the 1980s all the way through their son Jesse’s high school graduation. James describes the filmmaker’s approach to the material as “a clinical look at this family.” As the film is loosely based on D’Ambrose’s own life, the actor felt “the challenge or the goal of having to get a sense of his family” but “not necessarily have to be beholden to an imitation.”
“This man has a lot to prove, is always a little behind, and always wants to be three steps ahead,” describes James of Richard, who has uneven success with a printing business, aggressively butts heads with his wife’s parents, and ultimately has a series of unsuccessful relationships. Yet despite his tribulations, the actor stresses that he feels Richard “loves his family dearly and immensely.”
That love comes through forcefully in a scene in which Richard must deliver a eulogy for his mother, but is unable to find any words to express himself. The actor describes that sequence as “the immense challenge of him trying to understand the world in which he’s living, understand the emotions that are boiling within him.” He suggests that the scene captures Richard’s “paralysis of expression of emotion.”
In a later scene, James gets to tap into Richard’s volatility when he gets snubbed at Jesse’s high school graduation party by his former in-laws. “There’s always a constant competition,” explains the actor, continuing, “His feelings of less-than are the things to light up on his radar.” While Richard’s emotional eruption embarrasses his son, the actor credits the flawed character with a degree of self-reflection. “The heroic thing about Richard is that he has a sliver or enough of a sense of himself to see the things that he’s missing.” The actor feels that Richard’s need “to be seen” connects him to Jesse, who has a passion for photography.
James also currently stars in a revival of the musical “Into the Woods” as the Baker, a character who like Richard struggles with the weight of fatherhood. “I played this part 20 years ago and I was not a father then,” notes the stage veteran, adding, “I had two arrows in my quiver and now I’ve got 100 in terms of the experience.” This production arrived after the death of legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, and the performer notes how the entire company is “constantly very aware of the presence of the great Stephen Sondheim and his absence.”
For his vocal performance on the “Woods” cast recording, James just earned a Grammy nomination. “My total goal here is to win a Grammy in February and then win an Independent Spirit Award in March,” shares the three-time Tony Award nominee with a hearty chuckle.