An interview with Larry Yando.
By Thomas Connors
Lear. Roy Cohn in Angels in America. Scar in The Lion King. Is there any part Larry Yando hasn’t played? It’s hard to think so. One of Chicago’s busiest actors, Yando has taken on all kinds of roles since earning his M.A. at DePaul University in the 1980s. His face and voice are familiar to countless theater-goers, who’ve reveled in the range of the characters he’s played, from Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love at Chicago Shakespeare Theater to Dodge in the Writer’s Theatre production of Sam Shepherd’s Buried Child. At the Goodman, he’s appeared in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, The Jungle Book, and Leonard Bernstein’s Candide—for which he earned a Jeff Award. And for 14 years, he’s given his crotchey best portraying that marvelous misanthrope Ebenzer Scrooge in the Goodman’s annual rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Fresh from his turn as the brilliant and fastidious Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express at the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook, the seasoned performer pauses to offer a few thoughts on one of the greatest grouches of all time.
THOMAS CONNORS: What’s your history with the Dickens story? Did you read it as a child or grow up watching the old black and white movie versions on TV?
Larry Yando: I fell in love with Dickens, the writer, when I read A Tale of Two Cities in either junior high or high school. I loved it so much that I then read all of Dickens, but A Christmas Carol was not one that I paid much attention to. I later fell in love—and this was long, long ago—with the Alec Guinness film version. I remember his big buggy eyes. I never saw a production of it onstage until I saw my friend Bill Brown in a production at the Goodman—who was the man who chose me to play Scrooge when he started directing A Christmas Carol at the Goodman.
TC: To an outsider, Scrooge might seem a limiting role, more a storybook character than many of the deeply dramatic (or comedic) flesh and blood characters you have played. Is playing this part a different kind of acting exercise for you, or is portraying Scrooge no different than say, playing Shakespeare?
LY: Absolutely no difference whatsoever. I approach it and look at it no different than Lear, than Richard Nixon, or The Little Foxes at the Goodman. I assume every role that I am lucky enough to play is the most complex character ever written. And it’s kind of my duty to find
the complexity of it.
TC: Is there another character you’ve played that seems akin to Ebenezer?
LY: There is no one other character that Scrooge reminds me of because I feel like I have an obligation to the playwright to think there’s no other character like this in the world.
TC: Did you have any model for playing Scrooge, any person or performer who you channeled to bring the character to life?
LY: I haven’t really pulled on anyone—any individual or any character for Scrooge. But at the very same time, it’s everyone. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve sort of come to this discovery. I feel like whatever I do now has a little part of every other thing I’ve ever done, and everyone I’ve met. I feel like I’m a culmination of investigations I’ve made in the past. There’s a little bit of Zaza from La Cage aux Folles and Dodge from Buried Child in Scrooge because I hope I investigated and sort of unearthed something at the very core of every character I’ve ever played. And I don’t think you can ever get rid of that; it stays with us, even if it’s subconsciously. So the Scrooge I’m going to do this year is going to be influenced and absolutely, directly connected to the artists I’ve met in the past 12 months, the characters I played and what I’ve discovered about myself that I didn’t know before.
TC: Have you ever gotten to the point where you thought you just couldn’t do the role again after all these years?
LY: I have never thought that I cannot do this person one more time because he’s so much a part of me. And it means so much to me. And I love Scrooge’s journey so much. The only thing I’ve thought about is the practicality of it. I’ve thought ‘am I physically capable of doing it?’ Because it’s a very emotional journey for him and for me.
TC: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
LY: I’m somebody who’s not chatty before a show. I go quiet. I sit backstage. There’s a little chair upstage left. And I sit there for five minutes before places are called.
TC: When it comes to holidays, are you a Scrooge or Bob Cratchit?
LY: I’m certainly not a Scrooge, but I’m not an over-the top-celebrator of Christmas. The holidays go by before I’ve realized that they’re happening. But I love giving gifts to people all year. It’s one of my favorite things—when you see something and say that’s perfect for this friend.
TC: What would be a good gift for you this year?
LY: I’m a little obsessed with lotion. My favorite scent at present is called Champa, but I also love amber and bergamot. I love the Aroma Workshop on Halsted. I was there the day it opened 29 years ago. I’m calling them today to mix me up a batch of one of my recipes. It’s the best place ever.
TC: December 25th is your only day off during the holidays. What do you do?
LY: I do nothing on Christmas day. Absolutely nothing. I try to make a macaroni dish that my mother made when I was young. She worked two jobs so I could go to dance school. And that, for whatever reason, has become a tradition. But more importantly, on Christmas Eve for three years now, I spend it with my closest friends at Bill Brown’s house. He does it every year and we eat incredibly. And then on Christmas Day, I do crossword puzzles and try to make that macaroni.
TC: How do you bundle up for the winter?
LY: Layers! And my rainbow scarf.
TC: We’re all driven indoors this time of year. Do you have a cold weather hang out, a place you go to beat the winter blues?
LY: My couch. Winter for me is also fatigue because I’m doing A Christmas Carol.
TC: So, once A Christmas Carol is over, is it fun in the sun for Mr. Yando?
LY: I recover and relax. I normally take a week and sort of wander around trying to clear the brain fog. And then I just really do nothing. I don’t go anywhere. I’m too kind of exhausted to even do that. I grew up on the East Coast and I am an ocean guy, and if I went anywhere, it would be somewhere with an ocean and waves.
Thomas Connors is a Chicago-based freelance writer and the Chicago Editor of Playbill.