What does Gisli Orn Gardarsson got that other guys ain’t got?
OK, so he has a face like Clive Owen. OK, so he has a physique like Matthew McConaughey. OK, so he’s also a gymnast — limber, strong, durable.
OK, OK, OK. Enough, already. And by the way, so what? Some of us know how to type. Really, really, really, really fast.
Who does Mr. Fabulous think he is? Don Juan?
Well, yes. In fact, he does.
Gardarsson originated the lead in the American premiere of Don John. The play is the contemporary update of the classic myth of Don Juan, the original ladykiller, the first international playboy, the proto-womanizer, the Ur-man of mystery.
“Every man has wanted to be Don Juan and love 1,000 women at some point in his life.” Gardarsson says by phone from London. “It’s really interesting to play a devil like that.”
Sheesh, Señor Gisli. You don’t have to rub it in.
Director Emma Rice adapted the story from Mozart’s operatic version, Don Giovanni. But she set the story in the context of a carnival to suggest the uninhibited and unleashed sexuality of the hero. In fact, the staging is extremely physical. Much of what’s communicated between characters happens with the body.
But the master is Don John. He’s a real 60-minute man. He prowls and then he comes over. But never too soon. He smokes, he drinks. He takes pleasure in not just his women but in seeing other men looking at him looking at women who are looking at him.
And no one stops him. Why? Because he behaves badly, and it rubs off easily. Others follow in his wake, like sloppy seconds. Yet he’s convinced he’s not such a bad guy, Gardarsson says, trying to explain some of the tangled up psychology at work inside Don John’s head. He knows he’s breaking hearts, but he’s lost. He’s looking for something, but he doesn’t know what it is.
And — in the hope that we hate him an eensy-weensy bit less — it turns out he’s in pain.
Not physical pain, like the kind that afflicted Kurt Cobain, but the metaphysical sort that led to Cobain’s suicide. In John’s case, this psychic pain seals his fate.
“He knows he’s lost,” Gardarsson says.
Gardarsson grew up in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. Before getting into acting, he spent 15 years trying to be the best male gymnast he could be. Now living in London and running his own theater company, he’s becoming a high-value commodity. He’s worked Off Broadway and late last year wrapped filming of a movie starring Ben Kingsley and Jake Gyllenhaal. Now he’s about to redefine manliness in America with Don John.
And, boy, do we need it.
A completely unscientific survey recently taken among female interns at City Paper revealed the American Man is losing ground fast. When it comes to heartthrobs, the names that came up first were: Colin Farrell (Irish), Clive Owen (English), Hugh Jackman (Australian), Christian Bale (played Batman, but he’s still a filthy Brit).
The only Americans to make the cut for the title of classic all-American leading man were George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Clooney, yes. But Pitt? No way. He’s only one degree above Matthew McConaughey on the douche-bag-o-meter.
Let’s expand the survey. Name an American actor with an iron jaw, square shoulders, and a silver tongue.
Vin Diesel? You need hair to smolder. Leonardo DiCaprio? Disqualified by an abundance of baby face. Mark Wahlberg? The brother of that guy in New Kids on the Block and kids are by definition never leading men. Johnny Depp? Another baby face toughened up by pack after pack of Camel straights.
Then again, maybe we don’t need another Cary Grant. Speaking about Don John — who he claims is far from being his alter ego (yeah, right) — Gardarsson argues that being a hunka-hunka burning love is not all it’s cracked up to be.
“I don’t want to be like Don John,” Gardarsson says. “Others might want to be, but I would say no. We always admire people like him, but the end is always bad for them and always the same. He is like quicksilver with no commitment to ideals or hope.”