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David Denman takes on Hamlet, the moody Dane

Say “David Denman” and any dedicated TV watcher will think of Roy from the long-running comedy “The Office,” maybe Ed from the much-beloved drama “Parenthood,” or any of the dozens of roles he’s portrayed over the years. The year started off busy for this Newport Beach native (born 43 years ago at Hoag Hospital, no less) with the release of the action thriller feature “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” as well as a short-lived comedy series on CBS, “Angel from Hell.” July will see Denman play Mark Holter in the new Cinemax series “Outcast,” but meanwhile, this classically trained actor is taking his first
turn as Hamlet in a production by Shakespeare Orange County, where he serves as a board member.

Coast: Ed should totally have gotten Julia at the end of “Parenthood.” Just saying. I thought her husband was a jerk.
David Denman: Well, that’s very nice. True, if he would have treated her better, they wouldn’t have had to go through all that.

Coast: Talk to me about Hamlet. Are you a Lawrence Olivier Hamlet, or a John Gielgud Hamlet? A Kenneth Branagh Hamlet maybe?
DD: I don’t have one specific guy where I go, “That’s the Hamlet I love the most.”  I think everybody does something different, and everybody has their highlights. With all of these great Shakespeare roles, it is also one of those things that obviously can be played many different ways. I saw a production at South Coast Rep maybe 10 years ago, when Hamish Linklater did it, and I thought he was terrific. I remember watching with a friend of mine going, ‘I would never be able to play him like that. That is so in his wheelhouse.’ Hamlet is a pretty daunting task. It’s like you are on the high dive platform, looking down, and you’re thinking, “Well, I know there are a lot of people who have done this … here I go!”

Coast: What is it about this moody Dane that’s so compelling to actors?
DD: It is definitely the holy grail of acting roles. I think his journey is just so extraordinary, and the things he gets to say and the way he sees the world. He is the smartest guy on stage all the time. As an actor you always want to have a challenge, and there is no greater challenge than to try to take a stab at Hamlet. It is considered by many to be one of the greatest plays ever written, if not the most famous. When this came up, I thought, yeah, if I am ever going to do this, it has to be now. I am already one of the oldest Hamlets – not the oldest, but it feels like it! When I started going through this, I thought, oh man, what have I done?

Coast: Funny you say that. Because of the roles you have played, I think of you in a very all-American-guy way. What an interesting choice to take on something as iconic as this.
DD: [laughs] There’s no good that can come of this endeavor, clearly …  For me, having gone to Juilliard, you learn a large skill set to use to do classic plays. I have been very lucky to work in front of the camera for most of my career, but to be honest, that gets to be a little rote sometimes. You are constantly starved for a challenge. I love doing theater, but I rarely do it unless it is something I wouldn’t be able to do in front of a camera. I’m not interested in doing a kitchen sink drama or a comedy on stage, because I have been lucky enough to have those opportunities on a regular basis in front of the camera. I had an amazing year last year career wise, and I have the luxury now to say, “No, I am going to go back and do Shakespeare.” Nobody ever makes money doing theater, and nobody ever does theater to make money, so I am really grateful to be in a position to do this.

Coast: When you’re back in the old stomping grounds, where is the must-go-to?
DD: The Elvis Bar at the Azteca in Garden Grove! It’s right down the street from the theater and is the most unique bar in all of Southern California, as far as I’m concerned. The owner has the most incredible memorabilia of Elvis on every wall, every ceiling. It’s got a really cool, funky vibe. We always go there after the show.


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