‘Chaplin’ star talks about learning famous walk
By Colleen Long
September 17, 2012
NEW YORK — Charlie Chaplin grins from a giant, grainy screen in his trademark hat and oversized pants while the audience finds their seats at the new Broadway musical about the silent screen legend. People whisper, wondering what movie the clip came from. Was it “The Kid?” No, it was “Gold Rush.”
They’re all wrong. It’s an image of Rob McClure, the actor who plays the lead and is in nearly every scene of the 2Â½-hour show at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. For McClure, who has played a few roles on Broadway before but never originated one, the show has been like a dream — a physically demanding dream, though.
McClure roller skates, jumps and dances on top of a spinning table, plays the violin in a sad number and walks on a tightrope, all the while mimicking Chaplin’s most famous character the Little Tramp with ease, and trying to show the audience about the English actor’s epic life. McClure, who has earned praise for his work even if the show drew poor reviews, spoke to The Associated Press about what it was like to prepare for the role.
AP: What was your experience with Chaplin before the show?
McClure: My great aunt Marian told me that I looked like Charlie Chaplin my entire life. I knew he was really good at falling down and looking silly, but that was about it, until I was going to audition for the show. Her daughter called me on the Amtrak train as I was headed for the audition and said, ‘We found a 6-foot portrait she painted of Chaplin in 1975, do you want it?’ Literally as I was on my way there. What a weird coincidence, isn’t it? It now hangs in my dressing room. That was my main reference for Chaplin.
AP: So how did you learn to do the famous walk, or is it a waddle? I don’t know what to call it.
McClure: Ha, yes. It’s a bit of both, isn’t it? I just watched every piece of footage I could get my hands on and practiced. It was almost like becoming fluent in a new language. If you think about it, Charlie Chaplin was a silent film star — so everything — every move, every expression — was for the purpose of communication. So I started to look deeper into why he was doing it and that’s what really unlocked his physical lexicon for me, so to speak. In one scene, he did this sort of shoulder pop. I realized that he had been turned down by a woman, and has he turned and he was walking away it was almost like he was shaking it off.
AP: The curtain rises to you balanced on one foot, on a tightrope high above the stage and audience. And then you’re on it later, doing crazy stunts with the famous hat. How on earth did you learn to do that?
McClure: They sent me to a circus school for three weeks, two sessions a week. And we learned how to walk the high wire which was crazy and something I’d never thought I’d have the opportunity to learn. I knew I was in good hands when I walked into the facility and I saw a huge piece of tightrope Philippe Petit used to walk in between the Twin Towers. But I wear a harness and I thought, ‘Oh that will be holding me up,’ but that was a complete mistake on my part. I have to walk it, and I can’t fall or I’ll be swinging around near the wall. And I have to walk it eight shows a week. It’s thrilling and it feels dangerous and it should — for me and the audience.
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