Benjamin Walker Returns to Broadway for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
By Jada Yuan
“What would you like to drink?” asks Benjamin Walker. We’ve only just sat down at theater-district bar Joe Allen, and I tell him I haven’t yet thought that far ahead, to my liquor order. “How is that far ahead? That’s where I start!” he says with a deep, welcoming Georgia growl that he claims to have had beaten out of him years ago at Juilliard, but which returns whenever he’s being charming, which seems to be all the time. “I think it’d be an insult to Tennessee Williams if I didn’t get a bourbon.”
Walker is perhaps still a little in character, having come straight from the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where he spent the evening battling ankle injury, sexual confusion, and alcoholism as Brick, the good ol’ boy husband to Scarlett Johansson’s Maggie in Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He orders us both Blanton’s, a boutique bourbon. “I’ve done my research,” Walker says, referring to a time when he “got into trouble” during college. When you’re playing a character like Brick, it helps to remember that we’ve all had rough days. “And I’ll drink to that,” he says. “Don’t trust somebody that don’t have a troubled period.”
Among the actors who could be sharing the stage with Johansson right now, Walker is a bit like Blanton’s himself—an excellent, if slightly obscure, choice. Cat’s producers had originally wanted a more famous name and reportedly reached out to Chris Pine and Jeremy Renner. “I’m sure they did. No, I’m positive they did,” says Walker, 30, who once did a reading of The Glass Menagerie with Johansson. When she signed on for Cat, he flew to Paris, where she has an apartment, to read with her again. They must have clicked. “Or [the producers] just realized that their budget is low, and they’re like, ‘Well, Ben’s cheap,’ ” Walker surmises.
He does pay for his own MetroCard. The show provides a car service to drive him home at night, but Walker still rides the subway to the theater every morning from Park Slope, where he shares an apartment with his wife, actress Mamie Gummer. They started dating after a 2008 Broadway production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in which she played young Cécile and he her music teacher, Chevalier—“She was the Uma to my Keanu,” says Walker—and married two summers ago at the Connecticut home of her parents (Don Gummer and Meryl Streep). Gummer is recently back in New York from Vancouver following the cancellation of her CW medical drama Emily Owens, M.D., and she texts twice during our interview to check in. “What, Mamie?” he says, laughing, after the second text. “She always worries about me in these things, and rightfully so. I don’t have much experience doing it, so I never know when I’m going to sound like an ass.”