Q&A: Matthew Warchus

The Tony winning director is packing in audiences from the West End to Broadway

It's not too often that someone has to bet against himself, but such was the dilemma facing British director Matthew Warchus, who this season was nominated for Tonys for both "The Norman Conquests" trilogy and "God of Carnage." He won for the latter, the latest honor in a transatlantic career that has included such shows as "True West" with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly; "Art"; "Speed-the-Plow," with Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldbum; and "Boeing-Boeing."

The Hollywood Reporter: Come clean: For which show do you think you really deserved the Tony?

Matthew Warchus: I don't know about "deserved." I thought I wouldn't mind, and I did actually expect, that I would have gotten it for "The Norman Conquests." Only because there was more of it, really. Simple as that.

THR: You've singlehandedly become a leading exporter of British productions. What are the differences between staging a work there and here?

Warchus: For a start, it's different when you do a show for the second time. All of the productions that I've done in New York, with the exception of "Follies," were the second time around. If you're interested in taking another run at it rather than simply cloning the original, then you can get to the next level. Both "Boeing" and "Carnage" involved discussions with producers saying, "I don't think you should change anything." And with both productions I made quite significant changes. For instance, I Americanized the central characters in both plays.

THR: What are the differences between Broadway and West End audiences?

Warchus: American audiences are generally louder than British audiences. If you're doing a comedy, there's going to be much more energy in the auditorium on Broadway than in London -- more noise, more cheers, more applause. On the other hand, if you're doing a serious play in New York, it's kind of annoying when the audience claps when a star enters. That never happens in London.

THR: Your musical production of "The Lord of the Rings," while it had a reasonably healthy run in London, wasn't the juggernaut its producers were hoping for. What went wrong?

Warchus: We had a problem equating the delight and rapture of the audiences in the theater with the low ticket sales. We did some independent market research in Toronto and London, and the production scored incredibly high, and yet that word-of-mouth wasn't catching fire. Although I'm not saying the production wasn't without its flaws, I think the reason it didn't take off was because it was an intimidating prospect to buy a ticket for. It seemed like it was going to be very long, even though in London it was no longer than "Les Miserables" or even "Billy Elliot." And it's a complicated story. People figured that if they didn't know the books well enough they might not like it, or they were such fans of the film that they thought, "How dare they attempt to put it onstage."

THR: You made your film debut with "Simpatico" a decade ago. Do you have ambitions to do more?

Warchus: I do. The reason it hasn't happened sooner is the erratic nature of film production. The independent financing usually arrives at the eleventh hour, and my theatrical projects are planned several months in advance. I've been in situations over the years when I've had scripts that I've developed and were greenlit, and I cleared time for them, and then they were delayed. But I'm hoping to go into production on another movie soon. It's a much lonelier job, making films. Theater, with all its knocks and bruises and craziness, is slightly less insane than that.

THR: I'm guessing you won't reveal how the infamous projectile-vomiting scene in "God of Carnage" is actually done, but can you at least tell us if it's ever gone wrong?

Warchus: (Laughs) I arrived for the Tony Awards and walked the red carpet alongside Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden, and they both looked ashen. It turned out that the afternoon's show was done without vomit! And for Hope, particularly, that's the end of the world. There is a backup plan -- a little pouch of vomit in her bag. It's a sad apology for the real torrent that's supposed to happen. But we didn't even have that on that day, because we hadn't yet had a chance to properly rehearse it.

THR: I think you should have given the audience their money back.

Warchus: (Laughs) I quite agree. But I don't think the playwright, Yasmina Reza, would concur.
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