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Shakespeare stood apart from contemporaries like Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson in many ways, including his youth in the countryside and his kinship with village artisans like his own father, a glover. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, such characters form the basis of Bottom, Quince, Snug, Flute, Snout and Starveling — a team of artisans (or, in Elizabethan terms, “mechanics”) who stage an unintentionally hilarious play honoring the marriage of two nobles.
When Shakespeare called them “rude mechanics,” he couldn’t have known how rude they might get at Santa Monica College’s Broad Stage, where the Old Vic in collaboration with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company present A Midsummer Night’s Dream through April 19.
“It was only on my birthday about two weeks into rehearsals he (director Tom Morris) said, ‘OK Miltos, why don’t you drop your trousers and see what it looks like on the bottom machine?’” Miltos Yerolemou tells the The Hollywood Reporter. Known for playing sword-fight teacher Syrio Forel on Game of Thrones, the classically-trained actor plays Bottom, the egocentric wannabe, in a way that’s never been seen before. “I kind of knew it was going to be my bottom, I didn’t know it was going to be my naked bottom.”
Famous for their puppets in 2011’s War Horse, which won five Tony Awards, the company employs a scaled-down version of those effects in the current production. Some of their creations are hand-manipulated while others, like Oberon, are simply a classical mask and an extended arm elegantly implying supernatural greatness. But for Bottom, Yerolemou climbs into a contraption that puts him face down with his naked ass in the air. His arms work pedals to propel him around the stage while his feet frame his pale posterior with floppy shoes signifying donkey ears.
An hour later, buttocks appropriately clad and placed under him, Yerolemou is tucking into the halibut at the Longitude Bar + Restaurant at Le Meridien Delfina in Santa Monica. He is a stocky man with wiry black hair, a round face and a ready smile as he lights a cigarette then quickly stubs it out in accordance with the No Smoking sign. While his role in the play is a difficult one, others have it even harder, like Saskia Portway, who plays Titania. Also under a spell, she falls in love with Bottom, going cheek-to-cheek, stroking and making love to Yerolemou’s bare butt.
“Let alone what she has to do with me to convey the sense of love, communicating with my feet and my knees, which was really hard for her,” empathizes Yerolemou. “I’m trying to have a scene with her but I’m facing in the wrong direction. We had to choreograph it so that I would always know that I could react in a way that would give her something.”
Raised by traditional Greek parents in the seaside town of Eastbourne, East Sussex, Yerolemou performs Bottom with a whimsical accent he channels from his dad. He traveled a familiar career path through community theater but received most of his training at Le Coq in Paris, France’s preeminent school for clowns and mimes. He draws his greatest inspiration from silent-era idols like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd and studied under Johnny Hutch, who worked the same vaudeville circuit as Charlie Chaplin and trained Robert Downey Jr. for his portrayal of the icon in 1992’s Chaplin. For Game of Thrones, he trained under Bill Hobbs, a sword master who choreographed Ridley Scott’s first film, The Duelists, Dangerous Liaisons and Shakespeare in Love among others.
“A lot of my movement and picking up fight choreography comes from having a sharp awareness of myself physically and using my body,” Yerolemou says of his work on the show as fugitive noble Arya Stark’s (Maisie Williams) fight trainer. “He’s a mixture of all my favorite characters like Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride and Yoda from Star Wars, not consciously, self-consciously.”
After his character selflessly sacrifices himself for Arya, Yerolemou figured his part on the show was done until he arrived last summer in San Diego for Comic-Con, where there was a tribute for all the show’s deceased characters and Forel wasn’t among them. He would love to return to the show, the biggest break of his career, but is happy to continue dropping trousers for the benefit of Bottom and anyone who cares for a fresh new take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“In the whole history of Shakespeare it hadn’t been done, which is kind of crazy,” says Yerolemou of his bottoms-up approach. He then furrows his brow, adding, “But you could also say no actor was stupid enough to get his ass out.”
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