Bryan Cranston, Tatiana Maslany, Tony Goldwyn Celebrate 'Network' Opening

Tatiana Maslany Bryan Cranston Tony Goldwyn Curtain Call Network - Getty - H 2018
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Hillary Clinton, Anna Wintour and more took in the Broadway adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar-winning 1976 screenplay, which shines a light on the culture of rage now dividing the nation.

The National Theatre's production of Network opened Thursday night at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway, and Hillary Clinton came to celebrate the play, based on the 1976 movie about a news anchor who is "mad as hell" and vents his anger on national television, sparking a ratings boon.

Tatiana Maslany, who plays the network’s head of programing Diana Christensen, told The Hollywood Reporter that she wept backstage when she learned Clinton was in the audience and thought of the 2016 presidential candidate and Anna Wintour, who also attended the opening, throughout the evening. 

"Something about these two powerful women, feeling them. Feeling the ripples of what they have done and what they're fighting for and the things they're up against," Maslany said, noting that she relates to her character's plight of being in a business dominated by men.

"For me, as a young actor, a lot of it was relatable just in terms of being a young woman in a very male industry and seeking to shake things up as opposed to fit into a box of what the male gaze expects of me," added the actress. "Diana is still hitting her head against the wall of men who don't want to change."

Also in attendance for opening night were Huma Abedin, Nathan Lane, Common, Nick Kroll, Al Roker, Bob Costas, Josh Charles, Lili Taylor, Bob Balaban and Elizabeth Marvel. The production premiered at the National Theatre late last year, but playwright Lee Hall says it feels like "local news" in New York, with Fox News and Trump Tower just blocks from the venue. 

Hall hardly tweaked Chayefsky's script from its original form, explaining that his job was as a "curator," moving the piece from one medium to another.

"I just thought it was unbelievable how somehow he did this act of clairvoyance 40 years ago," said Hall. "Literally, things have happened this week and there are gasps from the audience when they hear about the Russians and the Saudis. People think I've added this, and I haven't. It's all Paddy."

Lead actor Bryan Cranston, who first read Hall's script in 2015 before premiering the production in London, told THR that its relevance hasn't changed. 

"I agreed to do the role before Donald Trump even threw his hat in the ring to be president of the United States," he said, adding that instead of taking inspiration from modern politicians, he looked to the news anchors he grew up watching. 

"I was raised with Walter Cronkite and Harry Reasoner and David Brinkley and [Chet] Huntley and all those guys," Cranston said. "What I realized about them is they had a very specific delivery, and a way they held the words and they massaged them a little bit. It was really very impactful. So I did work on my voice of how I wanted to present a man who makes his living with his voice, how he would sound."

Director Ivo van Hove's goal, however, was to bridge the story with the present day. At the end of the production, footage of presidential inaugurations from Ronald Reagan through Trump plays. Most nights, the Obama clip draws cheers and applause from the exiting audience, while Trump gets booed.

"It turned out to be like a popularity contest at the end,” said the Belgian director. “That was not my original intention, but I like it.”

Van Hove said he hopes the play's message resonates with modern audiences. "A lot of people are mad as hell at this moment in the United States, but also outside the United States," he explained. "This era that we live in, where gut feelings are more important than thinking and reflecting on problems, rather than acting immediately, I think that is what this production talks about."

Tony Goldwyn, who plays news producer Max Schumacher, thinks the topic of anger and how cable news networks distort the truth through rage to turn a profit is important for the audience to focus on. 

"That's what is happening right now in our media and in our politics, and it's a toxic, destructive stew we're living in at the moment," said the actor. He added that there were similar themes of power and money and morality in his work on TV's Scandal, and he feels strongly that the truth matters. 

"If there's no objective truth, then opportunism rules and short-term gains trump — no pun intended — everything," Goldwyn said. "Whereas if there's some objective truth, that guides morality and gives us a framework in which to function as human beings. If there are no rules, life's a party. But therein lies the destruction."

Cranston hopes the message of the play ultimately brings audiences together to talk about their differences and bridge the chasms dividing the country. 

"At the end of a play, if you've been affected by it, it should stimulate more thought and more discussion," he said. "The thing that's been tearing us apart as a country is the vitriol and the divisiveness between everyone. If someone shares an opinion that is the opposite of yours, they are not the enemy. We need to bring that together, and hopefully we'll all be improved by it."