Reading the script, at first glance Lenny might seem an average sort of person. on the surface he is bad-tempered, thinks rather highly of himself, and uses language like a smarmy nouveau riche guttersnipe. This kind of Lenny is a thin smallish fellow with a big mouth, like Jimmy the Hand in Raymond Feist's books without the saving graces. It might interest you to know that a young Ian Holm (i.e. Bilbo Baggins) played Lenny in the old film version of The Homecoming. A 21st-century version might have him with slicked-back hair, a permanent leer and the nervous energy of Ultraman.
Unfortunately I am none of these things. But, to my mind, they are superficial and ultimately inconsequential. The principal challenge in defining Lenny is tied to defining his mental state. The script provides few clues. His words are on the whole humdrum, but Pinter's genius (for me, that is) lies in his ability to allow these plain innocuous words to be so open to interpretation that you can do anything with them. Read any emotion into them.
This genius is also a curse. I am not an experienced actor. I am not an actor at all. I don't have the training that allows me to walk into roles with a mind already open to possibilities. Quite the contrary. I approached this role with an idea of Lenny--a sketchy and inadequate idea, to be sure--but an idea nonetheless. So I have spent a great deal of time and energy during rehearsals working backwards to get rid of this initial Lenny and discover other possibilities.
Up until yesterday evening the Lenny we had was a sociopath. His moral universe is defined by power and a rationality based on ends dictating means. Justification in his world is not only irrelevant, it's an obstacle. We changed something very small in this approach. Now there is a new Lenny, a darker, stranger, and, we hope, better and more entertaining one of which I will tell you nothing (come and see the show lah).
But the challenge remains. How do I turn myself every day into someone so unhinged that the barrier between his world and the real world is paper thin and full of holes? Before rehearsing we always warm up physically (run around, stretch, make funny faces) and vocally (voice projection and elocution exercises, etc). Mental preparation requires focus exercises in which we stand rock still and stare at one point in the room, empyting our minds of everything except the character and job and hand.
This is merely the beginning. How we each interpret our characters, i.e. how we put the flesh of reality (or, in this case, illusion) on the skeleton of Pinter's script, has to come from within ourselves. So, where does Lenny come from? Is there some part of U-En that is Lennyish? I like to think that I am a fairly well-balanced individual. I generally I don't prostitute my sisters-in-law, I don't treat women as objects of lust and veneration (actually I do, but not in public). I like things, I hate things, just as other people do. So where does this evil Lenny come from?
A few years ago I interviewed the Scottish detective writer Ian Rankin. We got bored early in the interview and started talking crap. This crap eventually wound its way to the topic of evil and I asked him if he believed in the existence of a capital-E Evil, or a small-e evil, or both.
He said something like this: "What pushes the ordinary driver over the edge? What turns him into a road-rage criminal? Is it the mere fact that you've cut into his lane without signalling, or irritated him in some way? How can such a small offence turn a normal, law-abiding person into a homicidal maniac?
"Let me ask you something. Do you ever feel, when you are driving, like doing something to the other fella? Getting out of your car and smashing in his window with your steering lock? Braining him by the side of the road? It doesn't matter why or what he's done to piss you off. All that matters is: Do you ever have this feeling? It's a dark fantasy, true, but just thinking it gives you the satisfaction of emotional release. It's a vent that prevents you from exploding. In other words, thinking about murdering someone prevents you from murdering someone. It's a little evil that does some good."
There are a number of us who can no longer distinguish the thought from the action; there are those of us for whom thought is nothing without action. Are they less human? Or are they more human than the rest of us? In this solipsistic i-Pod universe do we encourage each other to curl up within ourselves and discover truths of our own making--truths that don't give a damn about other people? Or does our modern self-centredness break down the artificial barriers of social convention, allowing us to express our true selves?
I believe humanity has always been irrational and that reason is contrary to "human nature". It's a social convention imposed on us by the inhuman unreality of made-up instruments like laws. But these fabrications are the things that keep us civilised; that keep us human. Our natural tendency is to reject them, to act on our impulses by instinct rather than thought.
We consciously decide to accept these conventions, but we always know they are weak and our hold on them tenuous. That's why I think we're fascinated by particularly sordid and violent crimes, by horror movies that scare the living shit out of us, by the petty cruelties we inflict on others, or inflicted on us, daily. We all have our inner Lennys desperate to get out.
Maybe one day we will let them.