Tom McCamus stars as Rhett Butler at RMTC. (Tim Leyes)
If someone asks you to play Rhett Butler you can't say no.
—Tom McCamus, actor
Actor Tom McCamus is pretty nonchalant for a guy who's getting ready to tackle the first stage role of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind.
One might even think he would be reluctant to take it on, given that the movie version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is considered such a classic.
"In one sense, yes, it's a large undertaking, but at the
same time if someone asks you to play Rhett Butler you can't say no," he said.
The iconic novel was adapted by Niki Landau for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and director Steven Schipper asked McCamus to participate in a reading of the play in Toronto. He then immediately asked him to do the Winnipeg production. But isn't it intimidating to play a role that Clark Gable made famous?
And what a juicy role it is -- that of this self-proclaimed 'varmint.' "The thing that's interesting about him is that he moves on the outside of that whole society and he's always trying to stir things up, which is a lot of fun to play."
There are definitely some big lines to deliver. "'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn' is kind of hard -- well, not hard, it's just that everyone has an expectation of it," he admits. "The other one, 'You should be kissed, and often. And by someone who knows how' -- that's another big one. All you can do is just do the line the way it's written and hopefully they will accept it."
McCamus is also matter-of-fact when he describes how he develops the character. "You simply play it as you play any other role," he says. "You play the part that's written.You read the book and take the character and try to do it to the best of your ability.
"And that's what rehearsal's about. You find out what's needed in the scene, what's happening between the two people, Scarlett and me. We don't have a lot of time. It's a very large piece and we have maybe 3 1/2 weeks to rehearse it. So we just build it as we go, layer by layer, and rely on the story, rely on the costumes. But mostly it's about the relationship between the two."
McCamus says the biggest challenge of the production is dealing with the passage of time, because the play covers a span of 15 years, so in a short period of time on stage he has to age considerably.
The best part? "The greatest pleasure is just being in this play, actually. Just seeing what Steven's going to do with it and how Niki's captured it. I mean it's a 1000 page book. To do it in two hours and to watch everyone come together and create the story, that's always the best pleasure."
Gone With the Wind plays at MTC's John Hirsch Mainstage January 10 - February 2.