Stratford Festival actors inspired by white supremacists, convicted killer for Shakespearean role

Shakespeare's Iago is one of the playwright's most beloved and reviled villains. Four current and former Iagos at Stratford Festival dissect what makes the character such a masterful manipulator.

How is one of Shakespeare's greatest villains relevant today? 4 men who played him weigh in

Michael Blake (left) as Othello and Gordon S. Miller as Iago in Othello. Miller said he was inspired by how white supremacists twist and torque situations for his take on the classic Shakespearean villain. (David Hou/Stratford Festival)

Shakespeare's Iago is one of the playwright's most beloved and reviled villains. Loved by actors for his complexity; reviled by audiences for his betrayal and twisting of circumstance in Othello

The show has been produced by Stratford Festival eight times in the theatre's 67-year history. Over the years, actors playing the classic villain have drawn inspiration from evil in the real world: from white supremacists to convicted murderer Russell Williams

This season the role is being played by Gordon Miller, who said he started watching white supremacist documentaries in preparation for the role. 

"It was amazing how once I got to a certain place with the play that what these people were saying — Nazis, KKK — would be revealing about themselves," said Miller. 

It's always about putting that other person in that position of: They're not us.- Gordon Miller, Iago (2019)

"It's almost verbatim what Iago does. 'That job's mine. And this guy, who comes from here and believes this, and looks like that came in and took it.' So it's always about putting that other person in that position of 'They're not us.... And therefore they should be taken down.'" 

In Othello, Iago is the title character's friend and trusted advisor, but the relationship doesn't go both ways.

Iago resents Othello, and plots his demise.

Othello is a Moor — of Berber or Arab descent living in Northwest Africa — and Iago believes he had an affair with his wife. Then, Othello promotes another man instead Iago, leaving Iago looking for revenge. 

CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's Jackie Sharkey sat down with four men who have played the classic villain at Stratford Festival — Scott Wentworth (1994), Jonathan Goad (2007), Graham Abbey (2013) and Gordon Miller (2019) — to find out how they were influenced by the time in which the plays were staged, and what makes us vulnerable to manipulation.

More stories from Stratford Festival 2019:


Jackie Sharkey is a producer for CBC News in Kitchener-Waterloo and an occasional guest host. She has been been based in Kitchener, Ont., since the station was created in 2013, after working for CBC in Kelowna, B.C., Quebec City and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.


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