Author: Jill Kimball

A Q&A with Rodney Lizcano, ‘the man of 1,000 faces’

(Above: Rodney Lizcano as Roderigo in CSF’s 2015 production of “Othello”)

If you’re a regular Colorado Shakespeare Festival patron, you might recognize the name Rodney Lizcano from a large handful of cast lists over the years.

But if you ran into him on the street, you’d probably walk right by him without a second glance.

Lizcano is that rare, in-demand actor who can slip into virtually any role and wear it like a second skin. From comedic characters to historic figures to villains, Lizcano has done it all. He’s so versatile, so unrecognizable from one role to the next, that CSF Artistic Director Timothy Orr calls him “the man of 1,000 faces.”

“You’ve probably seen him in three different plays and didn’t even realize it was the same person,” Orr says. “He’s that good.”

In an era where the biggest acting stars on stage and screen are tapped to play the same roles over and over again—think Judi Dench as the holier-than-thou matriarch or Christopher Walken as the neurotic weirdo—it’s refreshing to see an actor who can play anyone. But how does he do it? Read on to find out.

What’s your theatre background?

I grew up in South Texas. I had a lot of extra energy, but I didn’t want to play sports because it was miserably hot outside! I started acting at the age of 9, but I didn’t get serious about it until high school. My school had a really strong theatre program, and that inspired me to pursue it in college and then at grad school at the National Theatre Conservatory attached to the Denver Center [for the Performing Arts]. I’ve always called Denver my artistic home. I was in New York and Los Angeles for a while, but when it came time to put down roots, I went back to Denver. We have a really healthy theatre community here.

What got you into Shakespeare?

I did a one-act play my freshman year of high school called “Lovers in Midsummer.” It was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” but it only followed the two pairs of lovers and removed the rest of the plot. That was my introduction to Shakespeare, and it was really fun to get a hands-on lesson of how to pull off Shakespearean comedy at the age of 15. It wasn’t until grad school that I began to study it. I got very specific schooling on how to score and scan a text, how to recognize meter, how to dissect the language. I’m still learning new things after all this time—Shakespeare wrote so much that there are still plays I haven’t touched.

You’re going to be doing a lot with CSF this summer. What are you looking forward to most?

I’m looking forward to “Equivocation” because it’s a new play about Shakespeare. When I read it, I was really drawn to the idea that we haven’t heard this story of Shakespeare before. It’s full of things that really did happen in history but that our history classes kind of skimmed over, like the Gunpowder Plot, the close relationships between Shakespeare and his acting troupe and the way the royal court influenced what subjects Shakespeare wrote about.

This is my first pass at “Cymbeline,” so I’m looking forward to that. I’ll also be playing the Duke of Gloucester in the original practices performance of “Henry VI, Part 2.” Original practices is so interesting to me, because all you know going in are your lines and the cues before them. You just get on your feet and go.

You’re tackling a lot of different kinds of roles this summer. Do you prepare for a comedic role differently than you prepare a dramatic one?

In repertory theatres like CSF, we work on multiple shows at once, and our various characters will be vastly different. I try to approach the comedic roles from a modern standpoint. We have a long range of comedic history to draw from, with commedia dell’arte and old Charlie Chaplin movies. But I try to gravitate toward what people think is funny now, which is a lot of irony. Even when I don’t play roles that are comedic, I find the humor in them. Robert Cecil, who I’m playing this summer [in “Equivocation”], is so deliciously evil. He was Secretary of State in England at the time and he had a lot of power; he essentially appointed James I to the throne. He’s very manipulative and sly, but at the same time there’s so much humor in him. He lets down his guard around Shakespeare and uses Shakespeare’s own words against him. I personally think he’s one of the funniest characters [in the play].

So you like to find the humor in every character you play?

I like to find the levity in every character. You have to find those humorous and honest moments. Even if your character is heated and passionate about what they’re saying, you have to have that release. And for me that release is always humor. I naturally like to make people laugh, and I’ve learned over the years how to work a joke with an audience. They may have heard a line 100 times before, but to make the audience second guess what I’m about to say so that the joke seems new is exhilarating.

When you’re about to begin a new production, where do you start?

I always start with the words the playwright wrote. I give it a first pass, walk away, then I read it again … and then I read small chunks at a time. I look for clues—what does one character say about the other person? That’s very informative. If people reference me as being demanding or harsh, those are clues. I start circling clues as to what the character’s intentions might be. And then I’ll walk away and read about what was happening in Shakespeare’s world at the time he wrote the play. At CSF we’re lucky to have dramaturgs who share valuable historical background with us at the early rehearsals.

What else keeps you coming back to CSF?

A few people have asked me this, and I think I’ve finally found the answer. There’s no other outdoor theatre in Colorado that seats 1,000 people, and to play for an audience of 1,000 people, to captivate that many people at once and to hear all that laughter on the Mary Rippon Theatre, is extraordinary. I really love the Rippon because it’s outdoors and feels like a throwback to Shakespeare’s time. It feels like I’m tapping into a part of history. Like Shakespeare’s company, we’re working with and against the elements, and it’s constantly challenging … in a good way. I have to project my voice, and I get to play big. The people are also a big part of why I keep coming back. I love that CSF trusts me with my work … that’s the biggest compliment an actor can receive.

What was your favorite CSF role?

My first show at CSF was “The Tempest.” I got to play one of three clowns in the show, and it very much felt like we were the Three Stooges. It was great to be on a comedic team. If I had to pick the greatest comedic moment for me at CSF, that would be it. Again, it was nice to bring levity to a show whose major plots were about lovers and war. My other favorite was “Henry V.” The design, the costuming, the set, the actors—all of it was fantastic. It was a very passionate play, and I walked away feeling very satisfied, feeling like we’d done something really positive.