A Q&A with Scott Coopwood, CSF’s Cyrano de Bergerac
Following acclaimed performances as Petruchio and Brutus in last year’s festival, Scott Coopwood returns to tackle a bucket list role.
Scott Coopwood first strutted onto the Rippon stage in a purple zoot suit and cheetah print chaps. This year, he’ll return sporting an unusually long nose.
Coopwood, who last year thrilled audiences as Petruchio in “The Taming of the Shrew” and stunned as the conflicted Brutus in “Julius Caesar,” returns to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival for a second season to play the role of a lifetime: Cyrano de Bergerac.
Edmond Rostand’s 120-year-old masterpiece of the same name is such a monumental undertaking that few theatre companies attempt it. (CSF Artistic Director Timothy Orr jokingly calls it “the first opera we’ve ever produced.”) As a result, few actors get the chance to embody Cyrano even once—so the fact that this will be Coopwood’s second go-around is astounding.
“I’m so grateful to do this a second time,” he says. “I don’t know anybody else who’s done it once.”
He first played the wise, lovesick lead at a Seattle Shakespeare Company run in 2006. Though his performance received local and regional acclaim, he insists he was “a little bit too young” to do the role justice—so he’s happy for the chance to try again.
“I’m more mature as an actor, and I’m also just more mature as a human being,” Coopwood says. “I have a better gauge on how to modulate what I do.”
What does it take to play Cyrano twice? What tools does an actor need to rise up to that towering challenge? Find out in our Q&A with Scott Coopwood below.
When did you start acting?
I was in high school and I was adrift. I had a checkered home life and felt like I didn’t have a space in the world. I thought I was alone, because it appeared all of my peers were living like the Brady Bunch—I’d go over to their houses and dinner was on the table, and there wasn’t a bunch of alcohol and fighting. So I hid my truth. Then I visited the Arizona Theatre Company to see “The Glass Menagerie,” and I saw the character Tom living that kind of life. He’s stuck on this treadmill of the madness of his mother and the sadness of his sister, and he can’t get off. I realized then that, gosh, maybe I’m not alone. Maybe there are other stories out there. I poked around my high school theatre department and I found a safe space. I knew I didn’t get world-class training—the drama teacher drank scotch out of a coffee cup—but I thought, well, I’ll try theatre in college and see what I’m made of.
That seems to have worked out well for you.
I’ve been lucky enough to make a living doing it. But I knew that even if I wasn’t acting—if it turned out I wasn’t any good at it—I’d find a way to stay in the world of theatre. Finding theatre was like finding my church. I knew if I could give someone else the gift I was given, if I could make another kid feel found after feeling lost for so long, that would be the greatest achievement.
You’re always so honest about your life and your feelings. How do you do that?
One of an actor’s early lessons is that if you’re not willing to be vulnerable, if you’re not willing to open yourself up and spill your guts to total strangers, you’re not going to succeed. I just happen to do that 24/7. I haven’t always been able to do that, as I mentioned earlier. But when in high school I realized my reality was reality for a lot of people, I thought, what’s the point of not [being honest]? I’m an open book. I’ve lived a lot. The mistakes I’ve made, all my foils and fumbles, those things make me who I am. If more people were honest about who they are and why they are, there would be a lot more empathy in the world. I think that’s what theatre aspires to do—invoking empathy so that we grow as human beings.
Last year was your first year with CSF. What prompted you to return this year?
I’d always wanted go act in CSF. I’ve known Tim [Orr] for more than 10 years now, and I officiated his wedding ceremony. He’s a special, special cat. I kept knocking on his door, and luckily, last season it finally worked out. I had a terrific time all around. I mean, the weather and the beauty and the hiking! The first day I met [“The Taming of the Shrew” director] Chris DuVal, it was an immediate man crush. We both fell in love with each other. Within a week, we were already machinating about when we could work together again because we were having so much fun in rehearsal. My experience with “Julius Caesar” was very similar. I knew long before I left that if I were asked to come back, I’d say yes without thinking about it. It was a lovely Christmas present for Tim to call and ask if I wanted to play Cyrano [de Bergerac]. I texted Chris right away: “We ride again.”
What excites you so much about the prospect of playing Cyrano?
The percentage of [actors] who get to say they’ve played this part is very small. Among those of us who aspire to classical roles, there are a few gigs that stand above all the rest, and Cyrano is up there with Hamlet. “Cyrano” is so big it’s not done very often. It’s so wonderful and rich and lovely and heartbreaking. To get this opportunity is a huge responsibility, but I’m honored and I’m full of joy about it.
What are the challenges a role like Cyrano presents for an actor?
First of all, the line load is pretty overwhelming. Two-thirds of the dialogue in “Cyrano” is coming out of the title character’s mouth. And if I don’t know my lines, I’ll set the whole engine back—so I want to start learning lines, like, yesterday. But it’s not just the lines that’s challenging, it’s the complexities of the character. The soaring poetry, the humor, the wit, the sorrow and sadness—all of those things have to be brought to the fore. To bring all of that to light so that the character comes off the page and leaps off the stage into the hearts of the audiences, you have to have all your faculties about you … and you have to find some new ones, too.
What is it about the character of Cyrano that people love so much?
I think he represents all of the best qualities a person can have. He’s independent and honest. He speaks from the heart on all matters. He has a romantic, idealistic soul. He fights for what’s right. He’s a Robin Hood kind of figure—he doesn’t take from the rich and give to the poor, but he unveils the hypocrisy of the upper class and treats everyone else well. Those qualities are what we aspire to as a species, and I think we often fall short—but he doesn’t.
Do you think you have anything in common with the character?
I try to see the positive things in the world, even when things are pretty dark. He loves to hear himself talk, and I tend to be a little long-winded myself. I think we also share an idealism—we believe in hope, romance, beauty and joy. I don’t think I could ever be exactly like Cyrano, but I aspire to be the best self I can be.