To prepare for the iconic role of troublemaker Randle P. McMurphy in Ken Kesey's counter-culture classic 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest', actor Anthony Gooley went back to the source material.
“The book adds a lot of layers, symbols and motifs you don’t necessarily get just reading the play or seeing the film,” Anthony says. “The book is actually told from the perspective and inner monologue of 'Chief' so it’s a completely different take on the narrative. It’s quite surreal and heightened the language Ken Kesey uses; there's a lot of metaphor and it adds a lot of layers to what can seem quite straightforward on the page.”
The latest production by Sport For Jove Theatre Company, 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' is a story about sanity, society and the danger of being an original. Originally published in 1962, it was adapted into a Broadway play in 1963 then into a film in 1975 starring Jack Nicholson, whose performance came to define the role of McMurphy.
Set in a brutalist mental institution run by the sadistic Nurse Ratched, the story follows the disruptive antics of the rebellious McMurphy as he rages against the machine to retain his sense of identity and resist conformity.
“The book and the play really explore the concept of ‘the combine’ and to me it’s a similar concept to what they explore in 'The Matrix' films,” Anthony says. “This idea of the invisible mechanism of capitalist society that controls us; we think we’re living free lives when in actual fact we’re part of a meticulously controlled system. It’s Chief who speaks about that and explores that metaphor a lot within the book to the extent you see his machinery and cogs coming out of the walls and all the medications. It’s quite fascinating to read.”
Told from the perspective of 'Chief' Bromden – a half-native American Indian who presents as deaf and mute – 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' is a seminal exploration of how society mistreats and alienates those deemed as different or abnormal.
“I guess the system beats McMurphy in the end,” Anthony says. “He’s the guy who represents the instinctiveness and wildness of the human spirit. He’s spent his whole life being transient and moving at a million miles an hour and fighting against this system but eventually as hard and as fast as he goes he can’t beat it in the end.”
Up against the might and passion of the inimitable Jack Nicholson, Anthony says that although he wants to bring his own interpretation to the character, there's little point trying to alter his performance just for the sake of being different.
“Nicholson's performance of the role is iconic and Jack is such an idiosyncratic personality, so obviously you want to bring something fresh to it. So if I can do something aesthetically, physically or vocally that is different from Jack, that is ideal,” he says.
“I'm also not so foolish as to try and create something radically different purely for the sake of actor’s vanity. Nicholson did completely embody the essence of that character and if you try to veer away from that too far just for the sake of your own ego, then I think it would become something else other than Randle P. McMurphy.”