Strange sisters? Make that crooked sisters

The voice: a low, throaty rasp, it’s the auditory equivalent of slithering, the hissing lament of a pixie long past its expiration date. In a trailer for “The Tragedy of Macbeth” by Joel Coen, he speaks the only words heard. As Macbeth (Denzel Washington) emerges from a whirlwind of fog and the ploys of Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand), the voice hisses the prophecy that begins, “With the prick of my thumbs.” . . “

Catherine hunterIllustration by João Fazenda

One recent afternoon, the voice – which belongs to longtime English actress and cigarette smoker Kathryn Hunter, who plays the Three Witches in the film, which will air on Apple TV + from this week – crackled through phone from his London apartment. “I’m sixty-four years old, so I was born in a time when smoking was considered immoral but not unhealthy,” Hunter explained.

Her parents, who were Greek, called her Aikaterini Hadjipateras when she was born in New York, but she changed her name later when the director of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art asked her: “So, Catherine , do you want to play full cannon, or just gypsies? A former artistic associate of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Hunter was a senior member of Complicité, the London troupe known for physical theater, co-founded by Hunter’s husband, Marcello Magni. Her talent for physical transformation has seen the five-foot-tall dynamo perform a variety of non-human roles, not to mention Richard III, Timon of Athens and Lear, whose last she will be reprising this summer at the Globe.

Although Hunter had known Coen and McDormand socially for thirty years, she had never worked with them before “Macbeth”. A few months before filming began, she met the couple in a hotel room in London to discuss their approach to playing witches. Hunter, who describes himself as “quite flexible,” stood on a coffee table, put a pair of black tights on his head, and began to pose as a crow. “Joel was like, ‘Keep that shape. I like this shape. Take back your arms, raise your elbow. He choreographed, in a way.

Hunter’s first scene in the film shows her squatting in the sand (no pantyhose), where she alternately squeals, squeezes a sailor’s severed thumb into her gnarled toes, and twists her right arm behind her head. Imagine a litigious crow who has done a lot of yoga. “Some people at a screening asked me, ‘Is this CGI, what are you doing with your arms? So I did for them what I do in the movie with my arms, and they said, ‘Oh my God!’ It was quite funny. All the brawls in the sand have paid off: Last month, the New York Film Critics Circle awarded Hunter the award for Best Supporting Actress.

“Wait, are we just supposed to go back to Antarctica now?” “
Caricature by Mark Thompson

“The body tells a story as much as the text,” Hunter said. She would know: while she was a student at RADA, she was in a car accident that broke her back, broke her elbow and crushed her feet. She spent months in a wheelchair and her doctors thought she would never be able to walk again. She now sees the ordeal as a gift in disguise: “Somehow the limitations made me explore more. This tenacity has made her a favorite of directors. She worked six times with Peter Brook, and Julie Taymor’s willingness to put on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Brooklyn’s Theater for a New Audience in 2013 depended on Hunter playing Puck.

For his research on “strange sisters,” Hunter studied people with multiple personality disorders, as well as crows, which are symbols of fortune telling. She also consulted a modern day witch. “I asked him to give me a simple spell to keep the company safe,” Hunter said. “Denzel told me he believed in the power of prophecy and the power of blessings, so before I got on set I would do a ritual to protect him and society.” She continued, “But then I thought, maybe it didn’t work, because COVID came up with it. ”(Coen had shot seventy percent of the film when the pandemic forced production to cease, in March 2020.)

“Some people might expect more of a modernization from the Coen brothers, but I think Joel did a wonderful thing to let the language speak,” Hunter said, ending his thought with one of its authors. hardly preferred, a coaxer. do you agree? (She’s also inclined, when unable to remember something, to pat her forehead and say, “Come on, brain!”) In Coen’s adaptation, Hunter also plays the old man at the exterior of Macbeth Castle, which suggests that the witches metamorphosed into an old coder. This is the old man who, referring first to the darkness of the sky, then to Duncan’s murder, says, “It’s not natural / Same as the deed that was done.” “

“It’s amazing that Shakespeare is so concerned with nature,” Hunter said. “He said: When man is out of whack, so to speak, it is reflected in nature. How premonitory is that? “??


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