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"Angels in America" Soars Back to Broadway. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 10, 2018 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, we're looking back at some of our favorite interviews this year. And in this edition, one of the

world's great theatrical productions, "Angels in America", about the devastating 1980s AIDS epidemic had a triumphant return to Broadway earlier

in the year. And we devote this show to a conversation with the living legend and activist Tony Kushner, who wrote the play, and one of

Hollywood's hottest young actors, Broadway phenomenon and star of "Angels" Andrew Garfield.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

When "Angels in America" first premiered, it was the Hamilton of its day. The Broadway phenomenon that defined its cultural and political moment.

Twenty-five years later, "Angels" is back. In a marathon 8-hour production that viscerally confronts the AIDS plague, Russia and the death of Roy

Cohn, the closeted right-wing standard bearer of McCarthyism and mentor to the young Donald Trump.

Now, in 2018, with Trump in the White House and a whole range of rights once again under threat, "Angels in America" is just as relevant as it was

a quarter century ago.

Andrew Garfield stars in the new Broadway production as Prior Walter as a young AIDS victim who evolves into a modern-day prophet. Here is a clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See that's just a burst blood vessel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not according to the best medical authorities.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chaos, baby. It's lesion number one. Look at the wine-dark kiss of the angel of death. I'm a lesionaire.


AMANPOUR: The playwright, Tony Kushner, has transformed into a national treasure. He has been honored by President Barack Obama for his services

to the arts.

Andrew Garfield is best known for his thriving movie career, starring in "Spider Man", "The Social Network", and "Hacksaw Ridge". Now, he is

tackling this epic theatrical role and I spoke with both of them in New York for their only TV interview together as they were preparing for this

week's Broadway premiere.

Gentlemen, welcome to the program. So, I just want to start by asking you, Tony Kushner, the creator of this amazing enterprise. Why now? Why 25

years later? Why is it still relevant?

TONY KUSHNER, PLAYWRIGHT, "ANGELS IN AMERICA": Well, the decision to do it now had to do with the 25 years later part. It was - I think it was the

25th anniversary of the play opening at the National Theater.

None of us said anything about relevance at the time that we were all deciding to do this about three years ago and we're all a little bit

stunned at how timely it felt once we got it into the rehearsal room and got it in front of audience.

AMANPOUR: What do you think most especially sticks out in terms of the timeliness because, obviously, this was about that awful moment in America

where AIDS was rampant and it was politically poison as well.

KUSHNER: Yes. Well, the political poison has recrudesced or, in a certain sense, come to its full flowering. I mean, I think that the political

plague that the play addresses, the Reagan counterrevolution, it has come to its sort of malevolent apotheosis in the presidency of Donald Trump.

You spend 40 years telling people the government doesn't matter and you wind up with someone like Trump in the White House. And I think that it's

the sort of the sense of crisis that we are all deeply immersed in right now that is very much like the mid-80s crisis that generated the play.

The AIDS epidemic is now a global pandemic. A little bit like in the early 80s at any rate. It's become slightly invisible that you have to really

read the newspaper to find it.

AMANPOUR: Andrew, you were barely a glimmer in anybody's eye when it first started. You're so young and you have this pivotal role as Prior, the star

of this play, to an extent.

What do you think about the history of it and how do you sort of tune in with the politics of today because it is a political play?

ANDREW GARFIELD, ACTOR, "ANGELS IN AMERICA": Absolutely. I was conceived in New York in the 80s. So, that's my connection with that period of time.

I have a very visceral symbiotic connection to this city during this period.

[14:05:13] And, yes, I had the privilege of, of course, diving into the great masterwork that Tony has created and that still is absolutely vital

for a functioning American democracy and society as far as I'm concerned.

It's like a kind of a new chapter of a new Testament for how we move forward with humanity, empathy and compassion.

AMANPOUR: I want to take you back, though. Both of you, I mean, you back - and you maybe will have heard this for the first time - to the Reagan

administration where Larry Speakes, who was Reagan's press spokesman, brilliantly named, was asked by a reporter about this burgeoning crisis

that was just beginning to be noticed in society and this reporter is not just a reporter, but also an ordained Episcopalian priest. So, let's just

play this.

LESTER KINSOLVING, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Does the president have any reaction to the announcement by the Center for Disease Control in

Atlanta that AIDS is now an epidemic in over 600 cases?

LARRY SPEAKES: AIDS? I haven't got anything on it.

KINSOLVING: Over a third of them have died. It's known as "gay plague." No, it is. I mean, it's a pretty serious thing. One in every three people

that get this have died. And I wonder if the president was aware of this.

SPEAKES: I don't have it. Are you -?

KINSOLVING: You don't have it? Well, I'm relieved to hear that, Larry!


AMANPOUR: Tony, you must have remembered that, right? What sort of memories? What sort of flashbacks?

KUSHNER: Well, I mean, the immediate response was rage, which is what many of us were feeling at the time, the callousness and the indifference of the

Reagan administration for the entirety of his administration.

Finally, by 1987, he mentioned it in a speech at which point thousands of people had already died from it. He did nothing. He didn't call on the

country to do anything.

And it's a permanent black mark, an indelible stain among so many, in my opinion, on the Reagan administration and it speaks to a kind of a core of

heartlessness and a lack of a sense of community and human connectedness that was very much the sort of battle flag of Reaganism and it seems

incredible that that was the response.

AMANPOUR: I want to read - given that this play - first, let me ask you, did you take anything from that incredible exchange? I mean, again, you

were just being conceived.

GARFIELD: I had listened to these tapes only a couple of weeks ago actually for the first time and it felt like I was there and it felt as

urgent as ever to have the rageful response, that first response that Tony said he had.

And it makes me ashamed to be a human being in a way that our species is capable of that amount of inhumanity, lack of connectedness, and a

callousness. We need tremendous healing.

AMANPOUR: So, Jeffrey Wright who starred in the original production says I think that the arc from that period, Stonewall to ACT UP, the arc to

Obergefell v. Hodges is a pretty clear one. And I think that "Angels" has a meaningful place along that arc. So, that case was the Marriage Equality


Do you - I mean, you talk about the inhumanity that's passed. Yet, there has been so much progress. Do you see the light there?

GARFIELD: I mean, definitely. I mean - and yet, there's still a tremendous work to be done. There's still tremendous fear of the other,

whatever that means, whatever the other is, specifically for the LGBT community, even though there have been evident strides forward.

And I think Tony's play is a big part of that. It's a big rallying cry and a big part of that movement as far as I'm concerned. The work seems to be

not going to be completed in my lifetime.

KUSHNER: I mean, political struggle is never completely - it's almost Passover and we say, in every generation, a pharaoh arises to enslave us

and the struggle for justice is never ending.

AMANPOUR: You must have felt quite gratified, though. I mean, I believe that you got married and your wedding was the first same sex marriage to be

featured in the famous "The New York Times" vows section, which is a great stamp of legitimacy.

[14:10:13] KUSHNER: The strides forward, in Obergefell, in job protection, in adoption rights, in recognition have been enormous and we have to really

- the fact that the struggle doesn't end doesn't mean that the gains aren't real. They're very real and you can't keep struggling unless you are

willing to say there has been progress. If you think that it's all just sort of spinning on a pivot, why bother?

And in point of fact, being a lesbian, gay, transsexual, bisexual, transgendered person, at this point in time is not the easiest thing in the

world, but it's infinitely easier than it was a very short while ago. And we really - everybody worked very hard to make that happen.

AMANPOUR: This is an 8-hour event with a break. Do you do the 8 hours every day? How does it actually work?

GARFIELD: We do it twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Come and see it on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It's really a remarkable experience to do

both shows in one day. I think some of the people (INAUDIBLE) have done it and some - talk about community making.

Usually, in the theater, you're very angry at your seat neighbor for impinging and infringing on your space, but over the course of 8 hours

together, you become - you have to fall in love with each other. That's what seems to be happening which is a beautiful thing. You'll get through

some form of transformation together as the characters are going through.

So, no, for me, yes, I have to really manage myself and take care of myself, but that's really my only job. And then just say these amazing


AMANPOUR: So, let's talk about Nathan Lane's character. He plays Roy Cohn, that character. And Roy Cohn, as we all know, was the acolyte to

Joseph McCarthy in the Red Scare times, the worst times in modern politics in America in the 50s and then famously became a mentor to the current

president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Just describe his character, what he represented in your play. And can you imagine that his actual mentee is president?

KUSHNER: It's very strange because, for a long stretch of time in the early and mid-90s, I would get letters from college professors saying that

when they ask students if they had ever heard of Roy Cohn, their answer is almost always, yes, he is a character in "Angels in America" because people

had really sort of forgotten the McCarthy era.

And now, he's having this new wave of infamy as the consigliere for Donald Trump. I zeroed in on Roy because he was a gay Jew and I'm a gay Jew and I

think I could sort of like sense some at least that much connection.

And then, when I came to New York from Louisiana where I grew up to go to college, it was the 70s, it was Studio 54, it was his heyday and then the

epidemic happened.

And I'm a longtime reader of "The Nation" magazine and there was an article when he died by an old lion of the left that was shockingly homophobic,

sort of gloating about his death from AIDS. And the last paragraph was just a horrendous description of Roy's body at the end of his life with


And I found myself in this very weird position of feeling angry on Roy Cohn's behalf, something I had never thought I would feel. And that's a

good place to start a play. So, it was 1986 and that's when I -

AMANPOUR: And just flesh it out a little bit to remind the audience. A lot has been written about the Trump-Roy Cohn connection. One of his modus

operandi was, if you get hit, fight back until you kill the other. I mean, not literally, but just devastate the other.

And he also lied about being homosexual. And Donald Trump, much like the characters in the play, actually abandoned him when he knew that he was


KUSHNER: Yes. I think it's the main difference between Roy and Trump and the reason that I could write a character based on Roy Cohn, and I think it

would be difficult to write a character based on Donald Trump or Ronald Reagan, for that matter, you need to have a kind of core coherence to be

interesting as a dramatic character and Roy had that.

There was a deep loyalty in this guy, which is, of course, absolutely the antithesis in Trump. So, it's a strange thing to say, but I think he was a

much finer person, in his way, for all the evil that he did, than his client.

AMANPOUR: Golly. That is quite a dramatic statement.

I want to turn to you, Andrew, about the "Angels" because the angel is not the angel of the Christmas Tree fairy, right? It is not the white winged,

angelic, benign angel.

[14:15:04] Some people who watch it are little bit troubled by the portrayal of the angel and that the angel is not necessarily there to save

humanity. What is the angel to you, the angels in the play? Is that a PhD thesis or is that a direct question?

KUSHNER: The character spends 3 hours and 40 minutes on stage trying to figure that out.

[14:15:07] AMANPOUR: OK. So, shortened version.

GARFIELD: Night after night after night. And just when you think you're approaching some semblance of an understanding, it gets snatched away from


I think that's the genius of what Tony has written as well as the torture of it, is that it's - what is it? It's a lot of things. It's some - I

think where I'm landing more and more is that the character that I play, Prior, needs the angel until he doesn't.

And when he finally doesn't is when he finally accepts his fate and falls in love with himself, falls in love with the mystery of being who he is

with this particular disease or disease (ph), whatever. I mean, and I think that's why it's a universal - a universally appealing and relatable

character, no matter that he's a - kind of he does drag and he happens to be a gay man in New York in the 80s, his disease is all of our disease

somehow. And how do we incorporate our own sense of disease with being who we are as we are with all of our fallibility and imperfection.

AMANPOUR: I mean, you do - it's really profound what you're saying. And I want to just - I want to read to both of you actually that Ben Brantley,

what he said, "The New York Times" critic on the opening at the National Theater, "this 25th anniversary revival confirms its place in the pantheon

of dramas that stretch toward the heavens. The sky is not the limit and no work of theater since has quite matched its reach."

GARFIELD: What do you do with that?

AMANPOUR: What do you do with that? That is amazing, but what do you do?

GARFIELD: Do you ignore that? Do you incorporate? Would you -?

KUSHNER: Oh, I mean, it's really lovely. Thank you, Ben, for saying that. I try to not think about it.

AMANPOUR: How do you match it?

KUSHNER: Well, see, you can't. I mean, I've said this before. I know that my - first line of my obituary will be author of "Angels in America"

and that's fine. I'm happy that there will be an obituary. I mean, not happy with an obituary.

AMANPOUR: I know what you mean. That you get a "New York Times" obituary. How do you prepare for this humongous role? It's monumental.

GARFIELD: Yes, it is. That's the question every morning, that's the question every day. It's a strange thing and this is something that Tony

says as well and I believe in this being the kind of the intention every day.

It has to feel dangerous. It has to feel like we don't know as a company what's going to happen in the next moment even though we do, of course, and

even though we've rehearsed ad nauseam and we've got under the skin of this amazing piece of work kind of as deeply as we possibly can and we continue


But there's something about the terror of attempting it every time, which I think is what you need to stay in contact with in a strange way. It has to

feel like you're skydiving without a parachute and hope you'll land somewhere soft.

AMANPOUR: How does this compare? I know you can't compare, but the films you've done certainly recently, "Hacksaw Ridge", which was an amazing

performance based on a true story of a pacifist during the Pacific campaign of World War II. Tell me about these ascetic characters that you tend to


GARFIELD: It's been a period of my life that I think will be over after we finish in July. I've been strangely drawn to a monastic kind of stripping

away and a simplification and a kind of - I've been longing to get to the core of what we're doing here and I think culminating in what this

character goes through and the sense of joy and hope that he gets to at the end of this seven-and-a-half hour epic, as Tony was saying, and this life-

affirming knowledge of the beauty and the mystery of being incarnate, of being alive and of every breath being some kind of miracle if we are

attuned into it. I don't know if that's a kind of trite reduction of what Tony is getting at, but it's my trite reduction. And I'm sticking to it.

AMANPOUR: I'm sticking with it.

GARFIELD: I think that's why I've been drawn to, I think, all of my life - and I think I think what Prior has given me is a series of answers and non-

answers and a kind of acceptance of things as they are rather than as I would have them be.

[14:20:08] KUSHNER: So, what he's really saying is that, come July, he's available for a romantic comedy and that's all I wanted to give him.

GARFIELD: Commercial.

AMANPOUR: Playing heterosexual characters. You are straight and you play a very famous gay man in this play. And I believe that that's what actors

do. You take on other roles.

But as you know, there's been a lot in the community, in the sphere of some questioning as to whether you should, and should you have chosen a gay

actor. Obviously, there are gay actors. What is your answer to that? As I said, you're an actor. You play a role, but some don't believe that it

should be like that?

GARFIELD: It's a really interesting, important discussion. And I think the discussion is changing every day and I think it's a very tender

discussion. And my stance right now is I'm doing this play. I just am. And I wanted to. And I believe Tony wanted me to. That's enough for me.

KUSHNER: I know I did.

GARFIELD: Yes. And that's enough for me. And I want to be engaged in the conversation around equality and people - equal opportunities within the

arts. That's what I think the conversation is really about. How one's sexual preferences - to get to the point where one's sexual preferences

don't affect one's standing in any career whatsoever, in any industry.

That's where we are all - anyone with a heart and without the ignorance of - or whatever. I'm not going to go into that. But that's where we're all

longing to head, I believe. But I'm very curious and I want to be involved in that discussion.

AMANPOUR: Did you have ever have a second thought about that? I mean, obviously, there were many fewer out actors when you first put this play


KUSHNER: I mean, I have to say I'm not as polite about this as Andrew maybe because I'm gay and I can feel like I can be - I'm older. So, it's

OK for me to be grumpy about it.

I agree with Andrew that the discussion is important. And I don't denigrate the people that are having the discussion. I think the

discussion has to be a discussion and not turn into a kind of attack mentality or some sort of like purification or cleansing ritual.

The idea of asking an actor who they sleep with before I can ask them is repellent to me. I would never do that. I don't even think it's legal.

It shouldn't be legal. It's none of my damn business.

What I need know is either - as with Andrew, I've seen a lot of his work. So, I know that he's a very great actor and I don't have to ask him to

audition. Or if I don't know his work all that well, I'll ask him or her to read for me. And if they can do it, their sexual orientation, their

political preferences, none of that is of any of my business.

This is a profession. And I work with actors. I need to work with the best actors I can get. So, he's one of the best actors alive and this is a

very big, difficult part. And as a gay man, I am - don't listen to this - but I'm enormously moved by how - I've never seen any straight man perform

a gay character with more intimate knowledge and getting things in Andrew's performance that you usually can only see in gay men. But that's the

miracle of the empathic imagination. That's what actors do.

I can learn from having my - the story of my tribes, Jews or gay people or Americans - told by people who are not that. I'm very curious to see a

British writer or a French writer or an Afghan writer write about us. This crossing of boundary is - I mean, do we really want to build Trumpian walls

around human experience?

AMANPOUR: Well, I should say, obviously, everybody, including in the gay community, believes that you do this to perfection. So, it's really

fantastic, the reviews you have got. And you are so young to be portraying these incredibly, I would say, tortured characters in this play and in many

of the films.

So, I want to give you the last word about -

GARFIELD: Why would you do that?

AMANPOUR: Why not do it? You are so eloquent.

GARFIELD: I'll take it.

AMANPOUR: As a young person, what do you want this play to say in its 25th year as we go forward? Why are you doing it, apart from it's a great role?

GARFIELD: Goodness. Oh, geez. The end of the play is what I want to say. I want to just recite the end of the play right now. That's all I want to

say. The world only spins forward. The dead will be commemorated and we'll struggle on with the living and we are not going away. We won't die

secret deaths anymore.

[14:25:13] The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. You are fabulous creatures. Each and every one of you. And I

bless you more life, more life, more life, more life, more life.

And I think more life is the mantra right now. More life. And I think I can mean whatever you want it to mean. And the great work beginning, that

can mean whatever you want it to mean.

A hope, community, an awakeness to the golden thread that connects each and every living thing on this planet, including the planet itself, and all the

other planets and galaxies all around it. If we have an awareness of the miracle of life, then I think that's a pretty good place to start.

AMANPOUR: Honestly, I thank you so much. That was wonderful.

GARFIELD: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Andrew Garfield, Tony Kushner, thank you so much.

KUSHNER: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: A dramatic flourish from a play that still resonates a quarter century through the ages.

That is it for our program tonight. And remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.