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The Magnificent Welles

The Rise & Fall of Orson Welles


Following is an interview with Marcus Wolland, the writer and performer of "The Magnificent Welles."

When and how did your fascination with Orson Welles begin?

I remember being only peripherally aware of Welles while growing up. I had seen TV matinees of The Third Man, Touch of Evil and The Stranger, but I didn't take an active interest in him until my freshman year of college, when a theatre reviewer made the remark that I resembled a young Orson Welles. The remark was repeated by another reviewer one year later, and again by the photographer I hired to take headshots for my acting resume in 1990. I watched Citizen Kane for the first time shortly after that, and began storing information about Welles in the back of my mind.

Do you recall the genesis of The Magnificent Welles? And from that point, how long was it before you had a finished play?

I had the idea for writing a play about Welles in the spring of 1996, though at that time it was a rudimentary notion. I envisioned a multi-character script, and over the next two years, I revisited the thought often. I began purchasing biographies in the fall of 1998. After a year of reading about him, I decided that, being a showman of legendary proportion, he was better suited for a one-man show. I chose the part of his life that I felt signaled his Hollywood downfall...the re-editing of his 1942 film, The Magnificent Ambersons. It was the event that Welles himself termed "the beginning of the end." In September of 1999, I sat down at the computer and began to type a script. My writing was intermittent because I was acting, directing and planning a move to the Pacific Northwest from Reno, Nevada. I arrived in Seattle on August 25th, 2000, and finished the play in November that year.

What sources did you use for research?

Four books comprised the basis of my research: The Making of Citizen Kane by Robert Carringer, The Road to Xanadu by Simon Callow, This Is Orson Welles by Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich and most significantly, Rosebud by David Thomson.

What's the most bizarre detail you learned about Welles (or his work) while conducting research for the show?

I can't think of anything that struck me as particularly bizarre. I think a better word to describe my reaction to the man and his work is "overwhelmed." The ground I cover in the show is such a small fragment of his time and career, although the incident I've dramatized is arguably the most resonant of his personal life.

Describe your level of comfort playing Welles? How has it changed since your first showing?

My first run of the show was in March of 2001, during the Seattle Fringe Festival, which is a stressful circumstance to begin with on top of writing and performing your own work. There were six performances, and I don't think I can adequately relate how much it evolved from first to last. It might very well have fallen apart on opening night, but the audience response was appreciative, and people were interested enough to ask questions afterward, so with each performance I grew more confident in my portrayal. Favorable reviews in the Seattle Weekly and Seattle Gay News at that time helped to encourage me as well.

How do you prepare yourself-both mentally and aesthetically-for a night as Welles?

Any role requires different degrees and types of preparation. Welles detested memorizing scripts, which was one of the reasons he preferred radio to stage, and although I'm not given to method acting, I did practice a certain level of extemporaneousness in an effort to tap into that thought process. I felt it brought immediacy to the performance that would have been lacking through complete preparation.

How has your experience been with StageDirect?

I am in hopes that my show, in addition to the others, will help bring the company continued success. Gary Cole has been greatly accommodating and gracious to work with, and Jeff Meyers is a calm, nurturing individual whom I'd work with again without hesitation.

Any plans for taking the show on the road?

It would be nice, but I feel that I just arrived in Seattle, so I'm not really anxious to travel at the moment. Still, should interest arise over the taped performance, I would be more than happy to take Orson on a trip.

And finally, from your heart, do you think there's a chance that somewhere an original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons survives?

It certainly sparks the imagination to think an original rough-cut of 132 minutes may indeed survive, but I'm inclined to doubt the theory that it exists somewhere in Rio-left behind, stolen, or the victim of an inept postal service. There's also the theory that Welles gave the film as a legacy to companion Oja Kodar before his death in October of 1985, although Peter Bogdanovich states in the preface of This Is Orson Welles that the only legacy Orson could offer her was the book Bogdanovich was writing. So sadly, my heart would have to say no. But...hearts have been known to be wrong.

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We recommend The Magnificent Welles for viewers aged 14 and above. Orson Welles was a man of great intensity, and that intensity is evident here.

The Magnificent Welles
2002 - 93 minutes


© 2002 StageDirect, Inc. and others | Photographs by Dani Weiss

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