Robert Sean Leonard Reflects on A.E. Housman
by Robert Simonson
June 7, 2001
Actor Robert Sean Leonard appeared humbled and slightly dazed as he faced a barrage of reporters' questions in the American Theatre Wing's Tony Award press room, just minutes after winning as Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance as the young A. E. Housman in Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love. Playfully, he asked whether there wasn't someone waiting behind him who wouldn't make a more fitting subject for an interview.
But the press wasn't having any of it and had plenty of questions for Leonard. "I had to make something passionate out of something that people don't think is passionate, which is scholarship," said the actor, talking about the acting assignment Stoppard has laid at his feet. In the play, Housman -- whose real-life image is as a rather starchy and properly English poet and classics professor -- falls in love with his handsome Oxford classmate, Moses Jackson. "That was tough. This play is about a poet most people don't know. But we eventually broke out of that shell and did it."
It was not, however, easy. Leonard said it was the toughest job he had ever tackled, and he suffered for it. "It wasn't a fun winter for my girlfriend," he joked.
Many thought that Leonard's performance, which is actually quite substantial, should have been nominated in the leading actor category. He said, however, that he didn't disagree with his billing, since he had never seen the part of the young Housman as a lead role. He had taken in the play in London, where it was clear that the production belonged to the veteran actor playing the elder Housman. Richard Easton played role on Broadway -- and earned a Tony for his performance.
Finally, Leonard was asked if he was surprised at the many laughs the heady drama elicited from the audience. "I'm thrilled at the laughter," he enthused. "It's a downright comedy!"