Many actors and directors know how hard producing any Shakespeare play is. The text is dense and complex, bringing to life many different interpretations that could either dive deeper into a specific character’s complex morality or tell the themes of the play through a non-traditional lens. 

When adapting Macbeth for the screen, Joel Coen and Frances McDormand found that having someone who knew Shakespeare’s plays inside and out would be beneficial to the entire production.

As the Shakespeare consultant, Wayne T. Carr provided guidance and support for Coen’s adaptation, helping shape the performances that captivated audiences throughout The Tragedy of Macbeth

Carr spoke with No Film School to talk about his role as the Shakespeare consultant in The Tragedy of Macbeth. 

No Film School: How did you land the role as the Shakespeare consultant for The Tragedy of Macbeth

Wayne T. Carr: It’s a weird story. I auditioned for the film. I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare and theater across the country, primarily Shakespeare, and my wife and I decided that we wanted to leave where we were, which was the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and moved to LA to see if we enjoyed it. We’ve been here for six years and we love it here. I auditioned for Cory Hawkins’ role, Macduff, and got a callback. I was like, “Great.” I got to go in and do the callback. I thought I did a great job, and the casting assistant was gung ho. She said I had a lot of Shakespeare on my resume, and I [told her that] I love it, [Shakespeare] is great. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks, and I went to New York to shoot a web series, and I got another callback. 

They said they wanted me to read for the role of Lennox, and that was Miles Anderson in that role. I got another callback, and this time I was in LA, and I got to audition in front of Frances McDormand and Joel Coen is sitting in the back, and I thought, “This is great!” This is my fourth audition for the film, and I didn’t hear anything. 

Come January 2020, and I got the weirdest call to this date from my agent which was, “Frances McDormand wants to talk to you,” and I asked, “Do I have a part in the film?” They said, “No, you don’t have a part, she just wants to talk to you.” 

I was thinking, what does this mean? Basically, because of my Shakespeare training and performances, Frances wanted me to help people along the way. When I started rehearsing with them that same day, I was working with her and Denzel and a couple of other actors in LA at the time. Denzel did a great thing at one point because my contract was only three weeks, and Denzel said that he thought I needed to be there for the entire cast. Once everyone started to come in, I just stayed on board and helped out. Plus, I got to shoot my one scene which is about five words as Murderer Number Three, and that was awesome. 

The_tragedy_of_machbeth_bard_noirDenzel Washington as Macbeth in 'The Tragedy of Macbeth'Credit: A24/Apple TV+

NFS: This is a new role that was created for you. What did you do as the Shakespeare consultant? 

Carr: They didn’t understand what my job was going to be, so I ended up doing a lot of other things, and Coen found value in it and thought it would be helpful. I got to hang around every day and it was great. 

NFS: What did a normal day in production look like for you? 

Carr: The three weeks before we started filming, we would go on set, and, of course, nobody knew what I was necessarily going to do, I would hang around with Kate Wilson, the voice and text person. I would go on set first thing in the morning, and I would be there if there was any question from anyone. Occasionally, a producer would come up to me and ask, "Does this make sense?” or “Is this how you say this character’s name?” Anything. Then they would start the day, and Denzel and I would run lines, or Frances and I would run lines, or whoever. And people would ask me for my thoughts, and call me the Shakespeare expert (which I am not). I was there to reinforce what a lot of people already knew, but they allowed me to have some creative input. 

NFS: You have an extensive background in Shakespeare, and it is extremely difficult to understand what is happening in the play, so you become the go-to person to break down the material. 

Carr: Yes. It was helpful for those who were interested. I was a resource for anyone who wanted to chat about those things. Most actors like Denzel or Frances did their homework way before I even came on. Even so, they would ask me certain things. I was honored to be a part of that process to make the most understandable and entertaining production that they possibly could. 

Wayne_tWayne T. Carr was the Shakespeare consultant for 'The Tragedy of Macbeth'Credit: DC Extended Universe

NFS: From your perspective, what were some of the challenges you faced while helping adapt Macbeth for the screen? 

Carr: From the things that I have seen and that I have been a part of and then watching this film, one of the great things about the film is that you don’t have to catch onto the energy of the actor from a distance to figure out what is going on in their head. You’re right there and you can see the twinkle in their eye about how they are feeling at that moment. The actor doesn’t necessarily have to work as hard as you have to do on stage. In order for an actor to let the audience see that they have doubt it has to be in the voice and body because you are performing for 600 or however many people however many feet away. It's just a different skill set, a different frequency. 

Denzel was able to whisper a lot, and show that he was really in his head and contemplating things and that was an awesome thing to be part of. 

NFS: There are so many different ways to analyze Shakespeare’s work, and as the Shakespeare expert, how did you help navigate the actors’ performances in these iconic roles? 

Carr: Yes, with some actors more than others. One of the things that I personally encourage to any students is that they bring themselves to the role. 

One of the reasons Shakespeare is still so relevant and performed so much is because if you are in the role of Hamlet, the role of Lady Macbeth, the role of Romeo or Juliet, your interpretation and how you deliver the lines are going to have a different tone to it, different energy, a different vibe, and that’s going to relate to some people and not relate to others. It is why we have so many situations where people say, “This was the best Hamlet.” or “Oh no, no, no, you didn’t see this Hamlet.” It's because [the audience] got with that frequency, that performance tapped into something in their soul. 

Your energy can change the tone of a piece even though it's the same text, it's the same words. So as much as you can, bring yourself to the text. Bring what you think works. Come with what you know and think and be confident with it. 

I love that Joel took his thoughts, interpretations, and ideas and made Ross a bigger character than he normally is. People did that all the time back in Shakespeare’s day. [In] the 1800s, they took Shakespeare, remixed it, even rewrote it, and changed the ending. I love it when people bring themselves. If you try to do what everyone else did, thinking this is the only way to analyze this, the right way to approach it, then you are limiting yourself. 

NFS: It is hard to not fall back onto what others have done with the work in the past. 

Carr: I'm sure people are commenting on Joel’s interpretation compared to others because that is what we do. We can’t help it. You are going to do that and that is okay. The thing that is going to separate Joel is his interpretation, his artistic freedom with the same poetry. What he creates and the story that he tells on that screen is him, and some of us will go that’s beautiful and some people won’t like that detail or line was cut, but that’s just us. 

Kathryn_hunter_as_the_witchesKathryn Hunter as the witches in 'The Tragedy of Macbeth'Credit: A24/Apple TV+

NFS: What would you say were the biggest highlights from your time as a Shakespeare consultant? 

Carr: Oh, there are so many. I'm serious. There are so many moments. One would be Denzel saying that [I] would be beneficial for everyone. Just to hear that from a person like him was awesome. It was very kind of him because—to hear that from a pioneer in the acting field and entertainment field was huge. To hear Joel Coen come up to me and ask me what I think about something, just to feel like I was a part of it was absolutely—I could go on forever about it. 

Denzel said “I love you,” and gave me a little card with a nice little prayer written on the back of it, and that was the kindest thing. He didn’t have to do that. And I could go on and on about how nice people were along the way, and how many wonderful moments I was able to experience. Seeing Denzel and Frances be kids basically in the rehearsal process and just having a ball, and you think, wow they are just playing and then Joel says action, and they focus on awesome moments to see. There are so many. 

NFS: Do you have any advice for those who want to lend their expertise or gifts in film and TV? 

Carr: One thing I always tell people is that I am trying to be of service. That’s me. That’s how I go about life. That’s what makes me happy. If I can assist you in some way, then I feel great. If I can help an artist to a certain level or Joel Coen and Frances, that’s what I want to do. 

As much as I wanted to be in the film, I just wanted to help and be a part of the team. That is what defines my career. That is how I talk with the people I work with. I guess my advice is to figure out how you can be of assistance by using the gifts you have. Don’t beg or ask for a role, let people know you are willing to help. Lend your talent to assist. That kind of mentality will help you do great things for others and yourself. Whatever your talent is, give it, share it, and offer it up. Don’t use it selfishly.