The first step to playing a character is taking a walk in his shoes and understanding his personality. Jonathan Majors took no such walk — he already found it hard to separate himself from the king.
The second-year Chautauqua Theater Company’s conservatory actor, who plays the titular role in Henry V, takes the stage in CTC’s Shakespeare production at 2:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. today Bratton Theater. The play runs through Friday.
“I love [Henry],” Majors said. “He is very akin to my upbringing. He is a rough kid, very ambitious, very strong-minded. He really transforms himself to a king and a leader of men.”
The rough beginnings, leadership qualities and responsibilities were what most spoke to Majors when it came time to find himself in Henry.
“The story is about what it means to be a leader, about a legacy and the character of human,” Majors said.
CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch had always seen Henry in Majors. Last summer, Majors played Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun.
“I confess that when I saw him last year, I knew that he would be a great Henry,” Benesch said, “but he had to go through the audition process this year again.”
Henry has to make some quick decisions in the play regarding war and his people. To Majors, the lack of time to think was a challenge.
“Henry has no time to plan. He has to respond quickly,” he said. “I am making decisions the whole time and watching how those decisions have impacted not just myself, but also my people and followers.”
Majors was first drawn to the English king’s character after watching one of the Henry V film adaptations in eighth grade. He read the play again after being cast as the lead; that, he said, was a revelatory experience.
“There was a responsibility that came with being cast as Henry,” he said. “ ‘This was going to be a daunting task,’ is what I thought to myself, but I will make it happen.”
Majors has performed in many Shakespeare plays and said besides Henry V, he also loves Richard II. He’s performed both, and is now convinced he could never be like Richard.
“Having played Henry, I know that he and I share the same temperament,” he said.
Henry’s honesty is what appeals to Majors the most.
“In Act 5, Scene 2, Henry says to Catherine, ‘Though I speak it before his face, if he be not fellow with the best king, thou shalt find the best king of good fellows,’ ” Majors said. “That, to me, is honesty — I may not be the best leader, but amongst regular guys, I am the best regular guy, so trust me.”