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Is Christopher Lloyd In Over His Head in Death of a Salesman?

Sure, Christopher Lloyd is unimpeachably terrific and has plenty of experience playing reality-detached cranks forced to contend with jerks named Biff — but is the actor, known mostly for comedy, the right guy to play Death of a Salesman's Willy Loman, one the hardest roles in all of American drama? Not even poor Christopher Lloyd seems to think so! In a profile in today's New York Times, Lloyd discusses playing Loman in an upcoming way-off-Broadway (it's in Vermont) production of Salesman, and it's hard not to feel for him.

Lloyd tells the Times' Dave Itzkoff that he got the job because someone at the 300-capacity Weston Playhouse — where Lloyd and his brother, Sam, starred in a few plays before he got famous — asked last year what sort of role he might be interested in taking on. "I thought about it overnight," says Lloyd. "And I just sort of — Death of a Salesman." But maybe he should have thought about it a little harder, because he sounds pretty nervous now (the show opens today). Check out all this self-defeating quotage:


“The first act feels like a three-act play, it’s so full of life and situations,” Mr. Lloyd said. “And then there’s a second act. Which is even worse.”

And:


[Director] Steve Stettler said, is that Death of a Salesman requires “an actor who still has the memory and the stage power to loom.”

Mr. Lloyd said the memory part of the equation did not come easy for him. (“Some people have quick retention,” he said. “I’m not one of those.”)

And:


“There are some roles I’ve gotten,” Christopher Lloyd said the other day in his gravelly, jittery, half-mumble of a voice, “that when I get the script, sometimes I ask, ‘Why me?’ It’s not that I object. It’s like, ‘What do they see in me that they want to see in this role?’”

And:


“This isn’t like coming up, doing a show and going home,” he said. “Whatever deficiencies I have, or where I fall short, I know I’m giving it everything I have to give.”

In fairness, Lloyd is similarly modest and effacing about the rest of his acting (he recalls his nervous audition for Back to the Future: "I never assume too much, and I didn’t want to compromise my prospects by talking too much"; and his first-ever play at the Weston: "I'm sweating and signaling for lines. It was a desperate situation") — so maybe he's just gone Method and decided to give interviews as Willy Loman, in which case this may yet work out.

Surprise of a Salesman: Christopher Lloyd [NYT]

Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images