Over the course of a long, storied acting career in Washington, D.C., one that began in 1983, Edward Gero has appeared in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 four times. He’s played Hotspur and Worcester and even the King. But for the current critically acclaimed version at the Folger Theatre, he’s snagged the show’s plum role of Sir John Falstaff. And he’s making it entirely his own. “It’s as if the character’s been written anew,” wrote this publication’s Kate Wingfield in her review of the production.
“I saw Falstaff as a man who is obviously an addictive personality, who is older, who is contemplating his end, his demise, and who is petrified of it,” says the four-time Helen Hayes Award-winning actor, who brought his personal experience with middle-age to the role. “Here’s a man who, at the end of his life, is craving more life. He knows his days are numbered and he wants to live as fully as he can.”
Gero opted to play the role without the traditional “enormous amount of padding” that frequently makes the character absurdly, comedically rotund. “I thought, ‘That’s got to go because it’s a shell. It’s not real. It’s a creation.’ It’s like being a tortoise — you’re stuck in the thing. I wanted to be able to breathe and be able to see the body. Just be somebody who’s, you know, a little out of shape, just like many people my age. I didn’t want to deal with having to ‘play a costume.'”
In 2015, Gero received accolades for his masterful take on Antonin Scalia in John Strand’s The Originalist at Arena Stage. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, one that Gero relished. He got to know the late Supreme Court Justice personally in a way few do, meeting with him ahead of and during the play’s run.
“It was extraordinary,” he says of the friendship that emerged. “He was so disarmingly charming and funny and warm. We connected as Italian-Americans. We were born in New Jersey, raised Roman Catholic, had the same background. It didn’t matter whether I agreed with him or not. And I began to understand his commitment to the Constitution and democracy.”
At 65, Gero is finding no lack of good roles offered to him. “I’m sort of low-hanging fruit,” he laughs. “I’m here, I’m available, I’m ready. Fortunately, the roles are still being written. It may be different ten years from now. But I presume Shakespeare will always be around. I certainly hope so.”
We’ll be looking forward to his Lear.
1 Henry IV runs through Oct. 13 at the Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. Tickets are $42 to $85. Call 202-544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu.