For nearly 150 years, the story of Thérèse Raquin—a love triangle, a murder, a secret that tears people apart—has been captivating audiences, and the new hit Broadway production is no exception. The draw isn’t just the macabre tale, originally written by Émile Zola, but also the impressive cast, which includes Judith Light, Keira Knightley and former Constantine star Matt Ryan as the dashing Laurent, the title character’s love interest and accomplice. Here, Ryan unravels the enduring appeal of the story and explains how warm towels have become one of his greatest perks.
The story of Thérèse Raquin dates back to the 1860s. What about it warrants a contemporary production?
I think the novel was kind of the staging point for a lot of things that came after it, like Miss Julie and other classical stories with heroines at their center. I think in that respect it is universal, it has to do with the psychology of what people are going through as human beings—and that is timeless.
Your co-star recently said she’d been offered the show’s title role before, but didn’t feel she was ready. Do you feel you needed experience to play this part?
These are not light characters! I had heard about the story—about the Zola novel—years ago. For me, it’s all about the character’s journey. He starts out as this charming guy who can get what he wants of any situation—he’s a survivor, you know—and getting from where he starts out to where they finish is quite an extraordinary thing.
Playing someone who unravels so marvelously eight times a week must take a lot out of you.
It’s an interesting thing: Why would you want to commit a double suicide every night? What kind of person would want to do that? I think that’s the great challenge, exploring the psychology of it. It’s exploring what Zola was trying to do, he was looking at what happens when you put two temperaments together, when people give in to their primal instincts and act without a moral compass. As an actor, what’s interesting is working out that psychological journey. I mean, I can’t say that is fun to play eight times a week because it’s not—nor is it supposed to be—but what you do is try to experience what the writer was saying about these people and what they went through. And hopefully you could learn something about yourself in the process.
One of the show’s most important moments takes place on a boat that’s really floating in water, right there on the stage. I couldn’t believe you all signed on for that.
I think it’s awesome. The fact that we are literally in a rowboat in the middle of Manhattan on a stage is amazing. But, you know, there have been water temperatures that were really cold. You really have to look after yourself in that regard. But, it’s literally something you throw yourself into—seriously, every night. But we can run off stage and strip down and they put warm towels around us and try to look after us as best as possible.
Do they at least heat the water for you?
They do, actually. Now it’s like having a nice bath. But I think when we were first starting they were trying to get the temperature right.
And nobody’s fallen out of the boat?
They haven’t. The guys who choreographed it all went out on a limb and got the right size boats and worked out the weights, so it’s been very smooth. It is something that every night is a little bit different because you are on the water, you have to balance. Pardon the pun, but it’s been safe sailing so far.
This is your second time on Broadway, but you’ve also done quite a bit of television lately.
Yes, I did an episode of Arrow as John Constantine from my NBC show, which was great. After doing Constantine, I was like get me back in the theater, you know? But now that I’m doing theater, I’ll be looking forward to doing some film or TV work after this. It’s great to be able to jump between the different mediums and the different disciplines. I love that about my career so far. I have been lucky enough to do that.