When Peter Macon walks down Nicollet Mall, he can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. A few decades earlier, he walked the same path on his way to work — at an art supply store that no longer exists.
A lot has changed since then. Macon has performed in theaters across the country, on TV shows like “Dexter” and “The Chappelle Show” and is currently starring as the title character in Guthrie Theater’s Othello.
“I think about that guy, working at the supply store, with long dreadlocks and jewelry and stuff, and I think that guy would be alright with where I’m at now,” Macon said.
Macon grew up in Minneapolis, the place where his mother and a number of family members still live. It’s where he discovered acting as a career and where he set his mind on becoming one.
“The Guthrie Theater, when I was 15 and going to North High School, I came to see a production of ‘The Rainmaker’ and the actors came out afterwards for a Q&A and I didn’t realize that was a job. I didn’t realize it was a job you could do,” he said. “I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ I fell in love with the idea of being a professional actor at the Guthrie Theater, so anytime I can come back and work, I jump on it.”
For him, being able to portray Othello was the cherry on top of an already stacked sundae. He’s working with his dear friend, Director Marion McClinton, and he’s been reunited with Stephen Yoakam (Iago) who he’s shared the stage with in three other productions.
“So it was a no-brainer,” he said. “They asked me to do it and I said yes right away.”
It’s not his first time with the story, nor his first time playing the lead role (he last performed Othello in 2008). But it’s a character he can sink his teeth into — one with plenty of raw emotion and a rollercoaster of a personality.
“It’s passion — he loves hard, he lives hard,” he said. “At one point he says that he ‘loved not wisely but too well, of one not easily jealous but being perplexed, wrought in the extreme.'”
It’s classic Shakespeare — balancing the complexities of war and love and ultimately, tragedy. Macon said he’s grateful to his fellow cast members, especially his on-stage love Tracey Maloney (Desdemona), for their generosity in this production and their ability to help make this fictional story feel real.
“It’s such a dark place that we go everyday, and granted it’s not for real but the stakes and circumstances have to be real so the audience can take that in,” he said.
And the audience has — the show and Macon have gotten great reviews since the production’s opening night. Not that Macon would know.
“I don’t read reviews. I’m too vulnerable. I’m too sensitive,” he said, with a laugh. “I think the last time I Googled myself, maybe three, four years ago, some writer said I had bug eyes or something. And I was like, ‘What does that mean, bug eyes?!'”
For Macon, it’s not about the reviews but the thrill of the performance — a thrill that still gives him a little anxiety before each show but one that’s always worth it.
“It’s like this high wire act,” he said, “where you’re like, trying to maintain this tension, and sense of storytelling. I have a show tonight and in the back of my mind, I know I have a show tonight but I’m not thinking about it. I know I just need to get to the theater and just do one scene at a time and then it’ll be over. (Laughs) But it’s so much fun. I’m having the time of my life.”
You can see Macon in Othello at the Guthrie Theater until April 20. For tickets and more information, check out their website.