Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with Lincoln Machula, who has spent the past two weeks playing Claudius in the Celebration Company’s production of ‘Hamlet’ at the Station Theatre in Urbana. In the Nov. 18 newspaper, we'll have a visit with Ollie Watts Davis, a conductor and director, a member of the University of Illinois music faculty since 1987, and a recent ACE Award winner.
Q: How long have you been acting?
A: I kind of gave it up after junior high school — Edison, where I was in drama class with Mr. Keith Page — and then about nine years ago, I auditioned for "The Laramie Project" at the Parkland College Theatre, and Randi Hard cast me.
Q: Why did you want to get back into it?
A: I just remember how much fun it was. I didn't have anything artistic going on in my life. We all need that. And after I quit drinking, I had all this free time.
Q: How many plays have you been in since "The Laramie Project"?
A: This will be my 35th play.
Q: You mean as Claudius in "Hamlet" at the Station Theatre? How's that going?
A: Right. Great. We have a terrific cast. I remember seeing the cast list posted and reading it, starting at the top and making my way down, and stopping and thinking, "Oh, great. He will be great. Oh, she'll do a terrific job." And I've worked with Mathew Green before. He's a talented, young director. And, of course, I've always wanted to do Claudius as far back as I remember. Realizing that I'm too old to play Hamlet or Horatio, playing Claudius is something I've aspired to.
Q: What do you think of the character?
A: I'm fascinated by him. John Updike wrote a wonderful novel called "Gertrude and Claudius" that was so inspiring and enlightening. It gives a fully fleshed-out back story of the character. He's just a joy to play.
Q: Isn't he the "bad guy"?
A: He is the bad guy. He is evil. But he's not evil to himself. Evil people rarely are. He believes he's completely justified in everything he does. His primary motivation is love. He's loved Gertrude forever.
Q: What are some other favorite roles you've played?
A: I was honored to be able to play Otto Frank in "The Diary of Anne Frank" in Summer Studio Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. And I've been honored to play Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at the Station. I also want to say there's always a special place in my heart for Elwood P. Dowd in "Harvey." I played him at the Rantoul Theatre Group seven years ago. He's the kind of man I would aspire to be.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to do in theater besides act?
A: Not really. That's really my passion. I have no interest in directing. Really, all I can do is act. I don't do that really well, but I'm adequate.
Q: Why do you like acting so much?
A: I just feel alive on stage, more alive than any other time. Everything is working. I'm trying to engage every part of myself. And I love the people involved in theater. I just love them all.
Q: Is it a downer after a play ends?
A. Yes, there's always a little bit of that. But I'm used to it. Once in a while, it's a real stinker and you think, "Oh, my God, I'm glad that's over." I've been in a few stinkers, but I won't name any names.
Q: So did you grow up in Champaign?
A: Yes, I was born in Champaign, at Burnham Hospital. I lived in Ann Arbor, Mich., for a while, and I lived in Tampa, Fla.
Q: Why did you come back?
A: My father's health was declining, and I wanted to help with the business. We sold office furniture.
Q: What do you do now?
A: I'm in content access management at the University of Illinois Library. I've worked in the library now 12 years this month. There's everything I need there to research roles. When I was doing Otto Frank, I found a book there, "The Hidden Life of Otto Frank," and it gave me everything I needed.