Actor enjoys challenge of Lennie in ‘Of Mice & Men’


He be­lieves the seeds were sown when in was in a fifth-grade class that was study­ing Shakespeare.

“I think I al­ways wanted to be a per­former, al­though by the time I got to high school, I was more of an ath­lete,” said Ian Bed­ford, 37, who’s ap­pear­ing in Of Mice and Men at the People’s Light and Theatre through March 25.

But even­tu­ally, his in­terest in theat­er could not be denied, es­pe­cially with the com­bin­a­tion of hav­ing a moth­er who was an Eng­lish teach­er with a par­tic­u­lar in­terest in Shakespeare, and his own col­lege days at Yale Uni­versity that were filled with the ex­cite­ment of per­form­ing.

“I guess it was a gradu­al pro­cess, but it all came to­geth­er and I was com­pletely en­grossed by the whole pro­cess un­til I was totally hooked,” Bed­ford ex­plained. “And I’ve stayed hooked ever since.”

Bed­ford, a trans­planted New York­er by way of Cali­for­nia who now lives in Ar­d­more, ad­mits he’s thrilled to have a part in John Stein­beck’s clas­sic tale.

Of Mice and Men is the heart-wrench­ing story of George and Len­nie, an un­likely pair of mi­grant work­ers who dream of pur­chas­ing a piece of land to farm and call their own. The en­dur­ing Amer­ic­an drama ex­plores deep friend­ships and hard choices, set against the back­drop of De­pres­sion-era Cali­for­nia.

“Len­nie,” said Bed­ford, “is men­tally dis­abled but phys­ic­ally strong. Be­cause I am six feet four inches tall and weigh 250 pounds, I fit his phys­ic­al pro­file well. But be­cause he doesn’t real­ize how strong he is, we tend to think of him as a small per­son and so, in act­ing the role, I have to de­pend on the people around me to help tell the story.”

And Len­nie’s story is in­deed a sad one to tell — and act out. Ac­cord­ing to Bed­ford, “One of the hard­est things to do in the role is to track the way Len­nie hears things. He doesn’t al­ways re­spond to the ques­tion that was asked. In fact, the ques­tion may set off some memory in him and he re­sponds to that memory in­stead of an­swer­ing the ques­tion.”

One of the most chal­len­ging parts of the role is the way Len­nie listens, or rather, doesn’t really listen.

“He doesn’t al­ways un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing around him, and so he’s of­ten in pain or un­der duress,” Bed­ford ex­plained. ‘So I have to spend the en­tire day the same way — a little dis­or­i­ented, a little nervous, and a little bit scared. Do­ing that for eight hours a day be­comes very tir­ing.”

At the end of the day, Bed­ford con­tin­ued, he of­ten walks out wear­ing his heart on his sleeve.

“I have to learn to put it away where it’s a little safer while walk­ing through the out­side world. But it’s also a won­der­ful thing be­cause it can re­mind me that be­ing open to the world might be the best way to ex­ist,” the act­or said.

Of Mice and Men was first pub­lished in 1937, and yet audi­ences are still drawn to it. Bed­ford be­lieves that’s be­cause “there’s something so hu­man about every char­ac­ter that it’s very in­ter­est­ing to fol­low the story. It’s done so per­fectly and writ­ten with such hon­estly. And that’s why we go to the theat­er in the first place.”

Bed­ford, who gradu­ated from the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia at San Diego, holds an mas­ter’s de­gree in fine arts from that in­sti­tu­tion. Over the years, he’s done a great deal of Shakespeare and a vari­ety of oth­er stage roles. He’s also done TV work and said he’s happy to be do­ing it all.

“I think the best way to be an artist today is to be able to do it all,” he said. “Be­ing able to di­ver­si­fy is the way you make your liv­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, be­ing per­sist­ent and hav­ing self-con­fid­ence helps, be­cause you have to take neg­at­ive at­ten­tion in stride.

“Just be­cause I don’t get a role or I don’t get the great no­tices I was hop­ing for can be quite dif­fi­cult,” he ad­ded. “But you have to be able to say I know in my own heart that I’m a worth­while artist, and that’s something you have to work on all the time in or­der to make it in this busi­ness.” ••

For show times and tick­et in­form­a­tion, call 610-644-3500.


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