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London Stage Star Luke Thallon on His Broadway Debut in 'Patriots'

By: Joey Sims
Date: May 16, 2024

How he finds the humanity in Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich


In London, Luke Thallon earned acclaim for his performances in Matthew Lopez's two-part epic The Inheritance, Bess Wohl's controversial Camp Siegfried and Tom Stoppard's award-winning Leopoldstadt. All those plays travelled to New York—but not with Thallon. The rising West End star has finally crossed the pond with Patriots, Peter Morgan's fiercely compelling and timely history play about the rise and fall of billionaire Boris Berezovsky, the man who ill-advisedly championed Vladimir Putin. Running through June 23 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and directed by Rupert Goold—who gave Thallon his first professional role in Albion straight out of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama—Patriots marks the 28-year-old actor's Broadway debut.

Tony nominee Michael Stuhlbarg takes on the central role of Berezovsky while Thallon plays fellow Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a business partner turned adversary.

TDF Stages spoke with Thallon about what makes Patriots "quite a British play," the complexity of humanizing real-life villains and why he hopes his next Broadway show is a musical.

Joey Sims: There's a line in the play when Boris Berezovsky derides your character, Roman Abramovich, for using his money to "buy football clubs." Abramovich is famous in the UK for pouring his wealth into the Chelsea soccer team. But when I saw Patriots on Broadway, I seemed to be the only one who got that reference!

Luke Thallon: It is really curious tracking people's familiarity with Roman here. I didn't realize when we did it in London that actually, it is quite a British play. Many of these figures spent a considerable amount of time in the UK and were very well-known there. You can hear, with that joke, where the factions of people who know about Roman are in the audience. In London, our entrances were much more of a thing, because we were playing people who were daily in the news. But it's great! It means I get to create the character afresh over here.

Sims: Even though you knew Roman from the tabloids, did you do a lot of additional research?

Thallon: Roman is so private. There're very few videos of him speaking, which is intentional. It is quite hard to find out stuff that would normally feed you as an actor. Image-wise, he has his arms crossed a lot and his head stooped. Peter really creates the character in the writing. He's frequently called "the kid" and he's got this bashful shyness, which we lean into.

Sims: You were in several London hits that transferred to New York, such as The Inheritance and Leopoldstadt. Is there a reason you didn't come with them?

Thallon: I wasn't able to go with the other shows because I had other things—I would have loved to, especially with Leopoldstadt, but we just couldn't make it fit. And it's always been slightly sad. It is that strange thing about plays: It's your whole world and then it's just done. Sort of feels a bit like a dream. And it's weird to think that dream you had is actually happening elsewhere without you. So, it has been really nice to be able to come and work in New York City. And doing it with Michael, I couldn't ask for more. It's just one of those things as an actor where I think, my God, if it all ends tomorrow, at least I've had a chance to work with people like that.

Sims: As you mentioned, when Roman initially comes to Boris for help, he calls your character "the kid" a lot. Roman responds by being sheepish. How much of that is genuine, or is it a performance he's putting on to feed Boris' ego?

Thallon: Rupert [Goold, the director] gave an amazing note about my first scene [which takes place right after Boris has met with Putin, played by Will Keen]. We were trying to figure out the difference between these two negotiations. Rupert said, "Putin is someone who is low status playing high; with Roman, he's someone who is high status playing low." And that is all you need to know to make it interesting. The bashfulness of Roman is truthful, he means exactly what he says. But he also absolutely knows the game he's playing. He's a multibillionaire. That doesn't happen by accident.

Will Keen and Luke Thallon in Patriots on Broadway. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Will Keen and Luke Thallon in Patriots on Broadway. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Sims: Boris acts as kingmaker for both Roman and Vladimir Putin, hoping to exert influence over them. However, once Putin is elected president, he ostracizes Boris, and Roman finds himself caught in the middle. How much guilt does Roman feel about Boris' downfall?

Thallon: I do think Boris was a father figure to Roman. Roman became an orphan just a few years into his life—he lost both his parents when he was very young. So I do think it's painful. But he's caught between a rock and a hard place. Roman really has no choice. Indeed, it's 2024 and Roman is still alive.

Sims: When Roman is ultimately accepted into Putin's inner circle, he does not look thrilled. In fact, Roman looks terrified.

Thallon: I think what is so fascinating about the play is getting to see conversations which are so shielded from public view. You would never see fear in any of these men's eyes, not in any footage that we have access to. It's about finding these private moments where Putin wields his cudgel, and seeing what it costs these people. All the imagery around these men is hard and cold and bleak, but actually there's a tremendous amount of love and fear and betrayal. Of course there is. They're only human.

Sims: In the way Morgan writes Putin and in Will Keen's portrayal, we see that under the hard-man image he's actually kind of a loser, for lack of a better word.

Thallon: I wonder if it's a particularly British sensibility to call one of the most dangerous people on the planet a loser, and to demonstrate that. After Alexei Navalny's death and going into another year of [Russia's war in Ukraine], we just want to see Putin being as reprehensible and evil as we know him to be. Anything other than that, we don't have time for at this moment. Which I can sort of understand.

Sims: Because you're humanizing someone the audience doesn't want to think of as human?

Thallon: Our job is always to humanize—but no, more about subverting expectations, telling a different story. Which, I think, is massively important. But fundamentally, with every year we do the play, it becomes harder and harder to stomach.

Sims: I know some people have been hesitant to see the play for just that reason—that seeing a story about Putin seems like too much to take right now.

Thallon: Theatre has tremendous political power. I used to be uncertain about how political theatre should be. But doing this play, it has stunned people who knew nothing about this history, and it's given comfort to the people it's about. For Russians, for Ukrainians, telling this story is meaningful. I'd love for those who say, "I don't think I can see it," to come and see it, actually, because I think it might surprise them.

Sims: Do you hope to return to Broadway in the future?

Thallon: I'd love to come back. Maybe the next one will be a fun one. I've done a lot of weepy things in the last few years. I'm quite ready to come back in a big, fun, camp… maybe a musical?

Sims: Have you ever done a musical?

Thallon: I did Crazy for You at drama school because I tap! Which was very fun but tiring. I think I could do, like, Prince John in a Robin Hood musical. That's my pitch for New York to have me back.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for Patriots. Go here to browse our latest discounts for dance, theatre and concerts.

Patriots is also frequently available at our TKTS Discount Booths.

Joey Sims is a freelance theatre journalist who has written for The Brooklyn Rail, Vulture, American Theatre and others. Follow him on Twitter @joeycsims or subscribe to his theatre substack Transitions.