With ‘Cyrano,’ James McAvoy Is Savoring a ‘Purer Form of Storytelling’

MCAVOY AND LLOYD HAD ALREADY agreed to do the play, and the Jamie Lloyd Company had already commissioned Crimp to write the new version, when Lloyd — who directed a conventional “Cyrano de Bergerac” on Broadway in 2012 — had a brainstorm that he ran past McAvoy.

“I remember it very vividly because it was actually on the set of ‘His Dark Materials,’” said Lloyd, whose son Lewin played the missing child Roger Parslow on the HBO fantasy series opposite McAvoy as Lord Asriel. “We were in this freezing cold, very, very dark TV studio, in a tent — one of those kind of pop-up tents they put people in when you’re waiting. I go, ‘By the way, I have this idea about “Cyrano de Bergerac.” We have to scrap the nose. I can’t bear the thought of you being in a big prosthetic nose.’ And he just totally got it.”

As McAvoy recalls, his initial response was puzzlement, because isn’t the play about a nose? But once Lloyd explained his take, that it is truly about people who are objectified for their appearance and isolated as a result, McAvoy was all in — even if fake Cyrano noses had never much bothered him, and even if it had never completely made sense to him that an outsize nose would be an obstacle to love.

“The truth is, I think even if he did have some big old conk like it’s described in the play, there would be somebody out there that would find it desperately attractive,” he said. “Man, there’s kink for everything.”

Still, McAvoy hadn’t been interested in doing a standard-issue “Cyrano.”

“One of the things that I really like about this version,” he said, “is that it’s less about the flamboyancy of these gallivanting, panache-crazed musketeer poets, and it’s more of a study of masculinity and at times toxic masculinity, a soldiering culture almost, and it’s still about a poet. It’s still about somebody who’s obsessed with words. I loved that I was finally seeing a production that was examining people who are beautiful and light and whimsical with words, and they kill people.”

In an inadvertent overlap of star-powered productions, the Lloyd-McAvoy version first opened in the West End in the autumn of 2019 during the Off Broadway run of the stage musical “Cyrano,” starring Peter Dinklage. The return of Lloyd’s production coincides with the release of the big-screen version starring Dinklage, which swaps a large nose for a short stature as Cyrano’s marginalizing physical feature.