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.