Michael Imperioli Talks ‘Enemy of the People’ Climate Protest

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When climate activists interrupted a production of An Enemy of the People on Broadway Thursday night, one of its stars, Michael Imperioli, initially thought it was a put-on. “I thought maybe the director had asked people to do that,” he tells Rolling Stone in a Friday morning Zoom. So the actor, best known for his roles in The Sopranos and White Lotus, stayed in character, playing the mayor of a town hellbent on silencing a protest by the play’s protagonist, portrayed by Succession’s Jeremy Strong.

The protest took place about halfway into the production during a scene set at a town hall meeting in which the cast invites audience members onstage as Strong’s character gives his report on the town’s polluted baths. When one of the characters voiced an objection, a video of the protest posted to social media shows a man in the audience standing up. “I object to the silencing of scientists,” the protester said. “I am very, very sorry to interrupt your night and this amazing performance. I am a theater artist. I have worked in this theater professionally …”  Imperioli cut him off, hectoring, “I’m sorry, you need to leave. You’re interrupting.” Others called, “Get him out, get him out.” The actors continued in character, “You are not allowed to speak.” Imperioli and another actor tried to push him out.

“When that started to go down, I started calling them liars because that would be my character’s stance on climate change because that’s his stance on the poison in the water — that [Strong’s character is] lying,” Imperioli tells Rolling Stone. “I said to the protesters, ‘This is all speculation,’ which is my line in the play. And then I realized they weren’t going anywhere. And so I said, ‘Well, I’m the mayor, and I’m the chief of police. It’s up to me to restore order,’ so I just follow that instinct. If I was playing another character, I would not have gone into the audience and laid hands on that person.”

Other protestors stood up and decried an “ecological emergency.” Strong just looked consternated until the protesters were fully escorted out of the building. “There is no Broadway on a dead planet,” the initial protester shouted.

“To me, it was thrilling,” Imperioli says. “So I am in agreement with those protesters, and climate change is an extremely pressing and immediate [issue], and it’s going to be more and more of a terrible thing as time goes by. But if I was playing [Strong’s character] Dr. Stockman, I wouldn’t have jumped into the audience and started pushing the man out of the theater. That was the mayor, that wasn’t me.”

A group identifying itself as Extinction Rebellion NYC claimed responsibility for the disruption on social media. “Climate activists aren’t the enemy; it’s fossil fuel criminals like Exxon & Chevron,” it wrote. The group targeted the play since Strong’s character becomes an “enemy of the people” when he asks his town to clean up contaminated baths. It proves to be a costly measure, and the townsfolk revolt against him. The group seems to see their action as an irony, but ticketholders didn’t agree. Variety reports that one woman yelled, “Christopher!” in support of Imperioli removing the protester, using the name of his Sopranos character.

Actor David Patrick Kelly shouted back at the protesters, “Write your own play.” A voice came over the PA asking the actors to leave the stage, but the disrupters were gone before the actors could exit.

“Once the play resumed, everything was kind of heightened and really, really realistic,” Imperioli says. “And I wound up making a lot of discoveries that I probably wouldn’t have made if that didn’t happen.”

A rep for the producers of An Enemy of the People declined to respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

A rep for the NYPD said they were presently unaware of any arrests related to the incident. One of the protesters told Time Out New York there were no arrests.

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The protest is the most recent occurrence of climate activists targeting the arts. In December, one of two people accused of damaging a Degas sculpture at the National Gallery of Art, resulting in $2,400 in damages in 2022, pleaded guilty. Another expects to go to trial. They face up to five years in prison; a judge will sentence the protester who agreed to a plea deal next month, according to The Washington Post.

In November, the same climate activists who interrupted An Enemy of the People disrupted the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Tannhäuser, shouting, “No opera on a dead planet,” according to OperaWire.com. And last October, London police arrested five protesters who disrupted a performance of Les Misérables, according to The Guardian.

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