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Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell Talk Starring in New Dylan Thomas Play and Praise Taylor Swift for Introducing the Welsh Poet to a ‘New Generation’

Mathew Rhys has been an “unabashed” fan of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas for as long as he can remember.

He cemented his love of the writer — best known for his poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” — when he portrayed him in the 2008 biopic “The Edge of Love.”

“When you tell most English people that you love Dylan Thomas, they go, ‘Grrr,’ because it’s such a cliché,” Rhys says. “But I’m unabashed that I’m a lifer.”

He’ll play Thomas once again on May 14 in a one-night only stage reading of “Dear Mr. Thomas: A New Play for Voices,” a production by Christopher Monger about Welsh’s time in New York in the 1950s when the 92nd Street Y organized four U.S. tours for Dylan. He wrote the play “Under Milk Wood” during that time while also becoming a rock star-like celebrity known for his drunken escapades and womanizing. He famously stayed at the Chelsea Hotel before dying at a nearby hospital in 1953 when he was just 39.

Keri Russell will play Welsh’s assistant and mistress Liz Reitell. Rounding out the cast are Kate Burton, Gopal Divan, Betsy Zajko and Taylor Trensch.

I caught up with Rhys and Russell over Zoom from their New York home to talk Thomas, Taylor Swift referencing him in the title track of “The Tortured Poets Department” album and what other plays they’d like to collaborate on.

This is your first project together since “Cocaine Bear.”

Russell: That’s a hilarious trajectory that goes from “The Americans” to “Cocaine Bear” to Dylan Thomas. This is what we thought should definitely follow “Cocaine Bear.”

Keri, when did you learn that Mathew was such a Thomas fan?

Russell: When we first started on “The Americans,” he showed me some of the poems. And then I flew to Wales for the first time over New Years and we stayed at this really romantic bed and breakfast and it was right near his writing studio. It was beautiful.

Rhys: I also took her to Brown’s Hotel in London, where he used to drink, and we had drinks there.

Have you gone to the Chelsea Hotel to find the room that he stayed in?

Rhys: I’ve been but we can’t go back now because it’s been mobbed by Swifties. [Laughs] We’ve been to the White Horse Tavern, another place where he went, a number of times. We’ll wait for the giddy throng to calm down before going back to the Chelsea Hotel though.

It’s kind of incredible when you think of all the Swifties googling “Dylan Thomas” when they heard the song.

Rhys: I got very excited when I heard about the song. It’s another moment that he becomes relevant for a new generation.

Have you invited Ms. Swift to “Dear Mr. Thomas?”

Rhys: We haven’t. I thought that would be crass of me to flagrantly try to make that happen.

Russell: I hate to break it to you, but she’s on tour right now.

Rhys: I did invite President [Bill] Clinton because he is an enormous Dylan Thomas fan.
Matthew, if you could ask Dylan Thomas a question, what would it be?

Rhys: Oh, god. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. A million things come to mind. This is the geek fan thing, but I do have a question about the end of his poem “Fernhill.” I would ask why he ended it with that final line. It’s always intrigued me.

Keri, who is your Dylan Thomas? Who are you obsessed with?

Russell: Taylor Swift, obviously. [Laughs] I don’t know, but going back to what to ask Dylan Thomas. There are these accounts of him being so kind of rude and drunk at all times, and slippery and loose with women and all of these things, but then was this other account that he wasn’t necessarily like that, that he was actually really shy and maybe part of it was a performance for people. I’m not sure what the question is but I’m intrigued by that.

Rhys: Keri is the real reader, and she’s the great lover of poetry. More so than I am. I’m a one-trick pony. She’s the one going “Read this” and “Read that” or “Have a look at this by Maya Angelou!” I’m like, “Oh my god, can’t it just be about Dylan Thomas?”

Do you want to expand this reading to a full stage production? When will the two of you do Broadway together?

Rhys: I’m desperate to get back on. I’ve been badgering people left, right and center to say, “Put me on the boards!” I do a lot of play readings, still trying to still try to muscle my way onto it. Broadway is a fickle, fickle beast. I keep pushing Keri saying we should do “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” because we are crippling alcoholics. [Laughs] It would just be our lives with an audience.