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(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)


Actress and playwright Linda Griffiths on North Korea Add to ...

Linda Griffiths, winner of five Dora Mavor Moore Awards, co-wrote and performed the landmark one-woman play Maggie & Pierre. Her new play, Heaven Above/Heaven Below, will open in November at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille.

Can you name the current leader of North Korea?

I can. It’s Kim Jong-un.

Do you know his title?

It’s something like Great Glorious Leader of Us All. … You have to appreciate the use of language. It’s stilted, but it’s got a glory to it.

North Korea’s trademark bellicose rhetoric might have a “glory” to it but a lunatic glory, wouldn’t you say?

Oh, yes, it’s very mad. But then when you think of some of our politicians, they’re so quiet, you never really know what they’re about and that can sometimes be more sinister.

Should they rant and sabre-rattle and threaten nuclear annihilation?

Absolutely not. Sometimes, I see – especially in our conservative politicians – they are so very, very careful and so very staid and constrained in their use of language and their actions are full of bombast and repression. They could do with a lot of help with their stagecraft and their costuming, hair and makeup.

Kim Jong-un is the third generation of Kim family despots. Does his country need dynastic rule? Does any country?

We could have it! We’re looking at Justin Trudeau as a possible leader of the Liberal Party. I’m still into democracy, but if Justin Trudeau gets in, it will be interesting to see if his son or daughter gets in later.

Big talk and no action is the hallmark of a bully. Does North Korea eventually have to put its nuclear strike where its mouth is?

I don’t think they do. There’s been years and years of sabre-rattling and fiery rhetoric and this kind of thing. And then for years and years, nothing has happened. I’m not sure that those words have to connect to deeds at all in North Korea.

Should North Korea be allowed to have nuclear arms?

No. I don’t think any country should have nuclear arms. I don’t think anybody should pat themselves on the back that just because, so far, there hasn’t been a nuclear war, there won’t be. It’s utterly terrifying that [North Korea] will have it. Because of the rhetoric, what it’s cloaking. You’re not really sure. Is it cloaking that they really think that way, is it cloaking that they don’t have the capacity to do it? You’d have to be an idiot not to be afraid of them.

There’s no doubt North Korea is terrifying in its use of language, hopeless in its haircuts and appalling in its seeming willingness to do things like nuke the world.

North Korea is perhaps the most heavily sanctioned nation on Earth. It hasn’t worked. What else can we do?

Cultural infiltration. Kim’s brother tried to get into Disneyland with a fake passport. That, to me, shows a certain kind of cultural takeover is already happening. I think if they upped it – with a little more Disneyland, with a little more Paris Hilton, North Korea could be corrupted from the inside.

It’s interesting, some of North Korea’s propaganda pieces on Paris Hilton and reality TV. Although there’s this antique, overused rhetoric. They call her “a narcissistic parasite who glorifies her opulent lifestyle without guilt.” And you kinda go, “Well? Yeah …” So you can already see them pushing back against the great monoculture. Their walls are not as thick as one would think.

The North Koreans have been claiming that their missile tests are to launch satellites and that their nuclear program is for peaceful power generation. Now they’re threatening a nuclear first strike. Don’t they see the ludicrous contradiction of speaking out of both sides of their mouth?

The thing is, they can. If you look at Republicans in the States caught in outright lies, you see how you can outright lie and expect to get away with it. We have a trust issue with North Korea. We have no idea what the baseline is. We look at these contradictions as if we have none in our own society. We’re shocked because we’re afraid and we’re right to be afraid. But I don’t think we should look at them as if there were no lies in North America.

Would North Korea be the worst place on Earth? If not, where, in your experience?

I was going to say Regina … No! I don’t know. I’d say North Korea would be pretty close. What’s the real situation of the people there? How tight is the noose. I’d think the noose is pretty tight.

I think it’s pretty well rock bottom. But what’s amazing to me is they have managed to keep up their version of an Iron Curtain to some extent. But if Disneyland and Paris Hilton … are getting through, then they have feet of clay.

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