I remember you from Life Goes On. You played such a warm, kind Father figure. In November Man you play a sexist, evil character. Was it difficult playing a sexist character?
Difficult? No. Distasteful? Yes. Funny? Given the circumstances…I think so, and I hope the audiences will think so too.
An actor can’t judge the character as they’re playing with him. It’s only when you are through that you can see what the director (their medium ultimately) is putting out there when the film is locked.
I try not to judge people in general.
What crazy things happened during filming. Did you and Pierce have any funny stories you can share?
Well, I can tell you that it was the best film experience I’ve ever had. The role was complex, and Hanley had an arc that was interesting. The character was active in the plot and added to the suspense/intrigue of the film. Crazy? No just a whole lot of fun. Pierce and I discovered we had the same birth date
The film is a thrill ride from start to finish and has a surprise twist. Where you going for a DR EVIL feel?
No. No Dr. Evil. More a man with a plan. You don’t play the third act in the first act, as I would have given away the twist (which I won’t do here either.) I had to play many faces of this character or the turn of the film wouldn’t have worked. Once I was able to become “Dr. Evil” is was great fun indeed.
Do you still talk with Patti LuPone? What was it like to work with her?
Working with Patti is everything you’ve heard. And more.
On the other hand, the four years the rest of the cast and crew had making that ground breaking show was terrific. It remains the most gratifying work of my television career. It meant so much to so many. In particular, the siblings of challenged kids everywhere. The letters from fandom were filled with thanks from them saying it changed the way they looked at their brothers and sisters. What could be more wonderful. We started a family of our own during that time and it continued to be informative and inspirational for our whole family. During that time we adopted our daughter, Maya. She is now 23, Chris Burke is 49, and I’m getting up there too. But… as we were filming at Warner Bros., Maya was born at a local hospital. I met my wife, Shaw, at the hospital. We held Maya in our arms and then she was taken to the nursery. At that moment my pager (remember those?) went off, and I had to go back to the set to complete the day. Well on the schedule that day, and when I returned, the first scene up was Drew Thacher looking into the nursery room window at his new born baby! Unbelievable but true. Divine.
What is next for you?
Currently I’m getting ready to go to Boston in September. We are starting TED2 and I will reprise my role Frank, I’ll be going back and handing out more promotions and congratulations to Ted, as he is getting married and becoming a store manager. I’m delighted to head back and have some more fun with Ted, as his boss at the market where they fell in love in the back room off the store…..on a stack of produce. I hope this marriage lasts.
The other is THE LAST SHIP on TNT coming back for a second season. I’ll be continuing my role of Jed Chandler, the father of Captain Chandler (Eric Dane) of the USS Nathan James. Eager to see what wild things they have in store for us. I’m also hoping to do a little more theatre in town. Before THE NOVEMBER MAN, I had shaved my head for the role of “Donny” in AMERICAN BUFFALO at The Geffen Playhouse in L.A. What a great run we had! Named top production of 2013 by the LA Times, and I can proudly say that David Mamet came to see our production twice and lavished us with gifts from the broadway production and his collection of Chicago World’s Fair memorabilia….including a Buffalo Head Nickel. 🙂 Great cast of Ron Eldard and Freddie Rodriguez and directed by the wonderful Randall Arney. It seems everytime I return to the theatre something good happens. Theatre changed my life, not a film or tv show, and it continues to nourish me as an actor. Before that it was A NUMBER in San Francisco with Josh Charles, which was also named top production by the SF Chronicle that year. Thrilled for Josh’s success on THE GOOD WIFE. Fine actor.
What would be a dream role? Would you ever return to Broadway?
I loved working with Arthur Miller years ago in AMERICAN CLOCK. It was the beginning for me. 1979. This, after coming to NYC with our No Theatre Co. of Northampton, MA production of THE ELEPHANT MAN at the Performance Garage, now known as The Wooster Group, which our company folded into. My Equity card came from that production of AMERICAN CLOCK, in the World Premiere at the Spoleto Festival in Charlestown, S.C. I was an understudy for all male roles of the play and the lead fell ill after opening night and I was given the “baptism of fire.” Taking over the lead role for the next three performances. It went incredibly well, standing ovations continued, I was so prepared and thrilled for the opportunity, I was walking on air. AMERICAN CLOCK did go to Broadway and I went with it, now playing three small roles in the ensemble. Heaven for a young (32) actor and moments I will cherish forever. We opened on Broadway and closed in two weeks. We lost our director, Daniel Sullivan, who was replaced by Vivian Matalon, and the show lost it’s glow. This, after getting a glowing review from Frank Rich of the NYTimes. I have since worked with Dan on A.R. Gurney’s FAR EAST, at The Williamstown Theatre Festival and subsequently taking it to Lincoln Center for a very successful run, that was extended. I had to return home after the holidays and James Rebhorn (wonderful actor that is gone too soon) took over the role for another two months or so. FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIRE DE LUNE , with the terrific Caroline Aaron, was another off-B’way show I was doing at the time when I received the LIFE GOES ON script in 1988.
I would like to do an Edward Albee play, another Arthur Miller, more A.R. Gurney, more Mamet, would love to work with Robin Baitz, Donald Marguilles, Caryl Churchill, Shakespeare, Sam Shepard, Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder (Played George Antrobus in the wonderful Williamstown production of SKIN OF OUR TEETH, directed by Darko Tresnjak. Or any other young or old playwright that has a play that can rock the world with love, insight, wonder, laughter or profundity.
If you could go back in time and play any role in film, TV or theater what would it be and why?
Tough question…..I would have loved to been Mitch in the original production of STREETCAR and to work with, and watch Brando and Tandy work their magic. And of course, be directed by Elia Kazan. The other would be THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH. Playing the role of George Antrobus, originated by Frederick March. During the run of our 2000 production at WTF, Paul Newman (one of my favorite actors’ and persons) and Joanne Woodward came backstage to congratulate us all, and while Paul had me in his embrace, Joanne came up to us and said, “Isn’t he just like Freddie, Paul? Isn’t he just like Freddie?!” What a moment, what a play and what a “life in the theatre”….so far.
Thanks for doing this interview, Bill. We loved your performance in ” November Man” and look forward to seeing you in other projects soon.