Saturday, August 31, 2013

Actor James Marsters, popular star of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel (1997-2004) as Spike returns to the stage with his costar from Buffy Juliet Landau in a world premiere comedy The Bells of West 87th at Greenway Court Theatre opening September 7. In our chat, Marsters talks confidently about his successful rock band Ghost of the Robot, acting, doing other plays he would like to pursue as actor/director/producer...and of course, this new play by Elin Hampton The Bells... where he claims fans will not recognize him...his character is so radically different from the villains they're so used to seeing him play...

Tell me about the play and your role in it.

I play Chris Germain in a play called The Bells of West 87th (Street) by Elin Hampton. Elin Hampton is a comedy writer who worked on television for a long time very successfully. This play I think will be the first of many. I come from theatre and I like to think that I can recognize good writing, and I truly think that Elin is a great continuation of Neil Simon. She's able to combine pathos with a frothy light comedy. It's a character-driven comedy more than situation comedy, which is a lot harder to write. Like Neil Simon, she handles it so deftly that you don't really notice. I really think we will see more of her in the coming years; I'm excited that I get to be one of the first actors to get her work up onstage.

Are you responsible for bringing the project here?

No, I'm just lucky to be hitching a ride. My character is probably the most clueless character I have played in a long time. I got a note the other day to combine Stan Laurel with either Bill or Ted (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure from 1989). It would be my choice. I'm's been so long... whoever is not Keanu Reeves. Nothing against Keanu, but I think the other guy was more exuberant. I think that that's what they were going for. He's a loving, pure soul, a very likable person...not an idiot, but not highly intelligent, and with a blind spot the size of Australia. Most of life goes over his head. He could probably watch news about Egypt and think it was a happy story. The play is about Juliet's (Landau) character Molly, who is waking up to the fact that she's servicing a bunch of freaks and needs to get out and start her own life. There's a great line in a Tennessee Williams play Camino Real "the violets on the mountains have broken the rocks up"; Juliet is the violet and we are the rocks, in a funny way. And so I'm loving, I'm likable, I'm happy, but I'm of very little use to my girlfriend.

Juliet is an astounding actress. I've interviewed her before when she did Danny and the Deep Blue Sea in North Hollywood. She's right there in the moment.

Yeah. I remember working with her back in Buffy... She would go straight for the insanity part of the character in a full-throated way that other actresses would be too afraid to go for. "Oh, I'm not going to look glamorous" or "I wonder if they're going to think I'm really insane". She went straight for it. She took no prisoners, and she earned my respect over and over again. I'm happy to be able to return the favor, 'cause this time she's the lead, she's the one who's a little more normal, and I'm the freak. And I'm trying to be as brave about going for that freak as she was about going for hers.

You'll have to forgive me but I never saw Buffy. I do remember you from Torchwood (2008, as Captain John Hart). I was a big fan of that show. It was so imaginative, but it didn't last as long as I would have hoped.

That was a deeply subversive show. I produced theatre in Chicago and Seattle and we were a fairly subversive theatre company. The one thing about subversion, it doesn't last all the time. There's always a pushback against it. We subversives, we don't want to offend people, but we often do because we're trying to divest people of lies that we get taught before we know we're being taught. Some of these lies can be: You can buy Christmas. Violence works. Old people are boring. And Gay people can't be heroes. Torchwood just went straight at that last lie and tore it up. I was very very proud to be part of it.

 Who is the favorite villain you've played in these TV shows? I understand besides Buffy and Torchwood, you played a villain in Smallville as well (2005).

 (He laughs) Brainiac. I got to pretend care about Clark Kent. I remember Tom (Welling) and I had this scene up in a barn. It was like an inch away from a love scene; I was just reeling him in the whole time. I was like a father figure to him, giving him advice, (he gets into Brainiac's manner of speaking) "Clark, what's important about life, is you've got to love people..." reality, I'm going to kill him by the end of the episode, or I'm going to try; that was fun. To answer your question, I think I'm most proud of Buffy. 

 You certainly had a good run and you must have gotten a lot of teenage fan mail.

 Yeah. It was about how do you get over adolescence, how do you wake up to the fact that your parents are idiots and your teachers only halfway understand what they're trying to teach you. The world is a very messed up place, and how do you face that without giving up? The vampires and all that were just a metaphor for all the challenges you face in that period of your life. I think that's a really great theme that never gets old, and that was a very imaginative way to approach it.

 You've done a lot of great theatre. In Chicago you were at the Bailiwick, Goodman...Do you have a favorite play from that period?

Robespierre was one of the ones I'm most proud of. That was an original play called Incorruptible at Bailiwick. A six hour play about the French Revolution, and I almost never left the stage. The second half of the play which is three hours, we only got that about two weeks before opening, but we got it up on its feet, sold out and won awards. A lot of heavy lifting in that play.

You're also a rock musician.

 Yeah. I'm going off to Atlanta  to play. The band is called Ghost of the Robot. Our last album debuted at 98 on the top 200 on iTunes. We've old out venues in London, Germany, Paris, Amsterdam, all over the United States...we haven't played Thailand yet (we laugh), but we've been almost everywhere else. I have to say, my favorite thing is when we go into rock clubs where the sound man has like heard everybody, and when we go into sound check, the guy's like, "Hi, Mr. James Marsters, television star and whoever the hell is with you..." No respect at all. Then after sound check, the guy's like, "Hey, you guys are pretty good." And then, without fail, after the show, the dud's got his fists up in the air going, (he feigns raspy voice) "You guys rock! You guys frickin' rock. I love you." And we earn it. I lucked into meeting some really good musicians, some of whom were playing jazz at Lincoln Center, but were teenagers at the time, so they had both the ability to bubble like jazz but the teenage thing about they could hit hard and really mean it. Yeah, we don't suck; we're good.

 OK, here it comes, the big question, if you had to make a choice between being an actor or a musician, which would you choose?

(laughing) I refuse to choose, man! I live my life thinking that one doesn't have to. I like to cross-train.
Any way that I can express myself, that I can remind myself and the audience, that I'm not alone, express some strange idea that I have or a hard emotion that I'm going through, whatever it is, and put it in a delightful way hopefully. The audience can say, "Hey, I felt that too". We don't feel alone together. I paint, I write, I write music, I do about anything expressive that I can think of.

Do you feel that you're good at all of them?

I think I'm a good writer. I'm a mediocre painter who means it. My painting is not really to show people; it's more so that I can look at the world and notice how beautiful it is. Painting makes you stop and look at one thing for a long time, and really notice what light is doing to an object. That's a good experience. I write pretty darn good songs, I have to say. My chord structure tends to be simple, so I write good blues, folk, straight ahead pop stuff. I also like my lyrics which are pretty straight-forward. very honest and sometimes very funny, sometimes a bit naughty. A lot of guys that are at shows, they get dragged there by their girlfriends, and you see them with their arms crossed giving you the scowl, but by the end they're like bopping and going, "I felt that too. A girl did that to me one time too, man!" In all honesty, I did make the choice. I was playing guitar in bars when I was thirteen, but I chose to go to college for acting. It's acting. But later in life, you get to expand.

 Is there a role you're dying to play?

I have found that whatever I expect to happen, the universe has other plans, so unless I'm willing to produce it myself, there's no point in saying what role I really want to do. I like to be surprised by what comes ahead, but I would say that I would like to produce again. I have playwrights that I would love to do. I produced a play called Kvetch in Seattle, fabulous, very difficult for actors to perform. It was a difficult rehearsal process, but we got it. It hit like gold. George Walker, Canadian playwright, who writes about the under class in Toronto...I would love to get back to him. I directed Criminals in Love,
and I don't think I quite got there. I'd love to direct a Mamet play. You have to have actors with a facility for jazz, actors who can speak languages if they're playing jazz, because it's all about rhythm.
Mamet's a bit like Oscar Wilde in that there is a rhythm dictated that you have to do, and if you do that, it all goes off like gangbusters. If you can come up to the work, the work will do it for you. I'd like to do Wilde too; I love that sense of music.

Any upcoming TV you want to promote?

I do want to plug a book.on.tape series called the Dresden Files. Those are really quite good, a combination of Harry Potter and Sam Spade. Those books always have a little more meat on the bone than I expect. There's always a scene or two that stick with me as far as emotional impact. I think the author (Jim Butcher) has plans to do 25 books, and we've done 14 so far. It's a long series, and with every book the main character Harry Dresden gets more powerful as a wizard and as a private eye, as the world gets more and more chaotic. His ability to pick up the stakes with every book has just been incredible.

One final thing about this play, The Bells of West 87th. Your ad!

Come to the play and expect to be surprised! If you think that this is going to be like anything you've seen me in before, guess again. I'm going to shock you, but hopefully delight you by the end.

Marsters is a sharp, fast-talking and totally likable actor who knows who he is and what he is capable seems to me after talking with him...the sky's the limit...Go see him in The Bells of West 87th at the Greenway Court Theatre!

Friday, August 23, 2013

2013 Interview with Tim Cummings

About to costar at the Fountain in The Normal Heart, opening September 21, actor Tim Cummings discusses his role in the play and his award-winning role in The New Electric Ballroom at the Rogue Machine, as well as other theatrical interests.

The Normal Heart hasn't been done in years. Tell me about the play's relevance today, from your perspective.

The play mentions gay marriage, which is relevant today: DOMA being struck down, Prop 8 being ruled unconstitutional, more and more states are voting to allow for it. The play also brings up the failures of the health care system, and those are relevant today as well. We’ve yet to see what Obamacare results in, ultimately, but I have hope. The play discusses homophobia, bigotry, closeted gays, politics, conspiracy theories, etc. Those are all relevant now. 

Suicide among LGBT youth has been tragically high, of course there’s this putrid Putin/ Russia debacle. The gay-bashing rate in NYC is currently on an alarming rise, which includes the murder of Mark Carson on May 18th, shot directly in the head after his assailant hurled anti-gay slurs at him and his companion. Right in the heart of the West Village. To be honest, I don’t think there will ever be a time this play is not relevant. It’s only a matter of who is brave enough to produce it, as it is not an easy play to do.

What about your character and how he affects the issues at hand? What are the challenges in playing him?

Ned Weeks goes from hesitant participant to full-blown activist and loses nearly everything along the way: his family, his friends, his love, his station in life. Ned is a fighter. A warrior. He does not understand why other people cannot fight back the way he does, and ultimately this alienates him from his community. He will do whatever it takes to wake people up and make them pay attention to this epidemic. He wants pride for the gay community, not shame, not hiding. He wants gay men to think with their hearts and minds, not their pecs and cocks.

The challenges in playing him are that his intensity, passion, Jewish intellectualism, rallying, rants about promiscuity, confrontational nature, and bursts of outrage are not things that can be handled delicately. Yet, we are in this intimate space—so it’s about striking a balance. Where can we hold back? Where do we need to go forward full throttle?

Talk a little about Lisa Pelikan and your working with her - now in 2 plays.

with Lisa Pelikan in The New Electric Ballroom at Rogue Machine 2012
A passionate perfectionist, a questioner, a force, a presence, a joy. With those mesmerizing blue eyes, to boot. Definitely an actor’s actor. Oddly enough, she is also making me take off my clothes in this, just like she did in The New Electric Ballroom. Ha.

Your participation in Ballroom was the best. I really enjoyed your performance. Was that harder to do than Heart, or easier since you are Irish and probably have lived through a lot of similar experiences in Ballroom? (Or am I all wet?)

Thanks, Don. That was a fantastic experience. Yes, I am Irish, but I tend to play Jewish men a lot, too, as I am now. I grew up in New York, surrounded by an abundance of Irish, Irish/Italian,
and Jewish heritage. It comes naturally, I suppose.

What I loved about Ballroom was the transformational aspect: my character, Patsy, goes from smelly chubby fishmonger to sexy, slick, pop idol—right before the audience’s eyes. No special effects, no cutaways, no magic. Just good old fashioned in-your-face theatre. Brilliant playwriting and storytelling.

Was that harder than The Normal Heart? I don’t think anything will be harder than The Normal Heart. The role of Ned might be bigger than Hamlet. He barely leaves the action. He never stops talking. He rarely calms down. The level of stage skill—physical prowess, emotional intensity, collaborative endurance—required to play Ned assures he will likely never be conveyed by any actor that is incompetent, lazy, or timid. Larry Kramer was clever to have
written Ned the way he did.

Speak about your writing career.

Eurydice at South Coast Rep 2012
I write novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, and poetry.

I released a collection called ORPHANS in the summer of 2011. It’s an idiosyncratic assemblage of short stories, poetry, screenplays, plays, and a film treatment. I wanted to put all the different writing forms together in one weirdly prismatic vessel, and unleash it unrepentantly
onto the world. So, I did.

I have a full-length novel called Jake Curve that my agent in NYC is working on. It’s a story of a brilliant little boy who loses his identical twin to a mysterious disappearance, and how he contends with the difficulties of his family falling apart. Ultimately it is a story questioning the validity of family, and whether it is okay to leave them behind if you don’t fit in there.

My most recent play, Bully, is an exploration of this pandemic of teenagers committing suicide for being bullied for being gay. It’s a deeply polemical slaughtering of what masculinity is supposed to mean in today’s day and age. It pays homage to William Golding’s seminal masterpiece about savagery versus civilization, Lord of the Flies, probably my favorite book.

Writing or acting, if you had to make a choice?

Yikes! Can’t I conjoin them and be both? We’ll call it wricting! ‘Hi, I’m Tim, and I’m a wrictor.’

Who are your favorite actors?
The Walworth Farce at Theatre Banshee 2011

Argh, this is a hard one—

Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance, Kate Winslet, Simon Pegg, Edie Falco, Sean Penn, Viola Davis, Richard Jenkins, Kristin Wiig, Gene Wilder, Jack Lemmon, Gene Hackman, Bryan Cranston, Richard Pryor, Benicio del Toro. I like people with passion. Jack Nicholson, he’s another. Gary Oldman. Cate Blanchett.

Also, many of our brilliant LA locals, like Anne Gee Byrd, Jenny O’Hara, John Getz, Hugo Armstrong. Our town is so ridiculously chockablock with talent. And no, not all of it is in the
Fame and Fortune industry—it’s right there, in your face, on our small stages.

Your favorite playwrights?

Tracy Letts, Maria Irene Fornes, Enda Walsh, Ruth Margraff, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, 
Albee, Chekhov, O’Neill, Shaw.

Any role you haven't played yet that you are yearning to play?

Jonny ‘Rooster’ Byron (Jerusalem).
Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman).
Eddie Carbone (A View From The Bridge).
George (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf).
Thomas in Enda Walsh’s Misterman.
Father Brendan Flynn (Doubt).
Medea, in some awesome, twisted, all-male version.
A one-man version of The Crucible.
I’d also like to do The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh.

As I get older, I get to play increasingly interesting and substantial roles. The best is yet to come, I feel. I don’t fear or ward off age in any capacity. Bring it, I say. Look at Judi Dench, for fu**’s sake. Clint Eastwood. Bette White!

Anything else you care to add?

Looking forward to taking part in The Skylight Theatre Company’s honoring of Terrence McNally in a four day event at the end of Sept. called Salute. I was very honored to be asked. And, of course, I’m looking forward to The Normal Heart opening, and audiences experiencing it for its beauty and intensity. I hope it encourages conversations, think-tanks, and outrage.

See the talented Tim Cummings at the Fountain Theatre in The Normal Heart beginning September 18:

Monday, August 19, 2013

2013 Interview - Emrhys Cooper

Actor/singer/dancer Emrhys Cooper, winner of the 2012 BWW Award for Actor to Watch in 2013, has certainly made his mark on the entertainment world. After much TV and film work, the British born performer shifts to singing with his first single "Hypnotized" to be released Tuesday August 20. In our chat he discusses the career move. He also gives us a heads up on his recent trip to Bhutan, the film he made there, as well as other career breakthroughs. 

Fill me in briefly on what's been going on for you in film, TV and dance/music since you won the BWW award in January of 2013.

Well it's definitely been a very exciting, incredible journey, with lots of twists and turns I had never anticipated. After Entertaining Mr. Sloane I managed to book some great TV spots. I played Richard in the last season of Desperate Housewives (ABC), and a sharp tongued publicist on Touch (FOX) and most recently I shot a very funny new cable show From Here! On OUT - playing a rather naughty Scottish character named Haggis. I was also very lucky to work on a couple of great indie movies Birthday Cake and Blood Rush. The biggest event since winning the BWW was booking the starring role in the Bhutanese Film Kushutara - Pattern of Love. 

Having danced my whole life, I am delighted that I've been given more opportunities as a choreographer and director, and I've been working on several dance videos that tell a positive message through dance. I've really enjoyed the behind the scenes creative process of making a positive difference.

OK... "Hypnotized"... how did this singing thing all get started? Where do you hope it will take you?

It was a chance meeting on the set of a movie I was working on called I want to get married. I met a fantastic song writer named Elaine Macaluso. She had a terrific energy and we clicked from the get go. Elaine heard me sing karaoke one evening at my house and afterwards she told me she wanted to write with me. I wasn't sure I wanted to move in that direction as I wanted to give my all to acting, but after thinking about it for about 6 months I thought... why not? Elaine and I wrote a song for the soundtrack for a horror movie I was shooting at the time and that's how "Hypnotized" was born. Elaine introduced me to a a very talented singer songwriter at the time named Benj Heard - he also wrote and produced "Hypnotized" with us.

I didn't anticipate any of this happening, so I am feeling overwhelmed and delighted at the amount of support and buzz "Hypnotized" is getting. The video is going viral and lots of radio stations have picked up the track on their playlists; it has also just entered the European dance charts - so watch the space! I love performing live and creating new music. I really hope to start doing more live shows and gearing up for my first EP through my record label Inspire U Records.

Tell me briefly about your wonderful experiences in Bhutan.

A few years ago a dear friend Peter Alan Roberts told me he was working on a film for Bhutan as he was the Tibetan translator for the King of Bhutan. I saw photos of the country and was blown away by how unspoiled it was. He mentioned there maybe an opportunity for me to play the lead in the film. Then in mid December 2012 I was contacted by the director Karma Deki to see if I wanted to shoot the lead in the feature film Kushutara - Pattern of Love. The film started shooting on the 1st of Janurary 2013 so I didn't have very long to make a decision. I new I had to do it even though I would be missing some of pilot season. 

Going over to film in the remote kingdom of Bhutan was a life changing experience for me, one I will always treasure. I have never been treated so warmly and with such respect. The culture and people blew me away. I had a lot of time to think out there, as I had no phone or internet. The people of Bhutan are voted the happiest on earth and I now know why, they are content with what they've got and not always seeking the never ending rat race that our Western society has built into us. I was the first Western actor to star in a Bhutanse film and that feeling makes me proud - I pushed my self out of my comfort zone as an actor and person. I am really excited for the world to see this film, as hopefully they will discover Bhutan, the country I fell in love with.

Any future projects in film, TV, or stage you care to mention?

Right now I am gearing up for my LA debut performing some new materiel as a solo artist - please check out my twitter of Facebook for show dates. I've been on stage many times before but performing as a solo artist is new and exciting ground for me.

I will also be working on the new Live TV series Trend This - bringing you up to date on all new trends and a variety of skits.

Emrhys Cooper is a terribly resourceful and talented performer, who is determined to keep working in all aspects of this business we call show! I laud his ingenuity and vibrant sense of 'never say die'!

Also read our last interview from January 2012:

In Emrhys' own words:

from Trend This