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Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Interview, Part 1
ME: [Interrupting, laughing] Oh, many years back. Many, many years. All the stories I tell now happened "Once upon a time."
TQ: Be that as it may, you claim the director of that program told some of your co-actors you would never amount to anything because you weren't enough of a bastard to succeed.
ME: Well, there are some who would disagree with him today, but, yes, that's what he said back then.
TQ: What did he mean by that?
ME: He meant I wasn't ruthless, didn't have murder in my heart toward other actors I shared the stage with. In fact, I believe I was quite competitive - oh, I know I was, I still am. But I'm competitive in the way a player is competitive within the company of his own team mates. You try to do better than you think you can because you believe it will draw out a better performance from your cohorts. He didn't see that. He was French. From France. With a self-proclaimed pedigree I never quite believed.
TQ: Yet you played lead roles in your summer stock years.
ME: But I was a replacement each time. I wasn't originally cast in some of those roles. I was hired as a utility player, a supporting actor. In fact, I was hired out of the blue, sight unseen. The director was looking to fill out his roster and came across an application I had made to a graduate school - I guess he knew people - and he telephoned me at my home and made me an offer I chose not to refuse. Anyway, that's all I was supposed to be; and, in fact, in the first production we did that first year, My Three Angels, he cast me as the naval officer who appears at the end of the play, has a couple of lines, then falls asleep. Curtain. The audience loved the character (his ultimate appearance is set up early in the play), and I loved that the audience loved me in the role. I could have played that part for years.
TQ: But that wasn't in the cards.
ME: No, of course not. We were doing repertory. There were other plays to get ready.
TQ: And you went out there a chorus boy and came back a star ...
ME: That only happens in the movies, the old movies, except for maybe Shirley MacLaine and Sutton Foster. Anyway, the director had scheduled a production of Cyrano de Bergerac. After a few rehearsals, he decided he didn't like the actor he had cast as Christian. I don't know why. I seem to remember thinking at the time that the guy looked too mature for the part, too worldly-wise. Next thing I know, I'm learning the role.
TQ: And then there was The Threepenny Opera.
ME: You say that like it was something special. There again, I was a last-minute replacement, very last-minute. It turns out the actor the director had originally cast in the role of MacHeath couldn't sing the part. He didn't have the range. So the music director gathered all the males together and had us sing. He was the one who went to the director and told him I was the one suitable for the part. The trouble was we were supposed to open in a few days. They sent me away to a private hotel room with nothing but a toothbrush and the script. I managed to learn the lines, and we finished the season. I don't remember the next year much at all. That was when I found out what he had said about me, and I figured, the hell with him, he can't even cast. Let's get this over with and go back home.
TQ: But you didn't go back home, did you? You took your earnings and went to New York.
GM: I was never frugal.
TQ: And what did you find there?
GM: Theatre, museums, dance, all of it world class. Times Square before it got cleaned up. This was 1971, '72. I remember one night, a guy came up to me right there on the street and offered to sell me a television set, real cheap. He was carrying this television set - and this was back in the days when television sets had heft and breadth - and he was going to part with it real cheap. I apologized and explained I had no place to put it. I got hustled by hookers. That made me feel oddly cosmopolitan and attractive.
TQ: But what about the theatre you found there?
GM: You don't call that theatre? Okay, let me try to remember. I was there for two weeks, and I went to the theatre nearly every afternoon or evening. I saw performances by Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg (I even met her; she was wonderful), Alec McCowen, Julie Harris and Rex Harrison, Anthony Hopkins in Equus. I can't remember everything I saw. I saw The Wiz! Our summer-stock director used to sit us down and proselytize to us. I remember him once telling us, "Kids, you must never put the color green on the stage. Green is the one color you must never allow on the stage. It is evil. It will kill whatever production it is used in." But there I was in New York, watching the original cast performing in The Wiz. And everything up there was g-r-e-e-n. I've loved the color green ever since.
TQ: But you didn't stay.
GM: No. I wonder why. It was all too big for me back then. It still is; that hasn't changed. As young as I was, I 'd already begun to lose the overriding selfishness that is such an important part of youth, that willingness to abandon friends and family - even conscience - to achieve a goal. That should have clued me in to the fact that I wasn't destined to remain an actor. (Don't quote me on that; it'll get my eyes scratched out.) I knew I had to find a way to make it all fit together without throwing away what I already had. And another thing. I could see, even then, that the theatre in New York was already first and foremost a business, a machine without a soul (don't quote me on that either; it's pretentious). There was no place in it for "the moment," for that old barnstorming "flash of lightning," for epiphanies. It was like watching a movie, only with real bodies up there instead of pictures being projected onto a screen. Nothing was left to chance. There was no room in it for whatever might have happened that day or that night on the way to the theatre, or for anyone's momentary mood or crisis to insinuate itself into the proceedings and color it in any way. It wasn't for me. I didn't know what was for me, but I knew that wasn't it.