Was there one moment when you knew you wanted to be an actor?
No. I loved “acting” since I was a little kid. My dad loved the theater and it was a way into his heart, though I never thought I could make a life of it. But it dawned on me over time that It might be a good idea to do what I loved and see what happened. I got an apprenticeship after college at a theater in Baltimore and one of my first jobs there was in a play directed by John Lithgow. That play convinced me I had it in me, and with each new project I seem to want to be an actor more and more.
What has been the most surprising thing you learned about acting over the course of your career?
I learned that being out on a limb and in danger of falling off gets an audience to fall for you.
How has your approach to a part changed over the years?
I have changed my approach to learning lines. It is the most boring part of the job and I used to put it off till late in rehearsals. I now try to learn the lines as soon as I start work on a role and before the rehearsals, so they get into my brain and I don’t have to think about them. This is essential for film work.
What makes something a good part or project to you?
A good part will teach me something about myself. I have often thought I was wrong for some of my favorite parts—I’ll think, ’They must be crazy to have cast me.’ Like Tig Notaro’s stepdad in One Mississippi, for example. I’m nothing like him. But then I will discover that guy in me and open up lots of new possibilities in terms of roles going forward. As far a good projects, a lot depends on who else is working on them—and I will admit that a good project is one that pays a good wage.
What play do you turn to again and again?
I think it might be A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I saw Peter Brooks’ amazing production in the early ’70s and will never forget it. I was in a great production at Yale Drama School playing Cobweb, I was in another great production some years later playing Lysander, and I have seen it many times since. It is a play that reminds me of everything I love about plays and
What do you think non-actors could learn about life from actors?
In acting it is not about what you feel, it’s about what you do! In acting the key is to know what you want and use everything you’ve got in your toolbox to get it. Characters often don’t get what they want, and everyone needs to understand that failures make us more human—and that really is the goal of acting and of life.