Interview – Kevin Chamberlin
Bruce Kimmel: Hello, Kevin Chamberlin, and welcome to haineshisway.com. We are pleased as a Horton to have you here. So, Kevin Chamberlin, like Mr. Hammerstein we like to start at the very beginning which is, of course, a very good place to start. Where parts do you hail from?
Kevin Chamberlin: I was born in a shoe box in the middle of the road. We were so poor that I had to lick the road clean with my tongue every morning. Actually, I moved around a lot when I was a kid. I was born in Baltimore, we then moved to Mormon Country in Utah, then to Daytona Beach, Florida. We finally settled in Moorestown, NJ which is in South Jersey. My dad was in computers early on and we moved wherever they were making headway.
BK: When did you first take an interest in musical theater or theater in general?
KC: Since I was the new fat kid in town when we moved to New Jersey, I had to find some way to meet and make new friends. There was an active community theater program, and I was 9 when I tried out for my first musical, “Tom Sawyer” and got cast as Huck Finn. My first entrance, I was supposed to be carrying a dead cat. I was so nervous, that I forgot the cat. Cut to Tom saying, “Whatch got there, Huck?” Panicing, I look off stage, and a stuffed cat comes flying on stage. The audience cheered, I did a long take to them, then to the cat, and said, “Dead Cat”. Big Laugh. I was hooked from there. Every summer there was a show, and I did such wonderful character roles as Smee in “Peter Pan”, Mr. Bumble in “Oliver” and “Cowardly Lion” in Wizard of Oz……(my Lear).
BK: Okay, so there you are, young Kevin Chamberlin, interested in being a performer. Did you do any shows as a child or take classes and whatnot? For example, did you take drama in high school and whatnot?
KC: By the time I hit High School, I had built up an pretty impressive resume from the summer theater, but sadly there was no plays freshman year because the drama teacher was on sabbatical. That was the year I tried wrestling, and ended up NJ State Heavyweight Champ Gold Medalist. (This odd little autobiographical tidbit would later be exploited in “Dirty Blonde” 20 years later.) When the drama teacher came back sophomore year, I quit wrestling (to the chagrin and anger of my coach who couldn’t understand my decision) and did shows like Our Town, Pippin (King Charles), South Pacific (Billis), West Side Story (Riff), The Crucible(John Proctor), and The Man Who Came to Dinner (Banjo).
BK: Where did you, Kevin Chamberlin, go to college? Did you take theater there and if so what shows did you do whilst toiling away at university?
KC: I auditioned my ass off, trying to get in to the big colleges (like Julliard and NYU) that would give me a scholarship – since that was the only way I was going to be able to pay for it. After being turned down at a number of schools, my last hope was Rutgers. It was an up and coming program at the time. William Esper (Sanford Meisner protégé’) ran the program there. It was incredibly cheap because it was a state university. At the time, it was only about $800 a semester. I paid my own way through school, working summers as a singing waiter at an institution known as “The Showplace”, an ice cream parlor attached to a one-show-a-week summer stock sweatshop called “Surflight Summer Theater” down in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore. It was non-Equity hell, and while the actors were making $40 a week doing awful productions with 6 days of rehearsals, I was spending my days on the beach, and my nights pulling in $600 a week singing the ice cream flavors and doing a ten minute Broadway revue every half hour. I saw some incredible performers pass through Surflight, though. David Loud was there, musical directing. Charlotte D’Amboise, Jim Clow, James Brennan,
Rutgers was not a musical theater school, but an acting conservatory. The intensive four year undergrad program was incredibly difficult, and more competitive than the real world. They would cut people each year. We started out with 30 in my class, and graduated with 12. There are now only 3 of us still in the business. Since the school didn’t do musicals, we decided to mount a couple shows in the Cabaret space on Douglas Campus. A young director named Robert Jess Roth (Beauty and the Beast, upcoming Elton John’s “Vampire Lestat) directed me in “The Fantastiks”, “A Night in the Ukraine” (just the second act) and I directed “Working” and “Is There Life After High School” there as well. Realizing they had some musical talent in their midst, they finally cast me in a mainstage musical my senior year – “High Button Shoes”, because it’s the only musical that takes place in New Brunswick, NJ and Rutgers figures in to the plot – the alumni went crazy for it. ( A young freshman named Calista Flockhart worked backstage on that one)
BK: All right, we’ve covered your young years and your school years. What was your first professional theater job – tell us all about the experience.
KC: Sophomore year, I decided to audition for summer stock and got a job up at The Falmouth Playhouse. I got my Equity Card doing Nicely Nicely in “Guys and Dolls” with Joey Travolta and Donna Pescow. Then I did, “On a Clear Day” with Diana Canova – and Equity closed down the theater after that because the producer was a scumbag. Ralph Miller. If you ever see that name…run. He still owes me money.
BK: Very well, then. Now, when did you get to New York, New York. Did you start pounding the pavement right away and if so did the pavement get angry and pound you back? Did you have to do any part-time jobs to support yourself?
KC: In 1985, I packed my dance belt and accordian, determined to become a working actor. I found a place in Jersey City. I couldn’t afford Manhattan at the time. I trudged to EPA’s and worked as a data processor and telex operator at Five World Trade Center.L I was Santa Claus at Macy’s. I was a sandwich delivery boy for Between the Bread restaurant on the East Side. I became a member of the Threshold Theater Company, and did readings of “First Translations of Eastern European Communist Block Playwrights” (Gabriel Barre was also a member) I got an agent from the Rutgers Graduating Class Showcase, and he got me an audition for Pat McCorkle. I was cast as Ellard in “The Foreigner” at a couple of regional theaters. From there, I was asked to be a member of the resident company at McCarter Theater in Princeton. Nagle Jackson was the AD at the time, and he had directed my in Our Town at Rutgers. He remembered me, and invited me to join the company in 1988. This was a pivotal moment for me, and an invaluable learning experience. It was the regional theater actor’s dream job – a weekly salary, and constant work at a respected regional theater – and I was only 25. We did an amazing assortment of plays; “Miss Firecracker Contest”, “Tartuffe”, “Born Yesterday”, “Sarcophagus”- (a play about the Chernobyl disaster…a laugh riot), “A Christmas Carol” “Pvt. Wars” (we took this Vietnam vet comedy to Oslo, Norway) and “Smoke on the Mountain”. This was the play that brought me to just off the Great White Way. We transferred “Smoke” to the Lamb’s Theater and ran for a year. That was my big introduction to the commercial New York City Theater scene.
BK: I know our dear readers would find it interesting to know how you began the audition process and how you got an agent, so why don’t you tell them – hold nothing back.
KC: After a couple of dud agents just out of school that I got from the Rutgers Showcase, I ended up going agentless for many years. My contacts were always through casting directors who knew my work. I had a couple of hand shake deals with a few agents, but usually found my own jobs through connections. I’m a little bitter about paying 10 percent to a couple of agents who did squat for me and my career. When I worked with actors who were getting in to the big film and tv auditions, I asked if they would introduce me and get me an interview. I got most of my agents through friends.
As for the audition process, I ended up getting many jobs after being asked to do a reading/ workshop of the play. I always looked at readings as a long audition, and tried to “go the extra mile” and take it very seriously. So many actors don’t take them seriously. When I audition for musicals, I always try to sing something that I can act the hell out of. So many actors pick songs that have no arc. “Marry Me” from The Rink did well by me. I also wrote some songs that I use as well. TV and film are a different animal, and I’m still learning how to audition for them now that I’m here in Hollywood.
BK: So, what was your first job in New York – how many auditions did you have to go to to get it and was it a good experience?
KC: Smoke on the Mountain was an amazing experience. It exploited me in all the right ways. The hard part about that show was that it was a country bluegrass musical. It was incredibly difficult to get audiences in to the theater. We did a July 4th show to 4 people…and there’s 7 in the show. There ought to be a law. I did get a commercial agent from that, though. Commercials have been very good to me, and continue to this day to support my theater habit.
BK: All righty – now, you’re in New York and you’re a working actor. You’ve done some very high profile shows, so let’s talk about some of them. First of all, you did My Favorite Year with our friends Flaherty and Ahrens. Tell us all about that experience – doing a new musical at Lincoln Center. The show received very mixed reviews.
KC: This was my introduction to the “workshop” experience. It was also my first big Broadway musical gig, and I was in the chorus. I started out a Gypsy!!!! I remember Thommie Walsh drilling the dance numbers in the show, over and over. “Spread your fingers, Kevin!” I tended to dance making fists with my hands. That was the first of many workshops to suffer from too much “workshop buzz “.
There were many power struggles among the principals, miscasting and last minute panic decisions. In the original workshop, Victor Garber played Swann and was brilliant, but he didn’t want to continue with the role after when we went to production. They cast Tim Curry in the role, and the tone of the role changed. Anytime you have a great talent stepping into the role of another brilliant talent, there’s a struggle. The creators had heard the role and rewritten the role for a specific actor, and then had to switch gears. Tim didn’t want to recreate what Victor had done, so he started to demand changes. I read an interview with the original screenwriter for the film, and he was initially inspired to write the screenplay because Sid Caesar had written a sketch parodying a well known New York mobster, and rumor has it that the sketch was pulled when Sid got death threats. Lynn and Stephen will disagree with me on this one, but by cutting the mobsters from the book, there is no conflict within the show. The father / daughter story is potent, but doesn’t hold enough weight to make Swann’s big last minute swashbuckler entrance pay off. He never really saves the day.
BK: Why do you think the show didn’t move to Broadway? And what do you think of said reviewers?
KC: I think that answers the above question. That was my first Frank Rich review of a show I was in. He ruined my breakfast, but not my lunch. I try not to read reviews now until after the show has closed and is just a memory.
BK: You also did Triumph of Love with our very own Susan Egan and Miss Betty Buckley herself. Tell us all about it – we know there were some trying moments with Miss Betty Buckley, who can be a pill (I heard the stories regularly from Miss Susan Egan). The day I visited rehearsal, Miss Buckley wasn’t even there, and her standby, the divoon Michele Pawk was doing it and was great. Did Michele ever go on, because I have a memory that Alix Korey DID go on? Tell us all about it whilst you answer this very long-winded multi-part question.
KC: Again, this was a situation where I did the first reading / workshop of the show and followed it through it’s commercial run. Melissa Errico and Malcomn Getz were in the workshop. It was a charming little chamber musical, and a real audience pleaser. Yes, there was diva tension along the way. Yes, Betty Lynn was late…constantly. Yes, she constantly whipped me with her riding crop backstage. Yes, she had S&M underwear built for her so she could feel the repression of the character, Yes, F. Murray Abraham snuck his Oscar onstage with him at numerous performances. But God, could Betty Lynn stop the show with “Serenity” – everynight. She never held back. She is an amazing force to be reckoned with. I also got to costar with one of my oldest buddies, Roger Bart. We had such a great time, especially playing opposite the brilliant Nancy Opel. The servants (as we were called in the play) stayed out of the drama. My fondest memory was at the last performance, Roger and I stopped the show with “Henchman are Forgotten”. We just broke down laughing / crying at the ironic fate of the song. I also got to meet Michelle Pawk for the first time, and play opposite her. She went on numerous times, and was incredibly in the role. We’ve stayed friends ’til this day.
BK: Again, like My Favorite Year, Triumph of Love did not last on Broadway. I found the show charming – do you think charm has a place on Broadway and, if so, why do shows like this and Amour fail to find an audience?
KC: Audiences want to see their $100 onstage. The 80’s musicals trained audiences to want to see get their money’s worth. If something doesn’t fly out of the ceiling and land in our laps, they don’t feel satiated. If the sound system isn’t deafening, they won’t listen. They want the blockbuster experience. They want something literal, hydraulic, and high tech. Small musicals belong in a small off Broadway house these days. Kind of sad, since it’s practically impossible to make back your money off Broadway. Name the last off Broadway musical that made it’s initial investment back…probably Little Shop of Horrors.
BK: You’ve also done a few Encores! shows. Tell us about them and what that experience is like.
KC: The Encores show were great experiences, like theater boot camp. I did One Touch of Venus, with Melissa Errico and Jane Krakowski. Then I did Ziegfeld Follies of 1938 with Christine Ebersole and Mary Testa and Peter Scolari. Both were a blast, and I met some great people that I still keep in touch with. Rob Fisher and Kathleen Marshall really raised the bar at that theater, and they worked damn hard at keeping it up.
BK: You also did a show that I recorded, a revue entitled As Thousands Cheer at the Drama Dept. of which you are a member. Tell us about working with Chris Ashley and Kathleen Marshall. Also, tell us about the recording of the show – our dear readers always like to know about that stuff. I remember I insisted that we put on that rather long radio thing and I think the whole album turned out splendidly.
KC: ATC was another show I got involved with from the first reading / workshop. Doug Beane was a friend of mine and Chris and I had worked together many years ago doing some readings, and they asked me to be a part of this project. Kathleen researched the original 1930’s show backwards and forwards, finding material that was cut on the road, searching through old sketches and working in conjunction with Kitty Carlisle Hart (Moss Hart’s widow) (who has become a good friend) She makes me laugh. What a broad. During pre-production, there was concern that we couldn’t use the song “Easter Parade” in the show because Tommy Tune had acquired the exclusive rights to the song to use in his upcoming Broadway show of the same title. Well, we all know what happened to that brilliant idea. So the Drama Dept. batted around the idea of postponing a year and wait for the rights of the song. Kitty replied, “I’LL BE DEAD IN A YEAR. DO THE SHOW WITHOUT THE DAMN SONG!” Well, she’s still alive, and we did the show withough the song, although we did get to preserve it on the recording. The show was a wonderful summer hit for the Drama Dept., we all worked for $230 a week, and loved every minute of it. Great cast, great theater company… one of the “perfect theatrical experiences” of my career. Thank God the wonderfully produced album preserves this perfect little show.
BK: All right, Kevin Chamberlin, wasn’t it time for you to be in a hit? Yes, it was, and yes, you were. That hit was Dirty Blonde for which you received Tony and Drama Desk nominations. I enjoyed it thoroughly and, in fact, wanted to record it, but your producer, Chase Mishkin, had no idea what I was talking about – besides she was already thinking about keeping Urban Cowboy running at 16% of capacity. Tell us about Dirty Blonde and how it was to be nominated for a Tony.
KC: To begin the Dirty Blonde story, I have to go back to 1995 and an infamous musical workshop called “Muscle” by James Lapine and William Finn. It’s what some call the “Moose Murders” of workshops, because some people claim they saw it even if they hadn’t. The best thing to come out of that was my relationship with James. He and I hit it off from day one. There was something about him that clicked with me. We had a short hand, and a mutual admiration. After the debacle of “Muscle”, he promised me that we would work together again soon. Three years later, he called me up to his office to read a script with him and Claudia Shear, who I had never met before. It was a messy pile of papers, some single spaced full page monologues, some with one or two lines on them. It was an unwieldly, very fact heavy mess. James knew that he wanted to end the show with two Mae Wests kissing. That was the image he had in his brain. (He was a graphic artist, so he often thinks in images)
Every couple of months, James would invite me back up to his office above Sardis and we would read what Claudia had brought in. Slowly, the idea of two people obsessed with Mae West developed. Claudia and I would have dinner, talk about Mae, and the next day our conversation would be in dialogue form; autobiographical material from my life, the wrestling, my parents both being deceased, etc. show up in the play. We brought Bob Stillman on as the musician and third actor, and we all went up to Martha’s Vineyard, ate lots of Lobster and clams, and threw the show up in 6 days. It was intense. Gareth Hendee, James’ assistant at the time, was amazing. He drilled us in this little Elementary School music room. I’ve never memorized so much in so little time.
The Shubert people came up to see it, as did New York Theater Workshop, and they decided to produce it together the following year. So, it was a long road to Broadway. By the time we opened at the Helen Hayes, it was a huge hit. The New York Times raved, did feature articles on all of us, and it shot my career through the roof. The entire cast was nominated, which made it so much fun because no one was left out. The tony basket was a huge surprise, over $5000 in gifts delivered to the theater. That’s the best part of being nominated…all the free stuff. Free designer tux, free lunches, cocktail parties. It get overwhelming. By the time the night comes, you’re sort of over the whole thing. I remember I was ready to lose to Roy Dotrice who was up for Moon for the Misbegotten. Then, Jesse McKinley in his NY Times Friday column, predicted that I would be the upset. So, all of a sudden I couldn’t write it off anymore. Well, Roy won and he was so incredibly gracious that evening. Besides, he’s 85 years old. He deserves a Tony. I have many more years…the third time’s a charm!
BK: All right, now it’s time for Horton. You were a part of Seussical right from the workshop, if I remember correctly. That show had a tremendously tortuous out-of-town tryout and a tremendously tortuous Broadway run. We want the entire skinny or at least the partial fat. Let’s start with the workshop – the buzz was incredible. What happened between that workshop and the rather disasterous opening in Boston?
KC: Well, as you know it’s all subjective. When you’re in the middle of it, you have to believe that it’s the second coming. We all thought that after the hugely successful workshop in Toronto, we had an enormous hit on our hands. Producers were crying after the workshop performance, throwing money at the team. I believenow, through experience, that the workshop process is incredibly dangerous. The imagination is a powerful thing, and I’ve been in the audience of a workshop production. You imagine the ideal production in your head. No one could equal the production in your mind.
The physical production of “Seussical” was always a problem. Universal’s Grinch movie had the same problem. How the hell can you anthropamorphize these characters? The movie Whos looked like RATS!.. I think the answer was found in the workshop. You don’t. Put everyone in colored sweat pants and t-shirts or simple colorful clothes, and say “See, I’m wearing grey sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I’m an elelphant.” The dramatic imagination is so powerful. If you need a river onstage, I’d much rather see two people come out with a long piece of blue fabric, then see the stage floor hydraulically open up to reveal 800 gallons of water. Kids love that Paul Sills “Story Theater” stuff. I’m going to direct a production of the show someday, and it will be incredibly simple and full of great theater tricks.
BK: So, there you are in Boston, the Seuss has hit the fan – they fire the costume designer first. Why her? And at what point did Frank Galati get replaced? Also, the Internet chat boards (one in particular) were very hard on Seussical out of town. What do you think of these chat boards? I think they are very harmful, personally. Do you think they help, hinder, create false negative buzz – I mean, let’s be real, it’s only twenty or thirty youngsters doing it (mostly youngsters) so it’s not really representative of anything, and yet people have begun to treat it as if it were. Hold nothing back.
KC: Bringing Dr. Seuss to life is an incredibly creative challenge. The images from his books are etched in our collective consciousness. The physical production was always a big question mark. We first knew we were in trouble when Frank Galati called the cast together in the house to announce that Catherine Zuber was being let go. This was the day before the first preview. The concept Cathy had was incredibly cool on paper. She had this whole “Cirque de Soleil” kind of European, quirky look thing going. It involved white face make up and wild head pieces. But after it was physically realized, you lost the actor. You couldn’t tell who was underneath all of that stuff. Some of the materialshe used had never been used a clothing fabric before. Some of it worked. Some of it was a dancer’s nightmare. In “McGelligot’s Pool”, the dancers had to slide across the floor, and their fish costumes were made out of Rubber. Rubber doesn’t slide.
Another problem we had was that Eugene Lee, the set designer, had a very dark vision of this show. The basic stage and wings were all painted black. It just didn’t read “Seussian” or “musical comedy”.
So, the producers fired Eugene and brought in Tony Walton. I adored Frank Galati, and loved working with him on the scenes in the show, and the character. He’s an actor’s director. The physical production was where everyone got lost, and Frank, ultimately became the fall guy, and was let go as well. Natasha Katz was the only person spared, because as long as you can see the actors, people don’t know shit about lighting.
So, William Ivey Long was brought in and started ripping things up from day one. He told everyone to go out and buy a black outfit that they look good in and that will be our opening number, until he can figure out what they’re going to do. SO, for the entire Boston run, our opening number looked like “All that Jazz” from Chicago…entirely in Black. It was surreal.
As for the internet, we had a snitch in the cast who was posting shit on the “All That Chat” board, reporting stuff that was going down backstage. At one point, the little kid playing Jojo found out he was going to let go (because his voice was changing) by reading it online. This is the perfect example of the evil, nasty power of the written word on the internet. You don’t know if any of it’s true. You don’t know the source. (I knew a person who was posting stuff about shows and he hadn’t seen a Broadway show in years. He was just posting to piss people off. ) If you read it, you get sucked up into the drama. If you don’t, you never know it’s there. I’d like to believe that it doesn’t affect an audience opinion. Apparently, it does affect gossip columnists’ opinion of a show before they’ve even seen it. I’m curious, though…Who decided to print the gossip for some internet chatteratti in the mainstream press? And does that truly decide the fate of a multi-million dollar musical?
BK: So, now Seussical is coming into New York with Rob Marshall at the helm. What did he bring to the table – do you feel he helped the show? Also, how were Lynn and Steve dealing with all the goings on? It must have really been hard on David Shiner, but I’d read so much bad about him that I actually enjoyed his performance when I saw it in previews.
KC: Rob Marshall gave the cast two weeks off, while he and Kathleen restaged the show and created a number for David Shiner (A Day for the Cat in the Hat). They created it because they felt David Shiner didn’t have a big number, and kids love the Cat in the Hat. Ironically, the song is no longer in the touring version of the show. David got a bad rap, but he was trying so hard to find the role…a role originally written for a “verbal comedienne” – Andrea Martin. David is a mime, who doesn’t have experience speaking or singing on stage, eight shows a week. It was never a good match of actor to role. Great idea in theory, but too much time was wasted trying to make the Cat work. Rob cut all the book scenes setting up Jojo as a dreamer in school, and streamlined the first act. The second act was still a problem, and Steve and Lynn wrote this huge 50’s number to replace the Lorax section (which should be published as a show in itself – it’s brilliant) that was quickly discarded. We never even rehearsed it. It was decided instead to put in a reprise of Alone in the Universe, where Jojo talks to an ethereal “in his mind” Horton, and the Cat shows him the way home with “Oh the Places You’ll Go / Hunches”. It was never a solution, only a patch. They have since rewritten that section for the tour.
BK: The one constant, it seems to me, was your performance as Horton, which was terrific. How hard was it having to deal with all the backstage drama and the changes, and then go on and deliver every night?
KC: Thank you, Bruce. You’re too kind. It was so difficult trying to be the leader of a company that was falling apart. I had never led a company before, and I was obsessively concerned about moral, and always tried to be cheerleader. If the star is pissed off or “over it”, it gives everyone carte blanche to act the same. You can’t let the backstage crap get to you when you’re onstage. You have a job to do from 8 to 10:30. After that, you can bitch and cry and moan and complain at Joe Allens over a dry, dirty Grey Goose martini.
BK: Whose idea was it to ultimately get rid of Shiner and begin stunt casting? Rosie O’Donnell came in and she helped find the show a brief audience. How was it working with her?
KC: That’s a silly question, the King and Queen of brilliant stunt casting of course – The Weisslers. They saved our show by bringing in stars. We would’ve closed Dec.31st if they hadn’t. Rosie brought a box office bonanza of housewives and their kids, lesbians and their kids, and the gay musical theater queen kids. She was also incredibly charming in the role. She brought an improvisatory style that just had ’em rolling in the aisles. One night, she asked a kid in the audience if he had a question for Horton. The kid asked, “How long is Horton’s Trunk!?” Roise gave a beat, looked at the audience with her sly grin and quickly retorted, “He says it’s 7 feet but it’s really 5 ! ” Aaron Carter was a bit of a mess (he would literally spit off the roof of the theater, onto his waiting throng of teeny bopper fans – a psychiatrist would have a field day with that one), but he packed them in – screaming prepubescent girls paying $85 seat.
BK: Then Cathy Rigby came in – what was that like?
KC: Cathy was a wonderful Cat. She has great musical theater chops. Her consistency and attitude was infectious, and the show became the tightest it had ever been under her Cat. She’s enjoying a very successful run on tour.
BK: Looking back, do you think there was anything that could have been done to combat the negative internet stuff and to help the show?
KC: I refuse to give the internet that kind of power. The majority of people don’t log in to All That Chat before they buy tickets. Everyone likes to blame the internet for Seussical’s demise, but only because it set the precedent. It was the first out of town tryout that was chronicled online. It won’t be the last, and it’s here to stay. My advice is the same regarding reviews. Don’t read ’em!
BK: Well, that was an epic, wasn’t it? Before we move on, tell us about the experience of doing the workshop of Wise Guys with Mr. Sondheim, Mr. Weidman and Mr. Mendes. Mr. Sondheim went on record (with me) saying that he no longer likes the workshop process and will never again be involved in one. I agree with him – the workshop thing has become very different than what Michael Bennett began with A Chorus Line. How do you feel, and how crazy was the whole Wise Guys thing?
KC: I have to agree with Steve. A private reading in a rehearsal hall is much more beneficial to the creators than a staged workshop in front of an audience. Theater is a medium of the spoken word, and you need to hear it first, then the images will grow organically out of the text…as opposed to film where images usually speak louder than words. In both art forms, there’s a danger when too much is left to the imagination, and there’s a danger when nothing’s left to the imagination.
As for Wiseguys, the creators were on a different page than the director. The show was not ready to go into rehearsal when we started. It was incredibly frustrating for Nathan and Victor. The pressure of having a subscription audience there every night was an unnecessary one, and not conducive to a creative atmosphere.
BK: Let’s talk about some of your film and TV work. You were in The Road to Perdition, one of the Die Hard movies and quite a lot of television. Tell us about some of those jobs and whether you like film as much as the stage. For example, you worked with Mendes on stage AND film – how is he different between the two mediums.
KC: The thing about Sam that makes him unique is that he rehearses a film like a play, blocking out the sets with tape on the floor in a big rehearsal room. No one ever does that! He just knows how to talk to actors. He loves actors, and doesn’t talk down to them. He knows how to specify an action, break down a script, a beat, a moment. He’s just the best.
I’m learning a lot out here in Los Angeles, doing guest spots on tv. The sitcom format is the closest to theater, but still has it’s own style. You want to be big and theatrical with the live audience there, but the cameras are picking up every eye movement. I learned this working on Frasier. That cast has it down to a science. Die Hard was my first movie, and I made a shitload of money off that one. I love “Trick”, this small independent gay film I shot in New York. That was a great experience.
I’m just really thankful that I’m working out here. There are a lot of faces and bodies out here, but not a lot of good actors. You can tell the theater actors out here. They’re much more grateful for the work. We’ve suffered for our art…some more than others.
BK: And what, Kevin Chamberlin, are you doing now? I understand you did a pilot recently.
KC: I did a pilot for UPN called “Vegas Dick”, but it didn’t get picked up. Sadness. I’ve got two movies in the can (as they say), “Providence” with Matthew Broderick and “Suspect Zero” with Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley. I’m also doing “Dirty Blonde” down at The Old Globe Theater in San Diego with Kathy Najimy and Bob Stillman July 20th thru August 23rd. There’s talk of a West End production as well.
BK: Well, Kevin Chamberlin, you’ve been a sparkling and lively guest and we thank you and we salute you with our favorite haineshisway.com beverage, Diet Coke. Do you have any last thoughts before we let you go on your merry way?
KC: I only drink Diet Coke with ice. Lots of ice. Nothing else like it.