Where: his dressing room (Martin Beck Theatre). 6:15 pm.
To say that it is a miracle this interview has occurred is not an understatement. Here's what happened: A couple of weeks into the previews for Guys And Dolls, I asked Peter Gallagher for an interview and he agreed. We decided to wait until well after the opening, since it was a hectic time for both of us. I went back a few months later, and we agreed to meet in two weeks time. He had to cancel our meeting, so we set up another time. I had to cancel that one, so we set up another appointment. When that day arrived, it was between matinees, and he looked exhausted. He said that he had thought of calling me up to cancel, but that he didn't want to do that to me again. But I felt terrible about making him answer questions when he was dead tired, so we both agreed to do the interview the next evening.
The next evening arrived, everything went perfectly, and he gave me a great interview. But when I got home and played the tape back, there was nothing on it! (The "pause" switch on my old Panasonic had been in the locked position.) I dreaded having to go back the next day to tell him this, but he said, “That's all right. It happens.”
So we scheduled another interview for last month, when he would return from shooting a movie. When that day came, it wound up slipping both our minds. I forgot my tape recorder and had to go back home to get it, and he didn't get a chance to look in his appointment book that day to remind himself. So we rescheduled again for this week. This morning I woke up with the worst cold I've had in years, but there was no way I was going to cancel out on him again.
It felt very strange to interview somebody twice about basically the same subjects. But he made it a very pleasant experience by trying to recall some of the stories he had told me before, and he was genuinely concerned about how sick I was and whether or not the tape recorder was actually working! The only thing I could seem to think throughout the whole interview was, “Thank goodness this man has been so good-natured and patient.”
Peter Gallagher has spent the past several months starring in the biggest Broadway success story in recent memory--the revival of Guys And Dolls. While ticket scalpers will be continuing to sell three hundred dollar front row seats for many months to come, Gallagher will be leaving the show on October 10th.
"It's been a rare and wonderful experience. There are lots of incidents that I’ll never forget, but primarily it was a great privilege to do this show because Guys And Dolls, as far as I'm concerned, is just about the best American musical ever written. That's really why I wanted to come back--to sing again and to do a musical. From that standpoint, and having had the opportunity to do this show with these people onstage, I couldn't have asked for more."
In case you were never able to get tickets to Guys And Dolls, you can catch Gallagher on movie screens in Robert Altman's The Player and in the just released Bob Roberts, a political satire which marks the feature film directorial debut of his co-star Tim Robbins.
“It's really good, especially considering the current terrifying state of politics in America. I just have a little cameo in it. I play an anchor. I present the news with great sobriety and authority, when in fact I'm just a big power junkie for Bob Roberts. Basically just a twit, but I look like I really know what I'm talking about.”
Throughout the end of his run in Guys And Dolls, Gallagher had to take time off to finish up on his latest project, which reunites him with Altman and Robbins.
"It's called Short Cuts. It's nine stories interwoven, and our story is with Frances McDormand, who plays my wife. Tim and I are playing rivals once again. He's an LAPD motorcycle cop. I'm a Marine Reserve helicopter pilot who's bombing the med flies. Bob Altman is really excited about it, and everybody is just doing amazing work."
As far as the future goes, Peter Gallagher will be shooting the film Damages with Alec Baldwin, Bill Pullman and Nicole Kidman. After that, he may be involved in one or two other projects, but it's too soon to tell.
“I’ve never been able to plan my life far in advance. It happens at some point in your career when you get very successful or popular. I'm not that fortunate yet, and I don't know if I want to necessarily because it's always the things that pop up when you least expect them that sometimes offer the greatest rewards and excitement. One of those things that you can't foresee, can't expect, that aren't on anybody's production schedule, but are still bubbling around in someone's imagination. And through a fortuitous chain of events, they are all of a sudden ready for production, and they're looking for somebody like you. That's how sex, lies and videotape and The Player happened.
"It kind of makes it exciting and terrifically nerve-wracking, but I'm used to it. It's harder on people who are more accustomed to regular schedules, like my wife," he says with an affectionate laugh.
There are many actors who talk about the desperate need for "fresh visions" and good scripts, but who then will not take the chance to work with an inexperienced or first-time director. Peter Gallagher, on the other hand, took a big risk with sex, lies and videotape that paid off well and he has no misgivings about doing it again.
"I read that script, and I thought, 'This is the best script I've read in I don't know how long.' Then I met Steven Soderbergh, and my only concern at that point was whether or not I'd have enough freedom as an actor or would I be expected to fulfill his memories if he felt that it was completely autobiographical. That wasn't the case at all. He said, 'I see it as kind of a black comedy.' That's all I needed to hear, and I was very happy to proceed.
"You never know. The amount of someone's experience is not necessarily a tried-and-true test of what kind of experience I would have working with them. You can have great times with first-time directors and lousy times. You can have great times with experienced directors and lousy times. It just depends on the individual.
"Those kind of associations--with people that you share beliefs and ways of doing things and outlooks on the world--are very reassuring in a business that tends not to reward or reinforce those relationships. It's what's been very exciting about meeting Tim Robbins. We met on The Player, and we really worked well together. It's unusual to experience an unbridled generosity between actors, where each of your aims is to fulfill the story and not to just pump up your little section of it. So, we had a good time assisting each other. It's not such a bad association so far. The Player, Bob Roberts, and this new one. We'll probably work together a lot I imagine."
A good look at the body of work that Peter Gallagher has done will show that he does have a tendency to work with a lot of the same people on different projects. This is not only a testament to his talent and to his ability to get along well with others, but it also says that he is willing to learn from the valuable insight of older actors and one director in particular.
"There are some people in this business that you'll probably never work with again, but Robert Altman is certainly not like that. Altman has been one of the most important people in my life. Working with him on The Caine Mutiny Court Martial was the first time that I really had a good time on a movie. It's also been a real lesson to me in terms of surviving well in this industry with your sense of humor intact and your talent growing. He's maintained his own point of view through thick and thin, and hasn't allowed any kind of bitterness to poison his outlook or his response to people. He's one of America's great, great filmmakers, and fortunately, people are starting to recognize that again. As he says--he's had about four careers--and that's the way it is in this business. You can't think of it as a linear ascent or descent or plateau.
"So, it's always intrigued me and how and why people survive well because there's got to be a great benefit to one's work as an actor, if you're still allowed to do it when you're older and wiser and better at it. I just don't think you have much to share just in terms of your experience as an individual until you've been doing it for awhile. But I've been fortunate, and I've worked with James Cagney, Jack Lemmon, Peter O'Toole, and with Jason Robards, who is so accomplished in so many areas and so alive and attentive. But what I've noticed is that if there's anything that a lot of these people that I admire have in common is that they have a great deal of interest, and it's a great way to be."
From the time of his first movie The Idolmaker, and in the twelve years since then, Gallagher has been called a "star in the making" with every subsequent major project that he has been in. But for Gallagher, it has always been the work itself, and not the results, that have been of the greatest importance to him.
"There's a lot of value to sticking around and being patient. The Idolmaker was supposed to be a big, big hit, and it didn't do well at the box office. It's a good movie, and I was proud that I was in it. But the hype was very great, and there was all this expectation we would become big stars. And frankly, I can't imagine I'd be as happy with whom I am as an actor and as a person today had those things happened. It didn't make getting work easy, but I was able to muddle around and explore things and screw up and not pay a heavy price for it. Rather than thinking at that age, 'God, why am I so successful? Is it the way I part my hair? Now what do I have to do to stay on top?' To confuse that issue of wanting to be accepted and liked with your work is not healthy, and when you're young you can easily equate your self-esteem with the success of your projects."
There are some who seem to resent Peter Gallagher's success because of the lack of their own success. Gallagher can certainly understand a struggling actor's competitive anger over the business, but not the idea of singling him out because he did not have to take odd jobs and "suffer."
"I was lucky. I’ll be the first to admit it. I came from college and started getting work right away. But the fact of the matter is, being an actor is hard. That's the truth. The tougher the economy gets, and the more cost-conscious the industry becomes, the harder it is for the middle-level actor to work. So, there are a lot of reasons for people who want to get work as actors to be filled with resentment. But it is not a good enough reason to resent your fellow actor because no one can possibly make a quantitative judgment and say, 'Well, this person's had it easier than me.' That's just admitting to being very ignorant about people and life because you have no idea, regardless of the face that someone presents, what kind of life they have.
"A friend of mine, Michael Leslie, was in Frankfurt, Germany doing a production of Little Shop Of Horrors, and he walked into the dressing room where these other American actors were dishing Hollywood actors 'who have the nerve to think they could go to Broadway and sing!' And Michael walked over, saw that it was my picture on the cover of the Life section of USA Today, and said, 'Are you talking about Peter Gallagher?’ They said, 'Yeah! Who does he think he is? He can just go to Broadway and start singing!’ And Michael said, 'Do you know what you're talking about? I sang side by side with him on Broadway in 1977 in Hair!' I was very proud that he did this, but it has as much to do with how little you know about someone as much as how much you know about them.
"It's just a tough industry, and the biggest waste of time is resentment because it just doesn't get you anywhere. You have to sometimes because it's a business that just makes you so deeply hurt and crazy and angry and so bewildered at the seeming lack of logic. But then playing Larry Levy in The Player, I started to understand that it's not personal. It has nothing to do with how good you are. It has to do with what your market value is that week. 'Oh,yeah! His last picture grossed this...! You're right. He is good. He's hot! Oooh!'
“I think that you just have to do the thing that you need to do and believe in, and hope you have the opportunity to do it with like-minded individuals. I look at the kind of work that I can do with Altman and Steven Soderbergh and Tim Robbins, and the various projects I've done with Jack and Jason, and I think I could have a fascinating career. I could be very happy doing that for the rest of my life.” AAA
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A wonderful interview with Peter Gallagher and the back story is just as interesting
For this trip down memory lane. I remember what we went through to make this interview happen and I’m so glad we did - and so glad we’re still in touch. Wishing you all good things always. Keep it up! xo Peter