Where: his dressing room (Marquis Theatre). 12:45 pm.
A few days after Victor Garber was nominated for a Tony Award for his starring role in the smash revival of Damn Yankees, I went to ask him for an interview. At the time, there were people standing around the theatre congratulating him, and he accepted everyone's praises with a shy "Thank you." But when someone blurted out, "You're going to win!" Garber winced. He turned back to the person and explained that getting an award doesn't really matter in the long run, and I thought, "Oh, yeah. This guy is definitely one of the good ones."
Much to the delight of Broadway audiences, Garber has stuck with the show since its beginning last winter, while other cast members have come and gone.
"It's hard to walk away from a nice Broadway job. There aren't that many that are this much fun and this successful, so one has to take advantage of these situations when they arise. But I do like doing other things. I'm not one to stay in a show for a long time usually, so by December I'll probably take some time off again and see what's available in the film world. I would like to do more of that because the fun thing about doing a movie is that you never know what's going to be. It's hard work and boring most of the time, but there's a certain spontaneity that makes it interesting."
One thing that Garber is not interested in is being a willing participant in any publicity machine. Even though he is a very affable person and easy to talk to, don't ever expect to see him hamming it up on talk shows for the sake of his own celebrity.
"The whole thing about being an actor is being mysterious so that you can portray all these different people, and that no one really knows who you are. A part of it is just a right to privacy. So aside from my close friends and my family, I don't really care to share things because I don't like talking about myself all that much. I'm not opposed to it. It's just not my favorite thing to do," he laughs. "And I get very tired of actors spouting forth all of their notions about life and art and politics. The media attention on celebrity is so out of proportion to me."
This year's Tony loss wasn't the first time the coveted statue succeeded in eluding Victor Garber. But he has a healthy perspective on the situation, its true measurement of triumph, and the reality of chasing such a lofty accomplishment.
"It's natural as a young person to aspire to that, but as I grow older, I grow more aware of how empty that kind of a goal is. But those beliefs die hard. They're still always operating in us no matter how much we say, 'Oh, no. It doesn't mean anything to me.'
"Even this year at the Tonys, you still buy into a certain amount of it, and there's still that feeling of loss when you don't get it because winning a Tony is part of the hype of being in the Broadway theater. It's what society says is a mark of success, so it's hard to disassociate from that. But all you have to do is look at the people who weren't nominated to see how incredibly ludicrous the whole thing is. This is my fourth nomination, but my goal is not to win a Tony Award. It was, when I was younger. I wanted to win badly. But happiness is not guaranteed to come with a Tony or an Academy Award.
"It's not that I'm not ambitious and don't want more, but that's not what it's about for me. If you buy into that in any real way, you're just going to end up being disappointed and unhappy, and I'm past that point in my life," Garber adds with a laugh. "But some days I do think, 'Gee, why can't I have that part? Look at that career. Why isn't my career like that?'"
No doubt there are a lot of actors who wish they could have Garber's career, or his abilities. He is one of those rare performers who not only receives praise from critics and admirers, but he is also held in the highest regard by other actors. "An extraordinary talent" and "one of the greatest stage actors in America" are a few of the phrases his contemporaries have used to describe him. When informed of those quotes, Garber seems genuinely embarrassed by such adulation.
"Really?" he chuckles quietly. "It's awfully nice. It's certainly better than being kicked," he says with a bashful smile. "I mean I've been working as an actor since I was twenty, so I've built up a body of work. As a result, I can do a lot of different things and sing and all that too, so I'm a fortunate guy that God gave me talent to act. So you develop a reputation. When that is reflected back to you as being positive, it's a great feeling, but it doesn't mean a lot. You just have to put it in the file of 'Oh, that's a nice thing,' and then move on. Because if you start believing or living it, it can do some weird things to you.
"Also this business is hard. You can do one flop and pay for it for ten years. So I try to keep it in balance." He smiles, savoring his last word. "'Balance' is an important word in every aspect of my life."
Garber’s need for balance also extends into his working atmosphere and his disdain for dealing with "people who are self-obsessed and need attention all the time, who think they know everything and feel that they can tell you what to do, and who aren't really talented.
"The acting profession attracts a certain kind of ego, which is undeniable. But at the same time, the best actors that I've worked with are the people that are able to put that aside. Collaboration is the key to any real success in art, and it doesn't just happen because of one actor. So the people I work with are as important as any project I do. So I'm always on the lookout for the asshole quotient. In any given situation you think, 'Well, that person's an asshole, but this person isn't. So this will balance that.' That's just my little private way of making a decision about what I'm going to do. If a certain actor's name is associated with something, I think, 'Gee, it's not really worth it. Life is too short. I don't need it.'
"Fortunately I haven't run into that too much in the last few years, and I pick jobs accordingly. I mean basically in life we don't want to associate with people like that anyway, and I like to have fun and a good time when I'm working.”
In the past, Victor Garber has explained that he learned how to perform merely by copying the work of actors he admired when he was younger. But anyone who has seen his multi-layered stage performances knows that there is much more going on than that breezy explanation suggests, so Garber clarifies his early statement.
"It's not copying. That's a flippant way of saying it because I wanted to demystify acting for young people who read about it. What I mean is I watched actors, and I thought, 'Oh, I see what he's doing. Now if I do that, what will happen?' So of course it's always filtered through me and what I do, but it's by seeing performances that I think are major that I then get ideas about what to do for myself. So over the years, I've developed my own technique, and it's basically trying to reveal the truth and make the imaginary circumstances seem real to an audience. That's the goal.
"That's what I try to pound into people's heads when I teach acting--it has to be you, and that's enough. Because a lot of people think acting's really easy. But all you have to do is witness somebody getting up and trying it, and you see how bad these people look. And we've all seen that! I see it all the time in these classes. These kids come in, and they think they're fine. Their concept of acting is completely skewed, and that's just for starters. I mean being able to really listen is probably the most important aspect of acting. Now that sounds simple, but it's not. And most people can't do it."
This is not to say that Garber is judgmental of others. He is hardest on himself and believes that acting gets more difficult as the years go by.
"I think the more you know, the less you know," he chuckles. "I can probably use a little more self-confidence. I think we all can to some degree. But I am self-critical. Probably a little too much, but I also try to give myself due when I've done well. I was proud of myself at the Tonys. It's not easy to open a Tony Awards show, and I thought, 'Yeah, that's fine. I did well.'
"But the reason that it gets harder is you start to realize the art is so expansive, and you never really have it. When you're younger, you think you can do anything. You think, 'Oh, I can play Hamlet!' Well, I'm not so sure I can. I know when I read a part if it's within my grasp. And now I look for things that are going to be challenging and exciting for me. That may mean Shakespeare or a new play or a movie. It depends on the situation. Damn Yankees was definitely the right thing, so I think I have good instincts and know what's best for me most of the time.”
It is easy to see that Victor Garber is certainly thankful to be a part of the profession he is in.
"I love the fact that I can walk around the city and everywhere I go I know people that I've worked with or that I've met, and I feel very connected. I'm grateful to work and have so many opportunities for growth and--" He stops and frowns at himself. "I know that sounds sort of pompous, but it's really true. I mean there are things in my life that I would like to sort out, but I don't think that one ever sorts out one's life totally. So I’ll just continue to sift through the things that come in and see what works and what doesn't." AAA
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