Jun 8, 2023

TBT: Jean Smart & Mary Steenburgen

photo by Gary Leonard

When I was starting up Back Stage West back in late 1993/early 1994, I remember someone suggesting that we do something like Interview magazine—i.e., have one celebrity interview another. Hence was Actors' Dialogue born, though the emphasis wasn't so much on celebrities per se as colleagues who happened to be well known, and most often had a single project to promote together (though we also did our share of matchmaking: Our very first dialogue, between Marion Ross and Charlotte Rae, wasn't tied to any project at all but was put together as a kind of dream date). I've posted a few of these recent years and plan to do more (i.e., Sam Jackson & LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Rupert Everett and Richard E. Grant).

These were always very lightly hosted and coaxed along by a reporter, which is how one memorable day I found myself in the presence of Jean Smart and Mary Steenburgen, who were both appearing in the West Coast premiere of Scott McPherson's Marvin's Room. The brackets in their exchanges below show a few traces of my nudging (I'm sure I asked them to compare notes on their training, for instance), but I think the results hold up well as a time capsule of these two, and of the industry they were part of, in the mid-'90s.

Back Stage West
Oct. 13, 1994


On Confidence, Training, and the Intangible

Two actors best known for film and TV roles met recently at the home of a friend to talk about their return to the stage, in Marvin's Room at the Tiffany Theatre.

Mary Steenburgen's first film role was in Jack Nicholson's Goin’ South, and she won an Oscar in 1980 for Melvin and Howard. Since then, she's appeared in such films as Time After Time, Ragtime, Parenthood, Cross Creek, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Jean Smart is best known for her role as sensible Charlene on the long-running CBS series Designing Women. She also played a retarded woman in the TV movie The Yarn Princess, and appeared in the films Mistress and The Incredible Journey: Homeward Bound.

Mar 8, 2023

The First Cut Is the Deepest

Orville Mendoza as Sweeney at the 2014 Sondheimas celebration. (Photo by David Gordon)

When Stephen Sondheim died last year, I reflected that he is probably the single artist I've written the most about, both for hire and otherwise. With the publication of my new preview piece on the Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd, I have occasion to reflect that I can boast the pleasure of having written about that show, arguably his greatest, more than any other of his pieces.

Like many folks, my first exposure to Sweeney Todd was the recording of the 1981 tour stop with George Hearn and Angela Lansbury, which I confess was too grisly for my 12-year-old self to get through. Around the same time I was more intrigued but not quite won over by the similar video of Sunday in the Park With George. My journey to a full appreciation, then full-on fanhood, as I've said many times (including to the man himself), was in intimate stagings by a number of L.A. theaters: Into the Woods at Actor's Co-op, Company at West Coast Ensemble, Assassins at L.A. Rep, Putting It Together at the Colony, Pacific Overtures at East West Players.

That last venue is also where I saw my first live Sweeney Todd, in 1994, by which time I was not only acclimated to his work's complexities but alert to them, even ardent about them. Amazingly, I learned recently that that production was also Josh Groban's first experience, not only of the show but of Sondheim's work. Josh was then around the age I had been on my first mortified exposure to Sweeney, and obviously he was more mature than I, because that production kindled a lifelong love for the man's work that culminates with him headlining the first full-scale Sweeney revival on Broadway.

Among the great pleasures of writing my preview piece on the new Sweeney was to be able to name check that production and its star, Orville Mendoza, about whom Josh told me: "That performance still resonates; it still haunts me."

I could say a lot more about Sweeney Todd, but it turns out I've already said a lot, in...

A review of the 1994 East West Players production with Orville Mendoza & Freda Foh Shen

A review of a starry Reprise! concert staging with Kelsey Grammer & Christine Baranski in 1999

A review of the 2005 Broadway revival with Michael Cerveris & Patti LuPone

Thoughts in this space on the 2007 film version

A review of the NY Philharmonic production with Emma Thompson & Bryn Terfel in 2014

A review of the 2017 "pie shop" production (joined with a review of Sunday)

I haven't yet been assigned to review the new revival, but if I am, I will consider it yet another chapter in a long critical engagement with the demon barber (and his creator). The chair awaits.

Feb 9, 2023

TBT: Poetry Vs. Hollywood

One of the privileges of my theatergoing in L.A. back in the day was seeing talented actors like David Dukes do some of the best work of their careers in venues both big and small. I also got to interview him a few times, and he was as interesting to talk to as he was to watch (not always true of actors, honestly). Then he died suddenly, at the age I am now, and I got to know his widow, the poet Carol Muske-Dukes, who wrote a book of essays in part about her late husband and the world he occupied. This piece for the paper I ran then brings back fond memories. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Feb 2, 2023

TBT: Randy Newman Can't Afford to Do Theatre

It wasn't a one-on-one, alas, but I well remember the day I was ushered into a South Coast Rep rehearsal room for a sort of four-way interview: myself, another reporter, the press rep (Cristofer Gross), and Randy Newman, dressed in de rigeuer Hawaaian shirt. The occasion was a sort of revue of his work that music director Michael Roth and literary director Jerry Patch had cooked up called, after Henry Adams, The Education of Randy Newman. It ended up being a creditable stage effort but nothing special (nor, by most accounts, was an eerily similar anthology evening at the Mark Taper Forum just 10 years later). But I wasn't going to pass up the chance to talk to a songwriting idol, and after Faust, which I'd enjoyed at La Jolla Playhouse, it still wasn't all the far-fetched a notion that he could write something worthwhile for the theatre. (More on that bittersweet subject here and here.)

Without further ado, this was my cover story for the magazine I ran at the time.

Back Stage West
May 18, 2000

Newman’s Own
Randy Newman writes narrative songs in character. Is it any wonder they're ending up on a stage?

by Rob Kendt

Does Randy Newman have an image problem? We're not talking about his unprepossessing looks, which he has jokingly compared in song to "froggish men, unpleasant to see.”

More damaging to the reputation of America's greatest living songwriter is his recent success as a sort of avuncular troubadour for baby boomers and their tykes, with the charming fluff he's written for such films as Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Babe Il: Pig in the City, and, going back a few years to the beginning of this uncharacteristically benign period in his work, Parenthood’s "I Love To See You Smile." It doesn't help his street cred that his two other biggest pop hits as a singer are "Short People" and "I Love LA." Nuff said.

While no one can begrudge a great artist some success and material comfort, in Newman's case this recent mellowing, which would include his distinguished career as an orchestral film composer, often threatens to overwhelm his enduring contribution to pop music: a 30-year song catalogue unparalleled in its acid wit, its supreme but unpretentious artistry, its unreliable but incisive storytelling.

This, after all, is the same songwriter who wrote "Rednecks,” satiric country anthem for Southern crackers that doesn't let the North off easy, either; "Sail Away," a sweet ballad which just happens to be a colonial slave trader's pitch to the Africans; “Wedding in Cherokee County,” the bluesy lament of an impotent circus freak, and such perverse confections as "Christmas in Capetown,” "Davy the Fat Boy," "I Want You To Hurt Like I Do." Even 10 years ago, the name Randy Newman was still a byword for double-edged character songs that were alternately moving, chilling, and hiarious—whereas now Newman and his patented ragtime shuffle are a family-friendly franchise.

His last album, 1999's Bad Love, even addressed his perceived irrelevance with the corrosively funny "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)" ("Each record that I'm making/ls like a record that I've made/Just not as good").

The mellowing is partly for real, Newman confessed in a recent interview at South Coast Repertory, where a new music-theatre piece has been fashioned from several of his songs, and is set to open June 2. Called The Education of Randy Newman, it's a sung-through musical conceived by SC literary manager Jerry Patch and musical director Michael Roth, with a Newmanesque central character carrying the evening from 1943 to today, employing Newman's character songs along the way to illuminate the personal and political upheavals of the period.

"The arc of it is, I learn that life is not so bad," said Newman of the show. "Which actually is something that I learned. I think I was a lot more unhappy at 24 than I am now. Maybe I'm just not paying attention.”

Not that he's disavowing his body of work—just that he's got more perspective about its rich, unsettling blend of misanthropy and compassion.

"I never had a horrible, bleak view of the world—I always knew that people were kinda decent. The people in the audiences who hear my songs are better than the people in the songs—they're exaggerations, I know that. I know it from talking to individual people—they're just not bad. It isn't like the world is a cesspool.

"I watched, on public TV years ago, Emile Zola's Nana, and it was the bleakest—it was like where you would go when you die. It was the worst, most depressing thing I've ever seen—way worse than life is, way worse. I just sort of knew that. It's that bad if you're a junkie; it's that bad if you're in love with someone who doesn't love you. But basically it's not."

Mixed Revue

The association with South Coast Rep, Costa Mesa's regional theatre powerhouse, began when Michael Roth, who had music-directed a straight revue of Newman’s songs, Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong, in the mid-1980s at the La Jolla Playhouse and Off-Broadway, suggested to SCR artistic directors Martin Benson and David Emmes another Newman revue. They were fans, and so was Jerry Patch—but he saw the possibility of more than a simple evening of tunes.

"I listened to a lot of his songs, and I had the notion that there something bigger than a revue here—that you coud tell a story with this material," said Patch. "Then the question became, How do you do that?"

Patch thought of The Education of Henry Adams, the 1918 classic by the Quincy Adams-descended historian—a droll third-person autobiography about the forces that shaped the 19th century, filtered through the unreliable but witheringly insightful lens of Adams’ experiences. With Newman's approval and editorial input, the South Coast team set out to weave some of his best songs into a narrative thread which, like Adams' biography, would not give an accurate portrayal of his life per se ("the details would be overwhelmingly boring," Newman quipped) but would present his uniquely alert, jaundiced point of view on his times.

His unique sensibility, both musically and thematically, is the product of his upbringing, mostly in Los Angeles but also, for a brief but significant period, in New Orleans, from whence his mother hailed. "I remember the ice cream wagon with the signs marked 'colored'—which was misspelled—and ‘white,’” said Newman. "I only lived there up to age three, but I went back every summer till I was 12." The new show extends this Southern sojourn a bit, in part so some of his Faulknerian songs about racists and con men and working-class anti-heroes can be included, and in part, as Newman explained, "so my character sees things which presumably give me my acute sense of social justice.”

Actor Scott Waara plays this Newmanesque central figure, and the rest of the cast—an illustrious troupe that includes Jordan Bennett, Gregg Henry, Sherry Hursey, John Lathan, Allison Smith, and Jennifer Leigh Warren—plays other characters who embody the personal and political upheavals of the past 50 or so years, in a sung-through evening directed by Myron Johnson.

"In many ways it's the most ambitious show we've ever done,” confessed Patch, who helps maintain SCR's deserved reputation as a bastion of literate new American plays. Indeed, while SCR has previously staged Happy End and Sunday in the Park With George, it is not part of the nonprofit regional theatre's Broadway tryout circuit, like its counterparts to the south, La Jolla and the Old Globe. In the context of SCR's literary bent, then, the collaboration with Newman makes perfect sense.

"Randy really speaks to us, 'cause he's dramatic writer," said Patch. "He brings aspects of theatre to everything he does. He's clever, witty, smart; he's got craft to burn. If we're going to do a musical, he's the guy to do it with."

Play the Playhouses

Indeed, as inevitable as it was that Newman would follow his illustrious uncles Alfred, Lionel, and Emil in the trade of writing and conducting Hollywood film music, it also seems inevitable that this master of character writing and narrative would set his sights on the musical theatre. And so he did, with 1995's Faust, a joyous if ungainly vaudeville pastiche of Goethe's immortal story which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse and went to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago with a possible Broadway run in mind. (That hasn't yet materialized, and plans for a staging at the Kennedy Center went away with its outgoing president, Lawrence J. Wilker, who apparently still wants to mount it somewhere.)

Newman learned a lot from Faust—giving the audience a reprise or two, and giving songs a big finish so that actors can make a graceful exit, were two big technical lessons. He thinks it was misunderstood: "I believe I got too much credit for the songs and not enough credit for the book. The score wasn’t maybe as good as they said it was, and the book wasn't...I mean, compared to what? We weren't doing Shakespeare; it had a beginning and ending, more or less. And I didn't care: If I wanted to do a Busby Berkeley number—I really did—I did it, even if it didn't pertain to the plot.”

Above all, Newman seems to have learned to trust stage craftsmen with his material, especially the actor/singers who bring his narratives to life.

"| noticed with Faust that the actors made it better than it was on the page,” said Newman. "In Education, a number of the songs—the context and the performance is better than I can do; it's more effective.

"It’s like, movie actors you meet sometimes, they're disippointments somehow. It's not their fault, it's just that they're not 40 feet high and they're not real smart and graceful and everything. But these stage people—they sing, they sing in tune, in five-part harmony, they sight read. They do stuff I can't do. Besides being able to do a backflip and dance."

And he understands the value of working in theatre in an essentially pragmatic way: "One thing I did find out was that Faust, and I think definitely this show, played to people I could not play to. They wouldn't come to see me, and I couldn't keep 'em. Here you've got pretty people to look at, they're dancing around, some nice voices. Mv voice offends some people—music lovers—and once I get past 'You've Got a Friend in Me,’ Bug's Life, ‘Love To See You Smile,' and ‘Short People,’ I'm in trouble. But with Faust in San Diego and Chicago, they had kids, old black ladies, who liked it and sat through it, who I couldn't play for, really."

Of course, he dues play to an even bigger mass audience with his second career as a G-rated bluesman and film composer. But he clearly understands his place as a hired hand: "Every Disney movie I've done, I could have written the same song for: If we all pull together, things will work out." And film scoring lets him obsess on the craft of writing for orchestra, which he learned at the feet of his three composer/conductor uncles in Hollywood.

A show like Education, on the other hand, puts a new frame around some of his best songs for a mostly uninitiated audience. As SCR's Jerry Patch said, "Anyone in the Broadway business, or in music, knows how good this guy is. But to the general public, he's the guy who goes on the Oscars and sings the song from Toy Story. If this show can reintroduce his best songs to our audience—I think it will hit baby boomers right between the eyes."

It's Money That Matters

Still, Newman is not in any rush to write more for the stage. Not because he felt burned by Faust—his joy in that project shone through the score and still shows when he talks about it—but due to a more familiar dilemma.

"It takes years and there's no money—I can't afford it," he said matter-of-factly. "If I could earn a living doing it, it would be a good thing to do, 'cause I could use everything I know: I can write dialogue, I can orchestrate, write songs, write jokes."

The musical theatre might not want him, either, given his frank disdain for it: "It hasn't been the forum the best composers have gone into for quite a while; the best songwriters have been pop songwriters, for the last 30 or 40 years, mostly. Carole King and Paul Simon, people right there from New York, didn't go into it. There's Sondheim, but he's a lonely figure; everyone always has to say, 'Except for Sondheim.’”

His admiration for Sondheim is tempered by a slight but telling disagreement over rhyming.

"He was going to see this workshop of Faust that James Lapine was doing, and he said, ‘I hope you won't be nervous,’ and I said, ‘Well, I hope you don't mind a couple 'girl and 'world' rhymes.’ And he said, 'Well, I do, and you don't come from that [pop] place, either.’ And I said, 'Yes, I do. With the diction I have, I don't have to feel you can't rhyme...well, ‘girl' and world' is particularly egregious, but I've done it. Fats Domino rhymed 'New Orleans’ and 'shoes.' I don't mind that stuff, and Sondheim does. I don't agree with him.

"And sometimes I think he'll rhyme things out of boredom—just to show he can rhyme. He'll do a show about assassins or a murderer just because he has such virtuosity as a lyricist that he can do it. And yet, he's all we've got."

Newman, in person a sharp, funny, youthful personality at 56, stopped himself to realize: "I'll never get to Broadway—I've said so many bad things about things they love. It's like trashing someone's house before you see their house."

Indeed, after Paul Simon's famously contentious mounting of The Capeman in a hostile Broadway environment, Newman's comments may not get him a hero's welcome there. South Coast's world premiere of Education has no co-producers lined up to ensure it further productions; Patch said that the rights to the show remain mutually held by Newman and South Coast.

But while it's unlikely that the entire oeuvre of this songwriter's songwriter will ever get a huge popular embrace, South Coast audiences are likely at least to get a good survey course—an education in Randy Newman, if you will.

Jan 9, 2023

Samuel L. Jackson & La Tanya Richardson, 1994 Edition

Note: Sam Jackson is wearing a hat for the Birmingham Black Barons, a Negro League team that played 1920-1960. 

Tonight I'm headed to the TCG "Our Stories" Gala honoring Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson Jackson, whose long and often interconnected careers in theatre, film, and television have culminated in the current Broadway revival of The Piano Lesson, which Richardson Jackson directed and in which Jackson appears as Doaker. It's something of a full circle moment for both of them: Jackson originated the lead role of Boy Willie in the play's Yale Rep production in 1987, then understudied it on Broadway (Charles Dutton starred), and Richardson Jackson has directed a number of plays by August Wilson over the years, though this is her first staging on Broadway.

Nearly 30 years ago, in one of the first issues of the actor's magazine I founded in L.A., we featured a long "actors' dialogue" with the couple, who had only fairly recently settled in L.A., ostensibly for her TV career, though they ended up staying to support his then-about-to-explode film career. This was well after Jackson was a regular presence in films, including in a few memorable roles in Spike Lee films, but about 7 months before Pulp Fiction's release made him a film icon.

As this frank, wide-ranging conversation makes abundantly clear, though, these were at heart two veteran theater artists still figuring out the ropes of Hollywood, with clear eyes and no illusions but a real openness to the next turns in the road. I think it's safe to say these two figured it out, but it's also great to have them both back on the stage (I say both because while Richardson Jackson has been no stranger to the theatres as an actor, both regionally and on Broadway, her husband hasn't trod the boards for more than a decade.)

And btw, if you haven't seen Piano Lesson on Broadway, what are you waiting for? I commend to you Helen Shaw's rave review to get a sense of what you're missing.

Here's the whole dialogue as it appeared in 1994.

Oct 20, 2022

The Review Files: 'Topdog's' Fire Last Time

Larry Gilliard Jr. and Harold Perrineau in "Topdog/Underdog" at Center Theatre Group in 2004.

It's been a very Suzan-Lori Parks week for me; a few days ago I published my lively Q&A with her at American Theatre, and tonight my review of the new Broadway revival of her 2002 Pulitzer winner Topdog/Underdog went up at Vulture/NY Mag. I didn't catch this play in its original Broadway run, but I did see it when it came to L.A. a few years later. Below is my review for the Downtown News.

February 16, 2004



A 'Topdog' in Top Form

Actors as Seductive as the Street Cons They Portray

By Rob Kendt



From the simple raw materials of three-card monte—a few crates and a board, cards creased like small tents and placed in a row—a seasoned hustler can turn his streetcorner into a kind of open-air palmist's den, as seductively intimate as a confessional or a peep-show booth. He might as well be stroking a crystal ball as he looks into his mark's eyes and unspools his hypnotic, reiterative patter.


Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks manages a similar sleight-of-hand hustle with her brilliant two-hander Topdog/Underdog, now in a stark, stunning, roof-raising production at the Mark Taper Forum. Dealing with a seemingly small, stacked deck—two brothers, suggestively named Lincoln and Booth, reminisce and recriminate over a few nights in a tatty walk-up flat—she appears to show us her hand, all the while spinning out tangents and tricks that divert us from the high stakes on the table.


"There's just so much in the cards," marvels Lincoln (Harold Perrineau), a former three-card virtuoso drawn inexorably back to the street after trying to leave it behind. It's equally true of Parks' deceptively lean play, the best to grace the Taper stage in years; there are untold riches in its hilariously profane badinage, in its impish horseplay, in the unforced but undeniable mythic suggestiveness of its iconography.


Indeed, at times director George C. Wolfe's staging, with a bare bulb splashing tall shadows onto Riccardo Hernandez's stagey cutaway set, explicitly references the disreputable pleasures of the minstrel show. Political incorrectness doesn't begin to describe the giddy spectacle of Perrineau's Lincoln—whose macabre day job is to slather on whiteface and dress as his ironic namesake at an arcade shooting gallery—as he mimes alternative versions of Honest Abe's last moments in his Ford's Theatre seat. What annoyed theatergoer, after all, could argue that unwrapping a crinkly candy or taking a phone call in the theatre should be capital offenses?


Roll and Rock

Even when the staging isn't so openly presentational, there's an undercurrent of competitive showmanship in the tale of two brothers, abandonded in their teens by parents who just couldn't be bothered with family responsibilities anymore, who each turned to a variety of the hustle to get by: Lincoln to a three-card racket that ended in senseless violence, Booth to creative, even impulsive shoplifting ("I stole generously," he says at one point, laying out an impressive spread).


As these two stake out territory and settle old scores, Parks gets at one of the theater's great themes, perhaps its one great theme: the ways we all try to be the playwrights and directors of our own lives, to make sense of their alternately cruel and wondrous randomness by dramatizing them, by making scenes or games of them.


There's no scripting the vagaries of real life, though. And as this playful fraternal scrimmage inevitably turns to a life-or-death struggle, Parks tightens her grip and doesn't let up. It's here that Topdog/Underdog, for all its boasts and toasts, acquires a kind of primal tragic gravity. Parks turns a pedestrian political point—that there's no winning for these no-longer-young black men unless The Man allows it—into a universal whoop of despair worthy of Beckett.


Wolfe has a knockout pair of performers (somehow the word "actors" doesn't cut it) who handle Parks' virtuosic, free-ranging monologues, and lock into a believably well-worn camaraderie. As the older, wearier Lincoln, Perrineau hangs fire masterfully, keeping his cards close to his vest until he comes clean, and gets down and dirty, in the second act.


The strutting, fretting bantam Booth has the opposite arc, from manic to depressive. Larry Gilliard Jr.'s almost scandalously enjoyable performance in the role is indelible, and—like much about Topdog—is deceptively endearing. Gilliard is both a freakily dexterous, scene-stealing physical comedian—watch him apply cologne, or clear an elegant table setting—and a master of the scary slow burn. Not many performers have the range and control to play us like Gilliard—milking hysterical laughter one minute, then giving us a disturbed reverie of pin-drop intensity the next.


But then, that's also a signature trait of Topdog/Underdog. A good playwright can give us a great time at the theater; a great playwright can rock our world. Parks does both: She gives us a good roll before she rocks us.

Dec 30, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Rupert Everett & Richard E. Grant Dish and Declaim

photo by Gary Leonard

As I mentioned last week, going through old copies of Back Stage West, the actor's trade I ran from 1993 to 2003, I stumbled across this rollicking chat between two very funny, prickly Brits. The concept of the Actors' Dialogue was to facilitate an Interview magazine-style conversation between two subjects. Sometimes they required prodding. Though I was on hand for this exchange, these two were quite capable of prodding each other, as you'll see. Enjoy!

Back Stage West 

January 12, 1995 

On Hustling, Hubris, and Improvisation

Actors’ Dialogue: Rupert Everett and Richard E. Grant


Two Brits who appear in Robert Altman's fashion world send-up Ready to Wear met poolside at the Westwood Marquis Hotel to dish and declaim.

Rupert Everett, who plays the scheming son of a designer, made his first splash in film and stage versions of Another Country, since appearing in The Comfort of Strangers, Inside Monkey Zetterland, and The Madness of King George. Richard E. Grant, who portrays a preening dress designer, made his film debut in Withnail and I and has since appeared in Mountains of the Moon, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, Henry and June, L.A. Story, and The Player.

Rupert Everett: Were you in Henry and June—the one about Anais Nin?

Richard E. Grant: I played Anais Nin's boring American husband, who had a huge penis, apparently.

Rupert: I must have walked out by the time you were on.

Richard: I’m not going to slag off your films—the few that you have made. You come from a very, very rich family, you're upper class.

Rupert: So are you!

Richard: And very well-bred.

Rupert: And you used to have a plantation of slaves in Swaziland.

Richard: You went to the Central School of Speech and Drama and got yourself kicked out. The legend was that you got your first job at the Glasgow Citizens Theater by doing an audition for Hamlet playing Ophelia in a pair of pajamas, which so overawed us—

Rupert: It was Nina in The Seagull.

Richard: And you've never looked back, have you?

Rupert: I've looked back several times.

Richard: Meanwhile, I was very studious. I went to university, I got my degree, I fulfilled my father's requisite that I get educated as well as informed about how to become an actor. You just tchotchked straight onto the London Stage and won every award for Another Country.

Rupert: And now you're doing good and I'm hanging on by my fingernails.

Richard: Exactly. That's what I just said.

Rupert: Everyone gets their moment.

Richard: And you had 15 seconds.

Rupert: In America, you get huge fame and huge money, and I want it. And in England you get no money and infamy.

Richard: That's right.

Rupert: I mean, God forbid you should be successful in any shape or form. That literally is hubris.

Richard: But I think when you fail, it's much more heartening; they like that. Then you can come back broken-winged. If you fail in America, it's like having leprosy: People run away from you, because it may be contagious.

Which is why you hear talk about Julia Roberts at the age of 24 making a comeback.

Rupert: When did she do that?

Richard: Oh, a couple of years ago, when she took a year off.

You weren't cast in Ready to Wear, as I was, having worked with Robert [Altman] on The Player. You live in Paris, and you said, "If I am not in the Altman film, I will never be able to wear a frock and walk down the Champs-Elysee with my head held in pride ever again." So you literally badgered and cajoled and bribed your way—short of the casting couch—into this movie, built up your part, and have been ruthless and relentless about it ever since.

Rupert: I'll be very fair. You're the best thing in the film.

Richard: You're only saying that to try and stop me talking about your slanderous, philanderous way of needling into the film.

Rupert: Yes; it's been very effective. An actor has to hustle, I’ve realized this year. If you don't hustle, forget it. Because this was a film, I was told, I couldn't be in; it was cast. It was so important to me. I had this flat in Paris, and I couldn't possibly go on living in Paris if I wasn't in this film. It would be the end of my career.

Richard: Such as it was.

Rupert: I started hustling my agency, which is a very embarrassing thing to do, because you have to call them up every half hour. Well, [my agent] got me the interview, but only after I rang him for a week and a half.

Richard: Well, obviously, that's what I should be doing.

Rupert: It's so embarrassing, though. Because then they get so bored that the only way to make you stop calling is to get you a job.

Richard: Or fire you.

Rupert: Or fire you. But that's more work. They can't fire you for making 20 phone calls.

On American Actors

Rupert: Los Angeles actors can't do anything but skateboarding, really.

Richard: Considering that so many actors turn into directors, and everybody knows everybody, to hear you denigrate the rest of this honored profession as little more than skateboarders is something that—please, do not assign to me, but entirely at the door of Mr. Rupert Everett.

Rupert: No, I don't think all actors can skateboard; I certainly can't. London is world famous for its theatre; Hollywood is not at the cutting edge of theatre, is it? It's a place where movies are made. You can't have everything.

Richard: That's very diplomatic.

On Working With Robert Altman

Richard: You're given a character idea of who you're supposed to be, and what the scenes will be. And you also know in advance in the script who your character knows, doesn't know, likes, doesn't like. Then you're put into a given situation, and then react, and you come up with your own dialogue, and it's then left to—

Rupert: Your stuff is excellent. Especially, "Pret-a-go-go-go." That's a fantastic line.

Richard: "What lava lamps were to the ’70s, you are to the '90s. Go-go-go, pret-a-go-go."

Rupert: Very good moment, that.

Richard: Thank you, Rupert. In The Player, Bob said, "If you want to improvise and do stuff..." It's a combination. The writer has to give you the set-up to do it, because otherwise it would be complete free form. But once the sort of coat hanger, if you like, of the scene is set up, then you are encouraged, and given the responsibility to dress it accordingly. In other projects, you have to stick to the dialogue, and if the dialogue's not wonderfully written, you are desperate to improvise, and jig it up a bit, but sometimes people get very precious and think that they've written something in stone which you can't change. Sometimes, that's less than productive.

Why don't you wear socks? Don't you have very sticky feet?

Rupert: I was just rushing.

Richard: Where are you going?

Rupert: Nowhere.

Richard: Right.

Rupert: Where are you going?

Richard: To have lunch with Steve Martin.

Rupert: What are you talking about with Steve Martin?

Richard: He wants me to do his play [Picasso at the Lapin Agile] in London.

Rupert: You're going to do a play in London?

Richard: Yeah. It’s an hour and a half long, and it is by Steve Martin, so... 

On Approaches to Acting

Richard: Everybody wants to work, everbody wants to act. However they do it is such an individual thing.

Rupert: Nobody pays the blindest bit of attention to anyone else anyway.

Richard: Well, you're the quintessence of the self-obsessed thespian.

Rupert: All thespians are self-obsessed.

Richard: You have to be, just to survive.

Rupert: An actor could be being mugged while on his porta-phone with his agent and not notice.

Richard: It's true, that.

Rupert: We have egos like dogs colons. Which is, as opposed to human colons that go wrapping around like that, a dog's colon is just like a little squeeze box harmonica that goes "phew." That's what an actor's ego is like: huge and simple. And all-engulfing. So it doesn't really matter if you're using the Wang Ho method or Kabuki theater; nobody's going to notice except you.

What I think is irritating about actors is that basically they're exactly like prostitutes.

Richard: That's a boring thing to say, though.

Rupert: It's true. They always go on about "actor's sensitivity." For sensitivity, read: egocentricity. It's ego-sensitivity. They just want people to fancy them, basically.

Richard: It's a chronic case of, "Watch me, Ma."

Rupert: You want to be fancied; you want to be attractive.

Richard: You want to be watched, acknowledged.

Rupert: Attractive.

Richard: Well, speak for yourself. You were born with all the chiseled cheekbones; I wasn't.

Rupert: You know what this is going to come across like?

Richard: What?

Rupert: Two Portuguese hairdresser's assistants in Lisbon yappering away about their dismal prospects! I am going to write us a cop series.

Richard: Yeah, but you won't cast me.

Rupert: Why? 

Richard: Because you're so treacherous. Lauren Bacall called you "the wickedest woman in Paris."

Rupert: I asked you to be in a play [The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore] with me this winter. It was like offering Al Pacino a job: It took four weeks for you to say no. Unbearable! 

Richard: I had a part, a lead, in a movie, very well paid, in Prague for two months. Your offer was 175 pounds a week to do a play in Glasgow. Now, tell me which one you would have chosen in my place? 

Rupert: That movie will go straight to video, I predict.

Richard: It has about as much residue as doing that play in Glasgow.

Rupert: Darling, that play in Glasgow's going to come to London, it'll be off-Broadway, it'll be a movie before you can say—

Richard: —In your wildest dreams. It's an unknown—and quite rightly so—Tennessee Williams play.

Rupert: That's not true. It's a very, very good play. And you would have been magisterial in it.

Richard: You wanted me in drag.

Rupert: Not drag; she-man.

Richard: Who did you end up casting for it?

Rupert: An actress called Georgina Hale.

Richard: Exactly! Thank you very much.