BRIDGING TV & THEATRE: Josh Stamberg & DROP DEAD DIVA
Today we are continuing the male-centric portion of our ongoing series of interviews with the stars of Lifetime's DROP DEAD DIVA with the boss of the legal practice on the show and the main love interest for Kate Levering's character, Kim: the affable and charming stage and screen star Josh Stamberg. In addition to dishing all about Season 3 of DROP DEAD DIVA and the future for Parker, Kim and company at the legal firm, Stamberg and I also discuss many of the various guest stars on the show this season and seasons past - Liza Minnelli, Sharon Lawrence and Faith Prince included - as well as how he sees Parker himself, his own insights into the complex character and what he feels the future holds for his relationships on the show - Kim, Jane and beyond. In addition to all things DIVA-related, Stamberg and I also discuss his many past stage and screen appearances, including: his unforgettable work as Sarge on SIX FEET UNDER and what it was like working with creator Alan Ball, as well as his role on the Aaron Sorkin-scripted series STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP, plus: working at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Atlantic Theatre Company, doing the workshop of A STEADY RAIN (and eventually getting replaced by Hugh Jackman), doing FRACTURED with Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins, acting alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Naomi Watts in Clint Eastwood's forthcoming film J. EDGAR, his favorite work experiences so far, roles he is yearning to essay in the future both near and far and much, much more!
Over the course of the last several weeks, we have been taking an extensive look at the sights and sounds both onscreen and onset of the hit TV dramedy series DROP DEAD DIVA - new episodes airing Sunday nights at 9 PM on Lifetime - featuring exclusive interviews with the leading lady divas and stalwart supporting men on the LA-based supernatural legal series. Featuring a memorable collection of musical performances and Broadway guest stars over the years - Paula Abdul, Rosie O'Donnell, Delta Burke and many more included - DROP DEAD DIVA is the quintessential TV series for Broadway babies looking for some laughs and levity - the latter available in many more ways than one, given the show's heavenly aspirations. DROP DEAD DIVA centers on a legal eagle named Jane whose body acts as the means for the indomitable spirit of a model, Deb, who loses her life, to make a second chance and how the girl inside must learn to adjust to looking like the woman on the outside that she is now. In other words, a model finds out what it means to look like everybody else in a delightfully quirky twist of fate - and learns to be a lawyer along the way, as well. Season Three picked up with the cliffhanger car crash that closed last season in a dark and shocking way. Questions and posed and answered so far: What will Grayson remember of the conversation he had with Jane pre-crash? What will Jane do to save him? What about his engagement (to somebody else)? What will happen back at the office with Teri, Kim and Parker? What about Stacy and Fred? Indeed, all of these questions and many more will most assuredly be answered come the next two Sunday nights! Plus, as always, there's always a musical number or two not too far off if you stay tuned - such as last month's BroadwayWorld exclusive world premiere of "Lean On Me"! Will there be a musical grand finale after all? We shall soon see!
Also, don't forget to check out the past interviews in this BRIDGING TV & THEATRE series - Margaret Cho, Kate Levering, April Bowlby, Sharon Lawrence, Faith Prince and Jackson Hurst included! There are only a few episodes of Season Three left - airing Sundays at 9 PM on Lifetime, as always, throughout September until the finale on September 25 - so be sure to check back here in coming weeks for chats with Ben Feldman and the titular diva herself, plus maybe even a surprise or two, too!
The Beauty Of The Gray
PC: With GLEE, DROP DEAD DIVA and, soon, SMASH, there is a wealth of theatre-related entertainment on TV these days.
JS: You know, to me, theatre is my first love and it is really meaningful to me that there are people writing about shows that are theatre-based or theatre-centric entertainment.
PC: Do you happen to sing yourself?
JS: Well, I have on occasion if the role called for it - Off-Broadway - but, not like that! Not real singing. I did sing in something at the Atlantic Theater Company once. But, no, as a rule I don't sing well enough to do something really musical.
PC: So, no musicals. Alan Ball is a well-known playwright, so did he cast you on SIX FEET UNDER based on your theatre work?
JS: You know, on that show, those table-reads were really like play rehearsals.
PC: That show was so ahead of its time, as well. So theatrical, too.
JS: It was the closest thing I had to theatre in TV, ever, until this - you know, I was at Williamstown for two seasons I was in New York for ten years before that.
PC: You certainly paid your dues.
PC: Blythe Danner.
JS: Yeah! Blythe Danner and I did a show together at Williamstown, too. I was in my twenties when I did that, and I remember moving to LA and just hating it so much.
PC: LA and NY are so different in so many, many ways.
JS: I really missed New York and the theatre so much. I was just like, "What is this place?" I was just not feeling it, so to get in a room with those kind of actors gave me that feeling. So, I felt, finally, that, you know, "I can get that feeling in TV."
PC: And Michael C. Hall got his start on that show, as well.
JS: So talented. He was such a great singer - I almost feel like he was a singer first. For me, a lot of the reason I feel very proud of my work on SIX FEET UNDER is because Mike and I had a chemistry. He's one of those actors who elevate everything they touch.
PC: You are totally not like Sarge in real life, I'll tell you that!
JS: (Laughs.) Thank you. Yeah, it's really cool if that worked for you because I loved doing it.
JS: Yeah, they are both in it. Denis is really one of the greats, isn't he? In my scenes in J. EDGAR, though, I am mostly with DiCaprio and Naomi Watts, not those guys.
PC: Do you have any scenes with Armie Hammer?
JS: No, I didn't have any stuff with Armie. Sadly, because I was doing J. EDGAR I missed doing the big dance number here, but I think it was worth it in this case.
PC: I was going to ask what the reason was you didn't do the song!
JS: Yeah, yeah - I was off doing J. EDGAR.
PC: Did you enjoy your experience working on the film?
JS: That movie was one of my - in the same way that it was working with Aaron Sorkin when I did a bunch of episodes of STUDIO 60 [ON THE SUNSET STRIP]; and on SIX FEET UNDER with Alan - favorite, best quality experiences. I find that here, too.
PC: How would you describe that feeling?
JS: Oh, it's just like, "I am the luckiest person to do what I love and do it with these people." I feel it here all the time and I felt it with DiCaprio and Naomi Watts. These are the professionals - these are the best. I say it all the time.
PC: The script is phenomenal for J. EDGAR, as well, I've heard.
JS: The guy who wrote MILK - Dustin Lance Black - wrote it. I mean, the script goes 1919-1970.
PC: So, it's really tight then - like MILK?
JS: Yeah, it's tight and it really flies!
PC: So, Clint Eastwood came through in a major way?
JS: Oh, yeah! Honestly, when I first read it I was like, "If there's anyone who can make this work, it's Clint Eastwood."
PC: Speaking of great acting: what have you seen recently onstage that you particularly enjoyed?
JS: Well, all I've seen is War Horse. It was just amazing, though.
PC: What did you think of the stagecraft of it all?
JS: Oh, just the way it was executed was pure magic. But, I just have to see THE BOOK OF MORMON and so many other shows right now. I have to go to New York.
PC: What can you tell me about your new short film THE CARRIER?
JS: Oh, it's chilling.
PC: From the plot synopsis it sounds absolutely terrifying.
JS: It's so crazy. The first AD on a show I did wrote the script and he asked if I would be interested and I said, "Hell, yes!" It was with Rita Wilson, too - who also played the lead in DISTRACTED before Cynthia [Nixon] did it. She is unbelievable. She is so good. I was wasn't quite ready for that, so it was like, "Whoa!"
JS: Yeah, that was totally amazing.
PC: What is Ryan Gosling like?
JS: Ryan is incredible. He is a blast. He is so playful and so fun.
PC: I've heard he's very serious.
JS: Oh, he's very serious, but he is always ready to improv, too. Quite a few of our scenes our improved in that. On that note, DiCaprio is so focused and so motivated, too.
PC: Who else's technique really impressed you?
JS: I did a play with Annette Bening last year and it was like "Ahh! You are so amazing!"
PC: And you've also worked with Oscar-winner Rita Moreno.
JS: Yes, I did a movie with Rita Moreno that she starred in years ago - LOVE FRIENDS is what it was called when I did it, but they changed the title to PLAYING BY EAR, I think. It's like a Woody Allen-esque love tale and I play this very uptight pianist who works in this bookshop on the Upper West Side.
PC: Sounds like a stretch for you!
JS: I know! It's so not a role I normally do, but I had so much fun. That movie is great and Rita is amazing in it.
PC: Did you learn how to play piano for the role?
JS: A little bit. Little bit. (Laughs.)
PC: You can always tell!
JS: Yeah, they used a hand double for some of it, of course! (Laughs.)
PC: So, what can we expect in the future with Parker and Kim on DROP DEAD DIVA? Will you two ever get and stay together?
JS: Yeah, it's a lot of cat and mouse with us - you know, "Come here. Go away." You know, over the course of Season Three, I spend many episodes trying to get her back - personally and professionally - to the firm. She spends many episodes with the "Maybe? No. Maybe? No." Without spoiling anything after Episode 11, there is a huge bomb dropped on me.
PC: Any hints? A pregnancy perhaps?
JS: No, no pregnancies! I don't even know what will happen - I don't think Parker and Kim will end up together, but I don't know. I think it's a lot of heartbreak for them.
PC: Do you see your character as a villain?
JS: No, not at all.
PC: Do you see Kim as a villain?
JS: No. No.
JS: That's a really great question, though… hmm…
PC: Who is the villain of the series, then? Society?
JS: Oh, yeah! That is such a great point! It really is. I think the villain of the show is everybody's little judgmental voice in their head that says, "Ugh, there's a fat person!" or, "Ugh, there's a skinny person!" or, "I hate that!" It's about what we dislike without putting any research or thought into it.
PC: What a way to look at the show.
JS: But, no, I don't think Parker is a villain, though - but, I don't think he is always motivated by the best things, either. I think that because of Jane's oddness - he doesn't know that Deb is in there - he is forced to look at the world in a different way, even when it frustrates him and drives him crazy. He ends up taking all these cases at his sort of straight-up power firm that he would never take up otherwise.
PC: Such as?
JS: Oh, you know: "Let's represent these two girls who want to go to prom together because they are in love." You know, he might do it for the wrong reasons, but he ends up in the right place.
PC: The end justifies the means, more or less.
JS: Yeah, I don't think Parker or Kim are the villains. They are just damaged, hurt people trying to manage! (Laughs.)
PC: So, it's shades of gray and not black and white?
JS: Totally! Totally. There is no black and white. I think, if nothing else, this show proves there is no black and white - that's the beauty and that's what we do best on this show: look at the beauty of the gray. Very rarely in comedy do you not have a villain, you know.
PC: That's very true.
JS: Yeah, nine times out of ten it is Parker. (Laughs.) You know, I always wanted to play the as*hole that you just love to hate.
PC: Did you enjoy working with all the big Broadway guest stars this season?
PC: Sharon Lawrence is positively delicious with you on the show.
JS: She's really got the stuff. What a pro! She's so classy and amazing and so talented.
PC: She should be permanent and so should Faith, in my opinion.
JS: I so agree.
PC: Too bad Rosie didn't make it back this season, though.
JS: I know! She's so amazing, though. There will be chances in the future, I'm sure. It's so amazing that we have these awesome people over and over again like her and Sharon and Faith. It's like we have a little home here in the South where people just show up and it's like, "Yes!"
PC: Do you enjoy the set here in Atlanta and living here?
JS: You know what? The first year, I was like, "What is happening?" But, I came to love it because of the amazing restaurants and the amazing bars and everybody being so outgoing. Honestly, by now, I really do love it! I love that I get out of LA for five and a half months and we come to this place where people are so appreciative of us.
PC: It's such a warm set.
JS: All these great people come to our little desert island - these Broadway stars and TV stars - and they bring all this energy. It's just like, "I love my life! This is so fun!" And, then, you get to go home!
PC: What was acting opposite Liza Minnelli like?
JS: Oh, my God! (Pause.) I can't even tell you. I don't even know what she was like because I am just like, (Mouth Open.) without words whenever she was around.
PC: I know what you mean. She is true show business royalty - Broadway and Hollywood and everything else included.
JS: Oh, totally. You just kind of look at her and think, "Of course you are the icon you are - look at what you came from!" It's off the chain with her. There is no other.
JS: I mean, who is like that now? No one.
PC: It's so great that you have these big, outsized personalities on the show and it always works, whereas on some shows - like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES - it turns into camp and slapstick so quickly, to the detriment of the drama.
JS: That is such a good point and I think it's like that because the writers always give them the material to support it - and it is written broad enough to support it. You want them be able to do their thing and shine and not be muted, you know? Otherwise, why are you bringing them? You are bringing them here because they are a diamond that you want to set free to sparkle. You don't want to plug them into a formula - you want to make the formula all about them!
PC: How do you classify DROP DEAD DIVA? It's sort of a comic dramedy.
JS: Yeah, that's the way to go, I think.
PC: 2/3 comedy, 1/3 drama - all with a light, easy touch.
JS: That's why I love doing it! Sometimes you can make it big and broad - and I love pulling that out - and sometimes it's a straight-up drama. It's a great hybrid.
PC: Are you anticipating a Fourth season and syndication?
JS: Let's hope! Let's hope! Let's hope!
PC: So, you are glad you made the NY to LA move? You must be!
JS: The thing with me was that, eventually, I was losing so many auditions in New York in my twenties to TV stars and I was so frustrated that I went to LA to try to get a TV series so that I can eventually someday do the roles that I want on Broadway.
PC: That's the way it works these days for serious actors, it seems.
JS: It has actually been working so far - and, I hope it continues working!
PC: Is that the only way for actors to succeed today, do you think?
JS: I am sad that that is the system, but I feel like that if that is it then I want to benefit from it. I just want to go and play these amazing roles in the theatre - in new plays and classics and everything else.
PC: What roles entice you most?
JS: (Sighs.) So many…
PC: Right off the bat, I'd have to say that you strike me as a perfect Jerry in Albee's THE ZOO STORY.
JS: Oh! I love it. I love it! Anything Albee. Anything. Ever.
PC: Get Raul Esparza for Peter and you have a solid revival, for sure!
JS: Oh, my God - and, Raul? Let's just pitch it anyway! (Laughs.)
PC: It would be astounding.
JS: I actually got offered THE HOMECOMING in San Francisco and I couldn't do it because of the movie [J. EDGAR].
PC: Thoughts on Harold Pinter?
JS: I am just dying to do Pinter and I am dying to do Miller and the classics - Shakespeare, Shaw, Chekhov. I mean, I want to do everything! I want to do some LaBute, some Stephen Adlay Gurguis - I am greedy when it comes to the theatre.
PC: You can do comic and tragic with equal weight, which is exceedingly rare these days, so you should be!
JS: Yeah, I feel like I can - and I appreciate you saying it. I just want to work eight times a week and get that workout - that's when I know I'm alive and I really feel alive.
PC: So, eighteen hour days onset don't faze you, then?
JS: For me, if I work five days a week it is surprising, so I always feel like I have more muscle than I get to use here - not to sound like a jerk or anything, of course! (Laughs.)
PC: Of course! Plus, your character is stuffy and uptight in many ways compared to the rest of the cast on DIVA.
JS: Totally. I feel like - "Give me the long days!" (Laughs.) What's challenging for me is not maintaining the hours, really, but not getting to tell the whole story over two and a half hours all at once, you know?
PC: Michael Cerveris told me when he did TITANIC: THE MUSICAL there was a set malfunction and they couldn't finish the show and not having closure of having done the show was crippling and surreal.
JS: Closure. Wow, I have never had that experience - I couldn't even imagine how maddening it must be! He's so amazing, though, isn't he?
PC: So amazing.
JS: I found his SWEENEY so innovative. I was so curious to see him in THE VIBRATOR PLAY, too, because I read for it.
JS: Teresa is an incredible writer. I did a one-act that she did and she can really write dudes - guys' guys, you know? She's so good.
PC: In your career, what is the big role or play that got away in your estimation?
JS: Well, this breaks my heart, but you've gotta love the ending: I was with Trip Cullman and Adam Rothenberg and Trip was directing this play called A STEADY RAIN. Now, it's not a perfect play and it's not really a traditional play - it's more like a short story - but was such a meaningful experience because it was so challenging to pull that off in two weeks of rehearsal. I also feel like getting replaced by Hugh Jackman is one of the worst things in the world - but, it is just one of those things. (Laughs.)
PC: So, did you ever do the show with Daniel Craig at any point?
JS: No, I did it with Adam Rothenberg and the next season they did it with them - I can't feel that bad getting replaced by huge movie stars, though, you know? C'mon! He's a really good playwright who wrote it - he writes on MAD MEN now. A Chicago playwright.
PC: What about Mamet for you? It seems written in the stars!
JS: I actually got offered SPEED-THE-PLOW with ATC and I really have gotta do that at some point soon. I have to.
PC: You're destined for Mamet and Albee in the future. Do you have any major regrets in pursuing TV over theatre?
JS: Well, actually, the thing that got away that I wanted so badly and didn't get was actually SIX FEET UNDER. I read for Peter Krause's role.
PC: You would have been so much better. He was bland.
JS: Oh, God, don't say that! (Laughs.)
PC: His performance in AFTER THE FALL was problematic, too.
JS: I saw that. I remember Carla Gugino in that, though. She was so amazing - but, the rest of it…
PC: What about A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE?
JS: Oh, yeah! I would love to do that. I would also love to do the Odets play Liev [Schreiber]'s brother, Pablo, just did - AWAKE & SING.
PC: It seems confounding to me you never appeared on NIP/TUCK.
JS: I know! I know. I originally, originally read for that pilot - for one of the doctors.
PC: You would have been fabulous in the Christian role.
JS: I remember seeing the pilot and thinking it was so, so cool. It was so good.
PC: What have been your best experiences in TV?
JS: Well, working with Aaron Sorkin was so great - he writes in iambic, almost, you know!
PC: It's like Shakespeare.
JS: Totally. STUDIO 60 was a perfect experience to me on an imperfect show. SIX FEET UNDER was a perfect experience. Definitely, J. EDGAR is one of the best experiences. And, here, I am doing a character for the longest I ever have. So, it's starting to feel more like a play the longer I do it. I mean, I remember doing this play TAPE by Stephen Belber and I did that play off and on for like four years!
PC: You enjoy the long experience - living the role. The tone is so consistent on DIVA and that is no easy feat.
JS: I really credit Josh Berman and the writers so much - big time. That's so good to hear, though, coming from you.
PC: It's so important the creator is very involved in the show, too.
JS: Totally. Totally. The third season is just all-Josh because he isn't doing double-duty with BONES this year, so it is all Josh all the time now, which is so great for our show.
PC: What new roles have you read or read for recently that you are excited about?
JS: I've read a lot of plays recently, actually. I just read AFRAID OF THE DARK - this horror tale play thing that is coming to the Little Shubert. It is interesting, but I don't know. There is also a football play at LCT3 I am interested in.
PC: You'd fit that role like a glove, no doubt! A quarterback?
JS: (Laughs.) It would be fun - he is an ex-quarterback with a daughter who wants to be a quarterback.
PC: What an intriguing conceit.
JS: Jill Solloway from SIX FEET UNDER is someone I know and see a good deal of and she wrote this amazing movie that we are hopefully going to be shooting soon, too. So, that's what I really want to do next above everything else. I want to do a play really bad soon, too.
PC: What Shakespeare role do you want to do most right now?
JS: For me? (Sighs.) The Scottish Play I would love to do - I'd love to rip into that. I'd love to do HENRY V and I'd love to do HENRY IV, too.
PC: Could you define collaboration in terms of your experience on DROP DEAD DIVA?
JS: I don't think it's defined as anything greater than simple respect. (Pause.) I do feel that there is just a huge dose of great respect for each other as individuals among the cast and it comes across in the work. I think that makes everybody very game to want to play together and explore together and make it better, day by day. It's respect; it's listening it's game-ness - we have a lot of all of those things here.
PC: Thank you so much for this today, Josh. It was fantastic.
JS: This was really great, Pat. I loved talking to you. Bye.