'The Guiding Light' Leads Driscoll Off-Broadway
Professionalism. It is a word that is bandied about with frequency in theater circles. When it is applied to a gaggle of pint-sized vagabonds who are rehearsing a middle school production of Oliver!, it becomes laughable. However, when its observed first-hand on one of New York's stages, it is truly appreciated. Such is the case at The Player's Theater on MacDougal Street. It is there that television actor John Driscoll has taken over two key roles in Matt Morillo's comedy Angry Young Women in Low-Rise Jeans with High-Class Issues.
After a recent Sunday matinee, Driscoll walks into a pizzeria, tosses down his knapsack and declares, "Well, I made it through my first week!" His voice is filled with a mixture of fatigue and satisfaction as he orders a sausage pizza that he'll munch on during our conversation. He's a personable young man, 26 years old and 6'2" with enormous intelligence behind his intense hazel eyes. On stage, he's perfectly at ease in a business suit in one of Angry Women's first playlets and he's equally comfortable doing the bare-chested beefcake in the final segment of the show. The fact that some of the audience members sighed in approval when they first spotted Driscoll's torso certainly gives the actor encouragement when he sheds his shirt.
The divided feelings that Driscoll experiences on this particular afternoon are justified. He joined the cast on relatively short notice. "When I took this on, I didn't have much time," he says. "I try to make it work. I rely on the director (author Morillo) to give me notes and feedback on what he sees because I'm like a ball of clay at this point. I'm still going to be molded into what's going to fit to open the show. Once I'm there, he'll give me the liberty to create and make these my own characters. So I thank God for being able to pick it up quickly."
There's no doubt that this actor is extremely driven. "I don't like to take breaks. When I start working I like to keep going right through. I work it and work it and work it until I know I have it down. I hate to live in the script. I need to get off it so I can dive right in and start acting. The great thing about this cast is that they already knew the material and were already off book, which encouraged me to learn things quicker." The actor had a mere week of rehearsals before facing an audience, yet Driscoll contributes remarkable characterizations to the production and commands virtually every scene he's in. He's certainly found a home on the New York stage.
The Virginia native comes from a military family, who lived in Woodbridge, 20 miles south of Washington, DC. Driscoll is the youngest of three children and his father is a West Point grad who spent 23 years in the military. His mother worked for the airlines, "so I got to travel on her pass privileges", the actor admits with a sheepish smile. He numbers Barcelona and Budapest as two of the most memorable places he's visited.
One might ask how someone from such a background could become interested in pursuing acting as a career. The answer is quick in coming from Driscoll: "I think every little kid who grows up going to the movies and watching television wants to become an actor. Obviously as you get older things change. In my case, I was kept in the arts by my mother. She put me in dance when I was a kid. I did ballet and jazz. She said, 'You know what? You're going to hate me. You're not going to like this but I'm going to push you into it because it's going to teach you about yourself. It'll give you self confidence and confidence around girls. When you're growing up, you'll feel awkward about yourself and around girls. I don't want that to happen. You may do your sports on the side, but you're going to do dance. Period.' Mom must have known what she was talking about because it was due to dance that I was picked out of the background of a WB show I was doing with Kate Bosworth (the aforementioned Young Americans) and given a couple of lines to say. That's what made me eligible for SAG and I literally fell up the stairs." Obviously the dance training his mother insisted upon gave him a poise that casting directors started to notice.
One of the first roles Driscoll recalls playing was that of Peter Pan at the age of seven or eight. "There I was in my green smock and a plastic knife, along with dance shoes and green tights. Underneath I was wearing a pair of 'tighty whities'. My parents were proud of me and my father came to videotape the performance. I couldn't wait to see how it went. When we played the tape we saw that as soon as I came on stage, it was 'BOOM!' All you could see was the white underwear showing through under the green tights! That was so distracting! I was horrified because I'd done about six performances already." After viewing the tape, the lad switched to wearing dark swim trunks under his tights for the remaining performances.
Driscoll enrolled in George Mason University where he went in for opera performance. "I was a bass/baritone but as soon as I came up to New York, I realized that most of the leads were tenor or baritone/tenor, so I've been trying to revamp my voice to push it up a bit; sort of getting it out of the cellar and pushing it to the rafters." Has he been successful in 'kicking it up a notch'? "It's never an easy task," he responds, You know, when you get to the city you realize that it so expensive to take classes and go to workshops. Acting is where I found myself making the most progress and I've put singing on hold. I'm placing the emphasis on acting, which seems to have taken off for me."
The actor continued though college but simultaneously booked jobs, mostly on the WB Network: "Dawson's Creek", "One Tree Hill" and a show called "Young Americans". Everything seemed to blossom for Driscoll. "I decided to take a year off from college because a professor tried to flunk me for missing a theater final due to filming commitments for "Dawson's Creek". I said, 'Okay, I'm going to take a year off and go to New York, which I did. I landed 'The Guiding Light' in that one year." That was in 2004 and Driscoll's role as Henry 'Coop" Cooper Bradshaw continues to the present. The program tapes at the CBS facilities on 57th Street between 10 and 11th in New York. "It's the same building from which Katie Couric does her newscasts," says the actor.
Those who might feel that a soap opera actor's life is lark are in for a surprise. Driscoll states that his typical day starts before dawn. "For starters, we get our scripts a week in advance. Now that sounds great because you have plenty of time. However, prior to the time you have to go up, there is lots and lots of interaction so it's pointless to memorize anything previous to that. Personally, I try to do my memorizing the night before I shoot. Usually, I'm up around 6:30 AM and go to the rehearsal hall where the actors are still on book. Everyone is till trying to memorize that day's lines. We run through the scene just for the blocking. As soon as we're done. We go up to Hair and Makeup and get our wardrobe on. We try to find the other actors and run our scenes until 9 AM. Then we get on set and and run through the thing once more and only for the cameras and sound crews, so they can see what we're doing and how they need to work around us. It's at that point that we start filming and that may go on until 6:30 or 7 PM. When you think about it, we get maybe two run-throughs before we go straight-to-tape. The process requires lots of thinking on our feet. My stage work has benefited from all this because it's given me a good background in improvisation. It's really helped me a lot in the theater."
John Driscoll's television credits include the very short run of a series that had some priests and ministers exhorting their congregations to watch it, and others condemning it from their pulpits. The show was called "The Book of Daniel" and it starred Aidan Quinn as a minister who had a personal relationship with Jesus. In fact, Jesus was a character in the show and would often be seen sitting beside the minister who was driving a car. The show filmed at the Silvercup Studios in Queens and Driscoll has very fond memories of it. "I had an absolute blast! Aiden Quinn and Ellen Burstyn are great, great actors and I grew up watching their performances. To think that I was able to work along side them was incredible! More importantly, the guy I played pushed me out of my comfort zone. That's when you learn more about yourself as an actor. I was playing a gay character and it was interesting to create him while I was still in "The Guiding Light" and keep a balance between the two. During the day I'd be doing love scenes with a woman and in the afternoon and evening I'd be playing love scenes with a guy." There are some who might claim that at this point in his career, Driscoll was having the best of both worlds.
"The whole cast was really great," recalls the actor. "Unfortunately it took on a lot of taboo issues: politics, sex and religion. Maybe a lot of the areas didn't mind that, but the complaints that I read were coming from the Midwestern states-the 'Bible Belt'. It was a shame. When you start going after the pockets of the sponsors and boycotting their products, then the companies will pull their commercials. It's sad because it was a great show. I wish it had more of a chance, but that's the way it goes." Originally twelve episodes of "The Book Of Daniel" had been ordered. It was cut down to eight and Driscoll's character appeared in five of them.
Now, however, the talented actor is plying his trade in front of live audiences in a show so ribald it rivals Geoffrey Chaucer. Driscoll is savoring every moment of the experience and he's effusive in his praise for the cast. "They've all been really supportive. I have to say, though that Angelique who is my scene partner in both 'Playtime in the Park' and 'The Nude Scene' has been great. I call her at all hours of the day asking questions and asking if we could run lines. Luckily she's of the same mentality I am in that department and humors me a lot. She's been a great partner to work with." Angry Young Women also features Thomas J. Pilutik and Nicholas J. Coleman. who Driscoll refers to as "Laurel and Hardy". "Let me explain that," the actor quickly interjects, "Nick is the king of off-the-wall comedy because he's so creative and so funny and so witty. Tom is very staid. He knows a great deal about theater and he knows how to give helpful hints without making it seem like he's teaching you, but he's been a great calming factor for me." Together Pilutik and Coleman create a comic duo that are a joy to watch in the segment entitled "Unprotected Sex". Jessica Durdock was responsible for Driscoll's joining the cast of this show. In addition to playing in the cast, she is one of the producers of the play. "We have a mutual connection and when there were roles to be cast in this version of Angry Young Women, she extended an invitation to me and was there at the audition along with Matt Morillo. She read with me and told me to relax and take it easy." Rachel Nau is the cast's redhead and "has been very supportive of me; telling me not to be afraid of messing up." Jennifer Missoni, the statuesque blonde who delivers the monologue entitled "The Miseducation of Elissa" is also new to the show. "She's got the right kind of energy that's needed for a project like this."
When asked what kind of work he'd go into if he wasn't acting, Driscoll ponders for a moment and takes another bite from his pizza. It's obvious he's given some thought to this. "As I get older, I wonder what else there is for me to do and I always seem to come back to the performing arts. I guess I'd go back to college. Right now I'd be finishing school. I've also thought of the military because my dad, my uncles and my grandparents were all in it. I know that this isn't the best timing for it, but the thought has crossed my mind. Oh, I guess I'd look for some sort of community service-type industry because I like helping others and seeing the joy on their faces. That's what theater is, you know. It gives people a chance to step outside themselves. If it's two or three hours in the theater or if it's a movie or whatever the case is. It's a way for people to get away from whatever issues or problems are bothering them. I enjoy acting. I've always wanted to do this and it makes me happy."
It doesn't seem that John Driscoll will be looking for work outside the acting profession any time soon. He's got the theater in his blood and it shows not only in his performances but also in the photo shoot that would result in many of the pictures that accompany this article. The slightest suggestion from the photographer resulted in exactly what was needed for that particular photograph. Driscoll instinctively tilts his head or angles his body to get the maximum effect.
He readily changes costumes at the suggestion that these photos represent both roles he plays in this production-and does so with great humor. The end results were a set of photographs that were all letter perfect. Is it possible that John Driscoll is incapable of taking a bad photo? He denies it. The fact remains, though, that this actor is a complete professional who will continue doing memorable work on "The Guiding Light" as well as in the stage productions we are sure to see him in as time goes on.