BWW Interview: Peter Gallagher Ponders HOW'D ALL YOU PEOPLE GET IN MY ROOM and More as He Prepares for The Annenberg
Actor, musician and writer Peter Gallagher makes his debut at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs with his one-man show, 'How'd All You People Get In My Room?,' on Saturday, February 22 at 8:00 pm. Gallagher will share real-life stories from his early days starting out as a young actor in New York, to working with legends like Jack Lemmon, Tom Stoppard, Mike Nichols, Robert Altman, Peter O'Toole and more. Joined by his band, Gallagher brings his experiences to life with songs ranging from Broadway, to music from the hit television show 'The OC,' to classics from Sammy Cahn, Jules Styne, Burt Bacharach and Van Morrison. Gallagher made his Broadway debut in 1977 as Danny Zuko in 'Grease'. He later starred as Sky Masterson in the 1992 Tony-Winning revival of 'Guys And Dolls' , as well as the musicals 'Pal Joey' and 'Annie Get Your Gun'. I had the chance to talk with Gallagher as he was preparing for his Palm Springs stint, Here are a few excerpts from that conversation.
DG: Over the coarse of your career you have been defined by critics and fans by the roles you've played - how would you define yourself?
PG: Huh. (a long pause) That's a very good ... actually, in a way, that's sort of the essence of this show. How do I define myself? I would define myself as ... (pause) ... someone who's very lucky to have been able to do what they love for as long as I've been able to do it, and to raise a family and educate them and things - you know, as a result of that work I love to do. I define myself as someone who takes my work really seriously, and doesn't really want anybody to know that. (he laughs) Because they don't need to. But, umm .. and, I'm someone who came along at a very interesting time when there were a lot of people still around from the theatre and the films that I admired growing up --- and they were still around and I was able to see a glimpse of that world and also discover that the greater the artist the easier it was to work with them - the more fulfilling - so, I guess I would define myself as one lucky bastard. (he laughs)
DG: What would you consider to be your favorite or finest career achievement so far?
PG: (a big laugh) That I'm still doing it after all these years. And I feel like I've preserved the opportunity for even better things. You know, I'm crazy enough to believe that my best days are ahead of me. I feel like, in terms of film performances, "To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday" was the best role that I've ever had. And in terms of theatre performances "Long Day's Journey" ... and there's been a bunch of television - wait, what was your question?
DG: Do you have favorite or proudest career moment?
PG: I'm really a guy who's interested in "next". You know. I mean, the proudest moments of my career have nothing really to do with my career. It's kind of like what the content of my show is. The name of the show is "How'd All You People Get In My Room". And, really the essence of the show - one of the things that inspired it - was reading about all the things that people think actors value. Like fame, and wealth and power. And that's never been my thing, What's gonna make me smile on my deathbed are these moments I've had with these people that I have huge amounts of admiration for - and moments along the way that suggested that I was on the right path. What am I most proud of? That I'm still doing what I love. And I work harder at it now than I ever have, And I'm pretty proud of everything I see behind me and I'm very excited about what's ahead. You know, I just started doing some episodes with - I've just done a couple episodes - actually, I've just done one episode but I'm going to be doing a couple of episodes - with the Duplass brothers on a new HBO series called "Togetherness" - now, I'm not a regular but I'm in the company of a couple of film makers that I haven't felt the same kind of collaborative, creative excitement about something since I worked with Robert Altman. Because there's a similar kind of spirit there about having the balls to say - "You know, I don't know. What can we do now?" And that, to me -- There's nothing better than when you're in the heat of it. It's like what I love about live performance. I almost love live performance as much when it goes wrong as when it goes right. Because, that's when things happen. For me, it's always been about the people in the room. Which is what my show is all about. The thing I've always been most conscious of trying to keep alive in me is just the love for what I do. 'Cause that's the only thing that keeps you going. It's the only thing you can nurture on your own. Your stock rises and falls - the money comes and goes - the recognition comes and goes, and hopefully comes again - but if you lose contact with the terror and the delight of what we do - I don't know - I'd be lost.
DG: Do you remember your very first time on stage, or the very first role in which you were cast?
PG: Oh yeah. The funny thing is, is that ... umm ... Mr. Bissell, our high school teacher who directed all the musicals and stuff - I was the only one in our class that he didn't invite to do our first musical, which was "110 In The Shade". And I think because I was sort of a pain in the neck, and asking for attention in all the wrong ways. So I had to sit on the sidelines for that one. And then I got cast in the chorus in .. what was it ... (he sings) "Seven And A Half Cents" ... Pajama Game. And I remember that I was given one tiny little line of (he sings) "Charge Account At The Corner Bar". And the "Babe" in our production was Laura Brannigan, the pop singer, who happened to be a couple years older and who was playing the part. And I remember being so paralyzed with fear that I couldn't make the sound - because she was so intoxicating, and I was so new that ... well, I lost my solo line right away. But the thing that really opened my eyes -- the thing that made the big difference - Mr. Bissell was casting "The Fantastiks" and they were looking for somebody who could do a cockney accent. And I thought I could do a cockney accent - I'd never really done one for anybody in public, but I was really good at it in my head. And I paced around that audition room for literally four hours until Mr. Bissell had gotten ready to leave. And my French teacher said "What Are You Doing?" "I'm thinking about auditioning". "What do you mean thinking about it? What have you got to lose. Just go in there. Just do it". And I did. And I got the part of Mortimer. And it just changed my life. Particularly that show. Because it was really just about a few people, a platform, light and music. And it was so extraordinarily powerful. I never wanted to leave. And fortunately I haven't been asked to yet. (he laughs)
DG: What brought you into the world of Cabaret?
PG: Well. I don't really see this as Cabaret. You know, I don't really know what Cabaret is. My friend, Clifford Bell, says it's live performance in an intimate setting. . I like that. So, I'm not really sure what Cabaret is - but I guess it is. I see it as more of a one man show. I change the music a lot ... well, not a ton ... but I'm really trying to capture this ... and I think I'm pretty close ... I change the show a little bit and the more I work at it the more the story I'm trying to tell reveals itself. If anyone was to bring me into the world of Cabaret it was Dean Martin. And I don't consider him Cabaret, I consider him sorta niteclub. When I was a kid and when his show came on he was a bright light in my life. I would just watch him and think, "He's happy". That's what I want to do. He's telling stories and jokes and singing songs and that's maybe as good as it gets. And I always wanted to do that and put a show together but I just didn't know how to do it. My mother said to me once - "show me your friends and I'll tell you who you are". Well. I could do that. Because - again, as I said, when I think about the moments in my career that have been most valuable it's been these moments when these people that took time out of there day to recognize me in some way - the recognition that I was connected. When I had rich experiences with people that were kind, and also brilliant - like Mike Nichols and, you know, these guys ... it would really go a long way to reassure me that I was on a path that I wanted to be on. Because, my belief is IN the path, IN the journey. Because mine's been so rich and so interesting to me and there's no way I could have designed it or anticipated it. I just keep showing up to it - which I believe is important. Obviously to be an actor you have to have a tremendous capacity for delusion (he laughs) - part of my self-delusion is I honestly feel that I'm coming into the best part of my entire career. Obviously I could be wrong. But I've been wrong a lot and it doesn't seem to make a difference.
DG: What advice might you give to a young actor who might want a career in professional theatre?
PG: I would look very long and hard inside myself for something else I could imagine doing. And then I would look long and hard outside myself for something I could imagine doing. And if the answer comes back you can't live without theatre, then you have to go do some theatre. And study. I studied with my last acting teacher for twenty five years because she was brilliant. Find a great teacher. But never surrender your instincts to their list of credits. And understand that there is power in always being a beginner. In this business you're always a beginner and people get trapped into thinking there's some kind of a cumulative value of weight or wisdom - but as soon as you think that way you're going to get up-ended. And just remember that life is all about showing up. Show up no matter what the bastards say. My feeling is if you come back with the answer "this is what you want to do" you just pour your heart and soul into it, and even if you don't end up exactly where you think you want to be, it's gonna take you to a place you need to be. And you will have had the added thrill of learning to listen to yourself. And learning to listen to your heart. And those skills will never serve you poorly.
DG: One final question, When all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?
PG: ( a long pause) You know, I don't really care, once I'm gone. The only thing I want to be remembered is by my children and that they felt that they were loved by me and that I did everything I could for them. Their lives will be the best testament to mine.
The Annenberg Theater presents Peter Gallagher's "How'd All You People Get In My Room" for one very special night, February 22 at 8:00 pm. For tickets and further information, visit www.annenbergtheater.org.