BWW Interview: Peter Gallagher Ponders HOW'D ALL YOU PEOPLE GET IN MY ROOM and More as He Prepares for The Annenberg
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.