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Interview: Stephen Schnetzer

Stephen Schnetzer has accomplished something very few actors can claim: he can get a favorable review from the notoriously hard to please critic John Simon. Schnetzer won a Soap Opera Digest award for Outstanding Comic Performance by an Actor (Daytime) for his work on Another World and has received numerous nominations for his acting. He has also appeared on Homeland, Forever, The Wire, The Following, The Blacklist, Damages, Law & Order, and other television shows. Theatre credits include The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, Awake and Sing, Tribes, A Talent For Murder, Filumena, The Incomparable Max, and other plays. Schnetzer will soon appear at the Westport Country Playhouse in Arthur Miller's play, Broken Glass, and BroadwayWorld wanted to know more about him.

Schnetzer never performed at the Westport Country Playhouse, but it is something he wanted to do. "Mark [Lamos] and I have flirted with the idea of working together," he says, but "it's never happened before. He has such a fine reputation that I knew I'd be in good hands."

Broken Glass is not a typical Holocaust drama, he notes. "It transcends [rather than] bang you over the head about the Holocaust....It's linked to something else powerfully." This is his first Miller play. He recalls, "I was bowled over by Lee J. Cobb in Death of a Salesman. I saw Dustin Hoffman in it on Broadway. Then The Crucible at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. I fell in love with Arthur Miller. Broken Glass is a little more obscure than his popular works, but no less profound and brilliant. We're all very excited about it. Miller has the gift for setting something in a very finite period with a very definite context, and yet it has a universality to it that is unusual. Seeing that it takes place in Jewish Brooklyn in 1938. I can't help but draw analogies to what's happening now."

In addition, his character, is very progressive for his time. "He's really open to the new trends as opposed to bucking them. The real challenge with my character is he goes back and forth. He walks a line - he's a gifted doctor and gets involved in the family, almost flirting with unprofessional behavior and getting control....With Miller, there's not only external conflict, but each character has internal conflict." The role is on a par with other meaty roles he loved playing, including the father in Tribes by Nina Raine and Martin the architect in Edward Albee's play, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? "The journey of the character [Martin] was just phenomenal...sitcom to dark comedy to wickedly vicious comedy, Greek tragedy."

What was his own journey as an actor? His best training was as a young actor working with other professionals, "just observing and being a sponge," he says. He trained with William Esper whose technique is modeled after Sanford Meisner's method. "Basically," explains Schnetzer, it's "putting focus on your partner or independent activity as a means of freeing the actor and getting away of being self-conscious. It's defined as real behavior under imaginary circumstances. His approach ... was getting me to stop looking at myself...that third eye...hopefully, lose [myself] in the scene and the character." Schnetzer also trained at Juilliard, mainly for technique, speech and voice production. He also took circus classes there and learned to juggle.

Schnetzer also performed a lot of Shakespeare with luminaries such as Michael Redgrave and Anthony Hopkins. Lord Laurence Olivier also directed him. What did he learn from them? "Their professionalism, gift for language, how clear Michael Redgrave was. Doing Shakespeare night in and night out as an actor in my 20s was an invaluable experience."

Despite such stellar credentials, he is all too familiar with the need for supplementary work. He has a degree in French and a minor in Spanish. His mother was a war bride from Algeria and he heard French and Spanish at home. He was gearing toward teaching, but he really didn't want to do that, and he realized that there is nothing else he wants to do. He says that he never had the inclination to perform specific roles such as Hamlet. "I've always wanted to work with really good people."

In between work on television and in the theatre, he does voiceover work. "It's a good income stream so I could do develop my craft," he says. He even did commercials in French, including one for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. "I enjoy that anonymity especially because some people know me from soap operas...I didn't want that facial recognition. It's the most competitive challenging part for performers because there are so many good voices and material out there. It's highly competitive. Sometimes I get lucky. I roll the dice. I get an income stream. It pays residuals. And its gets me out of the house. There's a lot of downtime as an actor. This is the first play I've done since last fall [when I did] Odets. Awake and Sing was an introduction to Odets.

He has two sons from his previous marriage actress Nancy Snyder. Their son, Ben, followed into his footsteps. What advice did he offer? "Perspective," he says. "He's known it's a marathon, the ups and downs....When something comes up, it's challenging and we talk about it and he's receptive. His mother is also a wonderful actor. He's a lucky guy to have that resource." Their other son, Max, channeled Snyder's family farming history. He does organic farming using hydroponics and aquaponics to raise fish in a controlled environment.

Broken Glass will be performed at the Westport Country Playhouse from October 6 through. For tickets, call 203-227-4177. The theatre is locate at 25 Powers Court in Westport.

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