INTERVIEW WITH FRANK WOOD, currently appearing in Signature Theatre Company’s Off Broadway production of ANGELS IN AMERICA by Tony Kushner

by Cindy Pierre on January 5, 2011

in Interviews,Theater-New York

Post image for INTERVIEW WITH FRANK WOOD, currently appearing in Signature Theatre Company’s Off Broadway production of ANGELS IN AMERICA by Tony Kushner

A CHAT WITH FRANK WOOD

Stage and Cinema’s Cindy Pierre recently sat down with Tony award-winning actor Frank Wood to discuss his career, the experience of playing Roy Cohn,  politics, and his favorite entertainments of 2010.

Cindy Pierre: What was your experience like at NYU?  Did you have to take cross-discipline classes like Writing for Actors?

Frank Wood: We didn’t take writing classes.  Our courses included a lot of eclectic performance discipline, but they didn’t spend any time integrating us into seeing the theatre from the other artists’ discipline.  I think it had to do with the belief that there was an intensity required in getting us to get our minds and psyches engaged in the actor’s perspective, and that was a big job.  That’s what I took away from it.

Pierre: Did you hold any other jobs before you became a professional actor? I know a lot of artists try different things before they return to what they ultimately love.

Wood: My path was pretty direct.  By the time I got to grad school, I wanted to be an actor.  The only jobs I’ve had outside of acting were meant to support my acting.  I spent a summer at Camp Blueberry, working with emotionally disturbed children.  If I was going to do anything else, it would have been in social services, but I don’t know how firmly I thought that was something I was going to do. I was moved by the work, but it was grueling.

Pierre: You won the Tony for playing Gene in Side Man in 1999. Gene seems to be the first stage character of a string of characters that you’ve played that struggle with personal demons, inadequacies, and broken families, always striving to be better than he is.  Gene, a self-absorbed musician that’s irresponsible towards his family; Bill in August: Osage County, an adulterer married to a control freak; and currently Roy Cohn in Angels in America, a cantankerous, lonely lawyer that is haunted by a dead woman’s ghost.  Do you purposely choose roles that are surrounded by chaos and need some form of rehabilitation or redemption?

Wood: I don’t know if I’m attracted to those things in particular, because they’re not uncommon to roles that exist in theater.  Gene had a passivity that was something I thought I could make dramatic. There was kind of an active quality to not seeing or hearing other people, and concentrating solely on music. I thought of that as something that was particular to me.  Roy Cohn is the reincarnation of the devil, and that is a role that I love playing.  It’s self-justifying, painting other people as the victimizers while actually victimizing them.  Those roles are enormously satisfying.  Bill is passive like Gene, but tries hard to do the right thing.

Pierre: Fast forward to 2010, where you’re just coming off of starring in August: Osage County, a Pulitzer-Prize winning, critically acclaimed production.  How did you join the cast of yet another Pulitzer-Prize winning show, Angels in America?

Wood: I worked really hard on the audition.  I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, but I spent a lot of time over a few days working on it, and that’s how I got the job.

Pierre: That’s wonderful, because sometimes I see a production, and because the cast works so well together and each actor seems so perfectly suited for the parts, they appear to be hand-picked.

Wood: I can count on one hand the parts that I was offered.  Unless you’re seen as a real asset commercially to something, you have to audition.  Even Zach Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek), who certainly brought a commercial aspect to the production, had to audition. The status of the play (Angels in America) is so great that the producers felt that they could pick from a wide array of people even though it’s an Off-Broadway contract, so they knew that they could get people to audition.  I think it’s pretty rare to get hand-selected.

Pierre: You also play one of Prior Walter’s ancestors, which is quite a departure from the conservative Roy Cohn.   In it, you wear a costume with a tall wig that reminds me of the film Rob Roy.  Are you familiar with it?

Wood: Yeah, yeah. A little bit like Tim Roth.

Pierre: Yes, yes!

Wood: I thought of Tim Roth, too, from time to time.

Pierre: Your costume immediately made me think of Tim Roth.  Is it fun to play that role?

Wood: I love playing that role!

Pierre: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was just repealed a few weeks ago.  In light of this play’s material, where characters discuss the violation of gay rights, what kind of impact do you think the decision will have in politics, the military, and in the gay community?

Wood: I hope it’s just one more step towards normalizing the presence of gay people in this country.  That they get to feel that their lives could be lived just as fully as heterosexuals.  That they don’t have to apologize for themselves, or deny themselves the experience that all Americans have.  If they serve their country, they get to serve it as themselves and not pretending to be somebody.  I’m assuming that it will be part of a progressive trend and not just a blip in the timeline of American history.

Pierre: What do you think about Obama as President so far?

Wood:  I think he’s a great president.  There are times when I wish he’d take the fight to the conservatives more directly, but he’s accomplished some amazing things.  He has, in a subtle way, done an awful lot of dramatic things. If he is re-elected, I think we’re going to see a fantastic eight years.  I give him all credit for what he has done so far.

Pierre: What was your favorite movie of 2010?

Wood: I liked 127 Hours and It’s Kind of a Funny Story, which is about a kid who’s feeling suicidal and gets himself committed to an insane asylum and realizes that the level of other people’s insanity is deeper than he’s counted on.  His story is kind of working through his problems and getting wisdom from the other inmates.  It’s funny and it’s very sweet.  Best movies that I’ve seen in a long time.

Pierre: Favorite Broadway show of the year?

Wood: I saw La Bête, which I really liked.  I haven’t seen too many, so I’m going to have to stop there.

cindypierre @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Joan Marcus

Angels in America
extended to March 27 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org/

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