Jury Duty

Special Features   Jury Duty
 
Philip Bosco stars as Juror #3 in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Twelve Angry Men
Philip Bosco in Twelve Angry Men
Philip Bosco in Twelve Angry Men Photo by Joan Marcus

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Juror #3 came to the phone from out in the yard of his home in New Jersey. "We had a party out there yesterday," he said. "It's my duty to clean up the mess." He is a large man, and he was a trifle breathless.

Juror #3, in the socko 1954 Reginald Rose television drama that has now been put to the stage by the Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre, is not only the angriest of the Twelve Angry Men locked in that jury room, but the last holdout for Guilty in the matter of a slum-bred 19-year-old on trial for killing his own father.

"No," said Philip Bosco, a.k.a. Juror #3, "I've never been on a jury. I was called for it any number of times, but I always had an excuse, because I was always in a show. In the old days they used to be more lenient about excusing you from jury duty. Now they don't allow excuses for anybody."

You bet he was always in a show. With good cause — sheer talent — Bosco has been working on stage or screen or tube pretty much nonstop since coming out of the Army and Catholic University circa 1958. Somewhere in his house is an Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. "Once," he said, "I did go down to the county courthouse in Hackensack and waited to be called, from 8 AM until noon. Then they said, 'Okay, you can go home.'"

The "real" Juror #3 — that is, the character in the play (Lee J. Cobb in the 1957 film version) — has no such patience. "It's a role I can do," said Bosco. "A hard-working blue-collarguy who is — what am I trying to say? — not sophisticated, but not a bum or a mafiosi [sic]. He's short-tempered and he doesn't want to waste time." There's also a streak of violence in him, no? "Yes, there is," said Bosco. And then, almost as a throwaway: "I can do that."

At Act II curtain, Juror #3 is straining to get at Juror #8 (Henry Fonda in the '57 film, Boyd Gaines here), whose reasonable doubts about the evidence are beginning to get the others in that room leaning, one by one, toward Not Guilty. Held back by two other jurors, #3, as he lunges at #8, is screaming: "Let me go! I'll kill him! I'll kill him!"

At Act III curtain — well, it's not for this page to tell you about Act III curtain, except to say that that, too, is Juror #3's moment.

"If there's any reason to do Juror #3," said Bosco with a laugh, "it's because he gets the 9 o'clock spot and the 11 o'clock spot."

He once, in fact, worked onstage with Lee J. Cobb — he was Kent to Cobb's Lear — and some years later was Kent to Morris Carnovsky's Lear. "I told Carnovsky, 'You know, I did this with your friend Lee J. Cobb.' I was pretty naive. I didn't know they'd had a falling out." Falling out? They were lifelong mortal enemies over Cobb's naming of names during the HUAC era.

It was a year ago that the Roundabout's director, Scott Ellis, invited Bosco to take part in a reading of Sherman L. Sergel's stage adaptation of Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men. "Three months later Scott called and said, 'You know that play we read? Want to be in it?' I said, 'Yes.'"

As an Irish-Italian American, Bosco is fine-tuned to racial-religious-ethnic bigotries; so too his wife, Nancy. One character in the play, Juror #10 (Peter Friedman now, Ed Begley in 1957), keeps referring disparagingly to "those people" and says of the 19-year-old defendant: "You're not going to tell us that we're supposed to believe him, knowing what he is. I've lived among 'em all my life. You can't believe a word they say." We do not have to have the blanks filled in with "black" or "Puerto Rican" or whatever. Back in 1954 you didn't do that. Reginald Rose took "a pretty sophisticated way of getting the point across," Bosco thinks.

Sometimes comedy can come around and kick you in the behind, so to speak. Bosco has been nominated for a Tony Award five times; has won it, as Best Actor, once. That was in 1989 as the beset producer in Ken Ludwig's opera farce, Lend Me a Tenor. Six years later, in another Ken Ludwig backstage farce, Moon Over Buffalo, relations between playwright, actors and director were not so hotsy-totsy. The two lead actors were Philip Bosco and Carol Burnett (a Tony nomination for each); the director was Tom Moore. All of this was brilliantly captured one year later still (1997) in “Moon Over Broadway,” a 97-minute documentary film by the husband-and-wife team of D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. In it, Carol Burnett is the victim of some sharp dispraise from a colleague or two. Philip Bosco was and is not one of them. "To me," he said over the phone, "Carol Burnett was the heroine of that show. Remember how she went out in front in Boston when the set wasn't working, and kept the crowd entertained by answering questions about her life and career? I've never seen anything like that."

Research wasn't necessary for him to play Juror #3. "I have two daughters who are lawyers and one son-in-law who's a lawyer," said this New Jersey father of seven children. "All prime-time shows these days involve either hospitals or courts. I've been in a whole host of them, mostly defending some sleazeball. Bastards are always more fun than the good guy."

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