PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Frank Wood

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Frank Wood Side Man has had a number of engines driving it to success -- Edie Falco becoming recognized for her TV work on "The Sopranos," Scott Wolf and Christian Slater adding box office muscle, and Robert Sella nabbing a Clarence Derwent Award for most promising newcomer. But through it all, the wistful, quietly intriguing performance of Frank Wood has been the show's mainstay. Will the Tonys concur?

Side Man has had a number of engines driving it to success -- Edie Falco becoming recognized for her TV work on "The Sopranos," Scott Wolf and Christian Slater adding box office muscle, and Robert Sella nabbing a Clarence Derwent Award for most promising newcomer. But through it all, the wistful, quietly intriguing performance of Frank Wood has been the show's mainstay. Will the Tonys concur?

Wood, making his Broadway debut as the jazz-addled, absent-hearted father in Side Man, spent much of his 39 years out of the commercial theatre spotlight. An NYU acting program graduate, Wood has worked with Richard Schechner, as well as Nena Beeber and Len Jenkin, with several credits at downtown's Soho Rep on his resume. His early acting years were spent in Philadelphia, including a three year membership in the People's Light and Theatre Company (1989-91).

Whether or not there's a Tony in his future, Wood is the first one to say Side Man has been a life-change for his career and outlook.

PBOL: Is Broadway really THAT different from the Off-Off scene?
Frank Wood: It's different in a lot of ways, involving confidence, having a salary, living a little larger than I could before. Whatever happens, this is something that can't be taken away from me, especially having done a play like this one. The other work was never necessarily a career, it was about gaining experience, rather than security, a lifestyle. This one has gone on so long...it's the classic "break" people talk about, and it feels wonderful.

PBOL: Does that mean you'll stay with the show for the rest of the run? What about touring?
FW: I have no plans to leave the show. If it goes into another phase, that I'm not sure about. I mean, I'd love to do a tour to see a certain city -- say London or San Francisco -- but nothing specific. PBOL: Have you met real-life people like your Side Man character, Gene?
FW: Well, Gene is not based on anyone specifically, not on people I knew. However, my way into the character was through my father, my grandfather on my mother's side... Also, I started taking trumpet lessons two weeks before we opened downtown [at CSC]. The character had been in place by then, but the lessons I've been taking help keep me rooted. The character has changed subtly through that as well.

PBOL: It's fine to have the success and recognition of Side Man, but has it led to other things in the business, as far as casting and doors opening?
FW: Actually, I got an agent just before we opened downtown. So when I started auditioning for `pilot season,' I was able to be seen for a lot of things. But I'm not sure how much was attributable to the agent and how much to the show. I will say I was cast in a small part in a Woody Allen movie this summer, and that would not have happened without Side Man. I'm also doing a small role in a movie with Ed Harris about the life of Jackson Pollack. And I've got a role in the upcoming "Down To You," from Miramax Films.

PBOL: Ah, but any `dream roles' now floating on your horizon?
FW: (laughs) I would like to do Iago in Othello; I'd like to be in a movie. Something idiosyncratic, slightly bizarre. I auditioned for Mitch in Streetcar at NY Theater Workshop, to be directed by Ivo van Hove [who did More Stately Mansions there two seasons ago], but that hasn't been cast yet... And hey, why not John Proctor in the Crucible? Still, my fantasies run towards being cast in things that haven't been done before. A cool hour-long drama on TV or a great play.

PBOL: From ideal fantasies let's turn to nightmares. What's the worst thing that's happened to you during a performance?
FW: Well, there's a missed entrance in every show, that's par for the course. And when you do a long run, you get those times where you stop yourself and say, `did I do this scene already tonight, or am I just remembering last night?' A couple of times, I walked up to enter into the scene I'd just done. I looked around for the dresser, and of course, she was already at the next cue. That's a strange sensation.
There was also a night when Christian Slater was on stage doing his narration. Someone in the audience shouted "Louder! We can't hear you." He started to go back a few lines, but he lost his place. Then the audience prompted him. He spent a couple of minutes trying to get his bearings again. And we were all listening backstage not knowing what to do. A letter came to him weeks later from an audience member saying it was one of the most entertaining evenings he'd ever seen.
For my part, I remember doing a production of The Comedy of Errors where I was worried about another actor because he was drunk all the time. You could see him tottering. After the show, he told me I spent much of the show mouthing his lines to him. I was doing it unconsciously, but apparently I've done that in other situations, too. I guess I'm afraid the scene won't come off.

PBOL: Sounds like the best advice you'd give to young actors is keep your mind alert and your mouth shut. How about advice other mentors have given you?
FW: Well, for weird advice, somebody once described a director coming down the stairs saying to everyone, `Think in terms! Think in terms!' I have no idea what that meant; it sounds disconnected from the process of acting...
People have told me not to do too much, which is okay as long as they're not too specific, like saying "don't be angry," which tends to be disruptive. Probably the best overall advice? `When in doubt, take a breath."

-- By David Lefkowitz