PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Campbell Scott

By Robert Simonson
October 1, 2008

Campbell Scott has a pedigree that screams theatre history: his parents were George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst. And almost every time that he's hit the New York stage himself, the result has been critical approval.

But opportunities to view his talents outside the confines of a movie house ("Roger Dodger," "The Secret Life of Dentists," "The Dying Gaul") have been rare in the past several years, due to family obligations. A rare chance to see him in action begins Oct. 7, when The Culture Project's presents Ronan Noone's one-man show, The Atheist, about a dissolute journalist running into a bit of trouble. Scott previously played the role in Boston and Williamstown, and will now play it at the Barrow Street Theatre, in a co-production with Circle in the Square. Scott talked to Playbill.com about his return to the stage.

Playbill.com: We haven't seen you on the New York stage in quite a while. How did you get involved in The Atheist?
Campbell Scott: I did it at the Huntington Theatre in Boston. In fact, I first did it in a reading at the Huntington. I'm old friends with Nicholas Martin, who used to run the Huntington. We liked it so much, we decided to do a production. I'm a kind of a pain in the ass, because I have my son, and I have an alternate-week schedule. I haven't done that much theatre only because I have to be home every week with my son. Martin said, "OK, we'll do it every other week." So I did a couple alternate weeks up there in Boston. Then I did it at Williamstown. And then, shockingly, I had done it for a friend of mine, Jonathan Mann, who runs a theatre in White Plains, and his dad, Theodore Mann, saw it. I knew Ted from a long time ago at Circle in the Square; my parents [George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst] used to work there a lot. He suggested I look at the Culture Project. And they were the only theatre in town that said, "Yeah, we'll do an alternate week schedule." I couldn't believe it. Because I miss the theatre, man! My son was born ten years ago. If I've done it at all, I've done it in the summers. The Culture Project does so many things, they have a lot of stuff going on. They have another play called In Conflict that just opened. They'll be rotating us with other things.

Playbill.com: Circle in the Square being involved as a co-producer is very unusual.
CS: I think that's just Ted. He said, "I like this show," and got involved. Maybe he and [Cirlce in the Square managing director] Paul Libin want to see if it will go on somewhere.

Campbell Scott in The Atheist
photo by T. Charles Erickson
Playbill.com: Yes, there's been some speculation to that end. But then, there would be the matter of your schedule again.
CS: Yes, I'll drive them crazy with my schedule. I'll do anything, as long as it's every other week. What I'd love to do is go around the country a little. It's a tough show. It's for mature audiences only. Once in a while we get walk-outs, because he's very vulgar, the character.

Playbill.com: It's a one-person show.
CS: It's just me and I don't shut up for 90 minutes. [He's] a very darkly funny and raunchy guy. He's very smart, too, but it's not for ten-year-olds.

Playbill.com: Did the playwright, Ronan Noone, say the story was based on anything?
CS: He's a wonderful playwright, from Boston, actually. He's Irish and been in the country for about 10 years. I know for a fact that he was a journalist and this character is a journalist. He was a journalist for about a year. I not sure he particularly liked it. That's what started it all. Originally, it was a much shorter piece, and it was an Irish character. Now it's an American. It's very, very accurate. The guy comes from a rural area in Kansas, so he's Midwestern-slash-Southern. He's very riff-y. It's like jazz-oriented writing. It's not completely linear. It's not a straight-told story. The guy is kind of all over the place.

Playbill.com: Does the title refer to the character? Is he the atheist?
CS: Yeah, I think it is. I don't think that's the message of the play, but, yeah, he's an atheist.

Playbill.com: In your given line of work, you encounter journalists all the time. Did you draw on any of those experiences when creating the character?
CS: (Laughs) I thought you were going to say, "I've met plenty of atheists."

Playbill.com: Well, actually, that's probably true, too.
CS: I don't think I know any journalists that well. I know a couple of sports writers who are good folks. But this guy is such a force of nature. He's nothing if not self-aware not self-aware, but self-concerned. The fact that he's in journalism is just the beginning for him. It's a way to get into people's lives and feel like he has some control. But it all kind of spirals out of control. He's kind of a perfect representation of the worst that's out there. However, having said that, he has a certain amount of charm, and I think that charm comes from the fact that, no matter how much we realize he's self-interested and sort of horrific, sometimes he tells his own truth.