PLAYBILL.COM'S CUE & A: Pulitzer Prize Winner and Don't Go Gentle Star Michael Cristofer
By Matthew Blank
October 16, 2012
Stage and screen veteran Michael Cristofer, who stars in Stephen Belber's Don't Go Gentle at MCC Theater, fills out Playbill.com's questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.
Theatre work includes A View from the Bridge with Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson, Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare in the Park), Trumpery (Atlantic Theater), Body of Water with Christine Lahti, The Seagull with Joanne Woodward, The Cherry Orchard with Irene Worth (Theater World Award), Chinchilla (Obie Award) and The Intelligent Homosexual... (Public Theater).
He recently played Truxton Spangler on AMC's "Rubicon" and is currently appearing in "Smash" on NBC.
Writer: The Shadow Box (Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award), Amazing Grace (American Theater Critics Award), "Lady and the Clarinet" with Stockard Channing, "The Witches of Eastwick" with Jack Nicholson, "Falling in Love" and "Casanova."
Full given name:
Where you were born/where you were raised:
Born in Trenton, NJ, in a little Italian ghetto called Chambersburg.
What your parents did/do for a living:
My father was a steel worker for John A. Roebling, the company that supplied the flatwire for the George Washington Bridge. His salary was $4000 a year.
Two sisters. Joyce Ketay, who is a literary agent, reps David Rabe, Neil LaBute and Tony Kushner, among others. Kate Thomas is my younger sister. She's a choreographer and also runs the school dance program at "Steps."
I'm a pretty good cook. Other than that, nothing.
Something you're REALLY bad at:
Directing plays. I've done it twice. The first time, I was fired. The second time, I got 47 bad reviews. So never again.
First Broadway show you ever saw:
When I was a child, my father took me to see the original production of Bye Bye Birdie. Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera, Paul Lynde... I was knocked out.
If you could go back in time and catch any show, what would it be?
Oh, so many. But maybe first on the list would be the Lunts in The Visit directed by Peter Brook. I did a screenplay based on the play for Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. But it never happened.
Favorite showtunes of all time:
Almost anything by Cole Porter. Just genius.
Some favorite musicals:
Anyone remember Greenwillow with Tony Perkins? Love it.
Some favorite modern plays:
I'm a big fan of The Faith Healer by Brian Friel because it's about the question of making magic or failing to make magic, which I think is the challenge of performing.
Some favorite modern playwrights:
I think we're devolving into a period of what I call "non-plays," plays in which the conflicts are so thin and so buried that they really never engage the audience. Of course we're also devolving into an audience that really doesn't want to be engaged. So anybody who still goes for the throat is a hero to me.
Stage or screen stars of the past you would most have loved to perform with:
Peter O'Toole, Spencer Tracy....opposite ends of a spectrum.
The one performance – attended - that you will never forget:
Well, it's so gay, but I have to say Streisand in Funny Girl. I can still feel the excitement of watching her spin magic on that stage and the sound that was coming out of her. Unforgettable.
And I did see the original Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which produced gasps from the audience about every 3 minutes.
Music that makes you cry/moves you, any genre:
Strauss' "Four Last Songs." Kills me every time.
Your personal acting idols:
Mark Rylance, Phil Hoffman, Liev Schreiber, Linda Emond, Meryl... like that.
MAC or PC?
Most played song on your iPod:
Steven Pasquale singing "Maybe" from Annie. Beautiful.
Last book you read:
"Proust Was a Neuroscientist" by Jonah Lehrer, which suggests that artists often prefigure scientific discoveries. Very cool idea.
Must-see TV show(s):
Bill Maher... flawed as he is.
Last good movie you saw:
"Tree of Life." I know, flawed, but at least Malick is still trying. And the other night I caught "The English Patient"... which technically is the "last" good movie I saw.
Some films you consider classics:
"Bringing Up Baby"
Anything with Fred Astaire
Performer you would drop everything to go see:
Again, Mark Rylance
Pop culture guilty pleasure:
Three favorite cities:
New York, Paris, New Orleans
First CD/Tape/LP you owned:
"Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook"
First stage kiss:
Never been kissed on stage. Oh, wait, David Wilson Barnes kisses me in "Don't Go Gentle"... but it's a fatherly thing.
How you got your Equity card:
Slept with a producer. Kidding. I really can't remember.
Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living:
Reading fairy tales out loud in the third grade... made me dizzy with power.
Favorite pre-/post- show meal:
Fish tacos at Bar Centrale
Favorite liquid refreshment:
Basil Haydn bourbon
Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:
Down dog/up dog and a lot of vomiting.
What drew you to this project?
The writing of course. Subtle and deep. And because this is a play that does go for the throat.
Any upcoming projects you can talk about?
I've written the libretto for an opera based on the life of prize fighter Emile Griffith who was black, gay and killed a man in the ring. It will premiere at Opera St. Louis in the spring.
Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:
I was doing a physically exhausting play once and while I was onstage I sort of separated from myself... I was suddenly watching myself on the other side of the stage doing the part. In fact I had frozen and was doing nothing at all. For about a minute. That was when I started therapy.
Most challenging role you have played onstage:
I played Adolf Eichmann last fall in Boston in a play called Captors by Evan Weiner. Peter Dubois directed at the Huntington Theatre. It was challenging on a personal level, on an emotional level and it was also a very challenging relationship with the audience.
Leading man role you've been dying to play:
Well, I guess it's time for Lear, isn't it?
Leading lady role you wish you could play:
Career you would want if not a performer:
Three things you can't live without:
Music, olive oil and my partner, Lou Deering
"I'll never understand why…"
… people will vote for candidates who clearly work against their best interests.
Words of advice for aspiring performers:
Just keep going, don't look back. And don't ever let anything shut down your heart.