STAGE TO SCREENS: A Chat with Gale Harold Plus Upcoming Stage-Related Films

By Michael Buckley
October 22, 2006

This month we chat with Gale Harold, currently starring as Dr. Cukrowicz, opposite Blythe Danner and Carla Gugino, in Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre, where it officially premieres Nov. 15.

***

Gale Harold, the Atlanta-born actor who grew up in Decatur, GA, gained fame as Brian Kinney in the Showtime series "Queer as Folk" (2000-05), appeared as Wyatt Earp in two episodes of HBO's "Deadwood" and played FBI Agent Graham Kelton for the first seven episodes of the FOX series "Vanished."

When asked whether "Queer as Folk" the sometimes controversial series that concerned a group of gay and lesbian friends and the challenges they faced was a good experience, the somewhat interview-wary Harold says, "It was full of different experiences. Working with the cast and the directors and pushing myself to places I didn't expect to be in was very positive and difficult and frightening. I'm very grateful that I had the experience to do it. It opened some doors to me. Overall, it was very positive."

Playing Wyatt Earp in "Deadwood," claims Harold, "was fantastic! Working with David Milch [creator and head writer] and the actors and everybody on that show was really invigorating. I don't know what the best descriptive word would be. I loved it! I didn't want to leave."

A few weeks ago, his character on "Vanished" was killed, or at least seemed to be. "He's been shot. Three times in the chest with a nine-millimeter pistol. So we're going to have to assume that his chances are slim." [Laughs.] Then, he's definitely off the show? "I'm definitely doing the play," says Harold. So, the character is not slated to recover. "That's a question mark that could always be changed to a period or an ellipsis."

"My interests are not really with television, per se," he explains. "I was very fortunate, as a starving actor, to get a great job that offered me a lot of opportunity. But because of the way that television works and because of the way that it's exploited by the people who create it, all of a sudden you go from a point where you say, 'This is something I'm proud of,' or 'I'd rather not talk about this' to having everything you ever did out there."

Harold admits, "I'm very happy to be out of L.A. for awhile, even happier to be in New York and working on something that I really feel so excited about and connected to. I think I have some sort of affinity to [Williams'] work because I was raised in the South. And I was raised in similar conditions to some of the things that [Williams] writes about.

"To be here, working on the play, and with Blythe Danner and Carla Gugino and [director] Mark Brokaw and for the Roundabout those are the things I want to focus on. I'm really striving to continue having the opportunity to work here. That's what it's about for me right now."

Previously in New York, he appeared with George Morfogen in the 2000 Off Broadway play Uncle Bob. Harold rattles off names of plays in which he's appeared outside of New York: "Long Day's Journey, 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore, Cymbeline, The Misanthrope, Me and My Friend. . . . It's somewhat scattered over the past ten years because I was on a series for five years."

Does he have a lock on his current role? "Not completely. It's an interesting play. Sort of a memory play, but at the same time a psychological examination that seems to go back and forth across the lines between characters and archetypal representation in such an explicit fashion. I'm not exactly sure what is going on. The doctor is definitely a functionary, a conduit between the battling forces of Mrs. Venable [Danner] and Miss Catherine [Gugino].

"At this point, the other characters are much clearer to me than mine. It fits the action of the nature of the play. The doctor doesn't understand the situation because he doesn't have all the information. He's learning as the audience learns; he's sort of the eyes of the piece."

Did Harold research the role? "Yeah, I did. I researched the history of [lobotomy] and how it made its way from Europe to the U.S., and the background of the patients who were most commonly candidates for it. It seems to be if not strictly autobiographical definitely inspired by [Williams'] experience with his sister [who had a lobotomy] and his experience with analysis. The doctor's interesting because he's both a therapist and a surgeon."

Montgomery Clift played Dr. Cukrowicz in the 1959 film, which also starred Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Harold's seen "parts of the film, a long time ago, but I did not go back and look at it again because so much is extrapolated from the play. I wanted to lock myself into the situations that we're working with. I do like to see other actors' performances of roles I might be interested in, or might have the opportunity to do. But that adaptation [the screenplay's credited to Gore Vidal and Williams] had a lot that was not in the play."

Originally a one-act play, Suddenly runs 90 minutes without intermission at the Laura Pels. It's Harold's first time working with his co stars and the director. "It's a very, very enriching experience the work I'm being exposed to is incredibly good." His previous Williams encounters includes portraying Chance in Sweet Bird of Youth ("That was more of a workshop, in repertory with a class") and he's "worked on Brick" (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). "I'm familiar with most of the plays. This is the first time I've taken such a close look at this one."

Harold confesses, "Im a bad interview because I want to always feel like I'm being totally honest, but at the same time I'm absolutely paranoid. That combination results in a lot of spaces. [Laughs] I want to work on things that really mean a lot to me. This has been one of the best falls [the season] in my life for a long time."

***

In years past, from Broadway to Hollywood was a natural course for plays and musicals. True, the stars chosen for the movie versions of shows were not always ideal casting Lucille Ball as "Mame," Barbra Streisand in "Hello, Dolly!" but sometimes film preserved the stage performances, e.g. Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story," Shirley Booth in "Come Back, Little Sheba," and many, many more. As we all know, in recent years, the path between coasts was far less traveled with an occasional surprise ("Chicago" winning an Oscar for Best Picture of 2002). The remaining months of 2006 brings to the big screens some stage-related pictures and actors. Following are just a few.

Highly anticipated are "The History Boys" (opening in November) and "Dreamgirls" (a December release). The former, which won this year's Tony as Best Play, went before the cameras before coming to Broadway, and the stage cast is intact. That includes two Tony-winning performances: Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour.

Three Tony winners are among the cast of "Dreamgirls": Anika Noni Rose (Caroline, or Change), Hinton Battle (Sophisticated Ladies, The Tap Dance Kid, Miss Saigon) and John Lithgow (The Changing Room, Sweet Smell of Success). It's been 25 years from stage to screen for "Dreamgirls," and original cast member Loretta Devine is in the film. It will be interesting to see if the movie fares as well as "Chicago," or shares the box-office fate of "Rent," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Producers."

"Flags of Our Fathers," the Clint Eastwood film that opened Friday, has a number of stage-related actors in its cast. Among them: John Benjamin Hickey, John Slattery, Judith Ivey, George Grizzard, George Hearn, Harve Presnell, Ned Eisenberg, Gordon Clapp, Mary Beth Peil and David Rasche.

Back in 1995 Jude Law appeared on Broadway in Indiscretions and Rufus Sewell played in Translations. They're both in December's "The Holiday," which also features Tony winner Eli Wallach (The Rose Tattoo), who celebrates his 91st birthday in December.

Currently on Broadway, Martin Short shows up as Jack Frost in "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause." Harry Connick, Jr., a Tony nominee for The Pajama Game, and Tony winner Brian O'Byrne (Frozen) are in "Bug." While they're on Broadway in the upcoming play The Vertical Hour, co-stars Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy will be seen in separate features: she's in "Children of Men," and he's in "Notes on a Scandal," which also stars Tony winner Judi Dench (Amy's View). Finally, "Night at the Museum," starring Ben Stiller, has two old pros playing guards at the Museum of Natural History: Dick Van Dyke, a Tony winner for Bye Bye Birdie, and Mickey Rooney, a nominee for Sugar Babies.

***

Michael Buckley also writes for TheaterMania.