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Robert Sean Leonard
Actor, Manly Man and Seinfeld Watcher
an emily blunt interview

 

 

Robert Sean Leonard's a quiet little studmuffin. He has that wispy hair that makes a girl want to run a bubble bath and play hairdresser…well…me at least. We are talking YUM-O-RAMA people.

He also happens to be an incredible actor's actor. Those who know him, know. For those who don't, give a read. Get to know him, rent his films and see his plays. His choices make it obvious he's not in it for the doughski. And because of these choices he's presently a quiet powerful talent lurking in the shadows...but not for too much longer, I hope.

Enough small talk let the chat begin!

Emily: [ I have no idea what to actually call this guy Robert, Rob, Bob Sean…Robshalenskadiddle…Mangod Burlyboy…so I just start] Your movie selections are so diversified. I mean Swing Boys, Much to Do About Nothing, Dead Poet's Society….DRIVEN? I thought you were a theater guy?

RSL: [laughter] I had done Driven because it seemed like a way into the larger films…to be honest, it's when New York's changed that I decided to do it. Eric McCormack replaces Craig Bierko in 'Music Man', Deborah Messing has the offer to play Viola in Central Park in 'Twelfth Night' this summer. It's changed. Chris Walkin and Kathleen Widows and Sam Waterston and Meryl Streep, they're not coming up through Yale through the public theatre anymore. Theatre is now that you bring people from L.A. to New York be in it. To get people to go see it. Yeah. You start losing roles to start losing roles to people who are well-known. You work fifteen years, and you just know you're right for the role and someone else gets it because they're on a television show. And you say, 'ok, that's different than it was in the seventies with Chris Walkin or Ron Julian but okay I guess I've got to adjust to that.'

Emily: Then again, television stars and movie stars coming to Broadway can be a good thing. Prime example is your 'Iceman' role, thanks to "star power" namely Kevin Spacey , 'The Iceman Cometh', which is a colossal and behemoth production, played unedited on the Great White Way again…and I had the great pleasure to see you do Don Parritt ...him do Hickey...so that was a good star-power thing.

RSL: Yeah, but Kevin also had been in New York for fifteen years doing theater.

Emily: True. How was it to work on the 'Iceman Cometh?'

RSL: Great! It was grueling! Those matinee days were pretty memorable. It was five hours onstage, so it was a long night! Yeah, I guess I don't mean star power per se. It isn't bad at all.

Emily: I would have gone anyway because I love O'Neill. But with the powerful 'name' in the key role the doors were opened for a proper staging! I got YOU, Paul Giamatti and a dozen other real rounded talents in the mix! And look whose shoes Spacey was stepping into [Jason Robards, the most famous Hickey, was the reference]. I have a ton of respect for him.

RSL: Oh sure I see what your saying. Not a small easy piece huh? [laughter] And Eric McCormack did 'Music Man' because he loves Frank Wilson, and Eric was great. The thing [casting stars because of their names] in itself isn't bad, it's just true. So if you're a really good actor, that's great. If you're a really good actor and you're on television, that's more helpful. Sometimes it's unfair is all I really mean.

Emily: Yeah that's an absolute truth. But again, I feel if using a "name" on a marquee gets people into theater seats it's acceptable. Provided the human can act of course. Or ,also, if they're able to get a production on stage that wouldn't even get made without their "name" on it I'll take it!

RSL: Sure, but that's very rare. What Kevin did is rare. Most people, like with the 'Graduate'. It's more just placing people in shows than actually originating works from people like Kevin did.

Emily: I saw 'Judas Kiss' with Liam Neeson too that season. He broke fourth wall at least six times! [we laugh at the quasi-thespian's faux pas] Though he was still very good. What made you take the role in Driven? It's so off character for you no?

RSL: [laughter] Hmm. So you do four movies in a row and they all go to video [laughter] . So you call your agents and say 'look, I need to do a movie that will come out. I can't do another movie like this… I don't want to hear this is a first time writer/director again. [laughter] I'm sure that they're the next Scorsese and I'm gonna blow it, but I've done that four times and they weren't the next Scorsese, so get me a movie that I know is coming out. I just need to be in a movie that's coming out and is in some way good and a part that will be right for me and memorable.' And I read about ten scripts and Driven was the part. I loved the part. It was really funny and very clear and very well-driven and very well-defined in the script. He had very clear tensions and I thought he was a funny guy to play. He was a fun guy to play, actually.

Emily: Did that experience sour you on the big studios?

RSL: No no no. It just was a bomb! [laughter] You know! But no. I had a ball. I loved the character. His girl, Stacy Edwards, was great. I had a great time with her. No, not at all. I also haven't seen it, because it was out so short. But no, I really enjoyed playing that guy. And it was nice to be in a movie that came out [laughter]!

Emily: I actually liked it…other than the kid that kept sweatin' through the damn thing- what was that? [laughter] Chelsea Walls recently opened. You and Ethan Hawke [who directed] have been friends since you were teenagers and have the theater group [Malaparte] together . What was it like to have him in an authority role over you here? Did you find yourself laughing at him when he got too serious?

RSL: Not so much at him. I'd say 'I'm not laughing at you, but more I'm laughing near you.' [laughs] No, it was something I'm used to. He was creative, the artistic, director of a theatre company, whatever that meant, which even he would laugh at. You know, he's a leader. He's one of those guys who is extremely proactive. He gets things done. And that's great. We're both very similar actors; we use the same language. It was in no way uncomfortable. It was a little bit odd, but mostly enjoyable. You know, he's in that power. So yeah a little of both. It was a little bit weird, but in no way uncomfortable. Just sort of strange. Honestly I was more proud than anything else I guess. In a way his authority status was strange, except we really were all friends, so if it was a set with complete strangers and Ethan was directing I would probably feel differently. But this was so familiar to me, just sitting in a room with Steve Zahn and Nicole Bernette and Ethan, so a little bit, but the place was so familiar and the people were so familiar that it wasn't too shocking.

Emily: Now you also said you felt lazy around him sometimes. Why do you say that?

RSL: He's extremely artistically, uh, if you could say it... he's... I want to say he's prolific. But I guess it's better to say he's so multi-talented and he refuses to ignore any of those places he can go. He bangs out a tune on the piano and he writes a story and directs a film and produces a play. You know, he's very impressive that way.

Emily: He's like a human Swiss Armyknife. Your true love is theater right?

RSL: [laughter] The one thing I love about theater is that you're home in time for Seinfeld, Which I've always loved. You have your day to see your family and go to the town pool and read a book, and you have to be at work at seven and you're home by eleven. I love that. I'm a little more…… I don't know what it is….. but I don't feel quite as on fire artistically as Ethan does.

Emily: Perhaps wiser ?

RSL: [laughter] No, I just have less to say.

Emily: You said you had your Chelsea Walls role really worked out well in rehearsal. You all worked in it like a play.

RSL: We rehearsed a little bit. Not on tape we really did rehearse like a play. Yeah.

Emily: Was working in DV different from another medium because of the freedom to "waste" film?

RSL: Sure, sure. You could be free to play. Even in a play, every night you stick to the script. I mean, we didn't improvise, but there were surprises you know? You turn around and the guy who was facing you the last time you did that line isn't facing you this time so you tap his shoulder. [laughter] Sure.

Emily: Keepin' it real method. [we laugh at my tacky thespian joke] Are you working on something right now?

RSL: No I just did a year and a half straight and I'm exhausted.

Emily: Taking a vacation? [thought but not spoken: so I can conveniently be in the adjacent room with my handy peep-hole tool?]

RSL: Yeah, perhaps. I did a [Tom] Stoppard play, and then, as you know, I did Music Man [Harold Hill] after Eric, so I've been singing "Trouble" for six months. I'm exhausted! I need a little break!

With that we babbled a bit about vacation spots and I offered to draw him a hot steamy love bath -- well in my "inner dialog" at least. Purr. Bobby had to boogie. He's a lovely man; so handsome and talented. And alas yet another very upfront open chap. I dig that. Hopefully his next Hollywood shindig will be better received than Driven. And Chelsea Walls, while not a huge crowd pleaser, definitely shows off his talents. Find it if you're into actors acting….just don't expect a huge plot m' kay.

 

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