Thomas Written by
Theatre versus movies versus tv. Very different mediums requiring very different disciplines. Which is most fulfilling as a) an actor, b) a performer, c) as a brand? As you have achieved success in all three, which gives your mum the most pleasure?
TS: It’s a great question. I think that there is no place more fulfilling for the actor as artist than the theatre. Film is a director’s medium; television is a writer’s medium. The theatre is really where great collaboration happens between all three, MUST happen between all three, but once the audience is seated and the lights go up it is the place where the actor’s performance exists in its purest form. There is no editing to be done; nothing stands between actor and audience. It’s thrilling.
In terms of branding, I don’t know that I fully understand what that entails but I am sure that it exists exclusively in film and TV. I don’t think there is any branding in the traditional sense in the theatre. In the theatre you can’t gloss over or airbrush away a lack of talent or dedicated skill; there’s no place to hide. If theatre actors have a sustained bankable cache it is because they have earned it. Look at artists like Kelli O’Hara and Raul Esparza. They took their tremendous talents, completely dedicated themselves to their craft and repeatedly created great work that audiences are (wisely) willing to line up for. But I don’t think you could rightly say that either could have reached the level of audience loyalty they enjoy without serious amounts of both talent and dedication. The same cannot be said for many television and movie stars.
Is your latest project ‘Life In Pieces’, a rom- or sit-com, something of a change of pace for you,. A lighter look at character.
It’s both a situation comedy and romantic comedy; the story finds the members of the family in various stages in adult life. It is so well written, so fun to dig into. Justin Adler created wonderfully human and relatable characters. It’s part of what drew me to the project. And the fact that it is a departure for me is another part of what drew me to it. I want to continue to push myself, particularly into areas that I don’t have a lot of experience or comfort. It’s how I learn. With this project I get to learn from some truly extraordinary actors.
‘I Smile Back’ a much darker production seems to tell the age-old story of addiction and redemption: an unfulfilled woman ‘Laney Brooks’ who turns to substance abuse to blanket out the real, deeply ingrained unhappiness with her life and circumstances. Does high intensity drama, especially with someone as committed as Sarah Silverman, leave you drained when you go home at night. Is it difficult to climb out of that disturbed environment… or is it just acting? The author of the novel, Amy Koppelman, also wrote the screenplay. Does it help to read the original prose?
It is tricky to work on this kind of material. I certainly didn’t have anything remotely close to the kind of heavy lifting that Sarah did in this film, lifting that she did brilliantly by the way. It is a breathtakingly brave performance. And that is what stuck with me every day coming home: respect for Sarah and what she was doing, appreciation that I got to be there to play with her and watch it happen, and yeah, certainly some amount of discomfort too. It is hard to watch in its edited form, it was even harder to watch raw. I mean she’s just so good. I’ve had parts that required close to that kind of effort from me and I’ve found that I do have to be very careful. Your body doesn’t know the difference between real trauma and manufactured trauma. Your mind might know but your body responds roughly the same. Maybe not to the same degree but then again, with acting you’re repeating it again and again and again. It takes a toll.
In regards to Amy’s involvement and the fact that she wrote the novel, I always find it immensely helpful to go back to the source material and having Amy there was a gift. Not only is she a tremendous writer, she’s a great person. She and her writing partner, Paige Dylan, are very generous, very collaborative, and very supportive; they created a wonderfully safe space for us and were absolutely fantastic to have around for ideas, clarification and moral support.
Do you believe a 30 minute tv version of Macbeth or Midsummer Night’s Dream watched by a million people (and therefore introducing many more people to Shakespeare who would maybe move onto the real thing) would be worth the inevitable vilification by purists?
TS: What a wonderful idea! I think Shakespeare himself would be thrilled by it. I absolutely believe that a 30 minute Macbeth or Midsummers would be worthwhile. Particularly if it ran as a miniseries. And in regards to vilification by the purists, who cares? Frankly, there’s no such thing a ‘pure’ modern production of Shakespeare anyway so it’s an utterly absurd position to take. The beauty of his work is that it is malleable. And not only does it sustain but it sometimes becomes more impactful the further afield you push it. That’s the genius of it. That’s the depth of humanity that exists inside of it. I don’t think that it’s any accident that here we are almost 430 years later still talking about it. Why shouldn’t you want to find new and vibrant ways to tell those stories, to share those works? I sure as hell don’t want Shakespeare to become the Colonial Williamsburg of the written word; some dusty old remnant that serves as more of a curio than anything. The work is too profound for that, too precious; I respect and revere it too much.
The Slap was originally an Australian production which translated very well for US audiences. Do you think the emotive subject matter was allegorical in as much as it was meant to bring the divisions and conflict between the progressive and conservative elements of most individuals to the attention of those who maybe never identify the problem? Or is it just a tv drama? After all the majority of people who were subjected to corporal punishment as children did not turn into socio- or psychopaths.
It’s not for me to say if the work was allegorical or in what way it attempted to make society or the individual face his or herself. I certainly have my opinions about it but I would rather let the work stand on its own. It certainly generated a response, which is what we all set out to do. You don’t do a piece like The Slap, or The Newsroom for that matter, with the assumption that you’re going to get your ass kissed. And if you do, maybe you haven’t done it right.
What tv series do you binge on? Has the movie / tv gap all but disappeared?
TS: I don’t really binge TV shows. The last thing I came close to binge-watching was Fargo. That series completely blew me away. That and I re-watched the whole 10 season series of Frasier recently, which was fun. I figured if I was going to be doing a half hour comedy I may as well watch and learn from one of the greats, David Hyde Pierce. I try to avoid binge-watching. If I watch too much of one thing in a row I start to lose perspective on what makes it great or interesting.
And yes, I think the gap between TV and Film has largely disappeared. Honestly TV is in its golden age right now. There’s so much content, so much of it is unique and well done. It’s pretty incredible. It reminds me of the indie film revolution of 20 or so years ago. There were so many great indie movies being made, so many really interesting stories being told. I think that indie movie revolution should be an inspirational and cautionary tale to the television powers that be. How did it all evaporate?
Does your really exotic antecedents and being born in New England and raised in the South give you a deep pool to draw from for your craft? Do you prefer villains or heroes?
TS: Interesting. I hadn’t really considered it too much before but in thinking about it, I do recognize that I spent most of my younger years between two really great story-telling cultures. I was also raised by a father who loved stories, Greek mythology in particular, so I grew up with an appreciation of the epic. I don’t know that I can put my finger on what made me choose this path but I do know that I have drawn heavily from the stories I was read and the stories I was told as a child. It had a huge influence on me. I also learned early on that boundaries don’t define people. I learned to appreciate people for their acts, not their ideology or circumstances. On a foundational level, I think the artist has to know that or come to learn it: that, as we say in Texas, folks are folks. I was fortunate enough to be shown that at a very early age.
Heroes or villains? I don’t know. I think ultimately I prefer something in between. I find myself drawn to characters that don’t fit either mold, characters that are flawed but trying. That makes the most sense to me. I like to build a character that grows throughout the story, one that you can’t ever quite settle on but that you recognize as being authentically human.