BWW Interviews: Actor Michael Weston Talks About OTHER DESERT CITIES
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by Don Grigware
Actor Michael Weston, known to TV audiences for his roles on House, Scrubs and an amazing guest star turn as "Jake" in Six Feet Under, co-stars with Robert Foxworth, Jeannie Berlin, JoBeth Williams and Robin Weigert in Jon Robin Baitz' Other Desert Cities now previewing and opening at the Mark Taper Forum December 9. Weston, who replaced initially cast Justin Long, recently took a break from rehearsals to sit down and talk about the play and his theatrical interests. Weston is the son of Tony winner John Rubinstein.
You live and grew up in New York, right?
I'm a little bit bi-coastal. We sort of followed my dad (John Rubinstein) around. I lived mostly in New York, but I was out here for early kindergarten and 7th grade. I went back and forth. But I definitely grew up in the wings of theatre most of my life. I remember when he was doing Children of a Lesser God, which came out here to the Taper... I loved it, it was magical to me.
Did you ever perform with him on stage?
No. To be honest, I was never really interested in theatre as a kid. I loved baseball, (he laughs) so I would play like in the Broadway Show League. I always loved all his pals in there, a bunch of guys and gals from Broadway shows, and they'd come and play softball in Central Park. My interest in theatre started in high school, mostly because my dean forced me to do it. I was creating trouble in the hallways, so he demanded that I do something with my spare time.
That accounts for you being cast in a lot of bad boy roles.
I play trouble makers. It's natural. (we laugh)
The first thing I saw you do was Six Feet Under, and you were such a little fiend, I hated you, but you nailed it so completely.
Oh, I was evil.
But I could tell underneath it all, that you have a tremendous sense of humor and were really enjoying what you were doing.
It was very dark, but I did really enjoy that. And it was such beautiful writing, as in this play. The way that they could churn that out as often as they did, it was an amazing show! That set the precedent. There was humor in it and there was the darkness of it and that allows you to play those kind of characters.
So, honestly, it wasn't that hard to play that drugged-out character?
No, it wasn't, and that may say terrible things, but the truth is, you're working with so many wonderful people...and, it's very dark material, but when you're actually shooting it, you don't think of it as that. When you play a character like that...I mean, he wasn't aware of the consequences of his actions as much, so, for me, I made a purposeful effort to really enjoy it. (he laughs)
The moment to moment - what is he going to do next? - element kept you on the edge of your seat. And you had a great rapport with Michael C. Hall!
He's such a lovely actor and a lovely man. We had a great time doing it.
I unfortunately did not see you in Scrubs or House, but I did catch a movie on late night cable called Wishcraft (2002). Talk about 360 degrees away from viciousness! You were this meek kid that I really felt sympathy for. And I studied many years ago with Austin Pendleton, who also had a role in that as a teacher.
Oh, I love Austin. We had fun doing that. He's one of those guys of the theatre that I've always admired. And yes, my character was a much sweeter, innocent dude. (he laughs)
It's just another side of you that you draw upon as an actor when you need it.
I guess so. I think in our core, we're all of that.
Let's get to Other Desert Cities. Tell us about the play and your character in it.
I'd heard of the play, and I've been a fan of Robbie Baitz forever. I remember, my dad was up at Vassar, and as a kid I watched him do Three Hotels. As I watched rehearsals, I fell in love with the writing. Not really understanding why, I just loved it. It set the world so amazingly. And then I was up at Williamstown (Massachusetts) and I saw another play of his with John Benjamin Hickey...I can't remember the name of it...it was so beautiful. I'm a huge fan of his. When this role came up, I just crossed my fingers, and there's nothing better than to be in a beautiful play. I love the depth of this play. I love family dramas that have a sense of humor and that are so alive, full of that amazing energy onstage.
What is your character like?
I play Trip Wyeth who's the youngest son.
He's a mischievous guy, but he's got a big heart. He's the caretaker of the family even as the youngest son. I've sort of played that role in my own family a bit. So, it's a very deep and personal role to me. I understand him well.
You have several brothers and sisters in real life, correct?
I do. Families go through their ups and downs. In this play Trip is this loving soul who is trying to keep his family together, amidst their past, pain, ambitions. This play effortlessly makes each character the center of the action at different moments and seemingly altogether as a portrait. It's really a masterpiece of writing, so rich on a human level. It's so wonderful to step into these characters and live in that for a couple of hours. Especially living out here in Los Angeles, it's very rare when you get an opportunity to ride out a character for two hours straight. It's really a privilege. I can't wait to do it.
You are in a terrific cast! I haven't seen Jeannie Berlin in years!
I just saw her in Margaret, Kenny Lonergan's film. Jeannie is spectacular in it. JoBeth (Williams) and Robert Foxworth are just wonderful actors. It's so great to be a part of that. I didn't know Robin (Weigert) at all, before we got into this. She is a perfect motor for this play in her heart, and she's so smart and so fun. We gelled really quickly as a family. It's a real ensemble play. Everyone speaks and does a lot. I have a lot of moments on stage where I'm just listening, watching this drama unfold around me. I always feel a part of it, which is really a testament to the actors, and Robert Egan is just a wonderful director who I've always wanted to work with. I did Ojai Playwrights Festival with him years ago. We hit it off, and it's been really special to work with him. This family becomes very much alive onstage. Even when I'm not opening my mouth, I feel great.
Talk about "opening your mouth" and singing. You must have some musical talent with all those great genes.
I play piano. I've always sort of dabbled. My wife is this amazing musician. My dad is a great composer. My grandfather was a crazy pianist (renowned concert pianist Arthur Rubinstein). I never really wanted to get into any of it, because they were all too good. Just recently I did a little independent movie called Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best where I was forced to play in a band and sing. We went on the road. We did it all, and it was so much fun. We got a record deal with Warner Bros playing this really silly music. We have like an album out. So, I have a band, man. (he laughs)
So you are equipped to do a musical on stage!
If I was forced to, but I'd be terrified. I love all the old musicals. I grew up on them. But I find that there are people that are so adept...I just find it scary. If someone gave me a shot, though, I'd try it out. (laughs)
Who are your idols besides your dad?
I love Gene Hackman. I love Ryan Gosling...I watch his work and ...he's one of my peers...and I cannot get enough of Meryl Streep. She can do no wrong. There are so many. I just wrote a movie and I'm going to direct it in the spring. I love actors so much, what they come up with, just being able to be a part of it...I have so many idols, big and small. Many of them are my peers that I work with, who make these little movies and get them out there. It takes such passion and resilience, and I have a lot of respect for them.
If you had to sum up acting, what is the best thing about being an actor?
As an actor, you have a chance to communicate and make a connection about something very human, about life, about fears, about hopes and dreams. Being able to traffic in that, in those feelings and emotional quality, share that with people especially on stage where you have a direct throughline to the audience. I have a huge respect for that. It fuels me. I get a high off of it, as you walk offstage. And if I can get a laugh at the end of it...SOLD! (we laugh)