LET'S GET THE OBVIOUS STUFF OUT OF THE WAY FIRST: YES, HE PLAYED NEIDERMEYER IN ANIMAL HOUSE. YES, HE WAS THE MAESTRO ON SEINFELD. AND, YES, HE WAS ALSO THE PISSED-OFF DAD IN THE TWISTED SISTER VIDEOS. BUT THERE IS MORE TO ACTOR MARK METCALF THAN YOU KNOW, LIKE HIS EXTREMELY ACTIVE INVOLVEMENT IN THE THEATRE, AND HIS ROLE AS RESTAURATEUR OF THE RESTAURANT LIBBY MONTANA. AND TO THINK THAT HE DOES IT ALL FROM THE STATE OF WISCONSIN. JOIN OUR VERY OWN WAYNE CHINSANG, FPHATTY LAMAR, AND NIGHT WATCHMAN AS THEY ENJOY A LITTLE LUNCH AND A WHOLE LOT OF TALK WITH MARK.
Mark Metcalf: So, do you stream this online?
Wayne Chinsang: It will actually be typed out.
MM: Can you get this in there?
[WEíRE ALL SITTING IN MARKíS RESTAURANT, LIBBY MONTANA, AND A CD BEING PLAYED OVER THE SPEAKERS IS SKIPPING]
Fphatty Lamar: It will be hard to spell, but we can.
MM: (turns around toward the bar) Is anybody up there doing anything? Shoot that thing!
[A WORKER STOPS THE CD FROM SKIPPING]
WC: Youíve got some pretty good music playing in here. We heard a little bit of Patsy Cline before.
MM: Yeah, we play a lot of good stuff. I like to mix it up. I do a lot of Miles Davis. Bob Reitman [Milwaukee radio personality] was in here one time, and he was very excited because I was playing Lou Reed, Tony Bennett, a little Mozart, and [Miles Davisí] Bitches Brew. People keep wanting us to get one of those music services--
FL: But those are crap.
MM: Yeah. There are some that are better than Muzak... you know, that elevator music. But still, you donít get to make the choice. I try and play a lot of the blues, like Sonny Terry and Django Reinhardt.
WC: Right on. So, I want to start by asking a few general questions, and then weíll break off from there and get into other things.
WC: So, you were born in Findlay, Ohio?
MM: (laughs) Yes, I was born in Findlay, Ohio. I left there very soon after I was born. My mom was there because... why was my mom there? Probably because my dad was a jerk.
MM: No, she went there because apparently women did that sometimes. They would go to their momís house to have a baby. They lived in St. Louis, but they went there to have me. My mom stayed in the hospital for two weeks, and when she came home they sent a nurse home with her. And not because she was ill; thatís just what they did.
WC: But now you go in and youíre out in ten minutes.
MM: Yeah, you do it on an outpatient basis. You just squirt that thing out--
FL: Youíve got someone jumping on your stomach.
MM: Thatís right. "Youíre not gonna push? Then Iíll push!"
WC: So, you went to the University of Michigan.
MM: Right, in Ann Arbor.
WC: And I read something online that said you wanted to be an engineer, and then an architect, and then go into forestry, and then English, then psychology, and then you got into acting.
MM: Right. My freshman year I was an engineer, and then I transferred to architecture. But during my sophomore year I started acting in plays, mostly to meet girls and stay out of bars. I thought if I was rehearsing a play in the evening, I wouldnít be drinking in a bar. I just didnít realize you could go to the bar later.
WC: Or just drink while youíre--
MM: Or you drink right there in rehearsal.
MM: Thatís another story. But I did go through majors. It wasnít like I did anything about them. Somebody would just ask, "What are you majoring in?" and Iíd say, "Forestry." Or psychology or English. But I finally had to graduate in theatre. I flunked out, but I had been in so many plays... I was like a theatre jock. So my theatre teachers all wrote letters and got the professors in the English department and the psychology department and the French department-- all the areas where I was failing-- to pass me. I was like those big, dumb basketball players.
MM: They just passed me. I had to show up once in a while; I had to go. I had not been going before then; I just signed up and didnít go.
WC: Well, since you had tried your hand at other things, how was acting the one you decided to stick with? When did it click?
MM: Because they were the only ones who would write the letters to keep me there.
MM: I mean, thatís true, in terms of college. Thatís why I picked it as a major, because it was the only one I had credits in that were passing grades. But when it clicked for me... it clicked early on as something that I dug doing and was fun to do. It was something I was good at. But this was quite a while ago, and back when you were a hippie you didnít think about careers. I had no plan. I was just going day to day. So it didnít click as a career until I had been getting paid for it for five to eight years. I never really decided that acting was what I would do; it was just kind of what I did. Even today, if people ask me what I do, I donít say Iím an actor. I say I work as an actor, because thatís what I am: a constantly evolving organism.
FL: So do you have no true objective then? Like, what is your objective in your life at this point? Just to make as much money as you can with the restaurant?
MM: No. Iíve got to figure out a way to make a living. Iím making a bit of a living with the restaurant, but my objective now is to have as much fun as I can; the same objective I had when I was 20 and got out of college. But I have certain responsibilities now. I have a ten-year-old kid, and I have an ownership in the restaurant, so I have to put in some time here. Iím trying to have as much fun as I can, and also keep myself fed. Iím not trying to make a lot of money. I like money, because--
FL: You need it.
MM: --you need it. And also, Iíve gotten used to it. I couldnít work just as an actor in this town [Milwaukee], because you canít make it. The living that Iíve gotten used to... I mean, when I started out in New York, I refused to do TV. I didnít do TV, I never did commercials, and said no to films. I was just a stage actor; thatís all I did. I wanted to live on $50 a week and work off-off Broadway and off-Broadway, because thatís where it was fun. And those people in suits, those people who were interested in money werenít interesting. But, they ask you to do it, and you get paid. The first movie I did I got paid $1,200 a week, which is not that much. But in those days, for me, that was a lot of money. My favorite line in all of movies is in a Marilyn Chambers movie, Behind The Green Door. Somebody says, "Itís lonely at the top." And Marilyn Chambers says, "Yeah, but the food is better."
MM: So you get used to it a little bit. But Iím not interested in getting rich. This-- the restaurant business-- has a 96% failure rate.
WC: Yeah, I was going to ask about that, actually. I was wondering how you decided to get into the restaurant business, because, like magazines, (laughs) the percentage of failure is very high.
MM: I got into it because I wanted to get out of Los Angeles, and I had a son that was six at the time. My wife, Libby Wick, had been in the restaurant business all of her life, since she was 17. She ran Major Goolsby's for a long time, and then the Stackner Cabaret, which is where I met her. Itís up by the Milwaukee Rep. So she knew that business. And the story is that I wanted to move to Montana, and she wanted to move here. So we compromised and moved here. Thatís how marriages work.
MM: So we knew that we needed some cash flow, because I knew I wanted to get out of the business of acting. I had moved out of New York, living in L.A., doing nothing but TV and movies, and the majority of it wasnít very... smart. Not very demanding, and working in movies compared to stage is just... I mean, itís still the same mechanism. You still do the same thing. But you prepare yourself much differently because youíre not working with other people. In a play, you work with other people for three, four, or five weeks. You evolve something, and you go on and continue to evolve in front of people. In a movie, you work... (laughs) you have more of a relationship with your makeup person than you do with the woman who may be playing your wife of 14 years. So I was getting tired of the dumbness of TV, even though I was getting to do good stuff. I wanted to get out of town, and I didnít care if I ever did it again. I felt that if they wanted me, they could call me; which they did, for a couple years. But theyíve stopped calling. But I can do plays here. And Iím gonna go back out to L.A. and remind them that Iím alive. But the way to get some cash flow was to buy a little bar/restaurant. Libby could run it, and I had spent so much time in bars-- as you do as an actor-- that I felt like I had an instinct for it. So I felt like, together, we could do this. My idea was for a smaller place; something not as big as this. I mean, this place has volleyball... you guys should get a team; "tastes like chicken" would be a good name for a team.
FL: We tried a kickball team.
WC: Yeah, that didnít last. We realized we didnít like to run.
MM: Yes, running is a part of it. And you have to dive around. There are people who just kind of watch the ball, but come for the beer.
MM: We have a beer drinking contest, and whichever team drinks the most beer in the course of a season gets a trip to Hawaii... or a t-shirt. I havenít decided.
FL: Do you have a computer league, where whoever sits in front of a computer all day long wins?
MM: Yeah, we should have a Pong league.
WC: So, youíre doing stuff with the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre?
MM: No. First Stage Childrenís Theatre.
WC: Oh, thatís right.
MM: Milwaukee Rep hasnít hired me.
WC: But youíve done stuff with them in the past.
MM: I did my first fully-professional job with the Milwaukee Rep.
WC: Is that what brought you here?
MM: It did bring me here, because I had to be here to do it.
WC: Right. But were you looking to move to--
MM: Milwaukee? No.
MM: Youíre born here, and then you spend your life trying to get out. No, I put it down, but itís a nice place to raise a kid. But there are a lot of people here who havenít even been to Ohio. But what brought me back here was, I was doing a play called An American Journey in Philadelphia, and it was based on the Daniel Bell murders, which took place here. These two white cops killed a black kid [Daniel Bell], and the whole police department helped them cover it up.
FL: And it happened here?
MM: Yeah. In Milwaukee; one of the most segregated cities in the country.
FL: Thatís what everybody says, but--
MM: Yeah. You can see it. And you can feel it up here in Mequon. Itís scary. After living in Manhattan for so long, itís kind of weird. So thatís what brought me here, and thatís how I met Libby at the Stackner Cabaret. I came here to do research, and I went to the bar, in those days, as soon as I got off the plane. The Stackner Cabaret was associated with the Milwaukee Rep, and I knew people there. And then I came back here for the reasons I stated before.
WC: You obviously have this love for theatre--
WC: --and we were talking about this in the car on the way over a bit. We were saying how theatre is so time-consuming, and how you put so much into it: you practice, you study--
Night Watchman: You evolve parts.
WC: Right. But yet the things youíre most known for are your bit part on Seinfeld, which you only did a handful of--
MM: Two episodes.
WC: --two episodes. And then Animal House, which shot for a total of, like, 35 days.
MM: Yeah, around 32 days.
WC: So is it weird for you to think that youíre really passionate about these things that youíve put all of yourself into, but yet the things that people cling to are the bit things that youíve done?
MM: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
WC: Is it ever disheartening that people donít come up to you and say, ďI saw you play Romeo on stage!Ē, or--
MM: Yeah. I mean, itís great when somebody does. And I did Romeo in Riverside Park. And once in a while somebody would stop me and say that I was great. And thatís thrilling. When I first moved back here this time, I got a job at First Stage Childrenís Theatre because the artistic director, Rob Goodman, had seen me do Streamers in New York. So thatís great. But it is weird. The whole notion of celebrity in... I was gonna say this country, but itís probably the whole world now, because theyíve got pictures of John Travolta hanging in little grass huts with no electricity in Argentina. But the whole notion of celebrity is strange to me. I donít really get it, and I donít really like it. I donít trust it. I mean, I donít think itís a healthy social muscle. But it puts fannies in the seats here at the restaurant, and it puts fannies in the seats at the theatre, too. With Seinfeld you worked four days, and mostly youíre thinking about what youíre gonna have for lunch, because the writing is so good, theyíre so good... it just isnít a lot of work. Larry David was there then, Jerry was great, and the cast was great. When I did it they had been doing it for six years, so they had all the kinks worked out. You just find out how to fit into that little machine, and you go do it. And with Animal House, it was a great script, a great bunch of people, and a huge party for 32 days. We had a great time. So, yeah, you donít put as much into that stuff as you do when you do a play. And it does seem to be inequitable. But it also seems to be the way things are; the way life is.
FL: Does that ever get annoying to you, like you have to put on a show when you come in here? Does it get a little tiresome?
MM: Yeah. But people are really pretty respectful. I think more people are timid about it. There are some people who will come right up in my face and say, "Say the line from the Twisted Sister video." Thatís the thing... I mean, probably more people have seen that Twisted Sister video ["Weíre Not Gonna Take It"] than have seen anything else Iíve done. And I did it for SAG [Screen Actors Guild] day scale, which, back then, was around $300, and I wrote it. And the musicians are all living in big houses on Long Island with indoor swimming pools.
MM: But some people will get right in my face and want me to say, "What do you want to do with your life?!?" But I just say, "No. Iíd have to spit on you."
MM: So I donít do it anymore. Itís strange... they want to get saliva on them. And besides, Iíd blow my pipes out if I did it without warming up. Right after I had done Animal House, and for maybe ten years after that, it was annoying, and I was very righteous and prideful about it. But after a while I began to realize that (sighs) itís the way it is. And it was good work; I did good work. I didnít just go and have a great party all the time. I actually did the work I do as an actor, and it was a good character, and I brought something to it. And I began to realize that, as time goes by, it has become part of the iconography of the popular American landscape. So I do take pride in that. Iím not annoyed, but it is tiresome when people want to know for the nineteen-hundredth time what itís like to work with John Belushi. Iím thrilled when somebody comes up to me and asks, "What was it like to work with Karen Allen?" I say, "Oh, wow! It was great! I was totally in love with her, but Donald Sutherland came to town and he got her."
MM: "And he won all of my money in poker!"
MM: But, on the other hand, as I said, it puts fannies in the seats. I exploit it now. Never before I moved here did I exploit it. People would stop me and ask for autographs, and Iíd sign autographs. But with the restaurant, Ted Perry from Channel 6 found out I was here, and he came up and did a thing on us. Weíd been open a month, and after that people started coming to the restaurant to see me. And at first it made me uncomfortable and jittery. But then I started to realize that it was bringing people into the restaurant, and if we can serve them good food and serve it in a nice way, and they come back, then great.
WC: Itís not so much getting them out here the first time. Itís more about getting them back.
MM: Right. If they come back.
WC: Iíve got another question about the fans. One of our staff writers, his cousin is actor Marc Blucas who was on Buffy as her... (to Night Watchman) boyfriend?
NW: Yeah, at some point.
WC: And also, for the magazine, weíve done a few comic conventions, so we know how that can... ah... be.
WC: And I know that you did a few episodes of Buffy, and that youíve done a few conventions to promote it.
WC: I know youíll get Animal House fans or Twisted Sister fans, but the sci-fi and fantasy fans are a whole different thing.
MM: Itís a whole different thing. Iíve done a few of those conventions for Buffy, but at first I said I didnít want to do them because it was so strange. But then I found out how much money you can make.
FL: Thatís why we do them.
FL: Youíre kind of freaked out at first, but you need that, your fans, to support you. You need them.
WC: Yeah. I wrote a few comic books, so I go to them for that.
MM: They do them for everything. Itís amazing. Somebody called me and they want me to go to Australia for five days, and Iíll do it. Iíll take a few weeks off, take my kid, and see Australia.
FL: And itís a write-off, too.
MM: Yeah, exactly. So... what was the question? Yes.
FL: When you started doing the Buffy stuff, was it scary to be plunged into that intense world, where people are so dedicated and emphatic about things?
MM: It was a little scary and overwhelming. But it was also interesting, because I had preconceptions about it. I had known people that had done Star Trek, and I also know Carrie Fisher. But she didnít do conventions then. But I know Rene Auberjonois, who did Star Trek... one of them. And he would do cons and come back and tell us these stories about how all these people would come dressed in costumes. But the Buffy ones that Iíve done, theyíre not like that. I was surprised at what an age range it spanned. There were teenagers, and then there were these middle-aged mothers and dads who were waiting in line. I mean, there is something sad and pathetic about people who will pay $35 for a signed photograph, or $60 to get their picture taken. Itís pathetic.
MM: But thatís judgmental, and I try not to be too judgmental about it.
WC: Because thatís how youíre making money.
MM: Iím making money, and whatever it is theyíre feeling that they want, I do use that.
WC: And youíre giving them something they want.
MM: And theyíre happy. I used to think that all of those signed pictures would go right home and end up in some drawer and never be seen again. But now I think they hang them up on their wall and show their friends, and they maybe remember it for a long, long time. I have to honor that. And itís still a little intimidating. I just did one in England in November, and at that one I actually found myself feeling bad because Burt Reynoldsí line was much longer than mine. But I was happy because Kate Jackson was there, and her lines werenít that long.
MM: Linda Blair was there. I mean, The Exorcist was how many years ago?
WC: Yeah. And she was, like, eleven years old.
MM: Right. She was eleven years old, and probably had nothing to do with it.
NW: And I donít think sheís done anything since, either.
FL: She narrates ghost stories on the Travel Channel or something like that.
MM: Oh, does she? Sheís also big into saving animals or something like that. Dining on pets? No.
MM: Itís something good; her cause. Like Tippi Hedren has lions and tigers. So I actually found myself feeling kind of bad, because there were people whose lines were longer than mine. I should go out and do something else cultish.
WC: Do a Tarantino movie.
WC: So, you were saying that you were totally against doing TV, but Buffy is the zenith of what television is. It had to be weird to be immersed in that culture when you were used to being immersed in a theatre culture.
MM: Well, when you get immersed in that culture, it is. But when you do the show--
NW: Itís just like any other work.
MM: Yeah. And it was actually a wonderful part to do. When youíre studying acting you do mask work; you work in a mask. And you discover how liberating it is to have this mask on. So The Master [character Metcalf portrayed on Buffy] has this great mask that they allowed me to have a lot of influence in designing. At first they wanted him to have hair, but I wanted him to look like Nosferatu. And the acting part of it was very liberating. In my life, whenever Iíve done a job of acting, when the job of acting is over, Iím gone and on to the next one. So being immersed in the culture is not a part of anything I do, until now. And again, Libby runs the restaurant, and I stand out here and say hello. I made a lot of the decisions about the starting of it and the menu decisions, but now I mostly just go on the Bob and Brian Show [local radio show] and do stuff like this with you guys. So I need to immerse myself somewhat in the culture to do my job at the restaurant. It is a show, but I try and have a good time with the show. This isnít a drag, you know? This is fun.
NW: It does have to be weird; you learn your lines, do your thing, and then move on. But people, through home video, watch you over and over and over again, and probably know your lines better than you do.
MM: Yeah. Theyíll come up to me and do lines that I donít even know. There is a woman that did a website for me, and she knows character names and plays I did that I canít remember. But she swears I did them.
MM: But, yeah, everyone has seen Animal House. But when somebody comes in who hasnít seen it, itís great. I figure they must have been living in a nunnery.
NW: Living in Milwaukee, itís got to be a lot easier to disappear, isnít it?
MM: Oddly, itís easier to live in L.A. or New York and disappear. Because there you pump gas and Walter Matthau might be standing next to you. Not anymore--
WC: That would be really weird.
MM: Yeah. Then youíre really in Buffy land.
MM: So, everybody already is in L.A. And in New York... (laughs) nobody gives a shit. Nobody cares. Dustin Hoffman will walk around all the time in New York, and people will say, "Hey, Dusty!" And he doesnít have the faintest idea of who they are, but they donít bother him. But here, people do. Milwaukee, and maybe all of the rest of the country has what I call a bone-deep inferiority complex, where they really think that theyíre not worthy of somebody famous living here. Because the question I always get is, "Neidermeyer! What are you doing in Milwaukee? Why are you here? You have a choice; I donít have a choice."
MM: Thatís in there almost every time. So itís a little bit harder to disappear here. But Iíve gone out and exploited it-- and really, clownishly exploited it. Like, Cedarburg has this Fourth of July parade, and there is a group called the Hickory Street Gang that always do this really goofy float at the end; they make the parade really long because people stay for the Hickory Street Gang at the end. Anyway, they asked me if Iíd be a part of it, and they wanted me to wear the uniform from Animal House and ride a white horse. And I said, "No, no. I canít do that." But I ended up riding on a lawn mower in American flag boxer shorts--
MM: --with the silver helmet, a squirt gun, and a bunch of high school kids in R.O.T.C. outfits behind me. I mean, I thought Iíd said no.
MM: But it turns out I said yes, yes, yes. So Iíve exploited it, and what Iíve found is... (pauses) I like it. And now itís expanded, because there is now a certain notoriety with the restaurant, and thereís a certain amount of notoriety because of Bob and Brian. Because Iíve exploited it, Iím known in different ways. And if someone doesnít come up and say, "Hey, I love your restaurant," or, "I heard you on Bob and Brian," I mean, I donít have a bad day about it, but I feel that. So, Iím becoming a... a really, seriously fucked-up person.
FL: Itís good PR, though. Youíre doing a good job.
MM: Yeah, but Iíve got to get out there more, though. Theyíre not clawing my clothes off.
FL: What are your biggest goals with what youíre doing now? Are you going to change geographic locations, or just build off of what you have here?
MM: I may start to go out to L.A. for a couple of weeks at a time, and then come back. What Iím really trying to do is, Iíve got this idea I call regional filmmaking. Thereís Hollywood, New York, Vancouver, and Toronto, and-- this is a big philosophical thing-- because I think what the world needs is more tribalism now. More communities working together and understanding their differences, instead of like Mr. Bush and his friends, being afraid of differences, and fearing those differences; wanting everybody to be democratic or everybody to be a Christian, or whatever it is theyíre selling. The differences are what make us survive. So Iím espousing this regional filmmaking. There was regional theatre back in the Seventies and Eighties, where lots of towns-- Milwaukee, Louisville-- they all had regional theatre. And I would play a lot of them, and it was a real struggle. But it was one of the best places to be creative, because you didnít have to worry-- like you did in New York-- about real estate costs. You could really go out on a limb and do some fairly radical stuff. Not as crazy radical as Julian Beck and those people were doing in New York, but you could do [Henrik] Ibsen in a way that nobody had ever done it before. You could throw an interpretation into an Ibsen play or into The Boys In The Band. So you could be risky within the confines of theatre. And I think you can do that filmmaking-wise. There are stories here, there is good talent here acting-wise, and because I did some work with the Milwaukee Film Festival last year, Iím discovering that there are good filmmakers here, too. So there is talent in filmmaking, in all the crafts; from cinematographers to writers. And not just in Milwaukee, but the entire Southeast Wisconsin area. So Iím slowly putting together a production company called MKE Prod. Iím trying to put together elements to do some local filmmaking. Sort of the way that Jeff Daniels just went out and did it. Iím more cautious; I also havenít done as many big movies as he has. But thatís not an all-consuming goal. I smoked too much dope in the Seventies, so if somebody comes and says, "Hey, Iíve got something for you over here," Iíll go and do it. But thatís my focus. And First Stage Childrenís Theatre, too. Iím on the advisory board there, and I think that is really a great asset for Milwaukee. Itís training a theatre audience. These kids go to see these plays, and theyíre learning how to go see serious theatre. I did a play called Einstein: Hero Of The Mind, which took Einstein from the time that he was eight years old up until the bombing of Hiroshima. And we did the whole bombing of Hiroshima. Einstein said for two years where every day he would go out and get in a rowboat in the middle of a lake, and he'd sit there and try to figure out his culpability in it. And the main question at the end of the play is about scienceís culpability in the bombing. They also just opened a new building called MYAC, Milwaukee Youth Artís Center, with MYSO, the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. And thatís a national model. Itís the first time in the entire country where as many youth-oriented arts organizations are organized under one roof and working together.
WC: Thatís great.
MM: Itís a great thing. First Stage has been here for 14 years, but itís just in the last four or five years been getting known all over the city, and even nationally.
WC: My dad used to volunteer usher down at First Stage.
MM: It was great to go to work for them because they use the Todd Wehr Theatre, which is where the Milwaukee Rep was when I did my first professional gig.
FL: Is it any different today doing theatre in that itís more of an uphill battle to get people interested in theatre? Like, in even getting funding for it, is it a battle all the time?
MM: Itís a battle all the time, and I think it probably always was. And, actually, they were remarkably lucky. It was a $12 million project, and they got it very fast. Faster than they expected to get it. But they were really good. And Rob Goodman, who is the managing director of First Stage, was dogged about it. He is a true visionary. Not about the creative part, but in terms of what he wants to do in forming this group of people and the merging of all of these arts for kids. Itís very hard to get young people into the theatre. But in Milwaukee... I mean, Iíve worked for Bialystock and Bloom. Have you heard of them?
MM: Theyíre good. They do a lot of stuff that goes in the toilet, but thatís only because theyíre trying different, edgy stuff. And sometimes they seem to have a 14-year-oldís notion of whatís funny--
NW: Sounds like us.
MM: Yeah. You guys would love it. But they do really good, edgy stuff. And there is another guy that I used to know in New York, Cotter Smith, and he has a little theatre called the Cornerstone Theatre. It seats 40 people or less. And Iím going to do Betrayal, the Harold Pinter play, a year from now. And I saw a production of 12 Angry Men that they did that was great. So there is good theatre, and because there is a lot of it for a town this size, there is a good younger audience. But, yeah, itís still hard. Because guys your age go and see a movie.
NW: Itís cheaper than theatre.
MM: Yeah, it is expensive. Even with a Bialystock show, where itís just you and 99 other people, itís still $20. There is something about live theatre that isnít a part of our experience as Americans growing up. (to Fphatty) Do you remember when you saw your first play?
FL: In elementary school.
MM: When you were forced to.
FL: Yeah. But I wonder if there is also a stigma attached to it. Do you think people are more reluctant to go and see a play because they misconstrue it?
MM: I donít notice that. I mean, I think thatís true, but all the kids I work with are kids that want to take it seriously as a profession. The philosophy of the First Stage Academy is weíre teaching life skills by teaching theatre skills. But what Iím seeing are these tremendously enthusiastic kids who are wide-open and just in love with the experience of acting. And I donít really know if they get shunned at school because of it or not, but--
FL: Thatís what I wondered. And I donít know what it is, but I think there is some sort of stigma that is carried with that sometimes.
MM: Yeah. The only thing that maybe washes the stigma away a little bit is that people might automatically make the assumption, true or not, that if youíre into theatre that youíre going to do Dawsonís Creek, or be on TV.
FL: Do you think this area is a good venue for theatre? Because I was born in Ohio, but coming here it seems like the people are more open to it. It may be more segregated, but it seems to be more accepting of the arts and culture and experiences. So it seems like this would be a good place to get into theatre and the arts, and encourage someone to get into something creative.
MM: It is. But itís interesting, because the German part of Milwaukee is so strong. So there is a social conservatism thatís really deeply ingrained, which I donít ordinarily associate with a place that is inviting to the arts; even though the Germans did have great music, great poets, and things like that. I donít mean to slam the Germans.
MM: Although I will slam the Germans every chance I get. What they did during the war was terrible!
NW: Thatís such an unpopular opinion.
MM: Yeah. I know Iím going out on a limb here--
FL: Weíre all German.
MM: Oh, Iím in trouble. But like I was saying, there is a lot of really good theatre here. I donít know what itís like for you guys in the graphic arts, but you got this magazine going here.
FL: Yeah. We get a good response from people one-on-one, but as a whole itís hard to get your foot in there. And as an illustrator, you can do wonderful things as far as your own work goes, but when you get hired for something you have to do something very bland. Iím sure itís the same for you in that youíre capable of doing something much better, but what the general public wants is much more conservative and watered-down.
MM: Yeah, youíve got to sneak it in. Thatís a constant. Like, the first time I met John Belushi, I was eating fried chicken waiting for the curtain to go up at the Delacorte Theatre in New York; Central Park. And I was with a friend of mine, John Heard, who kind of knew Belushi before Animal House. This was 1976, before Saturday Night Live.
[A WAITRESS APPROACHES THE TABLE]
Waitress: (to Mark) You have a phone call.
WC: Thatís fine, because I have to go to the restroom. Weíll pick it back up at Belushi and fried chicken.
MM: Right. Belushi and fried chicken.
[MARK TAKES THE CALL, AND WAYNE AND FPHATTY BOTH USE THE RESTROOM]
MM: Okay, so Belushi sat down and ate all our fried chicken, and the potato salad that my girlfriend had made. So heís telling us how he had this meeting with this guy named Lorne Michaels up in the NBC building, and he wanted him to do this live theatre gig. And Belushi shot up on Michaelsí desk and was screaming at him about how horrible television is. "Why would I want to do anything involving TV? Itís terrible! Itís despicable! All it does is advertise!" And, according to Belushi, Michaels is just sitting there calmly, and he says, "Thatís why you should do it; because itís so terrible, and you wonít do it badly. You wonít do it dishonestly. You wonít do it just to sell stuff. So come and do it, because thatís what weíre doing here at Saturday Night Live." (to Fphatty) So somehow that was an answer to something you asked before we all went to the restroom.
FL: Sounds good.
MM: When you went to the bathroom it all went right out.
FL: I took a nap in there, actually.
MM: I lose whole trains of thought when I urinate.
MM: Iím sure thereís a pill for it. But the idea I was taking about, thatís the constant struggle. How do you do the work you want to do, thatís organic to your nature, and make a living at it while doing it in the marketplace? Itís a lot harder now than it was 30 years ago when I was starting out as an actor, because the marketplace is just so pervasive. I mean, you do a TV show and, ultimately, youíre selling a product. You do a movie and youíre selling something. You do a play and youíre selling seats to the next play. When I started out as an actor in New York, I donít believe anybody ever used the word "career". But everybody is about career now. Especially in movies and TV, itís like, "If I do this, it will enable me to do this later." And thatís not really conducive to really creative work. Because the process is about whatís right in front of you. So thatís the struggle, always. How do I do what I need to do, but how do I do it within the confines of this thing?
NW: Is that one of the reasons that you donít just do plays, which you seem to get more satisfaction out of? Or are you looking to do more TV work so you can find your place in there?
MM: No. The TV work would be primarily to keep my insurance paid up. Screen Actorís Guild has great insurance, and I need it; my kid needs it. We all need insurance now. And residuals help pay it off, but the residuals are gonna dwindle if I donít go and do some more. So I need to go and do some SAG work, like TV or something like that. I would love to get a reoccurring part on Cold Case or, you know what Iím watching now? Did you ever watch 24?
NW: Yeah, Iím addicted to it.
MM: Are you? Itís amazing. I am, too. I sit there and watch it and think, "This is exactly like One Life To Live that I did 20 years ago." I mean, they change the plot-- characters who were bad guys are now good guys.
NW: Itís like the old movie serials, in that the end of every episode is a cliffhanger.
MM: Right. So I would love to do a part on 24. Itís like Buffy, which was fun acting. I did the first season of Buffy, ten or eight episodes, and I still make $20,000 a year off of residuals. So if you do a season or two seasons of a hit TV show or a movie-- and that was 1997, eight years ago-- and itís still paying me a ridiculous amount of money. All Iíve got to do is sign my name to the back of the check. Thatís a lot of work to do for $20,000.
WC: I was going to ask you about that, because I interviewed Peter Billingsley-- who played Ralphie in A Christmas Story-- and that was just before video got big. And he got nothing from it. But you kind of bridge the gap in that you did stuff both before video, and after it became big.
MM: Well, I got a check for 96 cents for the show Renegade. You remember Renegade? It was with that model. Who was that?
NW: Was it the guy that died? John-Erik Hexum?
MM: No, it wasnít him. He was the guy that got shot, right?
MM: No. Who was it?
NW: Oh! Lorenzo Lamas.
MM: Lorenzo Lamas. Thatís right. Long hair... (impersonating Lorenzo Lamas) "Careful... donít touch me. Iím kinda pretty that way."
WC: I like how you said "kinda".
MM: Yeah. Iím sure he thought he was gorgeous, but I think he was just kinda pretty.
MM: So, those years before residuals was when I was saying no to TV. Yeah, I donít know how those guys on, like, Gilliganís Island live. They donít get anything.
WC: Do you get residuals from Animal House?
MM: I still get residuals from Animal House every time it runs. And that was 25 years ago, and it will go on forever. Now, it gets smaller every year, but not that much. I mean, Animal House is so huge. And I still get, probably... $2,000 every year from Animal House.
WC: Thatís not bad for--
MM: For just hanging out, polishing my boots. It is nice. And I donít know what actors did before.
WC: They just worked until they died.
MM: Yeah, worked until they died.
WC: So, my last question has nothing to do with anything weíve just talked about, but itís a question we ask everyone we interview.
MM: What do I wear when Iím sleeping?
WC: No. What donít you wear when youíre sleeping?
WC: No. The question is, do dogs have lips?
MM: (laughs) Do dogs have lips? Yeah. Donít they?
WC: I think they do.
FL: They donít.
MM: They donít have lips? Chickens donít have lips.
FL: Well, this is how it came up. I saw a thing that said dogs have the ends to their cheeks, and they look black and lip-ish. But they donít have muscles where they can suck through a straw. They donít have functioning lips.
WC: But they can howl.
FL: And Iím in the minority.
MM: Yeah, but your explanation sounds more scientific. Did you research this?
FL: Well, itís probably totally made up. I probably got it from Animal Planet or something like that.
MM: The science on Animal Planet is very good.
MM: I used to French kiss dogs a lot. In fact, I produced a movie called Chilly Scenes Of Winter, and we got a great deal on the book because we went to meet Ann Beattie, who wrote it, and we met her in Cambridge, and she had this little Border collie. And she came up and kissed my face, so I just... (imitates French kissing the dog).
MM: And I did it for a long time. So she gave us a great deal on the book.
NW: That really could have gone either way, couldnít it?
NW: She could have been like, "Weíll give you a great deal, but get out of my house."
MM: So, I think they have lips. At least this dog had lips.
MM: Thatís the last question?
WC: Yeah. We ask everyone that question. I even asked Charles Manson that one.
MM: You interviewed Charles Manson?
WC: Yeah. I wrote him a postcard as a joke to see if we could get it, and he wrote back. When I got it back, I carried it around in a plastic bag because it freaked me out so much.
WC: He couldnít use the phone or anything like that, so I had to do the interview on paper. And I didnít ask him the question in that first batch of questions, because I didnít want to not get the interview because of the dog lip question. But once I got it back I sent him another letter and said, "Oh, there was one last question I meant to ask. Do dogs have lips?" But I never heard back from him. He probably opened it up and said, "Weirdos."
MM: Yeah, youíre the weirdo.
NW: Either that, or heís still working on it, and the paper is stacked up this high.
VISIT MARK AT LIBBY MONTANA AT 5616 W. DONGES BAY ROAD IN MEQUON.
CALL (262)242-2232 FOR MORE INFO.