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Exclusive Q&A with Steven Culp


July 19, 2014

From April until May 2014 Steven Culp fans had the opportunity
to submit questions through the Steven Culp Online website and Steven Culp Online Facebook page for Mr. Steven Culp to answer.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions.

Above all, many thanks to Mr. Steven Culp!

Read the second installment Read the third installment Read the fourth installment

First Installment

Note: Steven Culp Online 2014 - The Q&A is exclusive to Steven Culp Online and may not be published on other websites or the like.

(1) Gail: I have read in numerous interviews that you "like" being scared when you take on a role... that this is what really makes it interesting to you. What role scared you the most and how did you feel about the end product?

Steven: If I had to pick a particular role that frightened me when I first read it, I'd have to say it was the role of Peter/Ray in BLACKBIRD, which I did at A.C.T. in San Francisco in 2007. I was looking around for something to do while I was waiting for the TRAVELER series to premiere, and I happened to read on the A.C.T. website about this play; the only thing I knew at that point was that there were two characters and one was roughly my age. I didn't know the storyline at all. I'd worked at A.C.T. in the past, so when we contacted them and expressed interest they were only too happy to send me the script. Well, I read it and I was just stunned; I thought, "Oh God, what have I done?" Did I even like the play? I couldn't tell. But something about the language and the way the story was told, the intensity of it, really gripped me, and I couldn't get it out of my head. And I had the thought, "Do I have the skills, the chops, to pull this off?" Of course, as soon as I had that thought, I had to pursue it. I offered to read for the director, because I wanted to work on it and do some of it for her and hear the words come out of my mouth—I had to see if I could actually do it. And the director, Loretta Greco, and I hit it off immediately, so I knew I was going to be in good hands. There was a marvelous young actress, Jessi Campbell, playing opposite me. The three of us were a great team, and I think the whole thing came out very well. It's one I'm really proud of.

(2) Janet: Are there any roles you've played which, looking back, you would change your interpretation, given your current level of skill and experience? That is, if you could go back in time to ten or so years ago, with your current level of expertise, what would you change, and how?

Steven: I'd like to go back and do TRAVELER again. Looking back, I would have preferred not to know in advance that I was a villain. That knowledge affected my performance in a negative way, I think. I didn't realize it at the time; in fact, I had a wonderful time preparing that role, and ferreting out all the subtext and complexities. We'd film the scenes and I'd think, "Oh, this is really going great." But when I actually saw the show on the air, it occurred to me that if you weren't in on the secret, there wasn't really anything in the performance to hold your interest. I don't think it was nearly as much fun for a viewer to watch as it was for me to film. If I had it to do over again I would have liked to just straight-out play the good guy/hero—until we found out I wasn't one.

(3) Danielle: Would you like to direct a project and would you prefer stage, screen or television?

Steven: Yes, I would like to direct a project. And I'm not getting any younger, so I better get cracking! Something on the stage to start with.

(4) Stephanie: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our fan questions. I saw an interview you gave while with the cast of "The Parisian Woman" on stage at SCR and you mentioned you look for 'something in the writing' in reading scripts. What is that you look for, and is it different in each medium (i.e. stage, screen and television)?

Steven: Generally, you know when you're reading great writing, no matter what the medium. Even if, the first time around, you don't quite "get," or understand it. I knew I wanted to do Pinter's OLD TIMES, with its brilliant dialogue (and monologues), even though I had no idea what was happening in the last third of the play. In the theatre, especially, you can get language that is a pleasure to speak. The language of BLACKBIRD was incredible precise, and written in poem-like lines; I had the feeling that if you mastered it you could soar on the language like you would with Shakespeare, and I was right. TV and movies are different; they're more about plot and action, but you can still get some good, interesting dialogue. I guess I'm always looking for that combination of interesting, complex character and good words to say—the words are always the first thing that make an impression on me (or not).

(5) Regina: Have you ever had stage fright and how did you get over it?

Steven: I feel I spent at least the first half of my career battling what seemed to be, at the time, almost crippling stage fright and self-consciousness. I think I loved actually being onstage—that could be quite joyous and exhilarating—but the time leading up to being onstage was fraught with anxiety and insecurity. I think I developed a very meticulous and thorough way of working in response to that anxiety. Being very well-prepared was a way of giving myself confidence. I was compelled, out of necessity, to come up with choices I felt were bold and original, and that I could execute with pride and commitment. All this work did help me give interesting and well-thought-out performances (I hope), but it might also have lent a certain stiffness and inflexibility as well, at least early on. Over the years, I've become more able to make friends with and embrace uncertainty and surprise, and I think I'm a better actor for it. The habit of thorough preparation has done well for me, but I feel I have a better balance now between being thoroughly prepared and being spontaneous and alive in the moment. And I'm still learning. Focusing on the process, and not the product, is a big help.

(6) Janet: Which roles (whether you auditioned for them or not), in the past, say, twenty years, do you wish you had performed? How would you have interpreted them differently from the actor(s) who were chosen?

Steven: Rather than hankering after specific roles, I have a more generalized longing to have spent more time performing Shakespeare, Shaw, Chekhov, and other great writers of the theatre. It would be lovely to have a career like that of [Laurence] Olivier, [John] Gielgud, [Alec] Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave. I've always loved that model of the British actor, who moves easily from great stage roles to film to television and back. Though I'm not so sure that model can exist so much anymore. But really, I don't spend a lot of time dwelling on what might have been; for me, that's not a productive path.

(7) Frank: Who has impacted you most in your career and how?

Steven: I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to anyone who ever gave me a job. Or represented me as an agent or manager. Or brought me into an audition as a casting director, or taught me something useful in an acting class. Certainly the producers of THIRTEEN DAYS changed the course of my career, as did Marc Cherry by casting me in DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. Lamont Johnson and Eleanor Cooke gave me my first big TV job in GORE VIDAL'S LINCOLN. And way back in 1982, when I had just gotten my Equity Card, Neil Simon and Glenn Jordan cast me in ACTORS AND ACTRESSES, which was a major break for me. There are so many people, really, that have had a positive impact that it wouldn't be fair to single out any one of them. But if I had to pick a name out of a hat it would be Don Bellisario's. He took a chance on me casting me as Clayton Webb, because I was virtually unknown on TV at that point. The first day I was on the set he said, "I think this is going to be a fun character; he's going to be in three, maybe five episodes." And I ended up doing that show for nine years, because Don really responded to what I brought to the table. Much of the way Webb developed over the seasons was, I think, due to Don, and to the fact that he was very observant of what I brought to the performance, and had the writers not only play to my strengths, but constantly push me in new directions. He was unfailingly encouraging and supportive. I think I really learned how to act on camera doing that show. Webb seems to grow more relaxed and confident over the years, and I think that reflected my own growth.

(8) Frank: You seem very disciplined and focused. How do you stay in the moment? How do you avoid procrastination and keep motivated?

Steven: Well, I'm glad I give the impression of being focus and disciplined, because I feel I could be much more so. I'm pretty good when I have a specific project I'm working on. The trick in this career, though, is, what do you do in between the projects, and that part can be a real struggle. I find I can fritter away time like a champion, especially when I'm out of town. I've really been trying these last few years to become more consciously and consistently proactive and productive. As far as staying in the moment goes, that's something I'm still working on, in life as well as in Art. Sometimes it comes down to simply allowing yourself to breathe. Taking a breath, removing expectations, being responsive to what's in front of you, being willing to move forward in directions that may be unexpected or surprising, not knowing where you're going to end up and not worrying about it. The beauty of the surprising and the unplanned. But for me, that works better if I've prepared thoroughly; I might find myself throwing that preparation to the winds when I'm in the moment, but I find it absolutely necessary to have a solid foundation from which to work.

(9) Lynn: Do you take time to write? Into what genre do you like to explore? Do you think you will ever publish your work?

Steven: I've been doing a lot of journal writing lately. It's a great way to be proactive, especially when you're away from home. There's something meditative about it; it helps focus and clear the mind. If you make a commitment to being honest with yourself you can find out a lot. And I'm also using it simply to practice my writing technique. I hope one day I suddenly may find that I can write a play or a book. But that kind of writing doesn't come very easily for me. I do occasionally toy with writing some kind of book about acting, but nothing publishable so far.

(10) Anne: What books do you like to read (genres)? Do you have any reading recommendations? What are you reading now?

Steven: I usually have more than one book going at a time, usually a fiction and a non-fiction. This past year I somehow got onto a mid-20th century American authors kick – [Philip] Roth, [J.D.] Salinger, [Saul] Bellow, [Truman] Capote, [Raymond] Chandler—and I've really been enjoying that. At the moment I'm reading BURR, by Gore Vidal. And for the past few months I have slowly but with great interest been making my way through Ron Chernow's GEORGE WASHINGTON. I'll throw in an old mystery here and there to lighten things up.

(11) Tobias: As an avid reader how do you feel about the Kindle/eBooks/Nooks? Do you think that they will eventually get rid of paper books? And do you own one? Do you think it's nice because you can put a bunch of books on, and just carry this little thing, especially when you are traveling?

Steven: I don't own any of those devices as yet. I can see how they would be very useful while traveling, and I'm sure I'll pick one up eventually. But I think I would use them for the books I care less about. Call me old-fashioned, but if a book is really worthwhile it's something I want to have around in a concrete way. Having something exist only in the digital world feels very ephemeral to me. I like the feel and general vibe of having an actual book in my hand.

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