(12) Frauke: I love listening to the radio plays you recorded. Do you plan to do any more in the near future? And what book / play would you most like to make into an audio book / radio play?
Steven: I don't have any radio plays scheduled at the moment, but you never know when an opportunity may come along. And the role has to be good enough to justify the time spent. I just reread Shaw's HEARTBREAK HOUSE, and I think that would make a fantastic play for radio. You'd be able to get away from having to deal with elements of "production," and simply focus on the language. Speaking that play at a good, fast pace, with clarity and precision—it would be quite exciting. It's a very funny play, and there is something wonderfully strange about it. There are a few sight gags in the script that you'd have to figure out how to make effective on radio, but otherwise it would just be a pure revel in the power of the spoken word.
(13) Gail: On YouTube there is a wonderful clip of you singing three songs which I just love (especially "The Heart of Saturday Night"). Have you ever performed musically as part of your acting or gotten a chance to do that publicly?
Steven: When I was much younger, before I even started acting, I had ambitions—fantasies, really—about being a musician. Not even a musician, really; more of a performer who played an instrument and sang songs. I performed in little bars and restaurants, at parties and small clubs in and around college. I spent a year in England and actually got a very nice reception there whenever I played. If I'd stayed, things might have turned out differently. But my songwriting, which in retrospect was pretty derivative in the first place (I wanted to be some combination of Dylan, Jackson Browne, and Van Morrison, among others) dried up pretty quickly, and though I could "sell" a song, I was never technically that skilled a guitarist. And then towards the end of college, I began to focus on acting, and the ambition to be a musician faded into the background. A friend once described me as "a great campfire guitarist," and I think that's pretty accurate description. I've built up a sizable repertoire of other people's songs, in versions that accommodate my technical limitations. But that doesn't translate into a career.
(14) Stephanie: With your singing talents, have you considered taking a part in a staged musical, or have you not been offered one? I saw your character Deely sang in 'Old Times,' did you enjoy singing on stage?
Steven: I've done a little bit of singing, mostly early in my career. I appeared in the musical ZORBA while a sophomore in college. When I was doing the play SWEET SUE at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, I played and sang in the after-theatre cabaret shows. And I performed in an Elvis Costello musical revue at the West Bank Café in the early 1980s. I'm sure there's more that I've forgotten about. But I didn't feel I had a big "legit" voice, suitable for musical theatre—at least, musical theatre as it existed then—and on the infrequent occasions when I would audition for musicals I would feel a little silly and inadequate. I took voice lessons for several years at the beginning of my career, and while that did strengthen my singing somewhat, I found the real benefit was to my speaking voice; it was very helpful in the development of my range and tone. I'll still do those same vocal exercises now, especially when I'm performing on stage. And who knows what the future will bring—I may still get a chance to sing in older, "character" roles.
(15) Sandra: On YouTube I discovered clips of you singing and playing guitar. I think you play very well. I love listening to your singing and playing guitar. How old were you when you received your first guitar and who gave it to you? Did you take guitar lessons to learn how to play it or who taught you how to play it?
Steven: I got my first guitar on my 16th birthday: a $50 Stella Harmony. I took lessons for a few months from a local musician not much older than I was, and learned the basic chords and a few songs. Then I started playing with friends, one of whom convinced me to trade in my Stella for a Yamaha FG-180. I've been playing that Yamaha ever since. (The guitar on the YouTube video was borrowed for the occasion.) Much of what I've learned since then is the result of being a sponge: I just soaked up whatever I could from what was around me. I didn't read music, so most of what I learned was chord-based. I'd jam with friends; watch other guitarists in coffee houses and bars to see how they played songs, crib info from whatever sheet music and guitar books I came into contact with. I became the main guitarists for sing-alongs at a local youth group, an experience that really helped me develop a strong sense of rhythm. I also found that there were many songs I could learn to play by ear. It's amazing how many songs you can teach yourself once you become familiar with the basic chord patterns. The first song I remember teaching myself, after only a few months of playing guitar, was "City of New Orleans;" I was really proud of that one because it had a tricky F and B minor in spots that some of my more experienced friends missed. If the music was more complicated (i.e. many Beatles songs), I'd go into the music store and memorize what I could from the sheet music. But though I learned chords, I didn't have the patience or the skill to work out guitar parts that sounded just like the records I was listening to. I wanted to get songs "up and on their feet" very quickly, so I'd work out my own, often somewhat rudimentary, arrangements. And I learned to play well within my limitations. I can only imagine what I'd be able to learn nowadays, when everything you want is so instantly available. Google a song and you can find the chords. Click on Spotify and you can hear your song as much as you like. Go on YouTube and there are guitar tutorials. It was a different era back when I was starting out. Much less convenient, but I like to think that the fact that you had to work harder to find what you wanted gave things more value.
(16) Kerstin: Thank you for answering the questions for us! If you could have dinner with any five historical figures who would that be and why?
Steven: After Shakespeare and Jesus, the field is wide open. I suppose it would depend at least partly on what they were serving for dinner.
(17) Kerstin: If you could travel forward or backwards in time, which way would you go? Where would you go? And who would you want to meet?
Steven: I find I'm pretty fully occupied just learning to live effectively in the present.
(18) Mary: How did it make you feel when it came out Rex Van De Kamp, on "Desperate Housewives," was into S&M and how did you tell your wife? Does she take your on-screen romantic scenes as 'part of the territory'?
Steven: Marc Cherry and I had a conversation early on about giving Rex a hidden life, or, as I put it, "What does Rex do when he's by himself?" I had brought it up with Marc because I wanted to give Rex some individuality, something quirky and human that would make him more than just "a husband." At the time my thinking was much more benign and innocent; I think I suggested something like his having a collection of rare comic books in the basement. It was Marc who, wisely, thought it should go into sexual territory—that was much more compelling, obviously. After we had batted around some different ideas, Marc eventually settled on S&M, as something that would be a little shocking but not so unfamiliar that it would be too much for the audience. And I have to say, I loved it. It made that character so interesting, and in a way, so much more human and relatable.
I think we can all identify with someone who has secrets, secret thoughts and fantasies they wouldn't necessarily want to share with the rest of the world. I will admit to having a little thrill of fear when I finally got the first script where we see Rex with Maisy. I thought, okay, I'm going to have to go to some dark places to pull this off. But I was excited about it nonetheless. And when we shot that first S&M scene there turned out to be an element of humor mixed in with the darkness, which made it great fun to shoot. It's one of my favorite scenes. Another favorite of mine is the scene where Rex attempts to share his fantasy (and his sex toys) with Bree. Marcia was so funny in that scene. It was like filming some gonzo version of an old Cary Grant-Irene Dunne movie (though, if you watch "The Awful Truth," for instance, there is plenty there that is quite suggestive). And yes, my wife does take all the romantic stuff as part of the territory.
(19) Sandra: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I was wondering, when you play a married man, do you use your own wedding ring or does the production provide you with one for the episode? Would there be a difference between long term characters like Rex on "Desperate Housewives" or one time characters like on shows like "The Mentalist," "Medium," "Ghost Whisperer," "Burn Notice" and "Body of Proof"?
Steven: I usually use my own wedding ring, unless there is some chance that it might be damaged. It's easier to keep track of that way, instead of constantly taking it on and off. And yes, there's a big difference between doing long-term and one-time characters. Generally speaking, short-term characters in television tend to be more functions of the plot than characters in their own right; any individuality given them is usually up to the actor. The long-term characters are generally more fun to play; there's time and space for them to grow and develop. In a really good situation (as I pointed out earlier when discussing JAG) the writers are alert and responsive to what the actor is doing, and vice-versa. Now, I've had one-shot roles that have been interesting and challenging, and recurring roles that never went much beyond moving the plot forward, but the general rule is that the continuing characters are more interesting and complex than the one-shots. But one must keep working. And you can always learn something and have fun in any situation.