As I was leaving for the premiere of Jobe'z World at Cinema Village, where we opened our New York theatrical run, our brilliant director Michael M Bilandic emailed to urge my attention toward the New Yorker's website and esteemed critic Richard Brody's warm review of our film, noting his particularly generous and kind appraisal of my performance, all of which has lent to a weekend of exultation I shall never forget. Good reviews are always appreciated, of course, but receiving such fulsome praise from a man whom cinephiles would agree is the most important critical voice in cinema is overwhelming, to be sure, but every bit gratifying. My heart is full.
For years, I worked with the artist Brock Enright, whose brilliantly conceived Video Games grew from a performance-art piece to an actual performative business practice. I couldn’t explain better than Jonah Weiner, who wrote about it for The New York Times on 21 January 2011, so click on the aforementioned and enjoy the ride. Photography by Jeff Mermelstein.
Directed by my dear friend John Reed, ‘Theo and John Talk Nonsense’ sprang from the notion of turning on the camera to record one of our many tangential conversations, always intriguing, even when we’re being silly, while we were shooting his forthcoming feature, ‘The Sky Is Blue With Lies/Tribeca Phaedra’ (in which Euripides’s myth is set at Tribeca’s fabled tavern, Magoo’s, and the traditional Greek chorus is assembled among the bar-goers there). The result of these conversational asides is a 60-minute documentary, or as John Reed might want to call it, a nonfiction media play, from which this outtake is taken. John Reed, I might add, is a noted author of four novels and a collection of stories, and one of the truly legitimate renaissance men I know, one who actually walks the talk and does so with grace and aplomb.
I didn’t hesitate to be his guest when photographer and filmmaker Brandon Holmes asked me to do his radio show, A Straight Line, on Bushwick’s DIY Internet radio station, KPISS.FM, last year. While he has since ceased hosting the show, his current editorial duties at Frontline, the award-winning documentary news series on PBS, among various creative side projects, precluding the weekly rigors of radio, I love revisiting the afternoon we spent getting to know one another better on air; although I’ve known Brandon since he first photographed me during his MFA program at the School of Visual Arts some eight or nine years ago. Subsequent to our portrait session, he asked me to play an art history professor and critic in his brilliant and hilarious meta-mockumentary of the New York art world, entitled ‘Marcus Garlard: A Necessary Option’, which he produced and co-directed with Joshua Paul Johnson in 2011. This ingenious satire finds the fictional Marcus Garlard, arguably one of the most celebrated artists of his generation, receiving critical success for his site-specific performances almost overnight; however, due to the tragic events of a performance in the Andes Mountains in 2007, he has entered into an indefinite period of hiding, and is now the subject of ... a documentary, directed by an amateur nature photographer, called John Bargenhaver, who seeks to record Marcus Garlard’s challenging return to the art world. Brandon’s visual and intellectual acuity notwithstanding, he’s also a passionately humane explorer of psychological landscapes too. As my guest spot on his show attests, we could have chatted ad infinitum because he’s a genuine listener as much as he is a great storyteller.
Directed by Daniel Oh
Tickets available now: www.otherhistories.com
A student radical goes on trial for bombing a Manhattan hotel, leading a group of her peers to kidnap a notable economist and demand her release. A woman retreats to the beach house of a friend to ponder the disappearance of her husband, a once esteemed writer of radical literature. A young artist struggles to reconcile a budding social conscience with the realities of a burgeoning career. A middle-aged debt collector is confronted by the events of his checkered past.
Devin K. Kenny
Phillip John Velasco Gabriel
Original Music by Sam Gendel
EMPAC — The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY — is where art, science and technology meet under one roof and breathe the same air. It’s also where, in January 2012, I was first introduced to their artist-in-residence, the Argentine choreographer/performer and video artist, Rodrigo Pardo, who cast my voice for his extraordinary aerial theatrical piece, called FLAT, which combines storytelling, video projections, and an aerial performance by the French acrobatic performer, Yves Fachon. Inspired by the magical realism of Jorge Luis Borges, FLAT immerses both the performer and the audience in a shifting perspective of what constitutes reality: wherein a man — connected by bungee cords to the suspended construction of a 3-D platform stage — wakes up not knowing he is upside down. The audience watches this performance while supine, looking up to hear the performer’s inner monologue (my voice), via headphones, as he discovers his new reality and enters into his dreams. Rodrigo’s interdisciplinary practice is characterized by a special relationship with urban spaces, the use of movement as a tool to perceive time, and the insertion of constructed fiction in daily life as a way to open doors of awareness on how we perceive reality. After I first recorded the monologues at EMPAC, we were reunited three years later in New York, where we recorded additional dialogue to be used in eventual performances around the world, including some 14 to date.
Working once again with Dress Code, I was hired to provide the voice of IBM’s larger-than-life Immersive Gallery at Think 2018 during their annual technology conference, held this year in Las Vegas, from 19-22 March. Presenting stories from IBM Research and featuring thematic Think Theater presenters who showcased ways that IBM is changing the world: including data visualizations and rich visual content to give attendees insights into research conducted at IBM and connections between projects and the efforts of the presenters. Themes this year included Air & Water, Brain & Body and Energy & Commerce; with talks and exhibits around plastics research, plankton and pollution monitoring, precision medicine, computational psychiatry, methane detection, crypto-anchors, and much more. You can hear all of these accompanying narrations on my Soundcloud page.
I owe the design of this smart and elegant website to the talented wizardry of Andrew Weitzel at Box; but I reckon I spent the better part of a decade trying to work with someone else who claimed the skills of a web designer, only to leave me fooled, fleeced or both — and still in need of a website. Well, if, as is said, the third time’s the charm, I’m charmed. This website is everything one has ever wanted: from the pots-and-pans needs of an actor who requires his headshots, CVs and media be visibly and handily available for those who would cast him, it also allows for, as this section will amply demonstrate in time, a place to report his current news and latest projects while also reflecting on an archive of tremendous range worth sharing in equal measure. Because I earned my living as a writer before I turned professionally to acting, the Journal section simply enables me to write with regularity on the kinds of cultural observations about which many a friend has known me to dogmatize in person. I hope you enjoy this website as much as I do because it’s been very long in coming.
Jeremy Hoffeld is among the more gracious artists I know, a man whom I have had the privilege to befriend as a result of sitting for him, not once but thrice, dating back to 2007, when he first drew me. His artistic practice is interestingly divided between the larger, abstract canvases he shows in galleries around the world, and representational portraits, almost quaint by comparison, that prove the best artists are often masters of the rudiments. Last November, I sat for him again, for a video podcast in which he chats up the sitter while drawing him/her in paint from scratch. There’s no determination of completion where this formal figuration is concerned, save for wherever he lands with the composition after some two hours at his studio in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem. Something had happened to the video of our session last winter, so he invited me to sit for him again a few months ago; the result is another extraordinary study in verisimilitude. To thank me, he gave me the first portrait we’d done 11 years before, which he’d had thoughtfully framed. I simply adore it, much as I do the artist himself.
Was it five years ago that a lovely director I’d worked for, called Dorian Tocker — who’s recently graduated from the AFI Conservatory in Los Angeles — had contacted me to say that he wanted me for a one-minute tableau vivant he was doing with a friend and fellow artist, Dylan Levers? It was called ‘4 People in a Room Pretending One of Them Isn’t a Porn Star,’ and it was essentially a formal portrait, filmed at very long exposure, in which none of us moved for about a minute or so, though a blink or two might be detected in the end result. It was such great fun, and filmed at the Upper West Side apartment of Willi Burke, the elder female in this quartet of actors, and a woman who has exemplified the life of a veteran player, devoid of global fame, perhaps, but as accomplished as any actor would ever hope to be. It was such an honor working with her. Afterward, she gave me a tour of her career, so visually evident by the material culture of broadsides and Playbills that attested to a lifetime of the many, many stage performances she and her late second husband had given in the most memorable roles of the American theater repertory, and having played every notable theatrical venue in the country, not least among them, Broadway. She either had known or had worked with everybody in the business. Fascinating for an entertainment junkie like me. Interestingly, she thought I bore a distinct resemblance to her first husband, the late Jerome Felder — a.k.a. as Doc Pomus — the famed songwriter and lyricist responsible for dozens of rock-and-roll hits. (He was also the brother of the high-profile New York divorce lawyer, Raoul Felder.)
Cuban director Miguel Coyola returned to New York in March to screen ‘Memorias del desarrollo’ (2010) at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. This maverick filmmaker and Guggenheim fellow, amid numerous honors and accolades, has often been thwarted by the tyranny of the oppressive Cuban government, who’ve refused to allow him to screen his politically charged work at home. His reception in New York, however, was buoyant, and he used the occasion to shoot additional footage of me, reprising my role as Professor Fagan, for ‘Corazón Azul’: a feature film in which genetically enhanced individuals decide to create a utopia by exterminating “imperfect” people, a project Coyola began eight years ago, when I first played this wise Cornell scholar.
Several years ago, my brother Stratton and I went to hear writer Fran Lebowitz speak at the theater of the Directors Guild of America, an evening orchestrated by Vanity Fair magazine, our invitation extended by a friend on the masthead who knew how much we loved this urbane and witty writer during our collective youth; a woman who — in the years since the early successive publications of her apparently finite oeuvre but rather enduring career — has become a national treasure as a wry curmudgeon whose caustic observations have allowed her to dine out on the good company she provides to dinner parties and talk shows alike. Interviewing her on this occasion was her dear friend, the redoubtable novelist and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. In all, the stage was set for the kind of event over which my brother and I would lick our chops — and salivate we did. We were seated in the very front row, the last two seats on the left-side aisle, for what we could not have known would be the prime spot from which to greet her, as we probably assumed she’d exit from the stage and into the wings after giving a grateful audience almost two full hours of hilarious quips and bon mots during the interview and subsequent Q&A. However, she chose to exit up the very aisle from which we would have first dibs on greeting her and, dispensing with prolonged politesse, I simply told her what a salvation she was to me in my youth; how much her books meant to a 16-year-old young man oppressed by his existence in a testosterone hothouse of a single-gender prep school, who yearned to move to New York and spend his nights among her Warhol Factory cohorts, writing — as she did prior to the publication of “Metropolitan Life” in 1978 — for Interview magazine; then in its heyday as a guide to the über Zeitgeist of a city regarded as succor to those who sought the kind of sustenance only Gotham could provide. I also reminded her that this was not our first encounter, as evinced by the first-edition copies of books she’d signed to me during a 1981 appearance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY across the Hudson River from my native Albany. She remembered her appearance there, still surprised that an engineering school would have invited her, since her primary ambitions have always been smoking and sleeping in. We’d also met in the East Village, in 1993, I added, when I apprehended her casual walk down 6th Street, where I lived, jostling her recollection with a description of her comely double-breasted camel’s hair coat and the fact that we were both headed to Limbo, a coffeehouse of yore that a Bergdorf Goodman heiress-granddaughter opened that year, featuring a readers’ series that almost justified their obscene prices for java. She listened intently for what must have been at least five minutes passing between us, despite the onslaught of others gathered round who wanted equal face time. I was surprisingly unaware of the camera capturing every second of this encounter until I saw the finished film at IFC; the edited portion of which lasted mere seconds, which would account for my not being credited. Nonetheless, I made certain to add it to my IMDb page.
‘Hell House LLC’, directed by Stephen Cognetti, is a found-footage horror film I did I a few years back, and it’s had a considerable afterlife in its distribution from Terror Films, including the recent news of its entry into the Japanese market. In this thriller, I appear as author and expert Robert Lyons (see Media for a clip), offering sober assurances and observations to the documentary team that’s returned to the scene of the tragedy five years later to find out what really happened when an unexplained malfunction caused the deaths of 15 tour-goers and staff on the opening night of a Halloween haunted house tour. Available for streaming on Amazon Prime, where it has some 880 customer reviews and counting, this movie was recently featured in BuzzFeed too.
I’ve worked with a number of fabulous artists. In fact, the New York art world is the genesis of my performance career. Among the great video-art projects I’ve done was “commercial” for the artist Lisa Kirk, whose work ingeniously expresses her obsessions with the moral complexities of consumerism, collective fear and trauma, and a radical politics. She has described her work as having a visual vocabulary that “references war, popular entertainment, middle-class American violence, and a sentiment of nostalgia for revolt,” which accounts for her creation of a commercially available perfume, called “Revolution,” which lists among its scents blood, urine, and burnt rubber; and was the basis for filming an advert that mimicked the style and story arc of a fashion fragrance, with a little tear gas thrown in and the utter chaos that ensues thereafter when the revolutionary protagonists find love and attraction permeating the air.
Recently, I was invited to appear as guest co-host on film critic Cole Smithey’s notable podcast, La Grande Bouffe, to discuss one of my favorite films, ‘The Last of Sheila’ -- a devilishly delicious thriller of the first rank from 1973. Written by the inestimable duet of Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, and directed by the great Herbert Ross, this sly and sophisticated film had its origins in the parlor games the writers often devised as post-prandial amusements to Sondheim’s dinner parties. Filmed in various ports of call in the South of France — with a glossy cast that mirrors the sheen of the Hollywood characters they play — this stylish film is delectable from first to last. This ensemble, comprising James Mason, Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, Joan Hackett, Raquel Welch and Ian McShane, is ostensibly invited for a week’s holiday on the yacht of a famous director -- played with sadistic charm by James Coburn; whereupon, once aboard and sated with cocktails, each is handed an engraved card containing the secret identity of one of the other guests. Just a year before, as the opening sequence dramatizes, Coburn’s gossip-columnist wife, Sheila, had left their party at home in Bel Air only to be offed by one of the drunken guests in a hit-and-run fashion. This craven killer, of course, is among the invited who are assembled on this yacht — the mischievously named Sheila — where Coburn will avenge his wife’s death in a puzzling cat-and-mouse game that finds his guests asked to solve the clues to each nightly secret; the clues for which he’s elaborately planted in a different locale along the luxuriant Côte d’Azur.
‘Ride With Theo’ was one of those gigs I did so reluctantly -- just for the money, in all honesty -- but one for which, in hindsight, I would come to admire myself for ever having done at all, even as I felt exploited the entire time of the production. Shot in the spring of 2005, this nine-part webisode series was produced in the name of charity, and as an entry for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, held in June every year to honor achievement in commercial and creative advertising; the lesser-known sibling event to the more famed movie festival held the month before. It was produced by the very talented folks at the Now Corporation, one of New York’s busiest and best post-production houses, and it was meant to be a creative send-up of the great Fireflies Tour, an annual cycling event since 2001, in which cyclists traverse the French Alps from Lake Geneva to the Cannes Lions Festival. The challenge is to ride more than 1000kms over 18 mountains in seven days. As stated on their website, the Fireflies are committed to raising money for Bloodwise, a leading UK charity which funds research into the treatment of leukemia and cancers of the blood. Inspired by the courage it takes to fight cancer, the riders tackle the grueling climbs of the Tour de France, ever mindful of their motto: “For Those Who Suffer, We Ride.” Yes, ‘Ride With Theo’ is deliberately funny ha-ha, but it was done quite artfully, for a very good cause, and I’m actually rather proud of it.
Andreas Lazlo Konrath has been named one of the 25 Document Journal Semi-Finalists — in partnership with Calvin Klein — chosen from 1,100 submissions from around the world, spotlighting image makers on the front lines of art and fashion, with support from Ford Models, Aperture Foundation, and powered by Swipecast. The pertinence here is that this lovely British photographer shot me for New York magazine in 2010, and I have been following his career ever since.
Had I known when I read the script that this movie was more derivative fare in an already saturated comedic category of teen hijinks, right down to my role as the aggrieved high school principal? Obviously. But when one gets to taste a million-dollar budget so soon in a career largely laden with student work, in which -- in addition to acting -- one is asked to hold the boom, this was like walking onto the set of ‘Citizen Kane’. Notwithstanding a proper day rate, the crafty table alone was extraordinary: lobster salad for lunch? First-class set. It was also a very good time, and, if you watch the trailer, I don’t think I need to tell you there was no shortage of eye candy.
‘The Soothing System’, a short film written and produced by Mari Meyer and Sarah Cronk and directed by Erik Spink, was inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”, and reimagines this classic tale in a contemporary setting with female leads. It’s a film in which I’m heard but not seen: as I voiced the role of Dr Maillard; and, alas, I won’t have a chance to see it when it screens at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema in Queens on 6 August, as I will be in the Hamptons, rehearsing my next play, ‘The Summit’, but more on that in another post to come.
I gave a recent interview to Óscar Garrido, a lovely Spaniard who runs a website devoted to films adapted from the short stories of Stephen King. You see, several years ago, I appeared in Christopher Birk’s feature adaptation of Stephen King’s romantic ghost story, ‘Willa’, where, despite making a rather mediocre picture, I met some very great friends, especially our rather talented cinematographer, Nathaniel Kramer, who made this film a visual feast even if the narrative was less than nourishing. He remains truly one of my favorite people in this business (pictured above with me and the young protagonist of the story, played by Australian actor Clayton Watson), as well as a dear friend. Apparently, Stephen King is only too happy to allow his shorter fiction to be adapted by eager filmmaker fans, to whom he contractually charges one dollar for the rights — thus, the so-named category of The Dollar Baby. The contract stipulates that a filmmaker is allowed to show this work at a festival but not as an Internet broadcast, which compromises the ability to sell any commercial rights; apparently, this also includes any nonprofit broadcast too. What I remembered most about Willa was that I had to shave my beard after the first leg of our shoot in June in swelteringly sunny Southampton, resuming the second leg in August, and thus necessitating my wearing a fake beard for half the movie.
‘Snowbound’ screened privately at the Downtown Independent in LA, on 14 November, on the heels of its successful selected premiere in the Marché at Cannes, including a private black-tie party held the evening before for 400 guests, This erotic mystery film, directed by Olia Oparina (pictured with me in the final photo of the slideshow above) from a screenplay by Anya Bay and Drew Hale, who are also my co-stars, is the story of five attendees of a kinky private party who wake up the next morning naked in the snow, adjacent to a nearby cabin, where they find a dead girl and a message: in order to survive, they must decide who is responsible for the girl’s death and murder that person accordingly. We shot this film in the first half of December 2106, in the mountains of California and Colorado. One of the best film shoots I’ve ever enjoyed, and from it, I’ve made numerous friends of a lifetime. You’ll find a clip from it on the Media page.
How I let the Israeli artist Doron Golan persuade me into doing a video piece, dancing shirtless to Try Jah Love — the 1982 reggae-funk-fusion hit, written by Stevie Wonder and recorded by Jamaican reggae band Third World — is one of those decisions I’ve had come back to haunt me so many times, I’m very nearly impervious to any residual shame. (In fact, I think it would be quite cool to do an updated version 13 years later!) Doron, who long ago moved back to his native Tel Aviv, made two versions, one of them extended, and they’ve managed to attract every chubby-chaser fetishist on the Internet, who have, over the years, barraged me with adulation, dick pics and numerous kinky requests galore. If at first I was utterly appalled, I’m now so over it, I say: let the freak flag fly!
Why is it that some of my favorite films are those that were the most miserable to make? I’ll spare you the details on the making of this somewhat comedic whodunnit, but let us just say that shooting almost an entire feature film on a dreadfully hot July sound set, constructed in the art building of the Fieldston School, where the director taught and where not a wisp of circulation greeted a cavernous, airless room, while I had to be attired in a silk-and-wool dinner jacket, was an act of sheer triumph. Still, I absolutely adored the cast, whose daily company over this 10-day shoot in the summer of 2014 provided levity, solace and commiseration; the result remains one of the relatively few films I’ve done that I wholly endorse, even as I wish more festivals had had a chance to see and consider it for inclusion. You can see it here.
For years, I modeled for artistic photographers. It’s how I garnered the kinds of headshots I wanted, reflective of my interest in visual history and suited to my persona, which is something too few actors either understand or know how to craft. Forget the obscene cost of the typically tacky Sears Portrait Studio headshots most actors have; the kind advertised in the trades, wherein the subject surrenders a fraudulent smile or some turn at insouciance amid too-bright lighting, or some nature setting; these pictures are very nearly always as bad as the most quotidian stock photography; and even if, by some benighted stroke, I wanted one commissioned, the results would never truly represent me. The subsequent philosophical quarrel would most assuredly lead me to drink; not that I require strenuous coaxing otherwise. Imagine my surprise, then, when one of these snaps from a 2012 photo shoot with the mononymous and now LA-based Quavando reared its head, thanks to my pal Will Hopper — my dresser on The Evangelist (2009) — who found himself mildly amused one morning, when I popped up, for sale an “adult Italian-American man,” on his daily iStock from Getty Images. The upload date is within months of the shoot itself, leading me to wonder how many others of the some 100 young photographers with whom I thought I was making a fair trade also sold me in perpetuity to stock. All things considered, it would have been cheaper to have gone to one of those hacks in Backstage.