David Gautschy
David Gautschy
(© Darin Chumbley)

David Gautschy is an enigmatic fellow. Though Gautschy (pronounced Gowt-shee) was trained at the National Theater Conservatory in Denver, and has performed in Shakespeare on the Sound's As You Like It and New York Theatre Workshop's My Agamemnon (among many other plays), he maintains a level of mystery when it comes to uncovering details about his career. With the opening of White Plains Performing Arts Center's The 39 Steps this weekend, Gautschy's cover will be blown. As Richard Hannay, the lead role in Hitchcock's comedic whodunit, Gautschy will be showcasing his flair for timing and physicality. He spoke with TheaterMania about his work on the critically lauded play, while revealing some of his best-kept secrets.

You used to be in public relations. Why did you make the transition to acting?
I got my MFA at the National Theater Conservatory in the nineties. I eventually quit acting and did corporate PR pretty much full-time for eight years before I decided that I hated it, and went back to acting. It was no fun. It was a lot of money, but I think I decided I'd rather be poor and happy than rich and unhappy. During my time in PR I never stopped directing. Since then I've done a lot of theater, including this year's New York Fringe Festival.

The 39 Steps is a very physical show, and relies on its actors to pull off the comedy. What challenges did you find in taking on the role of Richard Hannay?
The physical preparedness was really important; you try to remain focused and take care of yourself because it is so active. The biggest challenge for me is that a lot of the comedy relies on the turn of the head at the right moment, or a take to the audience at exactly the right time. It has been challenging for us so far to just sort of figure out how all the little comedy bits work, and how to make them really specific. It can get tedious sometimes, figuring, well, if you look that way, or if you don't smile at that moment, it's not funny.

Jamie Jackson and John Behlmann
in the off-Broadway production of The 39 Steps.
Jamie Jackson and John Behlmann in the off-Broadway production of The 39 Steps.
(© Carol Rosegg)

New York audiences know John Behlmann best as Richard Hannay after he did so well with the role both on and off-Broadway. How do you describe your Hannay?
Johnny Behlmann also went to my graduate school. He went to the same program as mine at the Denver Center. We didn't cross paths, we didn't attend at anywhere near the same years — it's just a funny coincidence! Hannay is sort of a very proper Englishman; I think he thinks of himself as a little bit of a ladies' man. He's very well-mannered, maybe a little bit stodgy and upper-crust, but he has those moments where, when the ladies pay attention, he wants to rise to the occasion. He's the typical Hitchcock guy who gets caught in the middle of something that he doesn't understand, and he's constantly trying to figure out how to solve the problem, or even just what's happening to him because it's so confusing.

How much of David Gautschy's personality can be found in this Richard Hannay?
I normally look at myself as more of the character clown role, so it was actually thrilling that David [Murray Jaffe], our director, cast me in more as the straight-man role. The character is one who kind of has to stand and listen to all of these things [as they] happen around him and just give a wink to the audience. What I bring to it is that comic character sense, which is probably a slightly different perspective. [Director] David [Jaffe] has been guiding me to pull back a little bit on some of the more extreme charactery stuff and to adapt the still, stodgy, upper-crust guy.

Natasha Nightingale and David Gautschy in The 39 Steps at White Plains Performing Arts Center.
Natasha Nightingale and David Gautschy in The 39 Steps at White Plains Performing Arts Center.
(© Kathleen Davisson)

People have many misconceptions about Alfred Hitchcock's films. What makes The 39 Steps, which is adapted from his film of the same name, unique from the rest of his pieces?
It's an earlier film, it's more espionage-related than directly horror-related, like The Birds. He has done other films that involve espionage, but I think this may have been one of his first films that did that — it was one of his first sound pictures. There's a lot of integration; you can see the development of the camera angles. I feel like the ending is a little bit happier than other Hitchcock films. That's a big difference. He kind of gets the girl in the end, and it looks like things are going to work out. You don't see that in Psycho or Vertigo or some of the other films.

Being in White Plains, you're only one step (not 39) away from Broadway. If you could choose any role to take to Broadway, which would it be and why?
I've always wanted to play the Baker in Into the Woods, and I'm absolutely perfect for it. Also, I'm just a big Shakespeare fanatic; a lot of my training was in Shakespeare classical theater. If Othello were ever done, I'd love to play Iago. It's just the most fun villain role ever.

The one television credit you have listed on IMDB is a spot on Murphy Brown. That is very ironic, seeing how you bear a striking resemblance to Grant Shaud.
That's really funny — I haven't heard that in a long, long time. Everybody asks me if I was the secretary on the show. Funnily enough, when you put the two of us next to each other, we don't really look alike. It was really funny to stand next to him.

A scene from The 39 Steps at White Plains Performing Arts Center.
David Gautschy, Natasha Nightingale, Ari Lew, and DJ Petrosino in The 39 Steps at White Plains Performing Arts Center.
(© Kathleen Davisson)