John Larroquette and Michael Zegen in Oliver Parker!
(© The Shaltzes/Photographers)
John Larroquette and Michael Zegen in Oliver Parker!
(© The Shaltzes/Photographers)
John Larroquette has been one of television's most popular and acclaimed actors for more than 30 years, thanks in part to his starring roles on Night Court and The John Larroquette Show, The Practice and Boston Legal -- parts which earned him a total of five Emmy Awards and seven nominations. Now, he's finally making his New York stage debut at age 62 in stageFARM's production of Elizabeth Meriwether's dark comedy Oliver Parker! at the Cherry Lane, in which he plays Jasper, a bitter and aging alcoholic who is supported by a wealthy teenaged boy. Larroquette recently spoke to TheaterMania about this special project.

THEATERMANIA: What inspired you to finally do a play now?
JOHN LARROQUETTE: I love the theater, but I got busy and successful on TV relatively quickly. When I first went to Los Angeles to become an actor in 1973, I did plays -- which is how I met my wife, and also how I got an agent. But I got my first job in TV shortly after and kept working. And during the nine years I was on Night Court there wasn't the time. I had the summer months off, but when you're coming into New York to do a Broadway show, the producers want more time than that. I had to say no to Neil Simon, who wanted me to do Jake's Women, and then I had to say no to A Thousand Clowns while I was on The John Laroquette Show. This time, I had no series and I came to New York to meet with the guys doing Enron and then this play came across my desk. It was just the perfect entry to New York for me personally, a quirky play in an established theater that does original works.

TM: What in particular appealed to you about this play?
JL: As always, it's first and foremost about the work. You look at the writing, the story, the character -- am I interested in being him and does it say something theatrical? I read this and really liked it. It's very funny, twisted, and dark, much like myself. Besides, I knew the history of The Cherry Lane Theatre; they've done a lot of Beckett plays there and I'm a Beckett freak; I have a hundred books about his work.

TM: Arguably, your character will be disliked by some members of the audience. Do you have to personally like a character in order to play him?
JL: I don't think like is quite the right word, but you have to identify and you have to rationalize and justify his actions in his own world. Jasper doesn't really know what's happened to him and he's trying to figure it out. Black comedy is a dark art and sometimes it's also confrontational. I hope it's a little uncomfortable for the audience, but that it's couched in enough of the funny that they can absorb it into their systems without too much trouble.

TM: What character have you played in the past that is most like Jasper?
JL: In a strange way, I think the closest I have been to this sort of psychology or temperament would be playing Hamm in Samuel Beckett's Endgame, which I did in L.A. On television, I've played erudite, intellectual, rich lawyers for the most part.

TM: Your bio in the program says that this is your first time working in New York without a chauffeur. Would you care to elaborate on that? Does it have anything to do with playing an ex-chauffeur in the show?
JL: The times I have come to New York in the past have been to be a guest on Late Night With David Letterman or to host Saturday Night Live to promote whatever series I was on for NBC. So, I've always been taken care of very well. When I chose to do this play, Off-Broadway, my decision was to come here and have the experience of being a working actor in the city and to be as much a part of the city as I could. So, I'm walking everywhere -- to the cleaners or to buy my own groceries -- just like most people who work in the theater. And it's been an education; I underestimated the amount of culture shock I would go through!