From a starring role in the '90s on the NBC sitcom Caroline in the City to a 2003 Tony Award-nominated performance in Broadway's Amour, Malcolm Gets has enjoyed a long, successful, and varied career. He is now participating in the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) show Julian Po (based on a 1997 Christian Slater film as well as the Branimir Scepanovic novel La Mort De Donsieur Golouja),which features a book and lyrics by Andrew Barrett and music by Ira Antelis. The show has been chosen to join NYMF's prestigious Next Link Project.
In Julian Po, Gets plays down-on-his-luck small-town preacher Pastor Bean. He finds inspiration in a young man named Julian Po who wanders into town with the intent of ending his life. In the spirit of Pastor Bean's journey, Gets shares with TheaterMania where he finds his own inspiration to stay in show biz through its ups and its downs. (He also throws in an anecdote about a Broadway-filled stint on The Good Wife.)
What was your first impression of the show when you saw the script?
It was unique. It was not like anything I had read before. It's a musical black comedy…which really appeals to my sensibilities. It certainly did not seem like a conventional musical — it's got a lot of substance.
How did you get involved with the project?
They just called me and asked me to do it and I was very intrigued by it. Without divulging too much, I related to the character's spiritual dilemma. That really spoke to me. Then I heard the score, and that sealed the deal.
Were you familiar with the film before you joined the show?
I actually decided not to watch the movie. Andrew's script is so evocative and…I didn't want to be influenced by the film. Maybe down the road, but for right now I prefer to live with my own image in my head. It's like a dreamscape. It's its own very unique dream land.
Are there things audiences can relate to within this dream land?
Once you have a central character who announces in the first five minutes of the show that he feels whooped by life and that he's had enough, I'm in. I'm hooked. I've certainly had periods when I felt like life was winning and I was losing so I think everybody can relate to that quandary — the temptation to give in, to give up, and then what It takes to keep going. Also, the effect that all of us have on each other without even seemingly or intentionally meaning to. I think it's a responsibility we all have. Recently… I've just been having one of those periods where cell phone etiquette, umbrella etiquette, really simple things like that — it always reminds me of the real responsibility he have towards each other to keep this whole thing going.
Did you come up with a back story for your character?
I did come up with my own back story for him…but I want to keep it to myself. I teach now, as well, and when I was a young actor I would talk about everything in the room. But…I started to understand that there could be a communication between actors that, to me, is best when it's not discussed. Now I feel like I only like to discuss things when something's not working. I think it's good for actors to keep secrets.
What does that do for your performance?
I know for myself, once I start to talk about it, it kind of goes away. [And] for me, part of the reason [for] doing theater is that you keep doing it, so…I try to stay open to learning something new each time. Otherwise, go do movies and TV. If it's just a question of hitting your marks and doing the same show every night, don't kill yourself. (laughs) That's been my experience. Especially after I was on a series for a number of years and I got very used to only doing a mini-play per week. When I first came back to the theater and I was suddenly doing eight shows a week again for three or four months, I had to find a new reason to do it.
It looks like you're still balancing stage and screen work.
Yeah, I did some of the CBS stuff this year. I did The Good Wife and I did Blue Bloods and that was great. But I'll tell you, the Good Wife episode was hilarious because in addition to Julianna (Margulies) and Christine (Baranski) — who is a goddess of the theater — [both] regulars on the show, my scenes in the courtroom were Bebe Neuwirth as the judge, Brian Dennehy as the prosecuting attorney, [and] Stockard Channing was [also] on the episode that week. The entire set was just theater folk and every time we were between takes of the scene, all we were talking about was theater.
So you still consider New York and theater your primary home?
Yeah. I really like Los Angeles — I had a good life out there. But the reason I choose to live in New York is because when I'm between engagements, as they say, something creative always comes up for me, like Julian Po, or helping teach at NYU, or helping stage a show at Juilliard. When I'm in New York people are always asking me to help on something, which keeps my creative juices flowing all the time.
All of the characters in the show seem to be searching for something that makes them feel alive. What makes you feel most alive?
In the last number of years, of course working in the theater, working on new works, all of those helped me to feel vital and stay vital but I have to stay the greatest addition to that has been working with students. Four years ago when Will Chase and I did that show called The Story of my Life, we worked on it, we did workshops, we did it at Goodspeed, we came into New York, and I really loved that piece. I really believed in that piece — I felt very strongly about it and we did not last. We previewed for three weeks and we played for maybe four performances and closed abruptly. And it just so happened that that semester Deb (Lapidus) took a hiatus and I was teaching for her at NYU. So we opened on a Thursday/Friday, we closed on Sunday, and Tuesday I was standing in the classroom with sixteen graduate students who were like, "what are we doing today?" And I'll admit that between Sunday and Tuesday I was ready to leave New York and ready to leave the business. And those students — they keep me alive. They're hilarious; they move me; I love, love, love being around young actors and actresses. I just can't say enough about it. Working with young people is really what has kept me in the game.