Michael Cristofer
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Michael Cristofer
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Although he's still best known as the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of The Shadow Box, Michael Cristofer has been a perpetually busy actor for the last nine months. By the time his stint as Alfieri in the starry Broadway revival of A View From the Bridge ended in April, he was already shooting AMC's hit new conspiracy series, Rubicon.

And before he even finished filming the finale of that show's first season, Cristofer was rehearsing Theresa Rebeck's latest play,The Novelist, which is currently having its premiere at Vermont's Dorset Theatre Festival. "I can't wait for September, when I do nothing but do a little writing," says Cristofer.

Week by week, Rubicon viewers are getting more glimpses of Cristofer's mysterious and intimidating character, Truxton Spangler, the big boss of the American Policy Institute, an intelligence agency where the machinations appear to be many. "Thematically, the show interested me," says Cristofer. "There is so much information bombarding us these days, and this is about an agency that takes all this information and try to make sense out of it. I think everyone can relate to that. And the other notion is that there is a fourth element that seems to be very, very crucial to the way our country is run, and that sort of secret fourth element is very much a part of the plot."

Cristofer was approached about the series -- which stars James Badge Dale and features fellow theater veterans Arliss Howard, Dallas Roberts, and Christopher Evan Welch -- during the run of View From the Bridge by executive producer Henry Bromell. "I saw the pilot that they had shot, and I just responded to it very strongly," Cristofer says. "Wonderful New York actors, shooting in Manhattan, terrific scripts, and it's beautifully shot. It has an unusual quality for television that everyone has kind of been talking about. And it really takes its time in developing its characters."

Michael Cristofer and James Badge Dale in Rubicon
(© AMC)
Michael Cristofer and James Badge Dale in Rubicon
(© AMC)
In fact, the cast had no idea where future episodes would take them, because scripts weren't ready until a couple of days before shooting. It's a process Cristofer describes as "very exciting" and one that his stint in last year's Guthrie Theater production of Tony Kushner's The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures prepared him for.

"When we arrived for the first day of rehearsal on that show, there was no script," recalls Cristofer, who played retired longshoreman and family patriarch Gus Marcantonio. "Tony finished the play on a Sunday night and our first audience was on Thursday. It turned out to be a sort of extraordinary workshop of a play, the difference being that we actually did have to perform it in front of 700 people every night. So I was kind of used to this process, and I grew to really embrace it. You are forced to be in the moment and play it for exactly what's there and as fully as you can without being able to make decisions about where this character is going. It does put you in a position of acting a part the way a person lives their life, I guess."

Like Spangler, who is more comfortable dealing with government bureaucrats than his family, the character Cristofer plays in The Novelist -- a bitingly comic play about a successful writer who reunites with his estranged son reunite at a country home -- is also obsessed with his work. "The play is really about how you struggle to balance your life and your art," he says. "I fell in love with the part, which is ironic because I'm a person who hates novels. I have been known to put an end to dinner parties with my rant about how disgusting novels are, how they should never have been invented. Now I have to play a novelist, and in the play he attacks the theater for being a useless, overindulgent art."

Of course, Cristofer himself doesn't subscribe to that belief. Once the run of The Novelist is over, he plans to focus on the opera libretto he's working on with composer Terence Blanchard for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, about Emile Griffith, a gay boxer who knocked an opponent unconscious in a 1962 bout. The opponent died several days later. However, one of Cristofer's challenges has been locating Griffith, who suffers from dementia. "There's one lead: a boxing club in Long Island that seems to have a connection to him, but I haven't been able to find out exactly what that is," he says.

Too bad Truxton Spangler's a fictional character. He probably could get information on anyone.