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Garret Dillahunt Plays Bay Street With Conviction

The Raising Hope star returns to his stage roots with a world premiere on Long Island's East End.

Garret Dillahunt stars in Carey Crim's drama Conviction at Bay Street Theatre.

Garret Dillahunt so very adeptly inhabited his comedic role as the young, doofy father Burt Chance on FOX's recently canceled Raising Hope that it is easy to forget that his repertoire extends beyond comedy and into dramatic territory with such films as Winter's Bone and television shows like the Wild-West costume drama Deadwood. But theater is where Dillahunt first got his start, and he has worked consistently on the stage (Inherit the Wind, Booth) while pursuing film and television roles. Dillahunt returns to his theatrical roots with the opening of Carey Crim's drama Conviction at Bay Street Theatre, where he will finally get to perform opposite Sarah Paulson, a colleague with whom he has appeared in the same projects...but never in the same scenes (12 Years a Slave, Deadwood). Conviction tells the story of Leigh (Paulson), and her husband, Tom (Dillahunt), a renowned, compassionate teacher who is accused of crossing the line with one of his students. Dillahunt spoke with TheaterMania about working on the Sag Harbor production and looking ahead to life after Raising Hope.

How did Conviction get onto your radar?
Sarah Paulson and I share an agent, so when she was cast in the play it came to my attention. I haven't done a play in about three years, and I had been sort of keeping my eye out for something that would pique my interest. I read it and it really stuck with me. I liked the dialogue a lot, and I liked how natural it felt. Plus, I wanted to work with Sarah in an actual scene together! And I've heard nothing but great things about Bay Street and the Sag Harbor community.

What is the biggest challenge in playing Tom Hodges, someone who may or may not be a pretty awful person?
It's tricky ground because [the play is] about someone who preys on children. Probably the hardest part of playing Tom is to not make any judgments about him while I play him. I have to see his point of view. I'm trying to maintain some level of affection for someone who might do something like this. But the play shows how you're one mistake away from ruining anything.

Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt in the recently canceled TV show Raising Hope.

Since you started playing Burt Chance on Raising Hope, have people had a hard time reimagining you in more serious roles?
I hear that sometimes, but I've always kind of gone back and forth. It's just a pointless worry. I don't know what to say to people who don't have a big enough imagination to see you in something else. I started in comedy, and then I had trouble getting dramatic roles. Everyone was like, "Oh, he's a sitcom guy." And then I got a more dramatic role on Deadwood, after which they brought me back for another role on Deadwood… I just smile about it now and think, Tell me something else I can't do and then I'll do it.

Which are more gratifying for you: serious or comedic roles?
I like the change of it, actually. That was a real benefit of my work on Deadwood. I got to play two roles. Whether I deserve it or not, it made people think I can do anything. People are dying to pigeonhole you. People go nuts until they can fit you in a box. So, if my box is a box that can do anything, that's my favorite box. If I can't actually do it, I like that people think I can!

How did you feel about the way Raising Hope ended?
You never really want it to end. When we were still waiting to hear if it would be picked up I had an offer for Marc Forster's pilot [Hand of God] that I really liked, so it sort of softened the blow. I loved working with Martha [Plimpton]; it reminds me a lot of working with Sarah, actually. They're both scary smart and very talented, but at the same time they don't take themselves too seriously.

When looking at your career in the theater, is there anything you would like to do that you haven't?
I worked at Steppenwolf in 1999 when Anna D. Shapiro directed me in Side Man. It was the greatest experience. We discussed how I'd be back there for more work in the next few years. All of a sudden it's twenty years later. It's amazing how quick time goes. With Broadway, it's just a different animal from when I started out, with things like Spider-Man and Aladdin. Those are not things I can do. I've never done Shakespeare professionally. That might be fun. It's interesting, isn't it? The holes? When you look back you think, what happened there?

Daniel Burns as Nicholas, Brian Hutchison as Bruce, Sarah Paulson as Leigh, Garret Dillahunt as Tom, and Elizabeth Reaser as Jayne in Carey Crim's Conviction, directed by Scott Schwartz, at Bay Street Theatre.
(© Jerry Lamonica)