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F. Murray Abraham Reaches For the Stars

The Oscar-winning actor discusses his work in CSC's Galileo, CBS' The Good Wife, and the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davies. logo
F. Murray Abraham in Galileo
(© Joan Marcus)
From his Oscar-winning work as Salieri in Amadeus to his portrayal of the infamous McCarthy-era lawyer Roy Cohn in the Broadway production of Angels in America, F. Murray Abraham has tackled some of the most formidable roles around during his impressive career. Now, he's starring in the title role of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo, about the life of the legendary astronomer, at Classic Stage Company. TheaterMania recently sat down with the actor to talk about the relevance of the play today, the part religion plays in his life, and his roles on CBS' The Good Wife and in the upcoming Cohen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davies.

THEATERMANIA: What drew you to Galileo?
F. MURRAY ABRAHAM: It's a great role; but you can't just do a show. It's got to be the right place if you have a choice. I've done a lot of readings at CSC and I like Brian Kulick, (CSC's artistic director) and the organization.

TM: So many of the issues in Galileo, especially religion, seem all too relevant today. Is this something you discussed in rehearsal?
FMA: Isn't it astonishing? It doesn't matter what religion; it seems they're all tearing themselves apart. It's easy to talk about the three prominent religions, but it's not just them. There are factions within Buddhism. It's crazy, isn't it?

TM: Are you religious?
FMA: I feel like I'm deeply spiritual. I do attend church. I was raised an orthodox Christian and I was an altar boy for some time; my mother was very serious about it. But when they say orthodox, there's a reason why it's called orthodox. Their way is the only way. I have too many gay friends to put up with that orthodox idea that homosexuals are evil.

TM: In the play, Galileo faces that same kind of rigid thinking from the heads of the Roman church who are terrified when confronted with the idea that the sun doesn't revolve around the earth. Did you discuss how shocking that was for people in the 17th Century?
FMA: Yeah, that's what we really work to put across -- how earthshaking this is. It's just fun kicking around ideas with these people because everyone respects each other. It's something else I look for in the theater, and you can't predict it. For some actors, it doesn't matter. They do the play and go home. That truly collaborative aspect is why I think I love the theater.

TM: Do you not find television or film as collaborative?
FMA: That's really an interesting question. Recently, I did an episode of The Good Wife and it was amazing. A lot of those people are theater people, and it was a really comfortable feeling. They were very welcoming. It's a communal effort. It wasn't just from the actors. I wrote them a long letter about exactly what we're talking about because it's so rare. The stars are the stars, but they're colleagues. They're there to do the work and have as much fun as they can. And now they've asked me to come back.

TM: Was your character on the show -- attorney Burl Preston -- specifically written for you?
FMA: Not at first. They wrote something and invited me to do it. It wasn't much of a thing, but we got along so well that they then wrote something for me the second time. It's such a fun role.

TM: You're also working on the new Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davies. What can you tell us about it?
FMA: I've done some plays for Ethan, but never a film with them. I don't want to give my character away. He's a music producer taken from life -- a very interesting man and important person in terms of that world. He was a revolutionary in terms of handling talent and becoming a manager.

TM: You've played a number of historical figures throughout your career. Do you feel an added pressure when tackling one of these roles?
FMA: You have all this source material, which is very helpful. What they looked like, what the dressed like. In many cases, you can even find out what they sounded like. That's very helpful. In the end, you just try to do the best you can.

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