Gentleman of the Jury
A talk with Boyd Gaines, one of the Roundabout's Twelve Angry Men.
"Most of us have stayed away from the movie," says Gaines. "I didn't want to see it again because Henry Fonda is such a great and convincing actor that I'd have him in my head." Performed without an intermission, the play runs just under an hour and 40 minutes. "It almost takes place in real time," Gaines continues. "It's slightly compressed. We're onstage the whole time; nobody has a chance to pee, so we all stop drinking liquids about seven o'clock. The great fun of this is working with seasoned stage actors and enjoying each other's company. What's unusual is that the characters are twelve people who have barely met, deciding the fate of someone's life. The difficult part is having everyone be a person, not just a plot device." Does Gaines have any experience in court? "I've never served on a jury," he says. "However, when I was a college student, I was a witness in a robbery trial."
Gaines has previously worked with three of his co-stars. He was onstage with Peter Friedman in The Heidi Chronicles, had "met John Pankow on The Doctors [TV series], and was with Phil [Bosco] in my first Equity job -- A Month in the Country [in 1979, at the Roundabout]." This marks Gaines's fourth outing with director Scott Ellis. "We've done two musicals [the Roundabout revivals of She Loves Me and Company] and another play [this past summer's Williamstown production of Terrence McNally's Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams]."
During his "gypsy childhood," the Atlanta-born Gaines attended a dozen grammar schools; his father was in sales and the family moved a lot due to his work. ("My father died two years ago last June," says Gaines. "That's the reason I left Contact. I wanted to spend as much time as I could with him. Leslie [the actor's then four-year-old daughter] was with me most of that time. My mother is well, other than mourning for my father.") As a California high-school senior, Gaines took drama as an elective. "I got some satisfaction from acting and decided to pursue it," he says. "In college it became sort of a whirlwind romance, and has since turned into a long-term marriage." Gaines studied at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) and later at Juilliard in New York. While there, he had one of the leads in the school's production of Spring Awakening; a rave review from Mel Gussow in the New York Times led to Joe Papp mounting the play at the Public Theatre and Gaines making his Off-Broadway debut.
For A Month in the Country, Gaines received a Theatre World Award. His other stage work includes A Winter's Tale, Johnny On a Spot, Barbarians, Vikings, The Tempest, Our Town, The Comedy of Errors, The Maderati, The Show Off, The Extra Man, The Shawl, and Major Barbara. He made his film debut in Fame (1980) as Michael, the student who gets an early break but is later seen waiting tables. Among his other movies are Porky's, The Sure Thing, Heartbreak Ridge, Call Me, and I'm Not Rappaport. From 1981 to '84, Gaines played Mark Royer, the dental student who marries Valerie Bertinelli's character, in the TV sitcom One Day at a Time."I'm not a particularly big fan of my own work," says the self-effacing Gaines. "Theater is easy because you don't have to see it -- although when you know you're not very good in something, theater can be the most painful because you have to do it eight times a week. There are certain parts where you're just poorly cast. With the best intentions on everyone's part, you can just be bad in something."
In 1989, at Playwrights Horizons, Gaines played pediatrician Peter Patrone in The Heidi Chronicles, written by friend and Juilliard colleague Wendy Wasserstein. The production's transfer to Broadway earned him the first of his Tonys. Prior to playing Georg Nowak in the 1993 Roundabout revival of She Loves Me, Gaines had appeared in a regional production of the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick-Joe Masteroff musical. "Georg is kind of a complicated guy," says the actor. "He's a very capable chief clerk, well-liked, but he has this secret correspondence. I think the heart of Georg is that secret person." New York magazine critic John Simon praised Gaines's "genuine sparkle and judicious imitation of Jimmy Stewart" in the Roundabout staging. Says Gaines, "I stammer a bit in real life and people will say, 'You know, you remind me of Jimmy Stewart.' I take it as a compliment." (Stewart starred in the 1940 movie, The Shop Around the Corner, one of the sources for She Loves Me.) After the Roundabout engagement, the show transferred to Broadway for an extended run.
That was also the plan for the 1995 Roundabout revival of Company, in which Gaines played Bobby. However, a severe throat infection plagued the actor during the run and an investor refused to pay for the planned transfer. Although he received emotional support from Scott Ellis and Stephen Sondheim, Gaines was depressed about the show's closing: "All along, I had said to Scott, 'If you need to replace me, please do.' Stephen called me up the day before it was announced that the show was not going to move and said, 'It's not about you; it's about money, it's about business. We had a certain agreement and we feel that it's been broken.' He was incredibly gracious. Ultimately, there was nothing I could do about the situation; my body short-circuited. But did I feel responsible? I certainly did."
Word circulated that Gaines's illness was actually AIDS and that he was dying. "It was like playing the game Rumor," he remarks. "The part about AIDS wasn't true but it goes to show how misinformation gets spread around." Had there been any discussion about the character of Bobby being a gay man? "That was the first question I asked Scott when I auditioned. So many people said, 'Bobby's gay. It's not that he can't commit, it's that he can't come out of the closet.' Some people feel that 'Being Alive' is really about being out. But Sondheim and George Furth [who wrote the book for Company] both categorically denied it. Bobby's actually based on Warren Beatty; George Furth went to college with him."
Succeeding John Benjamin Hickey as Clifford Bradshaw in the Roundabout's revival of Cabaret was "the only time I've replaced someone. Joining an existing company, a run in progress, is like catching a moving train." For the role of Michael Wiley in Contact, Gaines had to learn choreography. "The dancing frightened me," he says. "I spent every day trying to get better and better. It was intimidating." He has high praise for Susan Stroman: "Sometimes, she would choreograph a whole number and then put me in it; sometimes, I would start and be in the middle of it. She allowed me a lot of freedom." Gaines was happy that the part did not require him to sing; "I'm not really a singer," he says.
Among the projects that have brought him satisfaction are The Double Bass, a one-character Off-Broadway play, and Hamlet, which he performed at Center Stage in Baltimore. "That always sounds so pretentious, doesn't it?" he remarks. "'When I gave my Hamlet...!' I don't think any actor can grasp all of that play. For months afterwards I'd wake up in the middle of the night and I'd still be doing Hamlet in my head. The two long runs I've done on Broadway -- The Heidi Chronicles and She Loves Me -- also hold a certain satisfaction, although I was never satisfied with my work in them."
Gaines is married to actress Kathleen McNenny; their daughter, Leslie, attends first grade in Manhattan. The actor's latest film is Second Best, and Gaines frequently records books on tape, which he calls his "day job." Did he find any element of his character in Twelve Angry Men especially difficult to capture? "I think all of it is difficult." he replies with a laugh. "I feel that way about every part I play. I'm still working on this one."