"Acting," Gary Busey muses, "is the absence of acting. It's believing the truth of the moment you're creating with your heart, no thinking allowed."
Over the course of his career on-screen, in films such as The Buddy Holly Story, Point Break, and Lethal Weapon, and reality programs including Celebrity Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother, Busey has made good on this mantra, becoming known in the media for his spontaneous techniques and eccentric views. Now, he's looking to hone his craft even further when he makes his stage debut in Warren Manzi's long-running off-Broadway murder-mystery Perfect Crime, presented by Armand Hyatt, from November 21-December 4.
Busey didn't expect to be doing a play at this stage in his career — let alone ever — but then again, he never ruled it out, either. "I don't think like that. I'm an artist, and artists don't think ahead about what they're going to do with their art form. It comes to you. The roles pick me, and I say, 'Thank you very much,' and go do it, without doubt, fear, reservations, or distractions."
The role of Lionel McAuley, the "Baseball Bat Killer," has "picked" him three times, but he had to work up to it. "They've offered me this play for three years. The first time I got it, I read it and said, 'No, no, no, no, no.' Second time I got it, I said, 'Oh, this thing again?'" But the third time is the charm, as they say, and upon the third receipt of the script, at a period where he was simply raising his now six-year-old son Luke with his wife, Steffanie, something clicked. "I started reading it, and whoa. That was meant to be."
Busey is coy when it comes to talking about his performance. "I can't do that," he replies when asked to reveal his take on the character. "That's like going to a great chef who cooks this soufflé that everybody comes from all over the country to get. You think he's going to give you that recipe? No. I'm not gonna give you my recipe." He pauses and smiles. "Because I don't know it yet."
He might not know what he's going to do — "I might be killed with a baseball bat, who knows?" — but the stage is offering him a freedom he only experiences occasionally on film sets. "I have the ability to do the same scene five different ways," he says. "When the play [starts], I'll be doing it in ways I didn't do in rehearsal. It's called freedom."
Then, Busey launches into one of his trademark Buseyisms, where he forms an acrostic out of the letters in a single word that reflects the word's meaning. "I'll give you a definition of freedom: Facing Real Exciting Energy Developing Out Of Miracles. The miracle is the best freedom you can have, and everyone reading this is a miracle."
And because of that freedom, he's got no fear (False Evidence Appearing Real).
"I'll take what's given to me, and I'm gonna give them all I have to give, which is a lot. It's more than the word 'giving' can apply." He looks out into the vast auditorium, perhaps a bit overcome. "See how close the audience is? There are going to be times when I step right off the stage and go up to somebody sitting in the audience and say, 'Have you ever had your tonsils rearranged?'"
"And it'll just be me."