Theater News

Mad About Robert Morse

The Tony Award-winning star discusses his work on AMC’s Mad Men, wanting to be on Smash, and returning to Broadway.

Robert Morse
(© Frank Ockenfels/AMC)
Robert Morse
(© Frank Ockenfels/AMC)

Two-time Tony winner Robert Morse is most fondly known to Broadway audiences as the original J. Pierrepont Finch in the 1961 musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, but over the past 50 years has created many memorable roles in theater, film, and television, most notably playing Truman Capote in the solo show Tru, for which he won a second Tony and an Emmy. These days, Morse remains a hard-working performer; on March 26, he’ll participate in the New York Philharmonic’s star-studded concert, Anywhere I Wander at Avery Fisher Hall.

Since 2007, Morse has played the hard-nosed, slightly eccentric Bertram Cooper, a partner in the Sterling Cooper ad agency, on AMC’s award-winning series Mad Men, which returns for its fifth season on March 25. TheaterMania talked to Morse about the new season of Mad Men, the success of Glee and Smash, and returning to the stage.

THEATERMANIA: You created the role of Finch, the ultimate employee starving for advancement, and then were cast as the Chairman of the Board on Mad Men. Was that a wink to How to Succeed?
ROBERT MORSE: Amazingly so. I found out that Matt Weiner (Mad Men‘s creator) remembered me and knew of my theater background. When I went on the set for the first time and I saw all the late 1950s desks and the old typewriters, it did remind me of How to Succeed. It was like reliving something. I walked around that first day and sang “A Secretary Is Not a Toy.” I think I’m the only one in Mad Men that lived during the time of the show.

TM: Last time we saw Bert he was holding his shoes and looked like he was quitting the firm. Can you tell us what happens to him this season?
RM: I’m back, but I don’t have an office. I sit in a chair and eat apples! You know, at my age you shoot a show and two weeks later it’s out of your mind. I don’t have a great memory of what happens to my shoes. Like many of the viewers, I can’t wait to see all of this new season and refresh my memory.

TM: In the late 1960s, you starred in a short-lived ABC musical comedy series called That’s Life. What do you think of the success of modern television musical series like Glee and Smash?
RM: For some reason a show like Glee or Smash gets an audience and that’s surprising to many in the business. It’s wonderful that we have these choices. Many of the people behind the shows have been around Broadway and know their business, so it’s nice to see that. And it affords a lot of dancers and actors the chance to be hired on a TV show. I’m so proud of those shows. I’m just waiting for them to call me for a walk-on.

TM: Do you think about returning to the stage?
RM: I saw Daniel Radcliffe in How to Succeed on Broadway. I sat in the audience and looked up on the stage and thought “How did I ever do that?” So the idea of going back to New York and doing rehearsals, then performing eight shows a week — that’s a lot.

TM: How do you feel about people calling you a legend?
RM: I’m very blessed. When I meet people on the street, rather than say “Have you retired? Why aren’t you working on TV or in the movies?”, I hear people say nice things about seeing me on a great show like Mad Men or that they’re happy to see me working at my age. The people that remember me and recall something of my past fills my heart.

Click here for more information and tickets to the Anywhere I Wander concert, featuring Robert Morse.

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