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5 Questions With Emmy and Tony Winner John Larroquette, Star of Nantucket Sleigh Ride

Larroquette discusses John Guare's new play, looks back on his theatrical experiences, and shares a tidbit about his upcoming Twilight Zone appearance.

John Larroquette made his New York stage debut relatively late in life. He was in his early 60s and had spent nearly three decades making an indelible mark on television, with four Emmys for Night Court and one for The Practice to show for it. In short order, he became as much of a mainstay in New York theater as he is on the small screen, appearing in three shows in a row: the off-Broadway play Oliver Parker! in 2010; the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, for which he won a 2011 Tony Award; and the 2012 revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man.

It's been a few years — TV beckoned once again — but Larroquette is back, and in top comedic form in John Guare's Nantucket Sleigh Ride at Lincoln Center Theater. Larroquette stars as a once-famous playwright who has long since abandoned his dream when he's tasked with a surreal errand. "It takes a little bit of patience for the audience to understand what we're doing," Larroquette says. But for him, it was a no-brainer.

John Larroquette returns to the stage in the new play Nantucket Sleigh Ride.
(© T Charles Erickson)

1. Nantucket Sleigh Ride is a hard play to describe. What do you say when friends ask what it's about?

It's a man recalling an event of his life, and, like all memory, it's flawed and embellished and wrong and right simultaneously. The play is his recollection of what occurred, and the regular rules of logic and space and time don't really apply.

2. What drew you to the play?

To be blunt, the idea of being asked to do a John Guare play was pretty much a no-brainer. I thought it could be a challenge, and I like those. I really didn't understand that I was going to be onstage every minute of this thing. It's not particularly taxing now, but in the process of learning, it was taxing. I've always had the ability to absorb dialogue — by the time we're close to tech, I usually know everybody's lines. The difference with this one is that for so much of the time, I'm talking without the benefit of cues from others. I'm talking to the audience; I'm telling a story. For a week or two, it was harder than I thought it was going to be.

3. You made your first New York theater appearance in 2010. Career-wise, how do you view your relationship to the stage?

I had the high-class problem of having been on one television series or another for 25 years. Great playwrights had asked me: Neil Simon, who I eventually worked with in Los Angeles; [and] Herb Gardner, who wanted me to revive A Thousand Clowns, but I never had the time to come to New York.

After Boston Legal ended in 2008, I asked my agents to not pursue television for six months to a year so I could go to New York and see if anyone would give a crap that I showed up. The first thing I did was the Liz Meriwether play Oliver Parker! at the Cherry Lane. Eventually, the offer for How to Succeed came and I jumped at it, and then I said, "Maybe you shouldn't have jumped too quickly, dude." Producer Jeffrey Richards saw me in How to Succeed and asked me to stay and do The Best Man.

4. Why do you think you jumped too quickly for How to Succeed?

I don't like to talk about this a lot, just because it's… I thought for three weeks after starting rehearsal that I was going to be fired. I had never sung or danced in my life, and my first Broadway experience was singing and dancing. I was just beside myself. I told Rob Ashford, the director, you know that I'm a comic actor, but don't expect anything about this character to be evident until I can stop counting in my head. Dan Radcliffe and I worked really hard; he worked his butt off. I wanted to not disappoint him or the production. And then I finally got it. I'm never gonna be Tommy Tune, but I was able to do what I needed to do, and it was a spectacular experience.

5. You're in an upcoming episode of Jordan Peele's Twilight Zone reboot. What can you say about it?
The reason I did it was to close a circle. I was in Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1982, and I thought it would be interesting just to be in the show. I also think that Mr. Peele is a great entity in the business, so I wanted to be able to say on my résumé that I worked with him. I play the President on election night, and I'm losing. I have a huge fight with the star of the episode, and then he goes off on his adventures in the Twilight Zone. That's all I know…

John Larroquette (center) and the company of Nantucket Sleigh Ride at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.
(© T Charles Erickson)