He may be best known for his work on television’s Bosom Buddies and Newhart, but Peter Scolari has actually appeared regularly on Broadway and Off-Broadway, including Hairspray, Sly Fox, and White’s Lies. In Kenny Solms’ new play It Must Be Him, now at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, the seasoned actor is playing Louie, a down-on-his luck writer with a heap of issues and a stupendous imagination. He recently spoke with TheaterMania about the work and his career.
THEATERMANIA: How would you describe Louie?
PETER SCOLARI: He’s somewhere in between very neurotic and self-aware. The vessel for his enlightenment is to really get through the stuff that he’s been unwilling to get through most of his life. We may be hardwired to be self-willed, or feel like we’re entitled to a whole better deal, or that nobody likes us or nobody understands us, and whether or not any of that is true tends to mean less and less as you get older. Louie grapples with this in his journey.
TM. Have you ever been in a place like Louie’s, in which you had this giant peak of fame and received accolades, but were afraid that you wouldn’t find that same acclaim again?
PS: Unquestionably. I know no actors of my generation who haven’t experienced it. We’re coming up against our own resident pride and the frailty of ego. And sure, maybe that has something to do with why Kenny Solms and our director, Dan Kutner, sought me out to do this role. I think to some extent they just wanted me to bring life to the role, if not my life experience, but I have both. About a year after Bosom Buddies, I was suddenly a regular on Newhart, and I was there almost seven years. And then, somewhere in the mid-1990s, I ended up doing a TV series version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I thought at that time: “Wow, what’s going on here, this isn’t a prime-time series, I’m not going to get Emmy-nominated for a show that airs at 5 in the afternoon.” It’s all the hobgoblin of your mind telling you that you should have more, or that you’ll never have what you had before. If I’ve gotten nowhere else, at least I’ve gotten over that hump of believing in my own hype. Now I believe in the importance of where it is that I’m sitting in my career.
TM: You really seem to be at home on the stage. Is theater where your heart is?
PS: It’s more than sentimental for me to be working in theater in New York; it’s very personal. I think it’s a spiritual experience for me. I used to make fun of those actors who talked about the theater as their temple and their place of worship. I’m not to that degree of zealotry or idolatry of theater as this holy place. But it’s a place where I get together with people who do what I do, and we understand each other in that respect.
TM: Most people probably don’t realize you’re also a juggler and tightrope artist. How did you get involved with that?
PS: There was a TV special every year called Circus of the Stars, and I did three consecutive ones — one as a juggler, one as a high-wire performer, and one as a high hand balance. I did a hand stand on top of far too many chairs. I put way too many feet up in the air. You’re really not going to get me up at any height above eight feet anymore, but I’ve done it up at 22 feet. I also ride a unicycle. It’s shocking, when you get back on the unicycle after a couple of years; it’s not like getting back on a bicycle.
TM: Do people still make comments to you about Bosom Buddies when they see you?
PS: Yes. It’s people checking in with you. What I love about the way folks have interacted with me over the years is that they just want to make eye contact and for me to say something nice. In New York, there’s a vintage quality to it — the fireman or the cab driver yelling out the window. I get all of that! I don’t know what I did to deserve it. We only did 37 episodes of that show, and only seven of them were any good!
TM: If someone were to produce Bosom Buddies: The Broadway Musical, would you do it?
PS: If Tom Hanks were willing to do it with me. I mean, I couldn’t do it with anybody else!