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On Borrowed Time Star Robert Hogan on Television, Theater, and Begging Joel Grey for Work

The prolific television actor returns to his first home onstage at Two River Theater.

Paul Osborn's hit 1938 Broadway drama, On Borrowed Time, has traveled to the Garden State for a production at Red Bank, New Jersey's Two River Theater, directed by Tony Award winner Joel Grey (Cabaret, Anything Goes).

The play explores the role death plays in our lives by examining the relationship between a young boy name Pud, played by eight-year-old Oakes Fegley, and his grandfather ("Gramps"), played by television and stage veteran Robert Hogan (whose additional claim to fame is lending his name to the protagonist in the '60s sitcom Hogan's Heroes).

TheaterMania caught up with Hogan, who, with a sharp wit and youthful enthusiasm, spoke about collaborating with Grey, working with his young co-star, and maintaining perspective as a pavement-pounding actor for over five decades.

Oakes Fegley (Pud) with Robert Hogan ("Gramps") in On Borrowed Time at Two River Theater.
(© Charles Erickson)

How have people been responding to the show so far?
They're not throwing fruit. [laughs] It seems like the older people who come to the matinées, they even got up at curtain call and stood. One woman in the first row, I thought, I'm going to have to jump off the stage and help her.

How did this role come about for you in the first place?
Begging. [laughs] I auditioned. Joel [Grey], he was really good at the audition. When you get notes on your work, sometimes they just confuse the hell out of you, sometimes they get you bugged. He gave brief notes that opened you up. And then I came back for the callback and then I got the job. The opportunity turned out to be a good one.

So working with Joel has been a good experience?
The kind of stuff that he [shares] in terms of a scene or a character moment [are] really good. Not scratching-your-belly kinds of notes but notes that really get inside the character and kind of illuminate something that you might have thought of but he opened it up better. That's a bloody joy. And also he has a crazy sense of humor like I have. And the young guy playing [Pud] is really good. He says he's eight but I think he's about thirty-two. He shaves and everything.

It's a very heavy play. Is it difficult to do every day?
No. The only thing is I'm a hundred years old. [laughs] [But it's like being on a sports team.] Those matches are tough, but still, if you do a good job, you get lifted.

Your career has included a lot of television work in addition to your stage work. Do you prefer one over the other?
Theater. I love doing television. It [gave me] enough money so I could come back to New York. [But] this is a different way. You get time to burnish. I used to get jobs one night and go to work the next morning and you just say, oh boy, here we go. I don't want to sound like an idiot and say, oh boy, working in the theater for less money is just fun, but a lot of times it's just joyous. When you reach [my age], it's kind of important.

Does it get tiring after so many years of going from job to job?
It doesn't. I'll tell you [a] story. I was doing a soap when I first came back to New York and they used to pick [us] up at a certain place in a stretch limo. There'd be about four people in the limo. So [we'd] be going over the bridge to Brooklyn and I could see where I used to work and shape up in the shipyard as a kid and they would be complaining about being picked up in a limo doing the show. I didn't say anything, but it was like, you know, this ain't bad. I [have] fun doing all of this stuff. If you can get enjoyment out of the thing while you're doing it and you get paid…[that's] pretty good. Everybody should have to suffer like that.