In the early Eighties a dear friend Gretchen Rennell was the head of casting for Paramount and she was trying to find someone funny for a TV show. She asked if I knew anyone. Kelsey Grammer and I were doing Sunday In The Park With George together and we were at Stephen Sondheim’s house having a party and I said to him, “Look, I don’t know what you think about TV but you fit the part, would you be interested?” he said yes, so I gave his name to Gretchen and that part turned out to be Frasier on Cheers. If you want to suggest he thank me and send me a present every year I would appreciate it.
I’m lucky as I only worked one day at a restaurant. I was a “mousser”; I stood on the street and gave people a spoonful of chocolate mousse and told them it was from the Italian restaurant. I talked the owner into renting me a Bullwinkle moose outfit and I was going to stand out there handing out mousse but the next day I got a job with the Baltimore Centre Stage Acting Company performing children’s plays all over Maryland. Maybe my life would have been better if I had worked in more restaurants.
The Princess Bride
A day doesn’t go by without someone making a reference to my character Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride and I couldn’t be more thrilled. When people mention it, there’s a part of me that still can’t believe that I was the guy who was in that. I don’t really have much of a film career so I really lucked out by getting one of the greatest roles of all time.
The greatest singular artistic influence in my life is Stephen Sondheim’s words and music. By the grace of god he is a friend of mine and I’ve been able to collaborate with him. I imagine it’s what it must have been like living when Shakespeare was alive, because as far as I’m concerned he is the current Shakespeare and I get to perform his words all of the time.
When I was a kid in New York there was a guy called Peter Allen from Australia who performed at The Bottom Line club all of the time. I would go down and watch him and he influenced me more than anyone as he would play these insanely loud songs and follow that up by singing quiet songs and sitting perfectly still – so still that a fly wouldn’t move off of the tip of his finger. Vocally I have also always loved Tom Waits as he bleeds feeling.
As we go through life we gather the people who make a difference to us. For me it’s my wife Kathryn Grody and, from the moment of their birth, my two sons Isaac and Gideon who are now 30 and 26. These three individuals have brought me more happiness than anyone collectively in my whole life. They are always there for me.
While I was at Juilliard there were three students who affected me. The first was William Hurt, he will always be Bill Hurt to me, and we did a lot of work together. He played Ferdinand to my Bosola in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and Bill would always push me to go deeper into my characters. The other two will remain nameless as they were kicked out of our class but have remained two of my closest friends to this day. We were having a faculty versus student debate and John de Lancie, who ended up playing the character Q in Star Trek, stood up and said, ‘We as a class want you to know that you have cut out the heart of our class by doing that’. One of those who was asked to leave was an 18 year old young man who spoke his mind, he wasn’t angry or vicious he just said what he believed and they didn’t like that. I wanted to have that in my character.
My greatest love in life is to sing and I first heard the sound of music that I love the most in the synagogue. That’s where singing got into my soul. At school I was doing plays when someone said I should take it further so I ended up going to the Juilliard school of drama in New York. There were two teachers there who I’ll never forget. They are Marian Seldes an actress who reignited all of the reasons why I went there in the first place and Gerald Freedman; he was my teacher and my mentor and lives in North Carolina just a couple of hours from where we shoot Homeland, so I still see him occasionally.
Fans of Homeland are usually very complimentary. But I was seeing a Broadway show in New York recently with my son and a cocky guy came up to me, he was really full of himself, and said, ‘So in that episode did you give him the razor blade?’ The guy was obnoxious so I asked ‘You got a million bucks?’ and he said, ‘Actually I do’ and I said, ‘Well if you write me out a cheque for a million dollars I’ll tell you’. And he went, ‘Fuck you’. Afterwards my son asked me what I would have done if he had given me the cheque and I said I would have made something up. I also have a dear friend who has a particular problem in that she can’t handle watching anxious entertainment situations on TV. Her husband is addicted to the show but she can’t watch it with him if she doesn’t know what’s going to happen. So I had to sit down with her and tell her everything that was going to happen and then she was able to enjoy it.
Firstly, I’m just grateful to be working. When we started making Homeland, before an episode was even edited, we felt we were working on something special. We all liked each other, we were all very proud of what we are doing, we were all working 14 hour days and no one complained and that doesn’t happen very often. Usually buzz on a show is manufactured but then it came out and we seem to hit a nerve and it felt like Hanukkah. No one expects that kind of overwhelming response.