Interview with John Mahoney | The Outgoing Tide | Galway Arts Festival
Interview by: Caomhan Keane
In a summer cottage on Chesapeake Bay, Gunner has hatched an unorthodox plan to secure his family's future but meets with resistance from his wife and son, who have plans of their own. As winter approaches, the three must quickly find common ground and come to an understanding-before the tide goes out.
They say you should never meet your heroes. That should be doubly true over a crackling conference call on deadline day. Thankfully, for Caomhan Keane, John Mahoney turned out to be the absolute gent he always hoped he would be. They enjoyed a quick chat about Frasier, Steppenwolf and the prolificness of great Irish playwrights in promotion of his play, The Outgoing Tide, which opened in Galway last night and has totally sold out its entire run here.
This is your fifth time performing at the Galway Arts Festival. What keeps bringing you back?
The audiences are absolutely amazing. The first show I did here was Long Day's Journey into Night and I remember after the first performance I turned to Tom Murphy and said; 'Tom, that was amazing. During the four hours of that performance I didn't hear a rustle of paper, a cough, a squeaky seat.' And he turned to me and said. 'What we see up there is sacred to us.'
I mean how great is that. In America you ask somebody why they got into acting and they go, ' oh, you know, that's where all the pretty girls were in school.' But here, it is sacred. I believe in divine inspiration and things like that and I really relish a good, attentive, participating audience. I don't think you get any better than the audiences in Ireland. They're better than Chicago, better than New York and certainly better than Los Angeles.
You got into theatre quite late in life, aged 37? Did that stand to you?
Well I wasn't starting out, 18, with very little experience of life behind me. I'd been around a lot. I'd been in the army, I'd been in college, I had degrees. I had a lot to draw from and maybe that's why, at that late age, I was able to make a success of what I did. I have had people write to me saying they were inspired by my story and decided they were going to follow suit. 9/10 it doesn't work for them.
Why did it work for you?
My first acting class was taught by a little known playwright, David Mamet, who then cast me in my first play, opposite John Malkovich. We hit it off and we became very good friends and Steppenwolf (the TONY award winning Chicago theatre company) was moving from the suburbs to the city at that point and the Artistic Director wanted to double the size of the company. So every member was asked to invite someone they had enjoyed working with. And John asked me and I kept getting work off them for the rest of my life.
The first play I did was Philadelphia Here I Come. Can you imagine that? I am 37 years old I am doing my second professional play and I am on stage with John Malkovich. Joan Allen, Laurie Metcalf and Gary Sinise. One huge name after another. I was terrified and petrified, could hardly get a word out of my mouth.
But they always treated me like a peer. They didn't treat me like an old man, being excessively polite and respectful nor did they treat me like a newcomer. They treated me exactly the way they treated each other. So very quickly I didn't feel quite so threatened that I was going to get kicked out of the company at any moment.
So your affinity with the Irish began early in your career?
I was always a fan. It was the first play I did with Steppenwolf and now it seems like that is all I ever do. We did Penelope in Chicago, then the Seafarer there and in LA, then the Weir in LA...one after another. It seems like every day another great contemporary playwright comes out of Ireland.
Just before this I did A Life by Hugh Leonard. I was really hoping we could bring that production to the Arts Festival but it didn't work out. It would be like bringing coal to Newcastle. If you do an Irish play in Ireland, you don't need Americans doing it. But it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I fell in love with that character. As prickly and as horrible as he was, he was a fascinating character and beautifully written.
They are quite similar, thematically, A Life and The Outgoing Tide. Are you worried now you are entering the part of your career where you just play old and enfeebled, the terminally ill or a grouch?
I'm not worried. I've played a lot of roles I haven't wanted to play, either because they needed someone in the theatre or because they couldn't do it without me cause they don't have anyone else the right age. The one that springs to mind is, I Never Sang for My Father, one of the most successful plays we ever did at Steppenwolf. I hated the character, I thought the play was boring but I thought to myself, 'I am not going to get over hating this character but I have to find the interesting parts that other people find attractive in him and to play on them, as he would.' It's nice to have a challenge like that.
The next show I am going to do is A Birthday Party. That's going to be a little different. It's the first time I've stepped back and taken a real small supporting part. I think it's time for me to start doing that now. I'm 72; I am not going to be playing Hamlet, that's for damn sure.
Given the way some Irish theatres cast that wouldn't be totally out of the realm of possibility here. I wanted to ask you about Frasier. It, for me, is above and beyond compare when it comes to the quality and quantity. 11 seasons without a dip.
Thank you very much. We were afraid those last couple of years had gone down. That's why the producers finally decided to pull the plug. I know Kelsey wanted to go at least one more year but the writers said 'we just can't, we have said everything we have to say. If we do go another year we will just be repeating ourselves.’ Which we have done a little bit these past couple of years. But for the first nine years those scripts were incredible.
We won all the awards and were as popular for two reasons. One is the dog and the other one is that we had absolutely brilliant writers. Oh and another one. I gotta give Kelsey some credit here. He never let the scripts deteriorate. If we got a bad script Kelsey would say; 'we don't do this type of show. We are not vulgarians, we have an audience with a brain in its head and that is who we are writing for.' It made sure it didn't think below a certain level.
I remember watching the last episode where Kelsey goes off to San Francisco, thinking "I could easily watch another ten years of this.’ Do you have any favourite episodes yourself?
One of my favorites is the one where they take a road trip and end up in Canada and Daphne is terrified of being stopped at the boarder. She doesn't really have the right visa and she tried to do a phony American accent but the only thing she can say in that accent is 'Suuuuuuure'. I always get a kick out of that because we were all together in a small space and it was always nice to just work with the other four- as opposed to when guest stars came in. I mean it was fun to work with James Earl Jones, Derek Jacobi, Bob Hoskins and whomever, but it was so great just to have our little core of actors there.
The other one I loved is when I pretended to be gay so Kelsey could get a date. It was very funny, sweet, and understanding.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Wednesday 18th July 2012 | Theatre
No comments have been posted for this article yet. Be the first!
Log in to leave a comment
The opinions expressed here are those of the viewer and do not reflect those of Entertainment.ie. Entertainment.ie accepts no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for their accuracy of content. Please contact us to report abusive content