Gareth Williams is an American actor who recently came to my attention with his excellent portrayal of Chief Redding on one of Netflix’s top TV shows, Mindhunter. Gareth has had a vast amount of theatre experience and has several film credits to his name. In my in-depth interview with him, we talked about his childhood, his education choices, his experience of acting on both Dawson’s Creek, Mindhunter and in an early Tom Hanks production and so much more…
PC: Let’s start proceedings with your very Welsh sounding name, do you have Welsh roots? Is there a story behind your name?
GW: There is a little bit of a story, my mother was born in Aberdeen…
PC: I am in Edinburgh!
GW: One of my Grandparents was from Edinburgh and the other from Aberdeen, they actually met here in Massachusetts. Then they went back to Scotland and had my mom and came back when my mom was one year old. On my dad’s side of the family they were English, Irish and Welsh, predominantly Irish but my dad’s name is Gareth. He has passed away now.
PC: Have you visited either of those places in Scotland?
GW: I have not been to the U.K at all.
PC: You need to put that wrong right! I saw that you went under the name of Gary Williams at the beginning of your career, how did your name change come about?
GW: That was my given name but my dad’s name was Gareth. He never went by Gareth because he didn’t like the name. He was always called Gary and so when I came along he didn’t want a junior so he just named me Gary. As I grew older he was known as big Gary and I was little Gary, and I thought to myself, “Dad, Junior would have been a lot better when I was dating.”
PC: Cute when you were little, but not so much when you were a teenager!
GW: When I first joined a union which was the Actors Equity for Theatre, I was at the Burt Reynolds Theatre on an apprentice programme. Another Gary Williams came to the theatre to meet me and he said “I’m Gary Williams in SAG (Screen Actors Guild) you’re going to be Gary Williams in Equity before me. You are going to have to change your name in SAG and I’m going to have to change mine in Equity.” So I just said, “Well you got there first so I will go ahead and change my name” and he left.
I thought, “I don’t want to change my name, what do you change it to…Rock?” I didn’t know what to change it to; then it occurred to me I could take my dad’s legal name, Gareth, and then people would call me Gary, just like they called him Gary. When I moved to New York I couldn’t get people to understand it wasn’t Gareth that I was Gary, so I gave up and just kept the name Gareth.
PC: Do your friends call you Gareth?
GW: Everybody from New York onwards calls me Gareth and everybody in Florida where I grew up calls me Gary.
PC: Who else was in your household growing up? I know you have a sister, do you have other siblings?
GW: Just my sister growing up, we have a stepsister. My parents divorced and my Dad remarried. The woman he married had a daughter. We are very close, but we didn’t really grow up together.
PC: Were you born in Florida or did you move there later on?
GW: No, I was born in Massachusetts. We moved to Florida when I was six.
PC: Was that because of your dad’s work?
GW: I suppose secondarily he just wanted to move out of the cold of the North East and move to Florida and got work in Florida as a government contractor as a machinist for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in Jupiter, Florida.
PC: I saw a photograph you had posted of a bike you had as a little lad that he had made you out of parts he had laying about, so that would make sense given his occupation.
GW: My dad was very mechanical, he was a backyard mechanic and built things.
PC: Do you take after him, are you handy like that?
GW: When I was growing up, I liked working with wood, building… I worked in construction. My dad never did that. He liked working with machine parts and cars and auto parts. I never really took to it when I was a kid, but interestingly later I realised how much I had picked up just being around him and turns out I’m pretty good at it.
PC: My son loves woodwork. He spends an hour or two most nights, sanding and planing etc… He finds it very calming after a stressful day at work.
GW: Yeah that is more me, there is something about that which I understand and enjoy.
PC: What about your Mom – did she work or was she too busy looking after you and your sister?
GW: My Mom was an accountant. She worked mainly in hotels and resorts. She would work in a single specific hotel, and later she worked for a corporation that owned hotels and resorts.
PC: When you were growing up did you have any family living close by?
GW: My father’s father passed away when my dad was four, so I never knew my grandfather on my dad’s side. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a golf pro in Scotland. He passed away when I was young, but I did get to know him a little bit. When we lived in Massachusetts there were several Aunts and Uncles, and either they were always around them, or we were always around. When we moved to Florida there wasn’t a lot of family down there.
PC: What kind of a kid were you – boisterous, quiet or a daydreamer?
GW: I don’t know really know how to answer that question because I went through different stages. My dad was a bit of a rage-aholic. He filled the room as far as his presence as a father went. I lived in abject fear for a good deal of my life. I remember it changed me when I became very conscious of the fact that this felt like a dangerous situation: I changed. I went from being what I think was a pretty mischievous kid, not really doing bad things; I was just very active and very curious and then I found myself not wanting to move. Later my mother wrestled with what I suppose was her survival mechanism: she drank, she had some issues with alcohol, so it all felt very precarious throughout the formative years.
PC: On a lighter note who do you get your great hair from, is that from your dad?
GW: No, that is from my Scottish grandfather. My dad’s hair was thinning… I remember when I was six or seven sitting in the back seat of our car and recognising my dad was losing his hair. My Scottish grandfather died with every hair still on his head; he had a full head of hair.
PC: They say baldness misses a generation don’t they?
GW: They also say in order to go bald, the bald gene has to come from your mother, so apparently she didn’t have it. Thank you, Mom!
PC: Were you interested in acting at school or did that come later?
GW: Well I can give you a short answer or a long answer…
PC: Long answers are always good.
GW: My family didn’t know, they didn’t have any reference to it, it wasn’t in my parents world. I did a pilot many years ago with an actor named Michael Rispoli. He had two kids in the film, one of the kids came from Chicago, he was a boy of about 11 years old. I was talking to the boy’s mother and I asked her, “How did you know he wanted to be an actor? Did he tell you?” She said, “No he did this and he did that, and I just recognised that maybe he wanted to be an actor.” So I said to her, “I did all of those things when I was a kid, everything you just said, I did.” My parents didn’t take a single breath to think, “Oh, maybe he wants to be an actor.”
Throughout my whole life I was fascinated. My Dad liked to go to drive in movies, so when we saw a movie, those people on that gigantic screen in my mind, they were aliens, they weren’t people. Like Clarke Gable or Cary Grant they didn’t go to my school; they didn’t hang out with my friends. Those kinds of people weren’t like my kind of people. I don’t mean literally but I just felt they were not normal people. The idea of going down that path as a pursuit, as a life’s pursuit would never have occurred to me until I was in college, and I stumbled into a theatre. Then it all started to make sense.
PC: I believe you were doing photography at College initially.
GW: Yes, and I was failing miserably!
PC: Obviously, you still take a lot of photographs. Do you still very much enjoy photography, or was it just a thing at the time?
GW: The thing about being a great photographer is you have to understand the science of it, the mechanics. It felt to me like getting your doctor’s degree or something. I could frame something up and I always had a pretty good artistic eye, but you have to know the aperture openings; how long to develop it for, and all of those things. I couldn’t figure out the math of it, I was literally failing. That’s when I stumbled into theatre and I thought, ‘Perfect you don’t need to learn all that to be an actor.’
PC: But you started off building a theatre set, didn’t you? Something about picking up a hammer and it just feeling right, and that was before even the acting part of it came about?
GW: That is true. Where did you find that information?
PC: I like to explore far and wide when I do research, I think it was from a tiny interview you did years and years ago for your old school or college.
GW: Yeah, I recall there was a journalist from Florida, I guess I told him that story. Yes, I was walking across the campus, I knew that I needed to change my major. I was getting straight A’s in the prerequisites – all the courses you had to take – but I was flunking out of the electives with photography. I knew I needed to change.
I saw this guy – a very odd-looking guy dressed really strangely building this weird structure on the lawn. I asked him what he was doing and he said, “I’m building a set for a play. I build this and then we will put it into the theatre and then do a play.” I picked up a hammer, I looked at that hammer and I knew what I was doing with the rest of my life!
PC: That is so cool. I suppose because of your interest in woodwork when you were younger, you would have that advantage straight away in that it would feel natural in your hand; but how did you evolve from building a set to becoming an actor?
GW: Well, the man who ran the theatre programme – a man named Professor Frank Leahy he demanded all of the actors work in the scene shop, and do all the various jobs and duties of putting on a production. This way, they would understand what was involved so they weren’t just, ‘I’m an actor I don’t do that.’ He would have the tech people in the play so that they would understand the mindset and the needs of an actor so that there wasn’t any division between them, which can often happen. You’re working at different odds and it was really effective because it got to where we all understood we are here for the same reason; we all have different needs and so forth.
So, anyway, he was putting me in these plays, and I felt like a pork chop in a Bar Mitzvah absolutely scared to death and I felt like I had no business being there but I would muscle through these performances. Eventually, as it just got easier and I got used to it a little bit, there were moments where I thought, ‘Wow, this is fun’ and then eventually a couple of moments where I realised, I’m kind of good at this.’
One thing led to another, then I apprenticed at the Burt Reynolds Theatre which was right down the street from me. I was a technical apprentice building sets, working backstage and all of that, and I was happy as hell. I remember I was on the pin rail for a production of Man of La Mancha. I can’t sing or dance, so usually musicals held no interest for me. I was up in the pin rail, and I had only one cue but I couldn’t leave, you have to stay in your position from curtain to curtain – and I got bored after a while. I actually studied the performance, and the actor playing Don Quixote was David Holliday. I would watch him do the exact same thing every single night. He would make the audience laugh here and sigh there and cry here and an audible sound of being frightened here. Every single night was always the same, and it occurred to me: this is math in play – I can understand math, I can figure that out and that was the moment I thought, ‘I’m going to pursue acting.’
I knew I had to study. I started going to the classes at The Burt Reynolds Theatre which were taught by Charles Nelson Reilly, Dom DeLuise, Shelley Berman, Carol Burnett… whoever came through the theatre. Burt always had these stars in there and he would wrangle them somehow into giving classes. I just sort of insinuated myself into those classes and that’s where I started studying. Charles Nelson Reilly took me under his wing and sort of championed me. Then he encouraged me to go to New York to study acting with Uta Hagen, so I did and I wound up studying with her for six years.
PC: Did Burt Reynolds also teach at that theatre?
GW: Yes, he did, he taught a lot there.
PC: I read about a professor called Watson B. Duncan who did amazing things for his students – for example, putting his hand in his own pocket when some couldn’t afford the fees needed to attend. Did he have a lasting influence on you?
GW: Well, prior to my going to that college he ran the theatre programme, which was a decade before Frank Leahy taught me there. He was the one who discovered Burt Reynolds. From there Burt went to Florida State University, and then on to his acting career. Also, Monte Markham and George Hamilton, there were other actors he championed when he was running the programme. When I was there, he was the head of the English literature department, and I wasn’t a very good high school student. I wasn’t a delinquent – I didn’t set things on fire or anything like that but I just wasn’t interested, I had zero interest in going to school.
When I went to college, interestingly, that flipped and I got straight A’s in everything. One of the first classes that lit a fire under me was when I was watching Duncan’s literature class. I think he gave three classes there, all literature. I would take that class, and it was like drugs to me – I couldn’t get enough. He influenced me a lot, just because I was becoming interested in literature and the world at large, I mean it turned me around in terms of curiosity and interest.
And that’s when I stumbled into theatre and he was pretty much an integral part of that. I think he had developed the programme at that college. He was almost comical… he had a caricature quality to him.
PC: I imagined him being very serious and deep etc.
GW: I guess he had a serious side and he certainly was very deep, but he was almost like a cartoon character. He looked like Herman of the Herman comic strips. He was a large built guy with ruddy skin and he had a very distinct speech pattern like this (Gareth at this point demonstrates what he means) and he would tell these funny stories and I was just riveted to him. Another thing about him is that he made me understand literature which I would never have been able to understand at the time. He would describe a character that was written in the eighteen-hundreds, or something and then he would follow up by saying, “In other words, she was a big Mamoo.” He was comical.
PC: He sounds like a lot of fun. Looking back, who would you say was your most influential teacher throughout your education?
GW: I can look at it from the vantage point of, ‘This wouldn’t have happened without this person… that wouldn’t have happened without that person,’ but if I had to, I’d say I learnt the most with Uta Hagen. She was arguably one of the world’s foremost authorities on teaching in the acting world. I studied with her for six years, but I owe everything to Charles Nelson Reilly.
PC: I have spoken to a few people who have told me Uta Hagen was the be all and end all for teaching acting. What was it about her style that everyone so reveres?
GW: For her immense, vast knowledge of theatre, she was a remarkable actor. She was one of the great actors on Broadway at the time. I think she won her first Tony Award when she was like 31 or something. Her immense knowledge of the theatre and acting was the nuts and bolts of it, but she also wrote one of the bestselling acting books ever written… it was like the Bible for most of us. The book probably brought people in from all over the world. I tell you something you could watch, have you ever seen Charles Nelson Reilly’s one-man show? You can see it on YouTube.
PC: I have not, but I shall take a look.
GW: It’s called The Life of Reilly, they cut it up into 28 two-minute pieces, but you can just choose to play all. There is one segment, it’s about Uta Hagen’s class and his time studying there. He reads the roll call she read every Tuesday morning for his class. You’ll see that nearly every person on that list went on to be a Tony Award, Emmy Award, or Academy Award winning actor.
PC: Did you form any great friendships when you studied there? Do you keep in touch with any of them?
GW: Clark Middleton. We did a movie in New Mexico a couple of years ago together. Throughout the years some of the people that I met there remain friends. Some of these people I don’t see as much anymore… people have kids and move to the suburbs.
PC: Did any of them stand out particularly at that time, or were you all just really at the same stage?
GW: Yes, the writer Kenneth Lonergan who won an Academy Award for Manchester by the Sea. We all knew he was going to be this remarkable writer. As far as longevity goes, to answer your question Penelope Ann Miller was in our class. We just knew that she was really talented and that she was going to have a career, and of course it rocketed. It went sky high right away with Biloxi Blues, she did the Neil Simon Broadway production and then she did the movie.
The Uta Hagen classes didn’t necessarily spawn all of these careers where they became huge and stayed huge in terms of longevity, whereas like I said in Charles Nelson Reilly’s case in his particular class – pretty much everyone he mentions in that roll call of his class became and remained stars like Steve McQueen and Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver and Orson Bean, everybody on that list, Jerry Stiller, they were all on there.
PC: When you moved to New York how did your parents react?
GW: By the time I moved to New York, they had started to understand a little bit more about the drive, the passion, some of the reasons why somebody would pursue it. But my parents were very working class, they were long divorced by the time I moved there and I don’t think they were ever against any of it, they just didn’t understand a lot of it. It’s a world that they didn’t really know. They would never have said, ‘You can’t do this, or you can’t do that,’ they just didn’t understand why I wouldn’t get a trade laying bricks or machining jet engine parts. They were supportive and they loved the idea if my name came up in an article or on a poster somewhere, they would find great, great pride in that.
This is everything you need to know about my dad, my dad never showed me… I don’t know if that is just that 1950’s male pride kind of thing, but he never showed me that he was impressed by anything that I did or accomplished or was doing. I’d find out later in other ways, for instance I brought him to the Burt Reynolds Theatre a number of times and a few of those times I’d bring him backstage if I felt like I had the liberty to do that.
I was just an apprentice so if I got the chance, I would bring him backstage and I brought him backstage for this one production of Butterflies are Free and it was with Dennis Christopher and Farrah Fawcett. She happened to have been backstage at that moment arranging her props or whatever. The job that I had – I think I was working on props for that particular show – so I had a little bit of a relationship with her, enough to say hello and stuff. So as we were walking by, I introduced my dad and his wife and whoever else was there with them, and she said some glowing things like “I love your son” and gave my dad a kiss on the cheek. I thought, ‘He’s going to say something about that, he can’t let that fly without saying that was something.’ So when we were away from her and out of her earshot, I thought he would at least mention it. He said nothing at all, he acted like nothing had happened at all. Then a few days later I went to the machine shop he owned by that point and one of his employees said to me, “Jesus Christ will you get your dad to shut the fuck up about meeting Farah Fawcett?” And I realised when I’m not present, then he will show that he is impressed by some involving me.
PC: It is a shame he couldn’t express his feeling of pride to you, but I do think that was the mindset back then.
GW: I found myself at Yankee stadium years later with a writer called Frank Pugliese. Frank was dating Marisa Tomei at the time and she was working on a film there with Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler. Frank and I were great friends. We were at the old Yankee Stadium and there was a little piece of the property in centre field called Monument Park. It was all statues of great Yankee players like Joe DiMaggio, only a handful of people would have ever been in that part of the park, it wasn’t open to the public then. My dad was a huge sports fan so I called him up and I said, “Dad you will never guess where I am” and I gave him some hints. Finally I said, “I’m in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.” I thought he would be impressed by that. He said, “So what’s the weather like down there?”
PC: Oh no!
GW: I kind of grew to understand, I would find out through different means, he was actually proud and impressed and that was enough. It was fine and at least he wasn’t ashamed of me.
PC: I read when you moved to New York initially you were set up ready to stay with a friend but ended up being without somewhere to stay. How did you get back on your feet?
GW: I was never a vagrant, I never ate out of a trash can, but I didn’t have a home in New York for three winters. I defy anyone to go through that, it’s frightening, it’s really really frightening. The interesting thing is, Paula, if I had a crystal ball and it said, ‘This is what you will experience but you will be homeless,’ I’d go sign me up for another two years. It was the most exciting part of my life, it was really intensely exciting. I never forgot the fact that I was alive… you don’t take it for granted.
PC: But how did you manage though?
GW: Well I’d hustle money here and there and I was always conscious of the fact that, because I… and this is just the facts, sad fact of the United States… I was white and in my twenties.
PC: And good looking!
GW: I could get a job every day of the week. I could walk into a store, a café, a restaurant or whatever. I just had made the conscious decision that I would no longer punch a time clock. I wasn’t going to do that anymore just to survive. If I had to, I would move back to Florida.
What happened was, I found myself working two… sometimes three jobs, wait, let me back up a little bit. I was married for four years. When I first went to New York, we split up and I moved into a friend’s apartment who was also from Florida. He went back to Florida so I was able to live there, and I got behind with the rent because I was directing a Frank Pugliese play actually, Marisa Tomei was in it as well. I got behind on the rent so I called my friend in Florida just to tell him, and I thought he would say, “Oh don’t worry about it Gareth, just get caught up you will be fine.” But I said, “Do you want somebody in here who can pay the rent?” and he said, “Yes.”
So I was out of an apartment, but I thought in another month I will have a place, but two and a half years later I was still basically living on the streets.
PC: So, you literally lived on the streets through New York winters?
GW: Well, no, that’s what I was meaning when I said that I wasn’t eating out of trash cans. I had a phone service. Now, prior to that, it used to be where someone would call to leave me a message, and a human being would pick up. It was a service called ‘Bells are ringing’. They would pick up a call and the caller would say, “I would like to leave a message for Gareth Williams.” I think I had a number that they would use. They would write it down and you’d call up and say, “Do you have any messages for me?” and they would read the messages to you. This was the beginning of the digital age, so you left your own outgoing message and whatever the caller said was recorded in the ether. So I had that and everything I owned that could fit into two backpacks. I would call up that service and I wouldn’t have a place to go. It would be 17 degrees out in the wet snow, and I would think, “I don’t know where I’m going to go tonight,” and the actor, Fisher Stevens, would tell me, “Gareth, I’m going to Tibet for three months. You can have my apartment.” So, I was in Washington Square in a duplex with two fireplaces looking out the window at the snow. That would go on. I would just go from one place to the next. Some of the places I got to live in were extraordinary.
PC: Which is why you would sign up for another two years. I like Fisher Stevens. It’s The Blacklist I know him from. Are you still friends with him?
GW: Fisher Stevens is probably responsible for more in my life than maybe 10 other people put together. He is the one that got me into the Naked Angels Theatre Company. We studied together in Uta Hagen’s class. He’d be coming out of his Broadway show, and I’d be heading home from a restaurant, and he’d say, “This is Gareth Williams – best actor I know.” He was always promoting me.
PC: That sounds a lot like our mutual friend Holt (McCallany). He does a lot to support his friends and fellow actors. He is amazing, kind and generous.
GW: I have known Holt for many, many years. We have often bounced off of each other. Then I wound up doing Mindhunter and that is the first time I have worked with him.
PC: Let’s talk more about him later. What led to you being part of the setup of Naked Angels?
GW: I think it is stated in some places that I was a founding member: that’s not really the case. I was brought into that group very early on by Fisher Stevens. We were playing the Broadway show league softball in Central Park and ran into each other in separate games. He asked, “Gareth, what are you doing? I’m starting this theatre company,” and I was like “yeah” and then I wouldn’t hear from him, and this went on and on. Finally, he said, “We are doing a reading at my apartment.” I walked in… and there was Matt Dillon, Marisa Tomei and Mary Stuart Masterson. I was not quite prepared for what I was walking into – just a massive amount of people that I loved and respected and I just went, “Holy Crap!” I also thought at the same time that this is where I want to live for a while. So, they brought me in with open arms.
PC: I read that it was a legendary group who were well known and responsible for some very cool party’s and some wild times.
GW: Oh, we had some great parties. It was wildly popular and everybody wanted to be a part of it.
PC: Someone should make a movie about those wild times.
GW: On any given night Jackie Kennedy would be in the audience, everybody in the industry, it was kind of crazy.
PC: Is it still running now?
GW: They don’t really do anything anymore. They are not functioning. They still have the name, but they don’t produce any plays.
PC: What about the stuff they chose? Was it edgy, controversial, topical, what was the criteria?
GW: For the time it was very edgy. We kind of changed theatre in New York which is no easy feat. The way the Naked Angels approached theatre it was really new and revolutionary.
PC: If you could choose between performing on TV or in theatre, which would be your first choice?
GW: I love them all and I love them all for different reasons. If I was only able to do one, I think I would choose movies because I like the indelible quality of it. So, I get to see a movie starring Humphrey Bogart – who had I not seen in a play – would never have been able to watch him performing. The relationship I have with him or any movie star is different than if it were a legendary Broadway theatre actor such as Eva Le Gallienne or Lunt and Fontanne, I never saw them. I hear about them, and I read about them, and I’ve seen pictures of them, but I don’t know anything about their performances so that is why I like the indelible quality.
The experience between theatre and film is different though. I saw the filming of Death of a Salesman with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Malkovich. It was great to watch, it’s very fascinating and interesting, but it’s a different experience when you are actually filming on location rather than a live performance on stage. Did you ever see the movie, Dogville, it was a Lars von Trier movie. He did it on a sound stage and all the set pieces were drawn on the floor, and it was filmed largely from above. It was like watching a play, it wasn’t like watching a movie. It was a very interesting experience even though he shot it as a film.
PC: Years ago, I was an assistant stage manager in a local theatre company. I remember the feeling that hits you when the finale performance is over, and the after-show party is done, and you all go your separate ways… it leaves you feeling rather flat.
GW: It’s not just in theatre. You work intently on a movie, you get to know people, you become almost like this family or this little circus. Then everyone says goodbye, and most of the time you never really cross paths again. You get very used to that Gypsy kind of lifestyle.
PC: I suppose also if you are working on a long-term show for many seasons like The Americans or Homeland, both of which have ended recently, you must really miss that.
GW: The closest experience I think I had with that was on Dawson’s Creek which I worked on over the course of 9 seasons. They were all very young… I mean I was playing the dad (Mike Potter). It wasn’t the same, but it was getting to know them over the course of 10 years and then to say goodbye was a very odd feeling.
PC: Do you think for a long period of time you were most well known for being on Dawson’s Creek?
GW: It certainly was the role that I was recognised the most for on the street. I’m literally on IMDb as… I’m one of those actors in that list who is called ‘that guy from that thing’. My name never got big enough to where people went there’s Brad Pitt, George Clooney, there’s… but I could see very often in a grocery store, they were thinking, “It’s that guy from that thing.”
PC: What about the youngsters in Dawson’s Creek – did they keep to themselves in their little clique, or did they let you hang with the cool kids?
GW: That was an interesting thing to watch unfold over the course of 9 years because they were different people when I first met them in season 1 than they were at the end. They were also different as a group.
Michelle Williams – who, even early on I would look at and think… (and I’m not diminishing the talent of any of the other kids), I would recognise that woman had so much talent, that’s the one who has got the talent. I just felt like there was a certain quality in her.
What happened with her was when they all met, she was 16, Katie (Holmes) was 17 and the two boys (James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson) were 18 so it was hard getting into clubs. James and Joshua were allowed into almost everywhere and sometimes Katie as well and certainly over the next couple of years they could get in anywhere. Michelle couldn’t, so she took the role in that dynamic of the red-headed stepchild. You felt like she was rebellious, it felt like she was cantankerous a little bit.
The dynamic between them all was very interesting, and then by the ninth season it was a whole different ball game. I don’t want to malign anybody but there were tensions between the kids, there were certain ones who wouldn’t speak to the other one when they weren’t actually acting together. Being one of the parents, I wasn’t relevant in their world.
PC: It is funny what you said about seeing something special in Michelle Williams because there are actors who for me really stood out at a young age like River Phoenix in Stand By Me, he stood out a mile I thought. Heath Ledger was another young actor I felt had something special about him, and of course he was married to Michelle Williams. There are certain people who just stand out.
GW: It’s very, very true; you can’t teach it, you can’t buy it, you can’t learn it, it’s just something that exists in a person.
PC: It’s strange though that both of those died at a young age. Does that go hand in hand, you know like how James Dean was so adored by everyone and he had a short life.
GW: It’s interesting you bring up James Dean, because in my life I always wanted to be kind of like James Dean. I always wanted to be the reluctant movie star. That is to say, I wanted it all but I didn’t want to have to take responsibility for it. I wanted to be able to say, “I don’t want the attention.” I worked with Vincent D’Onofrio. I played his dad in The Cell and he had a quote I read in an interview once: “In order to get offered the roles you want to play, you have got to be a name,” because it’s going to get offered to everyone in town before it ever gets to you even if they consider you to be talented.
I’ve been on both ends of that spectrum, I’ve been recognised enough for what I do to be offered something, but also I’ve wanted to play a role, but it just gets offered to everybody before me. If I heard one more time they offered it to David Strathairn or John Heard, and if he doesn’t take it they are going to make me an offer. It’s like what we were talking about before; you can’t make people see you in a certain way, you just have to be yourself and as authentic as you can possibly be and that’s the only thing that really matters. I can’t go through life going I want to be perceived as a name, but you have to try and push yourself as much as you can to be the one that gets the offer or you won’t be playing the roles.
PC: I think you do have something about you though, like on Mindhunter certain actors stood out such as Cameron Britton who played Kemper. Although you weren’t playing a main role or one of the serial killers, you did pique my interest so you do have that quality of people being drawn to you, and I guess that’s why I started following you on social media.
GW: The movie never wound up happening, but I got a call to go to a table read (that Diane Keaton was championing for her company Regency Films) and I walked in and there was Matt Damon, Minnie Driver and Elliot Gould, a table full of stars. I sidled up next to the casting director, because I certainly wasn’t a name on the level of all of those. Diane Keaton was there, William H. Macey was there, I mean it was like everyone was a huge name except me. I asked the casting director, “Why am I here?” He said, “I saw you in Palookaville,” so I have been on that end of that spectrum sometimes.
PC: Don’t you think the casting director for Mindhunter is very astute at picking actors who bear a particularly uncanny resemblance to the serial killers they are portraying? Did you watch season 1 of Mindhunter? Jack Erdie who played Richard Speck is another who stood out for me. He is not necessarily a name on your lips, but he makes a big impact.
GW: I have watched both seasons. The guy playing Ed Kemper really popped for me.
PC: He was very good in The Umbrella Academy too.
GW: Yes, I saw that, he was very different. On Mindhunter they worked really hard to find the right person to play the part of the killers. Sometimes you felt like you were watching the actual guys. The guy who played Son of Sam (Oliver Cooper) – I was like, “Woah!” I was in New York when those murders were happening.
PC: When I interviewed Cameron Britton, who played Ed Kemper, there were times through the interview when… if he was hesitant, he sounded exactly like the real Kemper. It is creepy man how alike they are.
GW: You mean in that measured, speaking like… (imitates Kemper’s speaking pattern)
PC: Gives me the chills! Holt is very keen on finding more details about the serial killers that are still alive…
GW: I used to get fan mail from a guy who was doing a long stretch in a State Prison. I didn’t do any research into what he did, but it was kind of weird, because I was like maybe this guy’s a murderer or something.
PC: Getting back to big names that we were talking about earlier… you read with Tom Hanks at one point, didn’t you?
GW: Yes, on From the Earth to the Moon – a TV miniseries. That was an interesting experience because, first of all, all my friends were going in to read for it and getting cast… some very close friends. I didn’t even get an audition, and I was thinking, “Is this going to pass me by, it’s like a hundred male roles and I got nothing.” I finally got a call to go read for it. Gene Cernan, he was the last astronaut to leave the moon, the very last one. I went in, and as I was sitting outside the office, I was trying to prepare myself. It was 15 pages, which is a lot of material to read, and I worked so hard on it, and I said to myself, “Tom is going to be in that room, he is going to be in that room, he’s producing the whole thing, it’s his baby, he pitched it with HBO, he’s directing an episode, he is in another episode – he’s going to be in that room.” Because I have gone into rooms where I have been really thrown when I’ve walked in and I’ve gone, “Oh, there’s Bruce Willis. Oh, there’s…”
PC: So you gave yourself time to prepare for that possibility.
GW: So I prepared myself for that and walked in and, sure enough, he was sat there – dead centre – but what I didn’t prepare myself for was seeing about 30 people crammed into this tiny room. It felt like they were painted on the walls, just wall to wall people. On the coffee table between us was this mound of scripts – sides to read. As we were making small talk, I’m thinking to myself. “Who am I reading with?” because Meg Liberman the casting director is across the room, and I don’t see anybody set up to read with me. I’m thinking, “Am I going to read this with Tom Hanks?” He rifled through the scripts and started reading with me, and I went, “Holy Crap!” He had just won back-to-back Academy awards.
He is such a good actor and a great, kind and generous person, I thought, “I wish it was like this every reading, it’s so much easier.” You read with someone who is really good, and it makes you better. So I got to the end and I’m thinking, “I’ve got this, I can tell this is going well” and at the end, he looked at me with this sort of tilted head lost puppy look that says, “You should be right for this,” and I thought… damn! I could tell in that moment I had not gotten it. He said, “Gareth, you’re not really right for this part.”
He rifled through the scripts on the table, and he pulled out another 15 pages. He said, “Go outside and look at this, and when you are ready, come back in.” I couldn’t even help myself, I flipped the script – 15 pages back and forth – I said, “Tom, c’mon you’re an actor…” He said, “I know, I know, I know it’s a lot of words. Don’t worry about memorising it, just go out and give it a try.” So I went outside and I got really dejected, because I work on stuff really hard and I thought, “I’m not going to be able to go in and be able to do this.” I was literally thinking, “I’m just going to leave, because I’m not going to get it.” And then I thought, “No, dig in deep, deep… just do what you can.” So I read through the script three times, and it’s like a quarter of a full script… I just really focused as hard as I could.
Then I went up to the woman and said, “I’m ready to go back in” and she said, “You can take longer.” I told her, “No, no. If I don’t… I gotta go in now.” She brought me in, and Tom said the same thing, “You know, Gareth, you could take longer.” “No, no, I said I’m ready, I’m good.” I sat down and dug in, and I went with it. Not only that, but I almost had it memorised, and I could tell there were people in the room who were impressed just by that. So in the middle of the reading (which is, of course, the kiss of death) I’m thinking, “I’ve definitely got this one…” But at the end, I got that same look, the tilt of the head… so I went home. A day went by, two days, a week, and I thought, “Nah, I didn’t get it,” then I got a call saying they have made an offer. I said, “The first astronaut?” “No,” they replied. “The second one?” “No, it’s another astronaut,” so I got one I didn’t even read for.
PC: Would Tom himself have influenced that decision?
GW: I feel like he would, I feel he liked what I did in the room was enough to say, “Let’s keep him in mind for something,” and then it turns out I look so much like the astronaut I played. I think they said, “Look at him, he looks just like him.” So I got that role as James Irwin.
PC: You worked with Martin Sheen too at one point?
GW: I’ve worked with him a couple of times.
PC: You have acted with so many great people, what has been your biggest ‘pinch me am I dreaming’ moment?
GW: Opening night of Mr Roberts at the Burt Reynolds theatre with Martin Sheen. That was one of those huge ‘pinch me’ moments because Mr Roberts was co-written, co-produced, and co-directed by Joshua Logan on Broadway and then the movie with Henry Fonda. I got cast specifically by Joshua Logan who was directing our production with Martin Sheen playing the Henry Fonda part. Opening night, we were told to stay on stage after the curtain call, just bow and then stay… this was 1979 or 1980. We didn’t have cell phones, our phones had a cord that went to the wall, so they brought up Joshua Logan to the stage. He was getting on in years by that point, so they had to help him up on the stage. The audience is watching this whole thing, and they stand Joshua Logan next to me. They pipe in a live phone call from Henry Fonda so we as the cast and the audience watched as Joshua Logan had a casual phone call with Henry Fonda. I’m standing three people away from Martin Sheen and almost next to Joshua Logan.
I only had a small part in the play but at that moment, I thought I could get hit by a bus today and I would be fine with it. I’d done everything you could possibly do. There was so much involved in that ‘pinch me’ moment because Martin Sheen was one of my dad’s favourites. We shared that, we had watched a couple of his early movies, Badlands and Execution of Private Slovik. I loved watching movies with my Dad and we both loved Martin Sheen, long before I ever met him. Now I’m working with him and he is a great guy, a terrific guy, a terrific actor. He rented out The Paramount theatre in Palm Beach, Florida for a screening of Apocalypse Now for the cast and crew of Mr Roberts! I hadn’t seen it because, as an apprentice, we were working literally 16 hours a day. So I was sat two people away from Martin Sheen in a theatre with just 25-30 people watching Apocalypse Now.
Cut to a few years later and I’m in New York and I’m doing an evening of two one-act plays. There were two couples I was in it with, one of which was an African American couple. At one point I found myself sitting next to the male actor and we were commiserating about something. The subject of our favourite movies came up and I mentioned Apocalypse Now, but it’s largely because of the experience I had watching it. He said, “I was in that; I was the kid on the boat!” It was Laurence Fishburne (credited as Larry Fishburne). It is a great movie!
PC: I have spoken with a few actors about the effects on one’s mental health when getting constantly rejected repeatedly for a specific period of time. What is your coping mechanism when experiencing rejection and also when you have no work for a long time?
GW: I had an incredible year in 2018. I did True Detective with Mahershala Ali; I shot this great independent film with a Danish actor friend of mine who wrote and directed a movie called Gutterbee, which is now doing the film festival circuit; and Mindhunter. I worked from beginning to end of the year on these great great projects.
2019 was probably the first time in 25 years I didn’t work one single day. Then of course 2020 started out with a bang, and I was this lead in a feature film in Maine. As soon as I got back around February 9th, all this happened. 2020 had all the makings of being another incredible year. I had a couple of jobs I was going to go to, possible this, possible that, so it’s a mercurial trip no matter how you slice it.
Even this deep into my career, I can have a year like 2018 then a year like 2019. The way I always dealt with that was… “At the end of the day, I’m going to be in the room. I’m going to be standing, and you’re going to have to deal with me, so you might as well cast me now, I’m not going anywhere.” So, if it’s a bad week, bad month, bad year whatever it is, it’s just part of the deal. If someone has a tough time with rejection, this is not the business to pursue. Even the big names have lost roles they wanted to play at some point, Matthew McConaughey didn’t get a role that he wanted, Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Beckinsale or whoever.
PC: It’s a very fickle business.
GW: Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason, you just have to kind of go with the flow. One of the things I do when I go for an audition… I have conditioned myself to do is – the first trash can I come across after I leave the room – not in the room, because I don’t want to make a statement – but the first garbage can that I come across, I throw the sides out. It’s a symbolic gesture for me to say, “Now that’s done, I’ve let it go.”
One thing that was helpful, I studied very briefly with Geraldine Page when I was young. Although she wasn’t a fantastic teacher, she was an amazing person – one of the best actors I’ve ever seen, I mean she is just remarkable. She would say, “An audition is not an opportunity to get a job, it’s an opportunity to act.” So I always looked at every single audition, like the Zoom audition I had yesterday (my very first one where I’m literally auditioning remotely with the director, producer and the writer) and I didn’t look at it like it’s my next job. I have 10 minutes here where I can do what I do, and hopefully I will be able to continue doing that role. That’s the way to survive that, you didn’t lose or gain anything. If I don’t get cast, I didn’t lose the role to another actor, because it wasn’t mine to lose.
My career; it had fallen off a cliff, and if it wasn’t for Michael Greenwald, my manager, I wouldn’t be working right now. He dredged it back up. Ten to twelve years ago, the phone stopped ringing. I was doing plays here and there, I remember I did a guest spot on Vegas with Michael Chiklis, but very little. Michael was my agent at Buckland for twenty something years, so I called him one night (and it was literally at midnight) asking if he could help me out. So he started asking me some questions, going over my resume and my Actors Access page. He was kind of giving me a hard time: “Gareth, you don’t have your current picture…” After talking to him till 1 a.m., I whispered to my wife, “I think Michael is representing me now.” So he was no longer an agent, he was my manager. And he did, he pulled me back up from the cliff I was falling off.
PC: I’m unsure of your current situation as it stands, but I always like to include a little romance in my interviews, you are married?
GW: We are separated.
PC: Maybe it wouldn’t be appropriate in this case to ask how you met etc.
GW: No I don’t mind.
PC: And she wouldn’t presumably?
GW: She is a great person, there’s definitely heartbreak involved. She is an extraordinary person, and I’m very grateful to have met her. I certainly wish that we would have been better suited for each other and worked out some things.
PC: Is she Brazilian?
GW: She is, and it’s very unique the way we met. I had a friend over who didn’t know anything about computers or technology. I was showing him that you could talk to people all over the world. So I pulled up Brazil in some chat room, and I looked at profiles and it goes alphabetically. So I put in Brazil, and some key words and her name is Ana, so I started talking to her and my friend was entertained for about two minutes and then got bored and went into the living room and I kept talking to her. About three months later, I was like, “I’m going to go and meet this woman in Brazil,” I got off the plane and we’d been talking on FaceTime for months by that point so I recognised her. I walked up to her and tapped her on the shoulder in the airport concourse and she turned around and hugged me and like the New York Times zipper it read right across in my head; “You will marry this woman!”
PC: Wow I’m glad I asked you now.
GW: It took us another two years to get her into the United States, we were married for 13 years. It wasn’t like…
PC: Wasn’t like a flash in the pan. Is she a feisty Brazilian, I always imagine they are and that they dance a lot.
GW: She’s not feisty in that regard. She’s actually one of the most patient… she had to be patient with me.
PC: And then you broke her…
GW: It did get pretty contentious, but she’s not by nature. She’s fond of dancing, and she’s got a lot of passion when she dances; she’s definitely Brazilian in terms of that. She loves to party, Brazilians love to party, they live for parties. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.
PC: Did you embrace the Brazilian culture and traditions.
GW: I did, I’m actually quite fond of it. I am one of the whitest men on the planet in terms of dancing. I don’t even try to fake it but have a great appreciation for it. I sadly never learnt Portuguese. I can kind of understand what they’re saying, but never learnt it conversationally. The culture is one of the most amazing cultures I’ve seen in my life, and I have travelled a good bit. I haven’t been everywhere, but I have travelled and there’s nowhere quite like Brazil.
PC: Another actor I really like you’ve worked with is Adrien Brody (Hollywoodland, did you catch anything of him in Peaky Blinders?
GW: I haven’t.
PC: I thought he was great; I really rate him highly as an actor. What was he like?
GW: I loved working with him, he is just a real true actor, an honest true actors’ actor. He’s kind and generous for the other person, and he works really hard and digs deep. He’s very interesting. He’s a very soulful guy.
PC: You need to catch him on Peaky Blinders, well worth it.
GW: I haven’t watched that in a while. Cillian Murphy, the lead guy, is amazing.
PC: We better talk about Mindhunter before we run out of time. What was the process for getting that role as Chief Redding, just the norm?
GW: I self-taped for five different roles before I got it. I can’t remember all those that I read for before I got Chief Redding. I sent them in and I almost got to the point of, “How many do I have to…?” You have to accept that’s part of the deal, and I finally got that role which I was very happy with.
PC: So were you holed up in Pittsburgh for a while?
GW: Yes, Pittsburgh, which is a great city.
PC: David Fincher wasn’t the director for your episodes was he, it was Carl Franklin.
GW: Carl Franklin did 4 of the 5 and Andrew Dominik did the first episode which I was barely in, so I didn’t get to know him. I just loved working with Carl. I didn’t really cross paths with David but, of course, you hear all these stories about him. I remember at one point when I was in the catering room, he was at the next table facing me so we looked up at one point and made eye contact and I thought, “Oh, there’s David” and I hadn’t even met him.
PC: Did you say anything to him?
GW: He just looked at me and then looked away, and I thought, “Well, I didn’t get fired so I’m okay.” I didn’t see him for the rest of the shoot and then I went in to do ADR work (Automated Dialogue Replacement), and I kind of went in a little white knuckled… because I had heard all these stories about him… he couldn’t have been nicer or more supportive. You hear he does like 25 takes, I did it twice and he goes “I’m good, are you good?” I said “I’m good.”
PC: There seems to be a lot of myths about how he operates but I’ve spoken to a few of the cast who have said that he is not just doing it because he can. If he genuinely thinks it can be done a better way, he will keep trying. Or if he wants you to do a scene so many times that it just looks completely natural, like second nature, just as you would do in real life.
GW: I love it because I feel like the more I drop in, the more and more I do it. I know there are some actors who feel like, after the first three takes they have captured the real gritty natural… whatever they are looking for. I look at it as If I’ve gone there to do a job, and you are paying me to be on set. I will be there as long as you want me to be.
I’m one of those actors that I’m really happiest when I’m on a set.
I burned a big bridge and it’s too long a story to tell you here, but it’s to do with Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall on Snow Falling on Cedars and the heart-breaking part about it is I burned it because I misrepresented myself. It had to do with me parroting something that Ethan Hawke had said who feels that way but I don’t. It indicated that I thought I was a big deal, it had to do with my call time. All I know it was a misrepresentation and that’s what really breaks my heart. I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to contact Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall to say, “Listen your first impression of me is accurate in the sense that I’m an idiot, I’m sorry about that, you are right… but it’s not for the right reasons. If you call me at 6 am on a Tuesday and don’t use me until Friday, if I have a nice warm place to curl up and sleep with some decent food, and some nice people to talk to, and I’m playing a cool role, I’m the happiest man on the planet.” So, I misrepresented myself as if I didn’t want to be there unless I was blah, blah, blah and it’s just not true. I did something that was really stupid, but it did teach me this great lesson; to always understand I’m the lucky one, nobody is holding a gun to my head and saying you have to be an actor, you have to deal with rejection, you have to deal with the downtime, I love what I do so if I get the opportunity I’m happy.
PC: It is a bit of a shame in that they probably still think that and you haven’t had the opportunity to put them right.
GW: Just like Scorsese and the Coen Brothers, they have this reservoir of people – not only actors but crew and so forth who they take from project to project. I had no business representing myself like that and I very well might have been in other Kennedy/Marshall films and that was it, that was the end of the road but it did teach me a big lesson. So as far as David Fincher goes, if he’s gonna have thirty takes – have thirty takes, I’m good that’s what I came here for.
PC: I have talked in previous interviews about directors’ different styles. For example, Clint Eastwood barely has to say much to be effective, whereas some scream and shout in your face.
GW: I just worked with a guy named Kirk Fox on that movie in Maine called Summer Someday, a really funny guy, he’s a stand-up comedian, a really good actor and a great guy. He married Clint Eastwood’s daughter, they have since split up and divorced, and he’s remarried but he would tell me these Clint Eastwood stories. He said Clint was doing this independent movie with some pretty green though not first-time filmmakers and they were shooting this low budget thing and they had Clint Eastwood in it. They said, “Alright, we are gonna go back and do it again,” and Clint said, “Was it in focus?” They said, “Yes,” and he said, “Moving on.”
PC: If you were making a film of your own, who would you have in your dream team for Director, leading man and leading lady?
GW: That’s tough because I love so many people, but Fincher would be way high up for what he does. It’s the end product you’re looking for. Carl Franklin, I loved working with him; Tom Hanks as a director would be fantastic. The leading man is easy though because I love Jeff Bridges. The actress for leading lady, it would be weird because of the age difference, so I’m thinking of an abstract more than just individually but I love Saoirse Ronan, I think she is just remarkable. But I can’t imagine a film other than as father and daughter with Jeff Bridges and Saoirse Ronan.
PC: What is it you like so much about Jeff Bridges?
GW: I don’t know what it is, there’s something about Jeff. He was one of my early influences. I remember seeing him when I was first getting into acting. The thing about Jeff is… I think a lot of people believe he’s just being himself, but if you look at little clips of Starman and then Tron, he’s vastly different in every role, and yet so honest and truthful and authentic. In The Big Lebowski, he just drops in and I don’t feel like I’m watching somebody act. When I’m watching a performance for me, it’s like acting should be so real that you forget the fact that they’re a name or that they are performing, because you’re getting sucked into the story through their character. So I just feel like Jeff actually has the ability to almost become that person, that character.
If you really examine what he’s done in Lonestar, Against All Odds and Cutters Way, they are way way different, but not in a shiny way. Everybody considers De Niro to be a chameleon, but I actually think Jeff Bridges is certainly as much or more, he just absorbs himself into that role. Al Pacino is brilliant, but it’s almost like he’s playing Al Pacino.
PC: I agree, like the recent film, The Irishman, could have been like any Al Pacino or Robert De Niro film because the characters are roles they have played several times over.
GW: It’s through no fault of their own, I can only imagine when you have played that role so many times, what else do you do with it? On the other hand, I see like the film Casino which is I think is one of the more remarkable and underrated films, De Niro’s performance in that is sublime. But you can only play that role so many times. They were so good at it when they were young that they just keep getting offered those roles. You see De Niro in The Last Tycoon where he plays the studio head, he is amazing, they all are. But if I have to choose, I choose Jeff.
De Niro in Once Upon A Time in America is another role where he is beyond brilliant.
I have a screenplay I’m writing and I want to direct it, but I definitely have the cast in mind… Michael Chiklis in one part or Reba McEntire in another part.
PC: That’s exciting. Since I have kept you for so long, I better move onto some music questions. Do you consider yourself a music fan?
GW: A music fan, yes, but not an audiophile. I was never one for reading the jacket notes. I have a lot of musician friends too, like Rick Dufay the lead guitarist in Aerosmith after Joe Perry left.
PC: Do you play an instrument?
GW: I do not.
PC: You look like you play the guitar, I can picture you sitting round a fire-pit denim shirt, guitar in hand with your dog, Pip, wearing a scarf round his neck. I am confident you could just pick up a guitar and be able to play it. (Laughs)
GW: That could be me just as described but without the guitar.
PC: Can you remember the first record you bought or remember singing along to?
GW: I was right at the blossoming of Rock and Roll – I was very young, like 13, but I remember the Led Zeppelin lV album just kind of opened up a whole world to me that I didn’t know existed. Overnight I went from this Boy Scout, baseball-playing little choirboy to being quite immersed in surfing and drugs and rock and roll pretty quickly.
PC: Do you have a favourite Led Zeppelin song?
GW: “Kashmir” or for a ballad, “Thank You”.
PC: “Thank you” is one if my favourites, I was just gonna sing it there and it’s gone out of my head. (I burst into song and Gareth joins in.) My ultimate favourite is “Going to California.”
GW: Oh yeah, and I love the Led Zeppelin song that Fincher chose at the end of season 1 on Mindhunter “In the Light.”
PC: Oh that was amazing, so effective.
GW: I loved that song, but I didn’t really listen to it a lot. But right after that I went out and bought and listened to it incessantly. That is the power of it. It’s amazing.
PC: Do you see much live music?
GW: I do, as a matter of fact, I dragged my wife… my favourite band of all time is The Rolling Stones, I had seen a lot of bands when I was younger but as I got older I didn’t go to live concerts as much. I told my wife I loved The Rolling Stones my whole life and I have never seen them; they are coming so if you want to go… we paid $2000 for the tickets. What an extraordinary experience she had too, because first of all she is considerably younger than me so there’s a generational gap. Also culturally Brazil is tapped into the world in terms of pop music, but it’s always kind of interesting because they are still steeped in The Beatles, they love The Beatles over there. So, The Rolling Stones she didn’t even know about and she went and had a blast. It was all weekend… we saw Neil Young, The Who, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Roger Waters.
PC: Aww C’mon! No way!
GW: So it was just a mind blowing experience. Although I still love The Rolling Stones, they were fantastic, but the performance I came away with and just went, “Wow!” was the Pink Floyd thing that just was life altering. And the one that changed her life was The Who, she was enamoured with Pete Townsend.
PC: What was Bob Dylan like, I’ve been told his voice is not what it once was.
GW: It was the wrong venue for him, there is a little club right around the corner from me, it’s a tiny little venue. I saw him there and I was only 2 or 3 people away from the edge of the stage. It was very intimate and when he came out on stage, I literally felt this wash come over me like, “I’m in the presence of greatness!” He was great, I mean fantastic. It was like the best of all of Bob Dylan world, he had hard driving rock he had folk blues, Beck opened the show.
PC: What year would that have been?
GW: That was probably 1999. In Indio which is a massive outdoor venue, he had his back to the audience the whole time, the camera wasn’t even picking him up from the front. He stood at the piano, he didn’t talk at all between songs, so it was just like it came and went, sort of a forgotten performance kind of thing.
PC: Do you have a favourite Bob Dylan song? I am always asking people what their favourites are!
GW: I suppose the one that comes to mind is “Tangled Up In Blue.” “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” that’s another great Bob Dylan song.
PC: I wasn’t a fan of his for years but now I think he’s one of the greatest songwriters ever.
My next question is: If you were on a road trip, just you and Pip, what would be on your playlist? Obviously, you have some Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Dylan but what else is on there?
GW: Tom Waits, he is one of my favourites.
PC: Oh yes, Tom Waits. Some Aerosmith since your friend was in the band?
GW: I do have some Aerosmith… every other Tuesday night when we are not in this lockdown/ house arrest thing, some friends and I meet in a fire station in Hollywood to do readings. The reading series is called The Station House Readings Series and the production company I have attached to it is called Detroit Street Films, have you gone to the YouTube channel?
PC: Yes, I have watched a couple of shorts.
GW: Those are just some of the short films that we’ve done. And then we do those poem videos which probably need an explanation for people to understand what the hell they are. It’s a poem written by a group of people… you did it!
PC: Yes, I did, I really enjoyed being part of the experience.
GW: Whatever group is there that night, each of them writes a line and we make short films – the poem being the narrative.
In the half hour when people are arriving, handing out scripts and just catching up, having small talk and stuff, I play music and it’s probably 75% The Rolling Stones, and there’s Tom Waits, Cream is on there – “White Room”.
PC: What about new music, have you embraced any of that, not the poppy stuff obviously. People say music died after the 90’s or whenever but I think there are some amazing newer bands.
GW: Once in a while when I hear something new I like, I will add it to the list, like somebody turned me onto the song “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats. To answer the question I hear a lot of music I actually like, but having never been an audiophile, I don’t discipline myself to ask, “Who is that?” So what happens is that I can never retain who that band is or performer is, so it’s hard to answer that. I do like a lot of music that I hear, I’m gonna look through my iTunes. The Allman Brothers I love. I have a favourite Brazilian band I love too called O Rappa, they are so passionate and Chet Baker.
PC: I have three final questions I try to ask everyone.
Which book are you currently reading?
GW: I don’t read as much as I used to, I had a voracious appetite for reading. I just ordered Elena Ferrante’s first book. My Brilliant Friend is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life, so I became interested in that writer, so I ordered her first book which hasn’t yet arrived. I have sitting in front of me a small book called The Hidden Live of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and I also started to read Philip Roth’s, they just did a series with Winona Ryder called The Plot Against America. I started to read that before I realised they had the series so I thought let me just watch the series.
PC: Now is the time to catch up on all these books…
GW: I have been spending almost all my time editing in down time. I’m writing a screenplay based on a movie that Herbert Berghof, one of my early mentors had shown me in around 1982. It was an Italian movie. It was black and white and it was about a grandmother and a grandson and this amazing relationship between them, and I don’t remember much about it which I am happy about as I don’t want to plagiarise or steal but I’m taking that idea and putting it in Brazil.
PC: How far into it are you?
GW: Written wise I think I am only on page ten, but I have it pretty much in my mind. I just need to get it on paper so that’s one thing I’m doing in this COVID-19 era. I’m more creative and more busy during this time than in memory.
PC: Are you happy in your own company, or are you happiest among people?
GW: Turns out I’m pretty good in a pandemic, I’m okay with it.
PC: Just you and your dog!
So, it is your last meal on earth, what would you choose for your last supper, your final supper? And what might be your drink of choice to accompany it?
GW: This is all probably going to sound strange because I’m going to my favourite things. I probably would have blackened catfish, with hush puppies.
PC: I have never had catfish and what are hush puppies?
GW: When they fried food in the south here, usually fried catfish they had a corn meal breading that they would dip it in and then fry it. To keep the dogs quiet to stop them barking when they were cooking, they would roll that breading up into balls and throw it in the hot grease and fry it then they’d throw it at the dogs and say “hush puppies” so it’s just what they would coat chicken with or fish. And then they started eating it, and now catfish is usually served with hush puppies in the south.
PC: Okay, I’m not sure you are selling it to me.
GW: To drink I would probably have an Arnold Palmer, which is iced tea and lemonade mixed together, and I would probably have a glass of red wine.
PC: No desert?
GW: I don’t know, something with chocolate and peanut butter together. I’m a sucker for those. Let me take that one back, because that’s more like a candy bar kind of thing. There’s a desert they have over at one of my favourite restaurants in LA called Osteria La Buca and it happens to be owned by very good friends of mine. In addition to it being just a great restaurant, I get treated very well when I go which is a nice perk! They have a desert which is salted caramel ice cream with something that is very much like a hush puppy, like a dough ball – it’s the perfect combination of salt and sweet so that would be it.
PC: How would you spend your perfect day.
GW: It all depends on the circumstances, are you talking about under this COVID-19 thing?
PC: No, let’s pretend that doesn’t exist.
GW: The perfect day to me would be waking up and going out to my little thatched hut that happens to be out on the Maldives, crystal clear water underneath me, that would be a perfect day. Have you watched the Johnny Worricker trilogy written and directed by David Hare and starring Bill Nighy?
PC: No, I have not. I love Bill Nighy, and I have been wondering what he is up to. I have not seen anything about him lately.
GW: One of the three episodes is called “Turks & Caicos” so it would be either the Maldives or Turks & Caicos. So the water is crystal clear, I’m on a beach, I have my dog with me… that would be a perfect day.
PC: That sounds pretty good to me.
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This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.