Teddy Coluca has been in the acting business for well over 30 years. He has appeared in many well-known television shows including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, 30 Rock, and most recently the highly successful series, Only Murders in the Building, starring alongside Steve Martin. Teddy has become a fan favourite on NBC’s The Blacklist where he plays Mr. Brimley, a professional interrogator who uses unorthodox methods on victims presented to him by Raymond Reddington played by James Spader. Teddy has recently been filming with Sir Anthony Hopkins in a James Gray film, Armageddon Time.
PC: I wanted to begin with your name, Teddy. Is that a shortened version of Theodore or is it a nickname?
TC: My name is Theodore. My father was Theodore, that’s where that comes from. Coincidentally, I know we will get to talking about The Blacklist later, but I wasn’t named Teddy on the show. When I first got there, it was just Mr. Brimley. On the very first episode I did with James [Spader], it was season 1 and I was interrogating one of the FBI people, the young Indian girl, Meera Malik, played by Parminder Nagra. I’d given the information that there was nothing wrong with her, that she was clean. I guess they thought she was corrupted or something. Just as I walked away from James, he threw out “Thank you, Teddy” and I guess they liked it and it stayed. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked to use my real name. The other time that happened was when I was doing a movie with Robert De Niro called The Comedians. I had a scene with him, and we were rehearsing the scene. In the scene I show up at an autograph signing convention and he plays a famous sitcom star from many years ago. In the scene I hand him a picture and he says, “Who do I make it out to?” My character didn’t really have a name and the director said, “Is it okay if we use Ted, Teddy?” What do I do – I’m not going to say no in front of Robert De Niro!
PC: No, actually it’s not okay. (Laughs)
TC: I said, “Sure.” Then in the scene he said, “Who do I make it out to?” and I said, “Ted, Teddy.” So that’s the two times. It’s worked for me, it’s my God-given name. When I first started out in the business I was a little short chubby Italian, and I looked right for where I was at that point. Early on in my career, I did many commercials in the late 80’s & 90’s – tons of them. I started out as a comic originally, but I realised I wasn’t angry enough. It’s changed now, comedians have a lot more camaraderie.
PC: In those days you had to be a bit mean, and often pick on a member of the audience.
TC: I wasn’t like that at all, I just wasn’t. It’s been 40 years ago since I was a comic, it was just very competitive. Where an actor would say to you, “Hey they are doing an audition over there, you seem right for it, why not give it a shot,” a comedian would send you in the other direction. They were sort of ruthless too with each other.
I can remember being introduced and walking up to a stage and hearing an audience member say, “This guy’s gonna be funny,” just because of the way I looked. It was fine, but I just realised I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. Someone said to me, “Why don’t you start doing some commercials?” And I got lucky very fast. I had a real job at that point. I had to make a decision to become an actor or to keep working.
PC: What was your real job?
TC: I worked for a newspaper in distribution. I called it a job, I didn’t call it a career.
PC: What did your parents think when you switched?
TC: By then, I was out of my parents’ place. My mother was the type who said, “Go and work for the Post Office, you’ll always have a Job!”
PC: A job for life!
TC: After having had lots of jobs, things weren’t going well at the newspaper. At one point I wanted to change, I wanted to move into sales. It was a local newspaper but a pretty good size. I was trying to show an interest in the company, and I came up with this idea of how to sell more newspapers in a certain area. I came up with a proposal. I submitted it to someone, and they basically said, “Mind your own business.”
PC: And that’s when you lost all love and respect for the company.
TC: I was past the stand-up thing at that point and I just came home to my wife Angela one day and said, “You know, I think I want to try the acting thing.” And all she said was, “Okay,” so I owe a lot to her. We had four kids at that point, so I knew I wasn’t going into it for fun. It was always a business to me from day one.
I was very lucky, I started doing commercials immediately. I was studying at a place called The Ensemble Studio Theatre, which I believe is still there. Lots of big actors came through, and I studied with – you’ll know who this person is – Emma Walton who is Julie Andrews’ daughter, the one who writes children’s books. I studied with her and her husband Steve Hamilton. It was like getting two for the price of one, I learned a lot. And I studied with some other people. Then I slowly started doing lots of theatre in New York – lots of theatre where there would be about five people in the show and four people in the audience. I slowly built up doing more and more.
I decided the next step was to do regional theatre. I did a play in Buffalo and another in Vermont and different places. I grew my credibility by doing that. In 2008, I had auditioned for a Broadway show before I went to Vermont. I got a call while I was there, and they wanted to see me for the third time in New York. I went to my director who was a good friend of mine who I owe a lot to. We were almost ready to open this play in Vermont and I told him I had a third call back for the show on Broadway and I said, “What am I going to do?” He looked at me and said, “Well, you gotta go.”
So I had rehearsal, packed up and drove home to New Jersey. I got up early the next morning for a 10 o’clock audition in the city with Joe Mantello who’s one of the biggest Broadway directors, and I was back in Vermont for 3 o’clock. The next day, I got the call and was told I got the Broadway show. That was The Ritz, don’t know if you have heard of it?
PC: I have, yes.
TC: This was a revival. Rosie Perez was the lead character in my production. There’s a film if you ever get to see it, it’s very funny. It’s set in a New York gay bathhouse in the 60’s where this guy goes to hide out from the Mafia. The Mafia is looking to whack him, so it’s a mob guy in a gay bathhouse – very funny play, and very funny film.
PC: Was that the point that you thought you had made it, or was it prior to that?
TC: Actually, that was what I felt solidifies an actor. People would ask, “Have you ever been on Broadway?” and I’d have to say no. But once I did that show, it took my acting to a different level and if people asked I said, “Yes, I have.”
PC: It gives you some clout…
TC: It qualifies you. I still do some theatre. I don’t run in like I used to, years ago when doing a show – I would get in my car and leave my house at 6:30. I knew the street I could park on in Manhattan after 7, so I’d arrive at 5 til 7, lock my car and walk to the theatre. It was easy to do that then, now it’s a different world. The parking isn’t like it used to be. I did a show in 2015 and it was a nightmare getting to the venue.
I am at a really good place in my career. As you know, I do a fair amount of television. I just said, I don’t need to do that anymore – there’s nothing that’s going to really boost my career. At my age I’m very very comfortable with my career.
There is a little theatre company I’ve become involved with in the last few years. I like to say I’m third in command, and we have a nice little space with about 200 seats that we use. It’s owned by the city of Hackensack, we have to share space, we get what we get – that’s our only drawback. But theatre is theatre – whether it’s at a high school play or a Broadway stage, the process is the same.
Right before the COVID-19 outbreak we got to do a great production of 12 Angry Men.
PC: My favourite film!
TC: We put three women in it.
PC: On the jury? How did the audience take to that?
TC: Yes, it worked out great, it really did, it was wonderful. We only got a short run because we share a space, and that’s the way it works out. We had a good time, we had a good group. People want to see change, especially theatre people. There are the theatre purists who said, “Oh boy.” First of all, our second in command in the theatre company is a woman. She wanted it and we have two other young women who have worked with us a little bit, and it just worked out.’
We did a great play which was my idea. It was a few years ago before anything that happened to me lately. Steve Martin had adapted a play called The Underpants, it’s a very funny play. It’s an old German play that he adapted into English, and I read it and I brought it to two people at the theatre company. And all three of us decided this is great, we should do it.
I love being involved in the theatre company so when I’m not in a show, I will still turn up at rehearsals and stay on the book as people learn their lines. When they forget a line, they shout, “Line!” and I’m there to give them the line. At 9 pm, I go home – that’s my deal. No matter how late rehearsals go on – at 9 pm, I’m gone!
So what happened was we started casting this play, and as we were casting it we that there’s a part for an older character and he’s a scientist. In this play there is a woman, and at one point the whole town gets to see her underpants! I forget how it happens – she either falls over or the lights go up. She and her husband have a rooming house, and after the underpants incident all these different characters start turning up wanting to rent the rooms out. You have to remember it’s Steve Martin’s humour in a way. He did another play called Picasso at the Lapin Agile where Einstein and Picasso meet up in a pub in France. Getting back to The Underpants, as we were casting there was a little part and the guy comes in the middle of the play, does nothing really until nearly the end of the play, then he comes back on stage. As we were sitting there casting it, I said to my director, “You know what, Lou, I should do this role because he’s an old guy, and I’m coming to rehearsal anyway.” It ended up being a really fun thing, it’s a different role than what I would normally play, really over the top! We can talk more about it later on, and how it helped me.
PC: You seem to have a lot of fun doing theatre work. Do you have a preference for that over TV shows?
TC: I love doing theatre and any actor that tells you they don’t – I would give them a look! I started out, believe it or not, an athlete at high school. I played on the basketball team. I am a little guy but I played on a good team with good players, and I got to play now and then. But there were times I didn’t because I wasn’t the best on the team, but I loved going to practice and I just loved the whole team camaraderie. When I became an actor I found instead of going to practice, you go to rehearsal and you would fit -like you fit in in the team. And that’s how I see it, even on television. I use the analogy as a big puzzle, you have got to fit into the puzzle.
Take The Blacklist for example, I’m not the main character. I’m a recurring character, and there’s a little spot for me there.
PC: A very well-liked character -Teddy Brimley.
TC: When I do my one-man show, which hasn’t been written yet, it will be called The Guy Next to the Guy because that’s what I’ve made a career out of, and I’m proud of it.
I have been with the same agency for over 30 years, Brett Adam’s Agency. I am grateful to Margi Rountree and Ken Melamed for everything they have sent my way. I must give a special mention to the young gun Zach Marlin who has been very helpful.
PC: What did your parents do as a profession?
TC: My Mother and Father divorced when I was young. I was brought up by my mother and then she remarried, and my father was out of the picture. When I was 13 years old, I never saw my father again. I knew things about him, but my father was a character. He came from a rough neighbourhood but he also (I found out in recent years) was brought up in an orphanage. He and his brother were sent to an orphanage when they were very young. They lived there – I don’t know how long, and I don’t know the reason why. I did meet his mother once when I was young.
I just know he was a character and everyone loved him, but he would get in and out of trouble here and there. Nothing major but he would say, Daddy is going on vacation for a few months. He was a bridge painter and he was in the union. It was a good job but you only worked pretty much when the weather was nice. ‘Going on vacation’ meant he was going to be away for a while. My mother used to say to me, “Oh, he’s gone away to paint a bridge in San Francisco or somewhere.” She was really funny, she’d show me a picture in a newspaper of people doing work on a bridge there and she’d say, “You see, that’s him right there.”
PC: Was that her just trying to make you feel better?
TC: Yeah. She put up with it for a while but told him, “You go on vacation one more time, that’s it we are going to be through.” Sure enough, he went on vacation and that’s when they got divorced. Even in those days there was the requirement of child support from a father and in that respect, he was a bit of a knucklehead. I have two younger brothers, and I am the only one that really remembers him. My mother and I didn’t have the greatest relationship because I think I may have reminded her of him in my own way. She really hated him, and made sure we didn’t have a relationship with him. She was so traumatised and we were living in Brooklyn, New York at that point. When she remarried, we moved to New Jersey. She never ever spoke of Brooklyn again which had been a big part of her life.
Still to this day I go back to my neighbourhood in Brooklyn, and I see my friends. We are all in our 60’s now and we played together when we were 7-9 years old. I will go back this year because the place where I grew up has a big Italian feast every year, although they didn’t have it last year because of Covid-19. But it’s back on this year so I will be back in Brooklyn, you should really look it up. It’s called the ‘Dancing of the Giglio’ and they have this big statue they build, then they have 109 men underneath who dance it through the streets to music and stuff. I tell everybody if you are going to be in Brooklyn in the first two weeks of July, you have to go to the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
PC: I can imagine how much food is consumed… My son married a lovely Italian girl in Milan a few years ago, and the amount of food presented to us was incredible. The feast lasted hours and hours and there was course after course after course. There was singing and live music and dancing, just amazing!
TC: I have been going for years and years, you really should look it up. In 2010 we were in Italy and this feast I am telling you about originated in Nola which is outside of Naples. We went to Rome for a few days and we got to the Amalfi coast on Saturday l realised the feast in Nola which is only on one day and always the last Sunday in June and I said to my friend “That’s tomorrow, how far away are we from Nola?” My friend had GPS and he said it’s about an hour away. We were with a few couples, two of whom weren’t keen, so the four remaining of us went in our rental car to Nola and it was one of the greatest days of my life. In Brooklyn we have one Giglio but in Nola they have different clubs and they have 8 Giglios.
PC: Wow! Getting back to family, did you grow up knowing your grandparents on your mother’s side?
TC: No, not really. It’s sad, my mother’s mother passed away when she was a baby, it wasn’t long after she was born. Her mother has at least 5 brothers and sisters, maybe more and they took her in and raised her. I did meet my mother’s father, I don’t know how much he had to do with her growing up but they knew where he was, they all lived in sort of the same neighbourhood. He was a shoemaker and had a shop. I met her father once when he was sick in a hospital, they wouldn’t let kids visit but I remember my mother going up to his room and he stuck his head out of the window and he waved to me. His name was Frank but his nickname was Pippy.
PC: When I was doing some research, I noticed a credit on The Sopranos for a Teddy Coluca, Jr. Is that one of yours?
TC: That’s my son Ted. He did do an episode of The Sopranos and it was a great episode. It’s season 1 – episode 4, it’s titled ‘Meadowlands’. The scene he is in is when A.J. gets into a fight at school, and my son’s character rips his shirt. His parents are afraid Tony is going to come after them so they hand over the money for the shirt.
I read for that show early on. I thought it was about a family who sang.
PC: Is that you being a comedian or is that the truth?
TC: No, that’s true. We had no idea it was about the Mafia, I thought, “What the heck is this?” I guess when I read someone was getting put into a dumpster I realised that it wasn’t about singing. (Both laugh). We also have 3 other children – Anne Marie, Donna and Richard.
PC: Are any of your grandkids named after you?
TC: No, no there’s not.
PC: Shame on them.
TC: My father was Ted, I am Ted, my son is Ted. I think they decided not to name their kids after anybody. They went with real traditional names, but that tradition wasn’t passed on.
PC: Obviously you have been in a large number of productions either on TV or on stage. Have you ever been really tested to the limit when another actor isn’t pulling their weight or a Director isn’t doing their job properly?
TC: Funny you say that. I went to Buffalo and did two plays over there, one of them was called Breaking Legs, it was a comedy. It was a great play and you literally stepped on stage and you got a laugh. It was about an Italian family. My character was a mob guy who owned a restaurant and he hung out with other mob guys. And the whole premise of the show is that they are going to produce a play. So we did that play and it went well. It was Buffalo in the winter with 700 seats, and we were packed every night. It was a great run.
Then two years later I went back to do another play. The same writer, three of us from Breaking Legs’ cast, were cast in this other play. It was a lot more family oriented but the director wasn’t Italian. He had a couple of things in there that I felt weren’t right and one of them was that he kept using the phrase in the play “Well, I told my dad that…” I would never in my life use that phrase. I might say my father or daddy but never ‘my dad’. I said, “I got to tell you something, it’s not right coming out of me.” He was from Connecticut. He didn’t talk like I did. He said, “Can you do less of a New York accent?” But I was very adamant about telling him, “I’m not saying it like that, I’m sorry but it’s just not right.” I said, “You are not Italian, you just don’t get that part.” He said, “I live next door to Italians, I hear what they say” and that was the only time I really felt tested. On television – never. I look at it as, “You hired me to do a job, you guys are the boss. Whatever you want me to do I will do,” and that’s my philosophy when I’m working on TV.
PC: Are you able to offer any input when you are filming The Blacklist?
TC: On The Blacklist, I get to put my input in a little bit, especially continuity. I will tell you two stories about what happened last season. I have only done two episodes this past season. The first I did was the one when I had the goat, and we had a three-way conversation between Elizabeth (Megan), myself and Reddington (James) and it’s where I say I hit the wrong phone button. But what happened was when they filmed my scene and my phone rang, it said Elizabeth Keen that’s what came up as the identification. I said to the director “Is that how it’s going to be seen on camera?” And he said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well I got to tell you something, Elizabeth Keen’s phone number would never be on my phone. I’ve only ever had two interactions with her. One of those I didn’t have a line with her at all, she just happened to be there. It was the scene where the music was blasting out and I said “I’m gonna need lunch.” There is another scene where again she is standing there, but we’ve never had any interaction ever! So when I mentioned it, they already had it all rigged up to a computer and stuff. It took 15 minutes to fix it, to change it to no caller id.
PC: Yeah, exactly. There is no reason to have her in your contacts.
TC: The other time they listened to me (same episode) was when we first shot the goat scene. The goat’s name was Wilbur, so it was Wilbur this and Wilbur that, whatever the line was ‘Wilbur had a bath today.’ At some point when I’m speaking to the director I say, “You know it’s kind of funny, I’ve worked with a bunch of animals on the show and every animal that I remember their name has begun with the letter B. The snake was Betsy, the badger in the cage in Cooper’s office was Bernice, the alpaca was Buttercup.” I just said it in passing. We shot it as normal then about a week before it was aired, I got a call from my agent. He says “They have some ADR work for you to do.”
PC: Where you add your voice/dialogue afterwards (automated dialogue replacement)…
TC: That’s right, I do it right from home now. You used to have to go to the studio to do it. So, if I have to do some ADR, it’s no problem – I get a half-day’s pay for that (laughing). So, I get the script and I’m looking at the ADR for the next day and I realise all they are doing is changing Wilbur to Benji!
PC: That is so great!
TC: So, I do get to have a little input. I am a foot soldier and James to me is the General. Whatever he tells me to do, I will do it. And there have been times where… You know, I don’t want to be disparaging of anybody but directors are like myself–they are hired guns, they come, they go. Some of them, like the script supervisor Christine Gee, direct an episode here and there. They work for a month, they do a week of prep, a week of post-production, and they will shoot for two weeks. So I remember doing a scene with James in the episode where I had the headphones on and James reminded me “Remember… Teddy, your character, talks loud.” We did a rehearsal with a new Director I’d never seen before, and he gave me a note. And he said, “Too big, way way too big. Bring it down a little bit, bring it down.” I said, “Okay, I will bring it down. But in every episode I do James reminds me that my character talks loud.” He still insists that I bring it down a little, and I say “ok, whatever.” I did almost the exact thing in the next rehearsal, and he said, “That’s better, that’s better.” So my point is that James is the general, but he doesn’t act like it. He’s not around cracking the whip or anything, and I’ve never ever ever seen him upset on a set. He is the best. He treats me like we’ve known each other since Kindergarten.
PC: Every single person I have interviewed who works on The Blacklist – whether it’s cast or crew – has nothing but nice things to say about him.
TC: I was there one day when we were having a problem. There was an episode years ago where we were trying to work with a goat, and the goat
was adamant – it would not move. You couldn’t pull it or push it. So finally they had to cut the goat’s scene because it just wasn’t working. They had to rewrite the whole scene to make it completely different and James didn’t lose it. He is just wonderful.
Before Covid, every time I would say goodbye to him he always kissed me on the cheek and hugged me. He always asks me about my grandchildren. It’s funny because we had a running gag. Every season I’d come back and I’d have another grandchild. At one time it was 4 then 5 grandchildren and now I’m up to 8. I have heard from two different journalists that have interviewed James that mentioned me by name… and he may say this about everybody, I’m sure he said this about Clark also… but he said, “Teddy is my favourite guest star on the show!”
PC: He probably would say that about a few people to be fair.
TC: One actor called me up, Lenny Venito was his name. He was the mailman on The Blacklist, he ends up getting shot if you remember. And he said to me, “Teddy, what do you think, what should I expect when I go there?” I said, “It’s the best set you’ll ever work on!” He worked on the show and he called me two days later. He said, “Teddy, I called you ’cause I’ve got to tell you I was working with Spader and we had a little break. I said to him, ‘We have a mutual friend in Teddy Coluca.’ James said, ‘Teddy!’ and with that… his whole demeanour changed, his whole personality changed.” Another friend was walking into a Broadway show one night and he noticed James Spader behind him walking in with his wife. My friend turned to him and said, “James, Teddy Coluca loves you” and he said, “I love Teddy Coluca.”
PC: I think he is genuinely a nice person. I saw him talk about how much he adored Clark in a recent interview.
TC: I’m gonna tell you another story… If you remember the episode with the snake?
PC: Yes, in the shopping trolley.
TC: I had more dialogue, and more hypoallergenic pillows… all these types of words which are not really part of my normal way of speaking. I had a tough line because I’d quit on him. It was late on a Friday, it was the last scene shot of the day, it was midnight because when you work in television as the week goes on the later you work. So the snake is around me and I’ve got more dialogue than I’ve ever had, and James can see I’m not that comfortable. He is standing in front of me and he looks me right in the eye and says “Teddy, it’s just me and you here… just me and you.” And we did the scene, and I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but we did the scene and I got it word for word. We really thought we were going to be there for a while. They said “Cut” and James looked at me and said, “You’re the man.”
PC: When I interviewed Clark, he talked about when his dad died. He was meant to be filming the next day, and his dad had told him he mustn’t let the team down. So he arrived at the studio ready to film his scene with James. Obviously very upset and he told me James couldn’t have been nicer. He gave him a hug and he held Clark’s hand all the way through the scene – not literally – but in a very caring way. It was an emotional scene anyway, but James got him through it by being kind.
TC: He is so smart, he knows his lines and your lines. The last episode I did was when he and I were sitting in the horse barn. We were doing the scene and my line was “I was hooked the minute I saw her drain the entrails.” At one point I said, “I was hooked the minute I saw her drain the entails,” and he said, “entrails.” I said, “What did I say?” He said, “entails!” Let me tell you… he picks up things like that all the time, he is so smart. I love sitting there watching him work.
PC: Yes, I am looking forward to seeing what he does once The Blacklist is over. I suspect he may do a play because he does enjoy the theatre.
TC: He makes things happen!
PC: How did you feel when Brimley kind of changed from being someone we laughed along with to someone who would without any hesitation torture Marvin Gerard–one of Reddington’s own. Were you comfortable with that?
TC: From my perspective there’s no emotion whatsoever – I’m just doing my job. But you could see how when he put a stop to it – he had a bit of a heart when he realised he was wrong. To me, it’s just a job. But what happened one season, which I was a little disappointed in…my back story was that I’d never killed anybody – I may torture, and I may get what I need to get out of people, but I’ve never killed anyone. Then we had that scene where someone accidentally died due to an ulcer, because I was having a blood sugar spike and it threw me off my game. I was upset over that, as the character, because in my head I’d never killed anyone before.
PC: I just wondered if it was different torturing a random person than torturing one of Reddington’s team.
TC: When I got the job, I went in for the audition. It was just in front of one of the producers. I went in and there was just myself, the casting director, and this producer. I did my scene, and they were both very pleased. The producer looked at me and said, “So, how do you feel about torturing people?” You have to laugh – I said, “I got kids.” I got the job, but I never thought it would turn out to be as it is.
PC: When you pick up a script and it says you are going to be man-handling a snake or leading a llama, how do you feel?
TC: I guess I’ve gotten used to it. I got a call about a month before a particular episode I was penciled in for. I was told they wanted to know how I felt about working with a baboon. I said, “I guess alright.” So I’m all set to go… to work with this baboon. And I had been reading about how they are vicious, but anyway I showed up. The first day I get there I’m told, “We’ve got good news for you, you’re not working with a baboon…” The joke was the baboon wanted too much money, but that was when we tried working with the goat and the goat wasn’t having it, so they had to rewrite the whole scene. The worst one was the badger. The badger had such an odour to it. We shot the scene with the badger in a cage in Harold’s office on his desk… that badger stinks! As James was doing his lines he was gagging, and finally they got one take with the badger in the cage. But what they had to do because the smell was so disgusting was to pull the badger out and just shoot over the top of the cage – where you could see the cage, but you couldn’t see the badger. It worked. You and I know that now, but that was the worst one ever.
PC: I wonder how you and James keep a straight face sometimes when he’s agitated, and you say something like, “I need lunch, pastrami on rye.” You must be cracking up inside.
TC: We do. We laugh here and there. For me, you play the scene… not the funny. Since that scene, they seem to have my character lean a little more towards the Jewish end. If you watch now, I’m throwing out a Yiddish word here and there. The last one I did we were sitting there talking about castrating the horses, and evidently in this particular culture, the father is always the one who does something like that. What I was saying to Reddington was, and I was talking about my wife at the time saying, “She’s this and that but if you need this done” – and my line was, “Ema’s your Abba.” In Yiddish, Ema is the mother and Abba is the father. I thought it was a typo at first that Ema should read Edna. I had to have that explained to me.
Lately there have been some major changes, I’m sorry to see Megan (Boone) go. I will miss her, the few scenes I did over the years with her were always fun.
PC: I suspect she just wants to spread her wings. She seems to be a very active person in championing children’s health and raising awareness about the climate change crisis. I think she will use her production company to embrace diversity and equality and teach us things we should know regarding those topics. It was also a big surprise Jon Bokenkamp leaving the show.
TC: I would like to thank Jon Bokenkamp for everything. Jon was always a straight shooter from what I know based on the few interactions I’ve had with him. He’s always been just great. We didn’t see him much because he is in LA, but he would come to New York for special events.
PC: Everyone always says James is the best, but recently I was talking with Aaron Peterson from The Blacklist Exposed podcast who knows Jon well. He said Jon is one of the nicest, kindest and most genuine people in the business.
TC: He wasn’t jaded like a lot of people can be, although the people I just worked with couldn’t have been nicer. His base was always Nebraska. He would go to LA when he had to.
PC: My only worry is he has always said he (and James) knew the end game from the beginning and is now being forced to change that storyline by Sony or whoever and that’s what’s made him walk away.
TC: Jon told me he had 10 seasons in him, so I don’t know where it’s going to go from here. I’m there for the ride whatever happens.
PC: I guess as long as James stays on the show people are going to watch.
TC: You are the perfect example, I will tell you why… The show does okay in the United States. It clearly has a fan base here, but around the world it’s huge! I get tweets from Australia for example. I’m sure you have seen the different posts, Wendy Wales (from Wales) I don’t know if you know her, she’s a great fan of the show.
PC: Yeah. She will be thrilled when she hears you mentioned her.
TC: Sony owns the show, and it’s probably quite lucrative for them. I always say no actor is bigger than the show, but I would make an exception maybe for Spader. With the play The Producers playing on Broadway people always said once Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane leave, that would be the end of the run. But it wasn’t, it ran for another 5 years using other actors.
PC: It’s all changed now with last season’s finale episode.
TC: Sometimes my wife and I will watch it together and afterwards look at each other and say, “What the hell just happened?!” Some seasons have been better than others, but here we are into season 9 and there’s something to be said for that. But it’s all Spader. If you look at his track record – Boston Legal was very successful. He told me personally that TV is his thing and it’s been very good to him. Making movies is nice and all, but he likes the stability of television.
PC: I think he likes the input he has on The Blacklist. I’ve heard he gets his script delivered and then the next morning is on the phone to Jon making changes to the dialogue or whatever.
TC: He’s got a wonderful wonderful situation there and, you know, he is what he is. He is quite comfortable with his life. He’s got his two older sons and his younger one…
PC: And a gorgeous wife!
TC: Yes, though I don’t know her.
PC: You have been married a long time, I believe. What is your secret to a happy marriage?
TC: It’s funny I will tell you – the day we got air conditioning, (I’m laughing at him telling me this). You think I’m kidding, but I tell you I say to my wife Angela, “Remember before we had central air conditioning on those hot summer days how everybody would be at each other’s throats?” Five years into our marriage we got A/C, so that’s the secret. In the beginning I was very much ‘career, career, career’. We did bang heads over some things like cancelling vacations because maybe I got a few days on something, and that was a little bit of an adjustment. Especially when I worked at the newspaper it was ok, but when I got into acting it was a whole different world for me. So, I felt a lot more pressure. I owe everything to my wife, I wouldn’t be where I am without her.
My kids and grandkids are great. Only one daughter watches The Blacklist, the others couldn’t care less. I hate to put it that way, but that’s how it is. It’s just a job! I’ve never played the ego game.
PC: Brimley is really popular. When I posted in one of the fan groups about our interview, there were a ton of people responding and liking it. You really bring the character off the page so well and make it your own.
TC: I am happy people feel like that because it’s taken me a while to really grasp the character. You know I’m only there for a scene here and there, and like I said to James a couple of seasons ago – you know, besides Dembe, Brimley is one of the few people who can speak to Reddington in a certain way and he agreed. He said, “You’re right, you and Glen.”
PC: What was it like on set after Clark passed?
TC: Truthfully, I’ve only been there on set two or three times, but the very first time it was, and still is, unbelievable. He moved to LA a couple of years ago, he bought a little house out there. To actually get West Nile virus during COVID is just unbelievable. When we heard he had passed, initially I and many others thought it was COVID-19 related. He did have underlying health conditions as well. It was very sad. He was a great character and a nice man. I think we only did one episode together where we were at a party. They did bring us together to speak in an interview and we got to hang out a little bit then. I really didn’t know him, but we knew the same people. I knew his agent very well.
PC: After having interviewed him for three hours and getting into some emotional stuff, I feel like I did know him a little. I think I annoyed him mid-interview when I asked about the limitations his arthritis caused him. He got a little cross because he didn’t want to be defined by that. He wanted people to look past his disability and recognise his acting passion and skills. He didn’t want any special treatment because of it.
TC: He was a genuinely nice guy.
PC: Let’s talk about the new show you have been part of: Only Murders in the Building.
TC: I pop up in 7 out of 10 episodes. I have a couple of good bits along the way, but there are a couple of episodes I am just there to further the plot along. It was a wonderful, wonderful, experience and I will begin filming season 2 this week. This goes back to me doing a Steve Martin play with my little theatre company here in New Jersey. Who would have thought that one thing would lead to another. A few years ago, I worked with the director, Jamie Babbit, on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. We had a nice little relationship develop from working together. About a year later, I got a call saying Jamie Babbit is doing a movie with Drew Barrymore. There’s a part for a man in a rehab centre with her, and Jamie would like to know if you’d like to do it. When someone calls you and asks you to be in their movie, all you say is, “YES!”
So I did that movie with Jamie called The Stand In. You never know with directors whether they are pleased with your work afterwards. One of my scenes with Drew Barrymore got cut, and I didn’t know if she wasn’t pleased with it or whether it was something else. Then all of a sudden, I get a call from a casting office. They want you to audition for a certain part in Only Murders in the Building. It was a pretty good-sized part, and it ended up with Nathan Lane getting the part. Then they called back and said that there is a doorman in the building and they would like you to read for that part. I get the audition material and I see that Jamie Babbit is the director of the pilot and an executive producer of the show along with John Hoffman and Jess Rosenthal.
I had a meeting over Zoom with Jamie and the other producers and they hired me to play Lester the Doorman. They told me there was going to be some interaction with Steve Martin and there was. When I was in that Zoom meeting, which also included the people who made This Is Us since Dan Fogelman is the producer for this show, I was telling the others how funny it was that I had done the Steve Martin play, The Underpants, with my theatre company. The producer said, “Oh, that’s great. Steve loves hearing things like that.”
It’s a great show starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. It involves a murder in a building obviously. It is a fun show. It was a complete delight and I found out that I do have a solid relationship with Jamie Babbit. A director once told me directing is 90% casting, if you cast the right people you just sit back and let them do their work and the remaining 10% you tweak it.
My best bit is in the finale. I have a bit in the episode where I had to learn sign language to communicate with a deaf person.
PC: Will you ever retire or will they have to wheel you off of the set?
TC: I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I think I will just do it until I can’t. I am at the point now I guess because I’m a little older and maybe because of COVID too they were offering to pick me up in a car and bring me back and forth. I like to think it’s because I am at a certain level where I get some benefits.
PC: Has much changed in and around New York since you were a little boy? I heard there have been more outbreaks of violence recently.
TC: I haven’t been there other than for work in two years and I hate to put it this way, but I’ve heard it’s a little bit more run down. I’ve not really seen that with my own eyes but I love New York and I love Brooklyn where I grew up. A lot of the old people who grew up there still come back and refer to it as ‘the neighbourhood’. This whole country, the gun violence is everywhere – you can’t just say New York, it’s everywhere – you don’t go looking for trouble, you won’t find it.
PC: I do have a soft spot for New Yorkers, they seem more genuine than people in other places might be, like Los Angeles. Some actors I’ve interviewed have given LA residents a bed press. My son was in New York two years ago and he was lost and looking for a specific place. He asked a stranger for help and they took his map and showed him the way. He said they were the friendliest people you could encounter.
TC: I have done that many times. I’m on a subway and someone says, “Can you tell me blah blah blah” and I say, “I’m going that way, come with me.” New York has good people, they really are. Some of them are jaded but for the most part if you need help, they will help you. I love where I grew up, I love what my life has become, I’ve been very very lucky. I have great kids, I have a great wife, good friends. I don’t think I’d change much. There are sad things my wife and I both went through when we were young, but other than that I wouldn’t change much at all. I could have had a better childhood, a little better relationship with my mother.
My mother hated show business, she hated it – I love the line she used to come out with and if you think about it, it’s very funny. In my twenties, when I decided acting was what I wanted to do and I told her, she said, “What do you mean you wanna to be an actor? You don’t sing, you don’t play the piano.” I took it for what it’s worth. Fine, you don’t know what an actor does. The funny thing is that my mother worked in building operations for CBS, which is the big broadcasting company in New York and she worked there 25 years and saw every actor that came through. Her office was in the basement. I always think she used to see the bins of pictures and resumes go past her office to the garbage. She would say to me, “Go work at the Post Office,” and it was never about college. She would say you wanna go to college, get a job then put yourself through college. A lot of that had to do with my stepfather but let’s not go into that.
PC: Yes, my mother doesn’t get it. If she’s visiting, she tries to forbid me from going on my laptop or iPad and I say to her, “I have transcribing to do, I can’t just stop.” Funny.
TC: Funny you should say that. My mother never asked me about my business. She did come and see one or two plays early on but never talked about it. One time we were at her house in upstate New York. Somebody from down the road popped in and the man was standing there talking to us and suddenly said, “Oh wait a minute… you’re the guy that does the commercials, right?” and I say, “Yeah that’s me.” My mother, who is in another room, sticks her head round the door and says “…And they pay him a lot of money for that!” I was like, “Where did that come from, how many years I never heard you say a thing!”
PC: You have been fortunate enough to be cast in the James Gray film, Armageddon Time, recently with one of my favourite actors, Sir Anthony Hopkins. Can you tell me about it?
TC: The film is set in 1980 in Queens, NY.
It’s about a young Jewish boy growing up and the family around him.
Tony plays his grandpa. Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway play his parents. I play Uncle Louis, brother-in-law to Tony’s character. The cast list is pretty impressive.
PC: I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Tony. Did you spend much time with him?
TC: Yes, Paula. Let me tell you Tony was absolutely wonderful. I spent two weeks with him. He told stories about his family, his childhood, his career.
He told a story about his father taking him to see a Chaplin film. He enjoyed it so much, he asked his father to take him again. After enjoying it so much for a second time he wrote Chaplin a letter in Switzerland. About a month later he received a letter back from Chaplin. As they say the rest is history.
PC: Was he a good listener, happy to hear other peoples’ stories?
TC: Yes, he was a good listener.
On the last day of shooting, his assistant came up to me with a lovely shopping bag and said, “Tony would like you to have this.” In a box in the bag was a beautiful Hermes necktie!
PC: We must get to some music questions. Are you a big music fan? Is there a particular genre you gravitate to?
TC: I don’t know if you know who Jimmy Roselli is. He is an old Italian singer who actually came from Hoboken just like Sinatra did. He was like a poor man’s Sinatra and there was a rivalry between the two. Obviously Sinatra won out, but I love listening to Jimmy Roselli because I remember hearing that as a kid. I was really a big Bruce Springsteen fan.
TC: Because I’m from New Jersey, I like him. Coincidentally, I have a cousin who grew up in New York with me, and then we lost touch for years. I found out he was working in the music business, and he had over the years been on tour with the band, Boston. He was a very intelligent guy. He was very good friends with Crosby, Stills & Nash. He ended up being second in command on Springsteen’s tours when he was at his hottest.
Now he’s a big television director. After leaving music when his wife started having children, he ended up being a producer on NYPD Blue for 11 years.
My cousin and I are very close and have worked together a number of times. He was directing a show with Jennifer Lopez and called me and said, “I’ve got a one-line job, do you wanna do it?” I said, “Will I get to hang out with you all day?” He said yeah. I said, “Of course, I will do it.” I love telling this story, it’s great. The day we filmed, Jennifer Lopez had brought her kids to the set to have dinner with her. I notice her assistant got out a food cooler bag, and Jennifer starts dishing the food out of a plastic Tupperware box. Everyone got a scoop of rice and beans, everyone got a pork chop on their plate. Her mother had sent the food on set from home for the kids to eat. Her credibility went up in my mind right there, because she was so genuine. My cousin told me that Jennifer knows every line of a script and there’s never a problem. She was very prepared.
PC: Back to music…
TC: I like Rock music. I like softer rock music. I’m not a metal fan. I was never over the top with music, but I have seen my share of shows over the years. I’ve seen The Rolling Stones, Springsteen, Elton John. My wife and I have seen Billy Joel a number of times.
PC: I guess you can see everyone in New York. Everyone plays there eventually.
TC: Yeah, you really can. Years ago you could get a ticket for 15 dollars. We go to local gigs occasionally, but haven’t been to a big show since we saw Billy Joel four years ago. He was doing a show a month at Madison Square Gardens since he had a residency slot there.
PC: What about books, are you a reader?
TC: I’m not a reader, but I have been enjoying audio books. We recently got into Matthew McConaughey’s book ‘Green Lights’ which I recommend, it was really really good. There’s a podcast called SmartLess – it’s Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes. They do a podcast once a week, and they bring on someone from the industry. One of them brings on a character and the other two don’t know who’s coming on. They bring on some really interesting people and the conversation gets very ‘inside of the business’–I really recommend it. It’s an hour a week. You will learn a lot about where people came from and how different projects came about. I think they started the podcast during COVID and have done over 50 episodes. Have you listened to Marc Maron, have you heard of him?
PC: I don’t think so.
TC: He is a comic and he, I think, put the podcast on the map in the States. He does a great podcast and also goes into ‘Where did you start out, tell me about the beginning.’ A lot like what you’re doing. He’s another good one. I’ve been listening to more podcasts than anything these days.
PC: I’ve found the SmartLess podcast on Spotify, so shall give them a listen.
TC: I’m sure Marc Maron will be in there too. He’s probably the Godfather of podcasts. He literally started doing it in his garage in 2009, before everyone knew what a podcast was.
PC: Everyone is doing them now.
TC: He was a very successful comic at the time. He would be on Letterman and Conan O’Brian a lot, but he was very political at one point. He’s a terrific interviewer and he has some of the older comics on too.
My wife and granddaughters are readers.
PC: I think either you are, or you are not, no in between. I am, but my husband is not.
TC: My wife will say, “Tell me the last book you read…” But I read a lot of plays – hundreds of plays – but that doesn’t count! She likes her time reading and that works out fine.
PC: How would you describe your perfect day? How would you spend it, who would you spend it with?
TC: I will tell you what we did yesterday: First of all it’s summer, so that’s good. We have an above ground pool. For as long as my wife and I have been together – 35 years – there’s always been a pool in our yard.
Last summer when COVID was just starting to shut things down, we decided last July we were all going to be together. Everyone came home, my daughter from Massachusetts came home, my son came home, my niece was here. Now the pool is 27 years old and has this rust line that has been there for years because the pool is old. I was in the house when I suddenly heard a pop. I thought one of my grandkids must have jumped on a tube and burst it. But all of a sudden I hear my eldest daughter say, “Oh my God, the pool broke.” The pool had split like the Red Sea, and two of my grandkids came out like a tsunami. The water just took them out into the yard. There is a fence there, and luckily we can laugh about it because nobody got hurt. The water luckily went in the right direction and the water just seeped into the ground, so it wasn’t a catastrophe other than losing the pool. I put a new one in. I found one when nobody had pools, so we have a pool.
Yesterday my wife wanted to paint something, so we got the paint out, put out the tables and she painted. Then we sat outside, having coffee on the decking. Because I was doing this with you this morning, I woke her up at 7am and said, “If you want coffee on the deck, we got to do it now.” So we have a simple life, we can decide what we want to do. We go to the Farmers Market, we go watch our grandson play hockey. My little granddaughters play softball, so I go to watch that. There is always something to do.
PC: So as long as you are with your family, you’re happy is basically what you are saying?
TC: My older grandkids, they come here a lot. They were here last night for dinner, they jumped in the pool for a half hour. They talked about what’s going on. We enjoy being with them and they enjoy being with us. All auditioning is from home now, you send your self-tape in. I’m hoping we get back to in-person auditions, but I have a feeling it won’t. I am very involved in the library. I teach a class there when we are not in lockdown. Twice a year I will teach an 8-week beginners class just for fun. I get all types of different people attending. I like doing it, but it’s nothing serious. Nobody is looking to become an actor. Once a month we do a Zoom open mic, and I host it with a friend of mine. He’s the host and I’m his sidekick. Tony and I have been friends for 40 years, we both quit the newspaper business at the same time to become actors. We just have a ball, we have so much fun doing it. It’s on the last Thursday of every month.
PC: You have a very full and blessed life.
TC: I do, I love it. I love when the little ones come here, they live close by. They are 9,7 and 3. They are a lot of fun and love being in the pool. We are very happy, I want to give a shout out to my wonderful grandkids: Erin, Nina, Ronan, Juliana, Gemma, Sammy, Luna & Charlie. Every 10 days or so, we visit my mother-in-law who is 94. I food shop for her. My wife talks to her mother 3 times a day, everyday. I’d love for her to come live here, we have room, but she likes where she is. She is very aware, she knows what’s going on.
PC: You are a lucky man I think.
TC: I really am, I just want to keep going, no more than that. My line is – the only things left I need in my life now are socks and underwear… everything else I have.
PC: It’s been an absolute pleasure, thank you Teddy.
TC: I am honoured you asked me.
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