As you may (possibly) know, I spent a number of years of my life acting. In a certain sense, this time of my life might be said to have been time wasted. I never managed to make the much vaunted leap from the stage to the screen, and fickle Dame Fortune never saw fit to sprinkle me with even the tiniest portion of either financial fortune or far-reaching fame. And yet, I do not count those years as a loss. Throughout that time of my life, when performing was my singular goal, I crafted a skill set that is proving useful today. I am blessed to work with a company that uses the tricks and trappings of theatre to help young minds learn and grow.
That said, I would be lying if I claimed the thought of acting again - in some capacity - did not now and then flit through my mind. It has now been two years since I last performed in a traditional theatre production, and the itch to act again is starting to irk anew.
I am certain this is so, because last Saturday I actually went to the trouble of printing out a headshot and resume and driving to a community theatre audition for a show that you have certainly never heard of. I was excited about the show simply because, having quickly scanned a list of audition dates, it seemed to be a comedy I could easily fit within my summer break.
Turns out I completely misread the audition date. The audition was on 5/16, and last Saturday, just in case you too are easily confused by numbers, was 5/19. I think you will agree those two dates look similar, but turns out they aren’t actually the same.
I mistook the date of this audition, but I take this misadventure as a tell-tale sign that I am ready to get out the door and do a show. This took some time, because, well, when your day job consists of speaking on a microphone for 5 straight hours each day, motivating students and helping teach them lessons about history in a fun, upbeat, interactive way 5 days each week, the last thing you want to do in your off hours is go audition.
You’re just sick of hearing yourself talk.
But, it would appear that my willingness to “ham it up” has returned. And so, in an effort to stoke the fires of my own enthusiasm, this week I thought it would be fun to make a simple list. What follows are five actors who influenced me greatly, and who I definitely steal stuff from whenever I act.
[It was my original intention to include fun video clips with these, but I have no desire to embed copyright infringing videos on my personal website, even if I am not the person who originally uploaded the content. You will have to seek clips out for yourselves. Better yet, go buy some stuff. Artists need your support.]
When people today look back at old-time silver screen comic teams, they seem most likely to remember the Three Stooges, a fact which I have never understood. The Three Stooges just never made me laugh. The Marx Brothers were precisely my speed, and they, more than anything else, shaped young Philip’s sense of humor. I was still in elementary school when I ran across their films. My siblings and I discovered them by chance while scouring the local library for VHS tapes. There was not much to do in Brookston, Indiana, where we lived at the time. It was (and probably still is) a town of roughly 2,000 souls, nestled between cornfields.
Groucho Marx was my favorite. Half the time, young Philip had no idea why his puns, jabs, and asides were funny, but I absorbed his rhythms and eternal mugging like a sponge. To me, he will always be the master.
The finest Marx Brothers movie is, in my opinion, A Night At The Opera. Check it out. It holds up. Not bad for a film from the 1930s.
You will probably recognize Rowan Atkinson as his most infamous character, Mr. Bean. That is where I first found his work, too. It is difficult to overstate the sheer talents of this man in the realms of physical comedy. He is almost unmatched in the world of funny looks and inherently amusing movements. Mr. Bean is, therefore, an almost silent character. He speaks rarely. (For those interested, but uninitiated, seek out the Mr. Bean tv show. The movies came later, and they aren’t as good. The character works better as a sketch.)
I was surprised to find, later in life, that Rowan Atkinson is almost funnier when he is given lines to say. His stage show, Rowan Atkinson LIVE is well worth tracking down. I highly recommend a dramatic monologue of his where he plays a very genteel devil named Toby. I have pillaged the man’s mannerisms for many a silly character.
I suppose any deep-voiced, dark-haired Caucasian actor with a somewhat dry delivery will draw comparisons to Mr. Warburton. It cannot be helped. But, I confess I steer deliberately into the comparison by shamelessly imitating his vocal inflections. They are striking, memorable, and undeniably enjoyable. Like many in my generation, to me he will always be Kronk. If you don’t know what I mean by that, feel free to question our friendship.
If you haven't seen it, check out the Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events. I am an enormous fan of the A Series of Unfortunate Events book series; I am a casual fan of the film versions. Mr. Warburton, though, objectively crushes as the narrator in the Netflix show.
Obviously, Dustin Hoffman is universally regarded as one of America’s finest actors. He is great in everything. Very often, he is truly remarkable. However, I feel, personally, that his best work was in an overlooked, much maligned film called Hook.
In it, he plays the titular Hook. I have it on good authority that if you were an adult when this film came out, the whole thing plays poorly. The film was not well-received at the time, and there is even a dark rumor circulating the internet that the director, the incomparable Steven Spielberg, now regrets making the film.
To anyone who was a child when the film came out, this is madness. The film is magical in the best way, thoroughly dated, and purely delightful. Dustin Hoffman destroys as Hook, capturing the very essence of what it means to be a comic villain. His portrayal is hilarious, weirdly grounded, scary when it needs to be, and perfectly timed.
I am constitutionally unable to play a British villain role without lifting some of his inflections, inauthentic though they may be, as Hoffman is himself in no way British.
You have probably seen Hook by now, but if you haven't...watch it.
Lastly, this list would be rank nonsense of the very worst kind if it did not include Gene Wilder. The man was, simply put, a comic genius - not a term I use lightly.
He, too, is magnificent in practically everything, but to me he will always be Willy Wonka, as that weird and wonderful film was where I saw him first. The eccentricity, danger, and hilarity he brings to that role is staggering.
To capture the whole thing, you would really have to watch the whole film, So I recommend you do that.
If you want to read a story about me trying to sing a song from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and failing in the extreme, click HERE.
See you next week, my friends.