Q&A: Alan Rickman and Jerry O'Connell
by Whitney Spaner, 12/21/2011
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For a hilarious peek into the lives of New York writers, head over to Broadway's Golden Theatre, where prolific playwright Theresa Rebeck's new work, Seminar, is introducing audiences to four fledgling authors (Jerry O'Connell, Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater and Hettienne Park). The quartet has hired Leonard (Alan Rickman), a pompous professor, to pep up their prose in a posh, "rent-stabilized" Upper West Side apartment. The rub? Leonard is a bit more than they've bargained for. He relishes in ripping their work—and fragile psyches—apart. The result is a very funny and heartbreaking look at New York's creative class. We sat down with Rickman (some of you may know him best as Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise) and O'Connell, who got his start as a child actor in the 1986 film Stand By Me, to chat about Seminar and their favorite spots in the City.
Jerry, you were born in New York and have been an actor for most of your life, but this is your Broadway debut. Was performing on Broadway a goal for you?
Jerry O'Connell: It was always a dream and a goal. A lot of times as an actor you don't get to choose the part—the part chooses you. I just got so lucky with this production. I've been a big fan of Theresa's and auditioned for a number of her plays in the past. Everything just sort of worked for this one. And I know he's sitting next to me, but getting to watch Mr. Rickman every night is a real treat.
Alan, this is your third time on the Great White Way. What do you love about it?
Alan Rickman: I love it because it's so different than working in the theater in London. London is so spread out. It's true that [in] Manhattan, there's a much greater sense that theater is part of the life of the city. You feel vaguely relevant for once in your life. You feel like you've got something to say, especially in a play like this that has something to do with the lives people actually go out and live.
There were definitely parts that I related to as a New York City resident.
JO: It's about as New York a play as a play can be. When people stop me on the street and they say that they've seen it, I get the sense that they've been over to one of the [play's] apartments—there are a lot of jokes about rent control.
AR: A friend of mine, Laura Linney, came last night and she said, "I grew up in [Leonard's] apartment." Her dad was a famous playwright, and she said that was his room. Another friend, Martha Clarke, said she recognized what was going on in the play in terms of her life as a choreographer. People pick up on it in all sorts of ways, even if it's just the price of their apartment. You can feel the laughter of recognition growing and growing through the evening. Theresa is writing from her own experience. She's a Brooklynite. She's been there and done it all, all over New York, so she knows what she's talking about.
How do you prepare for the show?
AR: One of the things about Theresa's writing is that it seems like natural conversation, but it really isn't. [It requires] tremendous concentration. You need mouth muscles that are a bit stronger, so I have to get in early enough to take myself through it—pull my body and brain together. You've got to have your whole machinery in gear to meet the writing—you can't just sort of wander on. This is your equipment and you have to take it to the gym. You've also got to listen to each other and the audience. You can't just get out there and do the play the way you remember—you have to plug in to what's real.
Jerry, you live in LA, and Alan, you're from London. Where do you like to go in New York when you're not performing?
JO: We all went to Joe Allen's for lunch. It was so exciting to be there with Alan because Frank Langella came over to our table—it was just a really fun day. Sometimes we get a sitter for the kids and my wife will come up and meet me before the show. We'll grab an early dinner there at 5pm. They have a steak tartare that I call "meat sushi." We do that about twice a week. In our neighborhood, there's a restaurant called Crema—it's rich French-Mexican food, and we really like it. And if we want Italian, there's a place called Le Zie on Seventh Avenue and 20th Street. And I really like Barbuto by your old place downtown, Alan.
AR: I'm very much a downtown person, but I go all over the place to eat. I had a wonderful meal at Brushstroke in TriBeCa. I'm a good friend of Keith McNally, who owns [many] restaurants, so we've been known to go to his places on the occasion. It just depends what mood you're in and every mood will be catered to. There's a place in TriBeCa called Kitchenette that has the best pecan pie I've ever tasted. After the show, we hang out at the usual places because you want to go somewhere nearby, although last night Laura Linney took me to Flex Mussels. They serve these big bowls of mussels in different sauces. They just take the lid off and there's this steaming bowl of mussels with a big pile of excellent french fries, and then, because you're feeling guilt-free, it's perfectly OK to have the donuts they make there [that they] inject with different fillings. I had to ask Laura, "What's this filling called PB&J?" I'm so alien.
Jerry, where are some places you like to take your 3-year-old twin girls?
JO: We go to Chelsea Piers a lot, and they just did their recital for the Joffrey Ballet. I was very proud of them. This city is a great place for kids. I live in suburban Los Angeles, and while it has its virtues, it's not New York. It's so exciting to put my kids in the subway and see them look around. The other day, I had them on the subway and we got to our stop. One of our kids asked, "Where are we going?" I said, "We're going home." She asked, "Why?" and I was like, "Because we live there." Then she started crying and said, "I want to live on the subway." It's fun to have my kids here for this experience.
What are some things you would recommend that someone should see and do when visiting New York?
JO: Aside from Seminar…you should definitely visit Katz's, which is quite possibly the oldest-school deli. Things there haven't changed a bit. It's a real New York experience. Also, I grew up downtown, so I never really explored Central Park—but I have kids now, so on one of the Mondays we had off, I took my kids and it was so beautiful. It's so immense, I got a little scared that I was in the middle of the wilderness for a second there, but then I heard some horns and I followed that noise. There's so much to do around there. I want to go to the Maurizio Cattelan exhibit at the Guggenheim.
AR: There are hidden galleries people don't know about like the Neue Galerie, but of course you should do the Met and the Whitney and everything as well. I ask visitors, "Have you eaten at Peter Luger Steak House across the bridge? Have you been to BAM and found out what's on there?" A lot of people don't know how exciting their repertoire is. Until last winter, I had never been to the Village Vanguard, where all the jazz greats were. I've just been wandering past it. New York's filled with these things. The other thing I would say to do is get a round trip on the Staten Island Ferry at night. On the one coming back, get to the front and watch Manhattan coming toward you. That's just glorious, and it's free! And sunset from [the 18th-floor lounge at] The Standard—I believe it's $27 for a glass of wine, but it has a great view, so it's a great place to go and nurse a drink. I would also take the Jitney out to Long Island, which I did a few years ago. After I finished the run of Private Lives, I got on the Jitney and went out to Amagansett. One minute you're in the madness of Manhattan and in a couple of hours you're getting off a bus and walking onto this windswept beach. It's all right here.