I first ran across Tim when he started to send me short films to review. Emails were exchanged where we talked about all sort of things until I finally said "Why don't just we get together and just talk about what you've done?" He insanely said yes.
Tim is one of the most amazing people to talk to. If you want to know about film and acting (and other subjects) Tim is your man. If you ask him a single question will take you into all sorts of unexpected and delightful places. Tim is the sort of person you want to spend a weekend with just talking because you don't know where it will go. It also makes interviewing him difficult at times because you have to try to keep things focused on the topic you are talking about, say filmmaking and acting.
The interview took place in December 2018 at the Westway Diner on 9th Avenue in Manhattan, and it ran over two hours. Tim and I discussed theater, film and the life of a working actor. What follows is a transcription of about half of our conversation. Because of the sheer length of the interview I had to cut it down. I've removed a long discussion of 2018's year in films and possibilities for the then-upcoming Critics' and Academy Awards. While it contains some excellent analysis of recent films and actors, the passage of time has made our talk about nominations and awards very out of date. Other trims were made because they didn’t fall within the parameters of the acting.
In this first part of the interview, Tim and I talk about Yasmina Reza’s play "Art." It may sound like a strange place to begin an interview by a film actor, but Tim had just finished doing the play at the San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre. I'm a fan of the play (I saw it four times, each time they changed the cast on Broadway) and I wanted to know what it was like doing the play. We'd spoken about other things before we were seated in the diner, but Tim started with "Art" when we sat down and I turned on the recorder.
The play concerns three friends and what happens when one of them buys a piece of art, a huge white canvas, without checking with his friends. Pointed and very funny it highlights the friendship dynamics we probably don’t want to admit are operating in our relationships. The play also contains an infamous long monologue that never seems to end in which when Yvan has a breakdown about wedding invitations. It’s very funny, very sad, and never fails to elicit an audience reaction.
|Timothy Cox in Art (photo taken by Ryan C. Loyd Of Rylo Media Design)|
Tim: I went out to California and did the play Art.
And it reignited a love of the theater again. Ever since then I was gone and I've just been reading plays again. Just 'cause you get into the film stuff. I would only occasionally do a play, but it reignited the fire of wanting to do plays.
When I first moved to New York in 2001 it was exclusively theater, with an occasional film kind of thing. I always thought I'd just be a guy, a road actor doing Shakespeare, Chekhov, stuff like that.
And that's what I did for about the first eight, nine years of living in the city, just doing theater. Working, around here or down in the West Village, like 13th Street Rep, and stuff like that.
And then 2010, like [snaps] film stuff started happening, and it started to be more film and the occasional play. But now we hooked up with this theater in California that we did a play last year, and then just did Art.
Steve: I've gotta ask you. You played Yvan?
Steve: So you that long monologue? How did you handle that?
Tim: The thing is... we had about six, seven months to prepare. So as soon as we found out that we got the green light, I got the script and I looked at it. "Oh, shit I'm really in it now." It's like there's no going back.
I saved the monologue for the last thing that I memorized 'cause I knew that was gonna be... We affectionately referred to it as "The Beast." I did everything else, and then I probably had maybe two or three months just to work on the monologue.
And it's just one of those things where you just drill it over and over. And when I got into rehearsal with the director, Kevin Harris, we just found like, "OK. Here are the beats. You have to be able to understand what is being said. Speed can come later. And we got to the point, like we would have a lot of these like two or three false stops in it. Just where the friends, Marc and, and Serge can be like, "Oh, he's done." And then he goes on... Like just for breathing and that, 'cause because it's easy to be the kind of a thing that where it could be done so fast where no one really understands it. It has to be energetic because that's what Ivan is, just this kind of a lunatic, really.
But, I never blanked on it. I never... thankfully. My colleagues Travis Mitchell and Lawrence Lesher, they would say, "What did you do backstage?" And he said, "Were you like, like doing jumping jacks?" And I said, "Nope. I was there. I was very quiet. I was very focused," and [claps] boom. Just, you know, because the focus is so important. I didn't wanna be revved up. I wanted to rev up. I wanted to go on and get revved up as the character and going through it because I'm a naturally fast talking person anyway. And I think the first thing Kevin said to me, he says, "You're the last person that needs to go faster."
He said, "Find moments where there's peaks and valleys, because you have somewhere to go." If you come in at ten, even, you know, for five minutes, you're gonna have nowhere to go. You're telling the story, and just think about if you've ever been at a party and someone's told a really, really fun story or a joke or whatever. Think about it like that. And because it's there's peaks, there's moments where it's like it's high, it's low, it's fast, it's slow.
But man, what a ride. What a, what a fun... I mean Yasmina Reza wrote a really, really complex, funny, hard play.
And it took me about two weeks to shake the play out of my system. Because this was a guy going through kind of a crisis. Like I say, Ivan is I would have been if I hadn't met my wife, like that kind of guy who's kinda floundering. He was 40 one minute, [snaps] he blinked, and then he was 40, and like, "Where the hell did life go?"
Steve: I saw it with every cast on Broadway when they changed, every time the audience would just be sitting there, and you would get this beat of like stunned silence.
Tim: Yeah. I got, there was a point where we had put a little thing in. Halfway through the monologue, I would get a little applause. And then, 'cause there's a moment where they think he's done. And he sits down on the couch, and then he does one of these things. It, it's like, "ka," da da, da da. And then you would hear, every once in a while, I would hear from the audience, "Oh man, this poor bastard." And that's like, "Yeah!" And that was the best. It didn't always happen.
I mean that's the thing about live theater, as you know, audience A is going to be different than audience B. There'd be some nights where they would just be kinda like trying to follow along with what with this guy, these three guys, their relationship, and what they were going through in the show.
I would do it again in a heartbeat. I mean we wanna do all of Yasmina Reza. I mean like God of Carnage, The Unexpected Man. All of them are just so well written and funny, but also frighteningly like, "Ooh, this hits a little close to home."
I think we had that, a lot of people who came up to me and said, "I have like a relationship with a friend. We're in a, a trial period as far as the friendship." You hope they work, work things out, but that's, that's nice to hear that the play resonated with them.
Steve: Zoë Wanamaker said, when she was doing Medea, "I wish you could do it once or twice a week because I'm right where I want to be at twice a week. I'm okay twice a week, and then the rest of the time I'm not. But nobody in the audience is ever aware.
Tim: You can't tell... It's kind of a thing where, and how it with me, it's that having that time to know that character, know the script so well. Most of the time, we don't have six, seven months advance notice. Most of the time, you have four to six weeks, if even that. Mercedes Ruehl was telling a story, when she was doing an "A" play where she had three weeks to learn it... which scares the shit out of me.
Because Albee was notoriously difficult, especially if he was in the room with you.
But I think it depends on the script, the people that you have working with you. I mean these actors happen to be close friends that we know each other so well. And we were all so perfectly cast.
And there are times that it fits like a glove, there are nights when you go out, "Oh, it's really clicking. It's really cooking, it's really cooking." And then nights when also it doesn't, but still your training and your technique guide you through it.
There were moments during this, where Ivan has a breakdown in the end of the show. There were nights where I didn't think about it. I just kinda rode the wave. And I would be convulsing tears. And out of, I would say, 75 per cent of the time, [snaps] it happened. With no preparation on my end, it was just a simple thing of listening and reacting and taking it in.
I did Long Day's Journey into Night 25 years ago... I was Jamie. O'Neill demands your best. And you've got to be focused. I mean, granted, I was 22 years old... but it was that [for me] just learning the lines was the thing. There was never the connection to the material, that it's like one you wish you could do again.
Now if you just drill it so to the point where you don't even have to think about the lines I would, I would say to my colleagues, Travis and Larry on stage, I'd say, "When I'm out there on stage with you, I don't see Travis and Larry, I see Marc and Serge, and for 90 minutes we are these guys."
And it's so, it was so... I hesitate to say the word "easy," but it was easy to jump into that, because I think... because we were so well cast. It was so well directed, and it's such a good script.
Steve: How did it come together?
Tim: When we did Rounding Third the previous year, we were out with Kevin. Alcohol is always involved. And he said, "OK, guys, I want you to come back. What do you want to do?"
And we, without even hesitation... we said Art because we were all sort of the right age. I'm 42, and Travis, I think, is 45, I mean we're all in that same age range. And we knew it was going to be challenging, but we're at that age where we want to do the stuff that scares us.
And we kind of thought it was drunk chatter. 'Cause, you know, in anything, in the theater or films you say "Oh, I'd love to do this film with you." And then you don't hear anything about it.
A couple of months later, we got the official word that, "Okay, we're gonna do Art." And Travis and Larry and I had a reading over at the Residence Inn on 54th Street.
And they all went off and they did some other projects, and I, thankfully, I had a few film things to do. But mostly in that six or seven month period, I would just, every day, 45 minutes to an hour every day, I would just [snaps] drill it. Put it away for a little bit, let it simmer, you know, and would just do it like that for six, seven months. And by the time we got to California, all of us were at various levels of prep and memorization. But the, the great thing about being out there is that, you know... when you're out in San Luis Obispo in California, we didn't have anything else during the day.
We were so prepared because we really would only rehearse... I think we were doing runs the second or third day we were in California 'cause Kevin had the show, he had the tech, he had the music.
We had a colleague that saw it from that moment until the time we closed. He said that the show was great that first time, but it got even better by the time we closed, just 'cause.
Steve: How long did you do it?
Tim: I think it was, uh, three weeks. And I think, overall, it was probably like 18, 20 performances. But, it was tough. It was emotionally tough just 'cause of, of where all of those characters went. It was, it was, it was fun, it was painful, but I think that's what you want, I think at this point. You don't want what's easy. You know, you want roles that scare you, and roles that you have to confront, like, "Oh, I have more in common with this character than I would probably care to admit, flaws and warts and all."
Rounding Third was kinds the same thing. I don't know if you know the play?
Steve: I know the name, but I don't really...
Tim: It was a play that ran off Broadway... I wanna say 15 years ago. And then they made a movie of it, that just came out. And I think... I mean it was John C. Reilly and Garret Dillahunt. And I don't think it's a movie that's gonna do, you know, Hollywood big kind of a thing. I imagine it'll be on Netflix.
But Richard Dresser wrote this really sweet, funny play. At first you would think it's kind of like The Odd Couple on a baseball diamond. When I first read it, that's kinda what I thought. And then I read it again and I read it again and I thought, "Oh, wow. This is..., there's more to this." I don't know if it got that kind of attention when it first ran Off Broadway.
Travis played a coach who was the All-American dad kind of athlete, you know, winning is everything. And then I play this guy who basically knows nothing about baseball. His stepson is into this. And he thinks "As long as everybody has fun." And of course that's where they butt heads.
And at first you think it's going to be this one play, and then Dresser such a great job of taking you in an unexpected way, that these guys are more alike than they would probably care to admit.
And, again, like Art, but from a different way, it was challenging. It's like, "Oh, wow, there's more to this than I first thought" Again, there are two really great stage roles that challenged and frightened and scared us... but with preparation... We were so prepared that we could've, we could have done those plays in our sleep.
Steve: So what's the next challenge you're going to do next year?
Tim: I don't know. I'm at the age where I have about 20 years until I can start thinking about Willy Loman or something like that, but I'd love to do The Iceman Cometh. They would never do it at this theater, 'cause it's like a five hour [laughs] Eugene O'Neill play. I mean the one thing that we've been, we've been kinda tossing around and is, uh, you know Peter and the Starcatcher, but that would be different.
Steve: Do you sing?
Tim: I'm from the Robert Preston school of, talking/singing it. Travis is a good singer. He's done Thénardier in Les Mis, roles like that.
And this theater, they had been a community theater for about 70 years, and it's their second or third year of switching, going over to the professional route, and the change hasn't fully turned yet. I've submitted Butley by Simon Gray. It's very British...
Steve: It's very good.
Tim: But again, it's a marvelous play, I mean... I said to Kevin, "Picture a play where you have Marc, Serge, Ivan, all rolled into one very complex, complicated guy." I didn't see that revival that Nathan Lane did. I remember the movie that Alan Bates did, and, of course, he was marvelous. But I imagine that Nathan Lane was quite good in the part. It's a different kind of a part for him.
Steve: I had read that, and it was like, "Wow." And then I saw the Alan Bates film...
Tim: The American Film Theater series is like that. They did Iceman Cometh and A Delicate Balance. And I think they only did 12 films all together. And some of them, I mean, are really, really marvelously done. I just rewatched The Iceman Cometh film version. Robert Ryan and Fredric Marc. I mean people gave... the reviews they gave Lee Marvin... I mean, I thought Lee Marvin, he tried. It couldn't have been Jason Robards because he had that terrible car accident at the time. But I think it would have been, if he hadn't have been in the accident. That kind of a play, Hickey or any of those roles in Iceman or O'Neill or Miller or Albee, I mean, like in the theater, those are the kind of things that I'd love to do.
My favorite story about when O'Neill was writing because when he was writing Iceman and Moon for the Misbegotten and Long Day's Journey into Night, he was writing his agent. And he said, "I have to put Long Day's Journey away. I'm having some problems with it, but I'm having a ball with this other play, and I'm laughing a lot." That was The Iceman Cometh. There's humor in Long Day's Journey between the brothers. I mean, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, same thing. Edward Albee wrote a comedy. It's a comedy not in the sense of Neil Simon. H wrote a comedy of that's, I think, what we called Art a comedy of discomfort.
And I think that's the best kind of comedy, because it's comedy that people can be like... I remember Ivan would be doing the monologue, and people were,"Oh, that poor bastard," or be like, "Oh, Ivan," you know, "you're just, you're just making it worse." "Oh, why didn't you just keep your mouth shut?," you know?
And you love that kind of a reaction. A good play like that or Iceman or Death of a Salesman, the playwrights hint that you know these guys. You might be these guys. You all know a Hickey or a Jimmy Tomorrow or a, a Larry Slade or someone like that, or an Ivan or a Marc. You know, they always have that friend that like, "Oh, they can't keep their opinions to themselves."
But, so those are great roles in the theater.
I've always known. From the time I was in college, I knew I was a character actor, which is great because character actors, you always work.
But the thing is, you have to be patient. Right now, Bryan Cranston is riding this incredible wave, and he is like, I think he's 60.
Have you seen Network?
Steve: End of January. Did you see it?
Tim: Oh, yeah. We saw it in previews. He's exceptional. Doesn't make you think that Peter Finch, as someone said, Peter Finch's is Peter Finch, I mean, and Bryan Cranston's is Bryan Cranston. It's the same thing that someone came in and said, like, "Oh, that Tatiana Maslany is nowhere near Faye Dunaway." No one's going to be near Faye Dunaway.
Steve: You've gotta make the role yourself.
Tim: You gotta, and you have to... It's kind of like what Jeff Daniels said about To Kill a Mockingbird. "We're gonna do, you gotta remember the book, remember the movie, but you gotta come in, you gotta throw it all out." As far as he's concerned, he's originating the role, which you have to go with that mentality because there's always gonna be people that say, "Well, he didn't do as well as Gregory Peck."
I mean, if we went and saw The Odd Couple and said, "Well, it was good, but it wasn't with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau." The actors would be like, "Of course it's not." You can admire someone's performance, but the actor has to make it their own.
One of the things that somebody mentioned about Denzel Washington,... his Hickey showed how funny and charismatic he is, and that's what Hickey is. And they said, "It didn't make me think of Jason Robards."... It should be different. I mean if you get ten Hamlets, you should see ten interpretations. And, you know, if they're all the same, that's boring.
Part Two of my interview with Tim will run tomorrow with Part Three on Wednesday.
(A huge thank you to John DiBello for his help in putting this interview together and to Timothy J Cox for taking the time to sit down and talk to me.)