Monday, June 24, 2019

Talking With Timothy Cox About Acting Part 1

This is the first part interview I did with actor Timothy J. Cox.

Tim has worked in theater, TV, and film. He has 125 credits on IMDB — and the number is growing. He's a great actor and a wicked comedian. He's both written and produced films, and is a champion of indie films of all kinds.

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.

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.

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.

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 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: When I first moved to New York in 2001, I was exclusively a theater actor. This is the kind of actor that I thought I was going to be; doing Shakespeare, Feydeau, Chekhov, etc. This was heaven for me as at the time all I ever wanted to be was a good supporting actor in the theater. That was the extent of my ambitions. And that's what I did for about the first nine years of living in the city. I worked in and around the city, especially down in the West Village at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre. I learned a lot working at that theater.

And then in 2010, more film work started coming my way and ever since, I have only occasionally returned to the theater but after the productions of both Rounding Third [by Richard Dresser] and Art [by Yasmina Reza] over the last two years at the San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre, which were very enjoyable and successful, my love of acting in the theater has been reignited. I've been reading plays again, watching plays again, falling in love with the theater again and it’s been great.

Steve: I've gotta ask you. You played Yvan in Art?

Tim: Yeah.

Steve: So you have that long monologue? How did you handle that?

Tim: Luckily, I had about seven months to prepare the role of Yvan. Thank God. As soon as I got the green light on the production, I remember grabbing that script, looking at it and thinking, “Oh, shit... I'm really in it now. There’s no going back”. I just drilled the play...over and over again... just about every day for all of those months, but I saved the monologue for last, because I knew that that monologue was going to be the most difficult part. I affectionately referred to it as "The Beast."

I drilled that monologue over and over and over again for the last 2 months before we started rehearsals; trying to lay some ground work.When I got into rehearsals with director, Kevin Dale Harris [Artistic Director of The San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre], he knew the way to approach it and that immediately put me at ease. He helped me find the beats, the rhythm, the music. As soon as I found those beats and that rhythm, I was able to play around with it and that’s when everything in that monologue and that character clicked. It took a lot of practice and focus and every time I went on stage to play the part and that monologue, I found something fresh and new every time I did it. It helps that it’s so incredibly well written and constructed, like a piece of music, but like a musical piece, you had to have all of the notes in place. If I left out one word, the whole thing would fall apart.

Kevin would often say, "Find moments where there are peaks and valleys in the when you tell a story to a group of friends at a party...because if it’s just you screaming for 5 minutes like a maniac, the audience won’t be engaged.”

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 that after the speech very often. I loved the silence. The speech is very funny, but it’s also a breakdown. He’s falling apart at the seams. This man, Yvan, cannot handle what’s coming his way...marriage, responsibility, having to grow up...and he’s cracking under the pressure.

Every once in a while, I would hear from the audience, "Oh man, this poor bastard." And that was the best. Nothing beats that kind of a reaction from an audience. Because there’s relatability; they relate to this man’s turmoil.

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: True. Many times it is your training and your technique that guide you through a performance.

Steve: How did it come together?

Tim: When Travis [actor Travis Mitchell] Larry [actor/director Lawrence Lesher] and I did Rounding Third the previous year, it was going very well and Kevin decided that he wanted to have us back. He said, "OK, guys, what do you want to do?"

And without hesitation... we said Art. We knew it was going to be challenging, but Larry, Travis and I are at that age where we want to do the stuff that scares us. A couple of months later, we got the official word from Kevin that Art was a go and everyone jumped in.

Steve: How long did you do it?

Tim: Three weeks. Eighteen performances. It was tough; emotionally draining, just because of where this character went. It was fun, but it was also painful. Cathartic even. It took me about two weeks to shake the play and the character out of my system as Yvan hit close to home for me. Yvan is a man alone; a man who is floundering through life. I was very moved by him. He was very familiar to me. Yvan is who I would have become if I hadn't met my wife, Jamie [Tim has been married to his wife Jamie since 2013].

You want roles that scare you, roles where you have to dig deep and say to yourself, "Oh, I have more in common with this character than I would probably care to admit."

But then you really have to dig in and be willing to show everything, warts and all.

The character of Michael in Rounding Third required this kind of emotional commitment as well. An excellent play by Richard Dresser.

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 believe, about 15 years ago. Richard Dresser wrote this really sweet, funny play. One could argue that it's The Odd Couple on a baseball diamond. When I first read it, that's what I thought. And then I read it again and again and I thought, "Oh, wow...there's more to this."

Travis played the coach of a little league baseball team, Don, who was the All-American athlete with the “winning is everything” mentality. And then I played his assistant coach, Michael, who basically knows nothing about baseball. He’s doing this to bond with his stepson. And his thinking is, “As long as everybody has fun." And of course that doesn’t sit well with Travis’ character so we are at odds, really, from the first moment we meet. It’s very funny, but then Dresser surprises you with these very real and honest moments that were a real punch in the gut to play.

Like Art, it was challenging, but the challenges are what made both productions so memorable.

Steve: So what's the next challenge you're going to do next year?

Tim: I don't know. Of course, I want a crack at the heavy roles, like the Willy Lomans, but at 42, I am still too young to even think about climbing that mountain.

You have to be patient as an actor. Patience is part of the journey.

Part 2 of my talk with the great Timothy Cox can be found here.

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