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On the stage, anything can happen

Actor Anthony Heald has performed on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in film and television. His roles at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival have included Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and the Stage Manager in “Our Town.” Next, he will be playing in a revival of “The Elephant Man” with Bradley Cooper on Broadway. Next year, he will be starring in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” at the California Shakespeare Theater. This is the second in a two-part Backstage interview. Part one is online at dailytidings.com.

EH: How long have you been in theater?

AH: My first time on stage was third grade; I did plays in high school. But it wasn’t until I got to college, when I did a one-act play. It was very well received. People wanted me to be in directing scenes and inviting me to parties; it felt very good. So I thought, “I’ll keep doing this until I find that I’m not good at it.” I did summer stock every summer, until I finally left college and became a member of the Union.

During the Vietnam War, I was finding that the mainstream theater I was doing seemed not to have a great deal of relevance to what was going on in the world. I started directing a street theater company that did anti-war and feminist material. For about two years, we toured the East Coast in an old converted mail van, passed the hat at outdoor performances, and slept on people’s floors. I wanted to have my art reflect my politics.

EH: What makes theater such a unique medium?

AH: It’s actually happening in front of you. You look at a film, and it seems real, but the process of making the film is totally unreal. You break things up into tiny little sections, and you do things out of sequence. From the actor’s perspective: There is the other actor, but then there are the cameras, the lights, and the crew watching. It’s a very unreal situation.

In theater, you are in a room or in an outdoor theater bowl, and clearly these are actors. But it’s going from start to finish. There’s a progression to it; and you get on that ride, and really anything can happen, because it’s live. I think that’s exciting.

As an actor, every performance is different in some way; there’s constant variety to it. It’s very energizing. That’s why I love it. As an audience member, you affect the performance by how you respond. It involves you more than watching a film or television. It’s actually real.

For me, what’s appealing about working in theater is that you get a chance to go through the material over and over and over. In film and television, you work on one scene, maybe three scenes, for one day, and then it’s done. I really like developing behavior, gradually finding the character. In film and television, you need to come up with the character as the camera is rolling. I find it much less involving.

EH: You did great character work in “Silence of the Lambs.”

AH: It legitimized me in terms of casting people and directors. But it also locked me into unsympathetic roles. Ever since then, I could only get parts as sleaze-balls in suits.

EH: How do you keep yourself together between projects?

AH: I’ve been very fortunate in finding the perfect mate. She keeps me honest, healthy and happy. That and my two children, it all keeps me grounded. One reason we moved here was that I was able to spend much more time with my family.

We’re all a long involved process; it takes us a while to become who we are.

Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.