Rick Yaeger: Hello everyone. It’s Rick Yaeger here with “One Question Interviews,” the show where I get to golden opportunity to talk to a celebrity, and then I waste on some totally random question. Sitting across the Internet from me this day is a two-time Tony Award winner, who TV audiences may recognize as September, The Observer from “Fringe,” I don’t know. Please welcome Michael Cerveris.
Michael Cerveris: Hey guys.
Rick: Hey. Thank you so much for doing this.
Rick: I’m really…Somebody’s excited. I’m very excited too, to talk to you.
Michael: It’s a New York street scene outside.
Rick: Before we launch into your one question, let’s talk a little bit about what you’ve been up to. I’ve mentioned the second Tony Award, that just happened like a few weeks ago, for “Fun Home,” tell us a bit about that.
Michael: Fun Home is a new Broadway musical that is based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel autobiography about growing up as a young woman in central Pennsylvania in the ’70s, and her really complicated relationship with her father.
She came out as a lesbian woman when she was in college, and learned very soon thereafter that her father had been gay her whole life, and hoped that would suddenly be a way for them to connect in a way that they never really had before. Sadly, he died tragically four months later.
Years later she’s wrote this book, kind of as a way to try to come to terms with that, and in the process realized that she was writing a book about how her father taught her to be an artist.
Her life is very particular, but somehow the show, while doing honor to that story, it’s a way for people who have had any kind of family to connect. People are coming often to the show saying, “My family was nothing like Alison’s but my family was exactly like Alison’s.”
Michael: It’s great. It’s probably one of the most challenging and satisfying things that have gone on stage, and I’ve gotten to do some pretty cool stuff.
Rick: Yeah, and it’s in the round, which…
Rick: What’s that like?
Michael: That’s fantastic, actually. I have never really worked in the round before, not completely. When we initially did it at The Public Theater in New York, we were in a proscenium, and the entire stage was a huge revolve. Even when we moved uptown, I think it’s the only case I know of where a show has moved from downtown to uptown and gotten smaller, and more intimate.
The furthest row, I think there were only 8 rows, maybe 10 at the most. There’s truly not a bad seed in the house, and the audience is really…Feels like it’s in the house with us, there’s no place to hide, and no place to escape. It means we get to play it very naturalistically and not, fake musically, jazz handsy.
Michael: Which I think is a comfort too, especially the people who are coming to it from the graphic novel and not traditionally musical theater goers.
Rick: You’re saying that it’s going to tour, but it probably will be in the round when it tours.
Michael: Actually we’ll have to re-stage it again, for a touring version. I don’t think anybody’s even begun to figure out what that’ll be. But, Sam Gold, our director, did say that his intention is not to recreate what we did at the Public, obviously not to re-do what we do at Circle In The Square because, besides the fact that it’s in the round, also there are a lot of scenic elements that come up from the floor.
That’s how we do a lot of out scene changes. Theaters balk when you say, “Yes, we’re coming to your town, we’d like to remove your stage floor and dig a basement, and put, essentially transformers in the basement, so that we can do our show.”
Rick: You need to move all the chairs, too.
Michael: Yeah. All set.
Michael: It’ll be exciting in another version of the show which I think it’s exciting.
Rick: Yeah. I’m a big fan of Fringe. I caught it late. It was coming to a close as I was starting to watch it on iTunes or Netflix, or something like that, and realizing late in the series that he’s been in every episode. [laughs] Even if you’re just there for a second, just picked up a newspaper and walked away, you were…
Michael: That was the first season, I was in every episode. Later, once I moved to Vancouver, it became impossible to actually be in every single one, so then they starting having…That was when it started to become clear there were more than one Observer.
But, yeah, for a while, I would often just come down. I spent as much time in the make-up chairs I spent actually on set, in a way.
Michael: It was a little cross through the background.
Rick: Looking at all your work, and that character, compared to, on the other end of the spectrum, say Hedwig, like… [laughs]
Michael: Suit up. The introvert and extrovert ends of the spectrum there.
Rick: Which came first?
Michael: Hedwig was in ’98. It was a long time before Fringe.
Rick: A long time before. The Fringe casting people, they’re looking like…
Rick: You had to tone that down a bit.
Michael: Let’s get that drag queen back.
Michael: After I’ve been hired, they call with this idea, to have you be on the show for a long time. At that time, they were saying 14 or 15 episodes before you ever speak, but you’ll appear on these little five-second things. I thought that was a really cool idea, and that was the initial idea.
After a few episodes, the network and JJ decided, actually we really like this character and we want to find out about him sooner. We’ll go back to alternating between episodes where I have things to do, and episodes where I’m just there in the background.
Rick: They couldn’t wait to get to this…You were like the Zelig guy that was… [laughs]
Michael: Exactly, I was a modern day Zelig. I loved the character, and I loved that I’m part of something that’s become part of the sci-fi landscape. I grew up as a big sci-fi fan and a horror film fan, and stuff. I completely appreciate having a place in the cannon like that.
Rick: Let’s talk about Loose Cattle.
Rick: What that’s about? I was surfing around, and came across a Dolly Parton and CeeLo match up.
Michael: I think that was the first thing that we really worked on. Kimberly Kay, who’s my co-conspirator in the band, and I, were a couple at the time. We’d accept playing the relationship where we spent more time than we wanted to just bickering about this or that thing.
We thought, “Why don’t we start a band, so we’ll put out energies into that.” We named ourselves after a photograph of a Texas road sign that we saw, that was warning people about loose livestock, which I guess is a thing you have to worry about when you drive across Texas.
Michael: I just mis-remembered it as Loose Cattle, and it seemed to accurately describe the bunch of us who were playing. We played a few acoustic shows in friend’s places, and then, suddenly all these great performing opportunities came in really great venues. We opened for Arlo Guthrie, on this NPR show called “Mountain Stage,” and we played at Lincoln Centre, here in New York.
All these great gigs that you normally would work up to your whole career, and we were doing these off the bat. We thought, “Oh, if we actually made an effort, we might be good.” If we actually rehearsed, instead of just showing up, that would probably be a good idea. We did, and it’s been something that’s been a great outlet and release, and just good time for a number of years now.
We did a live album, our first album was a live album that we recorded at a venue here called “54 Below” and every year, we do a Christmas single that we just release free on the Internet. We’re eventually going to put our Christmas album, hopefully of those things.
We’re starting to talk now about going back to the studio and doing a proper studio record. I have another solo record of my own, that’ll hopefully be coming out in the fall, called “Piety,” that I recorded in New Orleans, which is my other home.
Rick: I’m going to grab for the One Question Hat, if you’re ready.
Michael: All right.
Rick: Are you ready? OK.
Michael: I’m not sure anybody’s really ready. Should I put a hat on, too?
Rick: If you’ve got one.
Michael: You know what…
Michael: It should really, I suppose, be something a little more like this.
Rick: There you go.
Michael: I could also match you a little bit.
Rick: That’s nice, too.
Recording: As you know, the show’s called One Question Interviews. I have almost a thousand different questions waiting from the profane to the profound. I’ll choose one at random, and you can seriously, or in a funny voice if you like, and everyone goes home happy. Cool?
Michael: All right.
Rick: [laughs] I’m just going to grab a handful here. Oops, dropped one. I just riffle down the side, and you tell me when to stop.
Rick: Stop. Would you like the top or the bottom?
Michael: Is that the question?
Rick: That is not the question.
Michael: I’ll take the top.
Rick: Michael Cerveris, do you prefer a vacation where you relax and do nothing, or one where you get a jump on every day to see and do everything?
Michael: I wish I was the kind of person who preferred vacations where you just relax and chill out, and do nothing. I keep telling myself that I’m going to be that kind of person, but I very seldom am. I remember the first time I took vacations from—-first of all, I seldom take vacations. When we were doing a long run of the Broadway show, you accrue vacation time, over time.
As an actor, most of your life is a vacation, and you’re looking for the opportunities to work, so the first times I had chances to have a vacation, it took a long time to actually take it. But, when I first did, I went to Ireland, and it was my first time in Ireland. I want to see Dublin, I wanted to see Galway.
I often, also, go to not tropical, sunny, beachy places. I go to places like…I go to the Highlands in Scotland, and…
Michael: Not like adventure, like rock climbing, and that kind of thing. But I do tend to relax by exploring, I guess.
Rick: Is it historic kind of locations that attract you?
Michael: I think sort of…I’m just going to take the hat off, because it’s getting hot.
Rick: Yeah, me too.
Michael: It’s maybe just experiencing different environment that are, that are… I do like historic stuff, and I find myself really intrigued, and knowing the history of the place that I’m in. Maybe a beach kind of place doesn’t feel like it has as much history. It’s like, “This beach looks like it’s looked like for hundreds of years.”
Michael: Maybe it is partly exploring the culture and the history.
Rick: The ancient cultures…Yeah, great answer. I’m glad you got that question. It’s very cool.
Rick: Everyone check out Michael Cerveris in Fun Home. Go to New York, right now, get on a plane. It’s a…
Michael: Come over!
Rick: [laughs] Come over.
Michael: Come to the Fun Home.
Rick: Check out Michael Cerveris in Fun Home at Circle In The Square Theater in New York, and follow him on Twitter, he is @cerveris, and check out his YouTube account, which, you can see those great numbers by Loose Cattle, it’s 1qi.co/cerveris.
Again, thank you for being my guest. It was a great honor to talk to you, and get to know you a little bit.
Rick: I hope you had fun.
Michael: I did, thanks so much for asking me.
Rick: No problem. And you people, new ones watching me, thank you so much for watching, and thank you even more for subscribing, if you have for free on YouTube, I appreciate that.
My guests and I often have more to talk about that ends up in the final cut. If you want to see out-takes of this interview, please make sure you like up this interview, and once I see a bunch of likes, I’ll post some secret stuff.
That’s it. This is Rick Yaeger from One Question Interviews. Take care.
Michael: Thanks, Rick.