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A gentleman of great character

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A gentleman of great character (image courtesy Stephen Tobolowsky)

Actor Stephen Tobolowsky coming to Brewer

BREWER – One of the most familiar faces in Hollywood will soon be paying a visit to our area.

Actor Stephen Tobolowsky, one of the most prolific and hard-working men in the industry, will be taking to the stage at the Brewer Performing Arts Center on Nov. 15. The event – presented by Downtown with Rich Kimball and The Briar Patch – will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 and include a copy of Tobolowsky’s book “My Adventures with God.” Tickets are available at The Briar Patch or online via Eventbrite.com; proceeds from the event will benefit Congregation Beth El in Bangor.

Tobolowsky has had his share of memorable roles over the course of a decades-spanning career in film and television. He was Ned Ryerson in the classic Bill Murray comedy “Groundhog Day.” He’s had recurring roles on TV shows that run the gamut – “Silicon Valley,” “Glee,” “Deadwood,” “Heroes,” “Californication” and “The Goldbergs,” just to name a few. He’s appeared in films like “Memento” and “Mississippi Burning” and “Spaceballs” and on and on and on. He even wrote and starred in a documentary called “The Primary Instinct.”

This is a man with over 250 screen acting credits to his name (he’s also spent plenty of time onstage; he was a Tony nominee in 2002). Yet Stephen Tobolowsky’s talents extend even farther.

He’s the host of an acclaimed podcast; the monthly “The Tobolowsky Files” is one of the most fascinating listens out there. And he’s written three books – “The Dangerous Animals Club,” “Cautionary Tales” and the aforementioned “My Adventures with God.” He’s an undeniable acting talent, but his ability to engage intellectually and emotionally extends well beyond the screen and the stage.

Rich Kimball, host of the “Downtown with Rich Kimball” radio show and the driving force behind bringing Tobolowsky to the area, was drawn to the actor’s intelligence and easy engagement.

“We've been all in on Stephen since his first appearance on our show,” Kimball said. “He's an amazing storyteller. Brilliant, funny, and philosophical.”

And when Kimball caught wind that Tobolowsky was going to be out on the road, he decided to take a swing.

“When we saw that he was doing a book tour, we reached out and extended the invitation and were thrilled when he got back to us and said he'd be in the northeast and would be happy to make his way here,” said Kimball.

Kimball has long been a fan of the work done by Tobolowsky and other performers of his ilk.

“I have a great affinity for the real working actors, the people who may not be household names but are seemingly everywhere and are able to make anything they're in better by their presence,” he said. “To me, Stephen is the epitome of that kind of actor and his ability to laugh at himself and keep it all in perspective and still be the consummate professional make him not only the perfect guest on our show, but someone I know our audience will love to see in person.”

The event will see Tobolowsky taking the stage to share stories from his life, stories about his career, yes, but also about the things he has seen along the way. He’ll also be reading from “My Adventures with God,” sharing some of that book’s story of how his relationship with the notion of a higher power has grown and evolved over the course of his journey.

In advance of his appearance, Mr. Tobolowsky was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for The Maine Edge.

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What prompted you to venture into the world of acting?

I always wanted to be an actor. When I was little, I loved monsters. I thought they were real. I wanted to hang out with Frankenstein and the Wolfman. Godzilla was my favorite. When I was in high school, I thought acting was a good way to meet girls. In college, as I studied Shakespeare and Chekhov, I thought acting was noble. I was right about a couple of things. It was a good way to meet girls. I married one. And monsters are real.

When did you know that this was the way you wanted to spend your life?

When I was able to make house payments without asking my parents for money.

Was there a particular experience that you would qualify as your proverbial big break?

Sometimes breaks are obvious. “Groundhog Day.” I had a good part in a very good movie. That’s a good combination. But as I look in the rearview mirror, my real big break came when Alan Parker cast me as the head of the KKK in “Mississippi Burning.” No one knew what the movie was about, but everyone knew being cast by Alan Parker was a big deal. Within four weeks of getting cast I was offered three more movies - different kinds of movies. Comedy. Action. A Musical. That kept me from being completely type cast as Ned Ryerson the rest of my career.

You’ve shown a propensity for notable performances despite not always having a great deal of screen time. How are you able to construct such memorable portrayals so quickly?

Most of my best performances are in good movies.  If the story is good – it is easier to create a character that has dimension, be it a comedy or a drama. The secret is to try to find the logical truth of a part by asking the right questions like: What is my greatest hope? What is my greatest fear? The answers to those two questions can create a world of characters.

It seems that you’re often working on multiple projects. You create such distinct characters; is it difficult to move from one role to the next?

What is harder than keeping multiple roles that I am playing at the same time clear in my head, is when I play the same part over several years.  In those cases there may be different writers and directors involved and the “voice” of the character can fundamentally change.  You then have to diplomatically ask questions and try to find a path to consistency.

Is your personal creative process different as you move between the worlds of television and film?

No. It’s the same. The difference is the amount of time you have to prepare a role. Film always has more time.

If you could share the screen with any actor in Hollywood history, who would it be?

Fredric March or Spencer Tracy.

Which roles are the ones that elicit the most recognition, the ones that people most ask about?

Ned from “Groundhog Day” has always been number one. Lately, Jack Barker from “Silicon Valley” is big.  There are legions of fans from “The Goldbergs” who know me as Principal Ball – and kids still love Sandy Ryerson from “Glee.”

Do you have a favorite part or parts that you have played? And are there any that you might have liked to have another go at?

Ned is still my favorite. I love Stu Beggs from “Californication”(and now “White Famous”) and Hugo Jarry from “Deadwood.”

Another go? It could be the role of Max on Law and Order. I was called in to play one of the two main detectives when that show was getting started. I thought “Law and Order? Come on. We’ve seen that 1,000 times.” I didn’t prepare my audition as well as I should have. I regret it. Law and Order has been my favorite TV show for decades.

You’ve become well known for your storytelling, both in terms of your writing and of your podcast. How has your career as an actor influenced the way you bring these stories to life? What compels you to tell them?

I’ll reverse the order of your questions. I tell these stories because I was almost killed in 2008. I began writing and recording my podcast then as a gift for my two boys so they would know their father if I had died: a sort of evolving last will and testament. Being an actor makes it easier to speak to audiences large and small. It also means I have been in a lot of bad stories – so I try to avoid the traps.

What can audiences expect from this evening with Stephen Tobolowsky?

Hopefully, some laughter - and a thought or two to take home to enjoy tomorrow.

To what sorts of things do you look forward in your trip to our fair state?

What I always expect from Maine. Beauty. I have been here several times. I wrote some of this book in a little house outside of Otisfield. I caught bass in Thompson Lake. I bought salsa at the World’s Fair in Waterford. It is always good to come back.

(Tickets to “An Evening with Stephen Tobolowsky" are available at The Briar Patch in downtown Bangor or via Eventbrite.com at www.eventbrite.com/e/an-evening-with-stephen-tobolowsky-tickets-39551998091.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 November 2017 16:48

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