An Interview With...Patrick Finn

How did you get started in theater?
My first "role" was in the first grade, when I played the King in Sleeping Beauty.  I then moved on to playing Santa in a third grade production of "A Visit From Space Santa" (though it had nothing to do with outer space), and Daniel Boone in a fifth grade play called "Sing America Sing," in which our teacher/director was such a tyrannical, foul-mouthed creature during rehearsals that I am so very thankful for our kinder
directors today.

What hooked you? Was it your first school play-movie-first time seeing a Broadway Show?  What inspired you to be where you are today?
I was probably hooked when I was eleven years old and my mom took me to see a senior high school production of "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum."  It looked like so much fun that I wanted to do that, too!  As to where I am today....well, I'm not really sure where I am or where I'm going, though I've been enjoying the ride so far.  However, I would have to say that my parents have been the biggest inspiration in my life.

What was the first play you ever saw?  Ever performed in? 
The first play I saw was "Forum."  The first "real" play I performed in was "H.M.S. Pinafore" - I played Dick Deadeye.

Did you study acting?  If not, how did you get into it?
I took a few drama and acting courses in college, but that was about it.  My goal was to be an attorney.  I had never considered getting back involved in theatre until about eight or nine years ago, when my friends David Houston and Rick Heuthe heard me perform on piano nights at our local bar and told me that I had good presence and a decent enough voice to get involved in Long Island theatre.  Of course, they had to keep at me for six months before I finally succumbed and went to my first audition.


What was your first audition?
My first audition was for "Forum."  I was a nervous wreck!  When I didn't get a call back, I was heartbroken but, two weeks later, I got a call from the same theatre to be in a production of "Kismet."

How do you choose what play you will audition for?  The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
Sometimes, I've auditioned for a show simply because I loved the show so much I wanted to be in it, no matter what the part.  Other times, there was a particular role I wanted.  And yes, knowing a certain director was involved in a show was a great reason to audition  - there are some shows I never would have done if it hadn't been for the director.

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
I think I've made my feelings on pre-casting quite well known on these pages, so there's no need to repeat myself, other than to say that while I can understand the myriad of reasons for pre-casting, I still don't like it.  While I have been "post-casted" a number of times, I've never been pre-cast, nor would I want to be.  I'd like to think that I earned the role rather than having it handed to me. 

I think the theatres are short-changing themselves and their actors by pre-casting roles.  There is a wealth of talent on Long Island.  Generally, it is the lead or featured roles that are pre-cast, because, so I'm told, the theatres want to ensure that those roles are filled.  Do you mean to tell me that theatres are worried that they won't have a capable actor or actress to play a lead role?  I think theatres have a harder time casting minor or ensemble roles - funny how you never hear about those roles being pre-cast.  I think pre-casting demonstrates an underestimation of, as well as a disservice to, our community.

Okay, I guess I did have more to say on this topic.  What can I say, I have a big mouth.        

What types of parts do you normally play?  Do you feel typecast? 
Oh please, this is easy - comedic character roles, and usually a grouchy or curmudgeonly type.  I don't know if I feel typecast, but I'm glad that I'm kept in mind for certain roles.    

Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly?  When directors look at a certain role, what do you think they see as a "Pat Finn" type? 
Yeah, I guess you can say there's a pattern to the roles that I've played - mostly secondary or featured comic roles - but I've gotten the chance to play some great characters, so I'm very happy if a director sees me in a certain part.  On the other hand, I also don't want to be pigeon-holed to the point where I wouldn't be considered for other type roles.


What is your approach to developing your character?
Hmm, I've never thought of it as an approach.  More times than not, I can find the inspiration for the character right in the script.  I know some actors who will only study those parts of a script where their respective character is on-stage, but I study the whole script - I want to find out what this character's place is in that world, and I can learn more about that by studying what the other characters may say about that character, as well as studying their interaction with him.  I also depend on the director to give me further insight - he or she will see things in the character that I may overlook or under-develop.  Good character development has to be a collaboration between the director and the actor.

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite? 
It's a tie between Horace Vandergelder, Luther Billis, and Felix Unger.

What do you think were your best roles?  your worst? 
I'm never a good judge of my own work.  I think I did my best work playing Insigna in "Mister Roberts" and Noah in "110 In The Shade."  My worst performance was playing
this stuffy, jealous, English husband in an Hercule Poirot mystery called "Black Coffee" - I just felt like I never got that character.

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why?  How well do you think you met the challenge?  
My first challenge was playing Billis in "South Pacific".  This was only my second role in Long Island theatre, and I was stepping into the shoes of another actor who could not play the role during the show's second run, so I had to work to make the part my own.  From what I've been told, I did just that. 

My next real challenge was playing Insigna in "Mister Roberts,"  primarily because the director, Robert Wheeler, challenged all of the cast  members to make these characters as real and substantial as possible.  There were times when I had to learn to "not act," but to simply say the lines.  I hope I met that challenge, because I am very proud of my work in that play.  
What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
I'd love to play Horace Vandergelder again, but only because I was too young to be playing it at the time.

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future? 
Damn, there's too many to list here, but off the top of my head, I'd love to play Billy Flynn in "Chicago" - that is truly my dream role.  Another role I'd love a shot at is Henry Drummond in "Inherit The Wind."  In a perfect world, I would have loved to have played Edmund in "King Lear," - he's my favorite Shakespeare villain - but, alas, I'm too old to play that role now.  And if any Long Island theatre is ever insane enough to do any play by Harold Pinter (my favorite playwright), I'll audition for any part!


How do you feel when you perform? 
It's weird, but there are times when I'm on stage that I get so lost in the moment of playing a character that it feels like I'm outside myself, and then I walk off stage and it feels like I never even did the scene.  Does that make any sense?

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing? 
Doing theatre is not a career move for me - I do it because it's fun. 

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?"  Why do you do it? 
That's easy - I do it because I'm a big, grade A, USDA choice hambone.


What is your favorite theater story?
A few years back, I played the role of Grobert, the souvenir seller, in "Carnival."  During one performance, I was getting carried away with doing a French accent, and my line, "Can't you see I'm busy?"  became "Can't you see I'm bee-zay?"  When I walked off the stage, Chris Dufrenoy turned to me and said, "You wrote 'Carmen'"? Get it?  Bizet, "bee-zay."  All right, I guess you had to be there.

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable, crack up on stage? 
It was while playing Billis in "South Pacific."  At every performance during intermission, one of the actors would draw a battleship on my stomach, and some of the cast members became art critics.  The actor got fed up, so one day he took me down the hall so he could draw it in peace and quiet.  Well, it was too quiet - we missed the call for places.  In fact, we missed the first five to ten minutes of Act Two.  Chris Dufrenoy, who was
playing Emil, was stuck on stage waiting for me, and I never showed up.  I was sick to my stomach about that for days.  I vowed that I would never, ever let anything like that happen again.

What was your worst theater experience?
I won't mention names, but I had a miserable time in this awful musical.  The music was just terrible, I wanted to strangle a few of the kids, and I was playing a small featured part that just kept getting smaller.  If there is a hell, it would be doing this musical for eternity.
What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
During a performance "The Pirates of Penzance," in which I played the Sergeant of Police, I hit myself in the back of my head with my club, and my police hat went sailing across the audience.  I'm trying to sing, and all I could hear was the audience mumbling about that hat.  I felt awful.  I eventually got the hat back, and decided to make the most of the moment.  In a later scene, when the policemen marched through the house, I pretended to panic and felt the top of my head to make sure the hat was still there.  The audience got the joke and gave me a good laugh.    


Why do you perform at the theaters you do? 
I primarily work with two theatre groups, and it's mostly because I enjoy the friendly atmosphere.  Theatre people make good friends.   

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.? 
God, I hope so!   I just wish that Long island theatres would be a bit more adventurous in their show selections, but hey, they have to make money, so I can understand why shows like "Fiddler On The Roof" and "Joseph" are performed ad infinitum.

Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly  rewarding to work with?
As to the actors with whom I've performed, there are quite a few.  I love performing opposite John Hudson - we're usually playing each other's nemesis, and we do it quite well, maybe because we're usually busting each other's chops when we're off-stage.  But seriously, I've known John since we first met during "South Pacific" over seven years ago, and I've had the pleasure of watching him grow into a very talented performer.  (Don't tell him I said this, I don't want him to think I was saying nice things about him.).  I think Kim Dufrenoy is one of the best comedic actresses on Long Island.  I was fortunate in playing Horace opposite her Dolly Levi, and she made me look better than I should have.  I love working with my mentors, David Houston and Rick Heuthe, because I always learn so much from them.  And I would be remiss if I did not mention John Steele, Linda Company and Heather Van Velsor - they make working in theatre a hell of a lot more fun!  My favorite director is Robert Wheeler, from whom I learned more about acting from one show than in all my years of doing theatre.  As for musicals, my favorite team to work with has been Chris Dufrenoy and Jeannette Cooper - Chris brings a vision and enthusiasm to his productions that I find contagious, and Jeanette is simply the best music director with whom I've worked.     
Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with? 
Too tough a question.  However, I can say that the best cast with whom I worked was the cast of "The Little Foxes" at Broadhollow.  This was a truly professional, top-notch company of actors.  I was on stage only for the first 15 minutes of the play, but afterwards I usually watched the rest of the play from the wings each night, because the cast was such a pleasure to behold.       

Who is your favorite performer? favorite L.I. performer? 
My favorite actors are Ewan McGregor and Glenn Close.  My favorite L.I. actor would have to be Jack Howell.  The man is truly amazing.  His performance as Willy Loman blew me away.  I could watch this man read a laundry list on stage and still be


How do you maintain your career and do theater? 
It's not always easy.  I'm an attorney, and it's difficult to explain to a judge that you need to have a case adjourned because you have a weekday matinee performance.  And you wouldn't believe how many times I've had to prepare for and conduct a trial while going into tech week.  But generally, aside from time constraints, it's not too bad.  I currently work for a Manhattan firm, and my boss and associates are very supportive.  They're always asking when I'm doing another show because they want to see me perform, which I find very flattering, because most of them live in the city and they hate traveling into that vast wilderness known as Long Island.  

Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater? 
Because it beats sitting in front of the television.  Seriously, though, I'm no great shakes as a performer, so I'm not waiting for my big Broadway break.  I do it because it's fun and it keeps me sane.

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater? 
For the most part, yes.  Dad is always concerned that my "theatrical career" does not
interfere with my legal career and other responsibilities, but that's just Dad being Dad.  Otherwise, my family is very supportive.  As to my better half, Steve, he's incredible - he drives me to rehearsals, sits through rehearsals, sees most of the performances, fixes my costumes, offers criticism.  He'd make a great "stage mother."

How has performing enriched your life? 
Some of the best people I have met and befriended were in the theatre.  Theatre people make great friends, because they know how important it can be to rely on someone being there for you, both on- and off-stage.    


What brings you the greatest joy?
A good performance, a bottle of Rumpelminze, sunsets on the beach, good friends, and good music

What really irks you?
The telephone, telephone answering machines, cellphones, telemarketers, bill collectors, bigotry, ignorance, pretentious people, slow bartenders, watered-down drinks, humidity.

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would...
I would pay off all of my debts, and if there was anything left over, I'd buy a theatre and a house nearby so the cast wouldn't have to travel far for one of my notorious cast parties.

Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking? 
Damn right!  Beauty fades, money lasts a lifetime, unless you work for Enron.

What's your favorite word? 
I don't have a favorite word.  I have a favorite sound, and that's laughter. 

Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
Well, the one thing I don't want to hear is, "I'm sorry, sir, but it seems that your accommodations are down below."


Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be aware of?
I just finished a show recently, but nothing new on the horizon yet.  But even if I did, I wouldn't talk about it.  I don't like promoting myself.
[ed.-Patrick is currently co-starring in Born Yesterday at Airport Playhouse]

Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
For a musical, it would have to be Billy Flynn in "Chicago."  For a non-musical, it's a tie between Roy Cohn in "Angels In America" and Edmund in  "King Lear."

Patrick Finn in BroadHollow's The Little Foxes
(Doug Lillie in background)