How did you get started in theater?
I did the school plays for a while in
elementary school and was usually
the lead. Then again, I was one of
the few who was genuinely interested in
participating. I started up again in high
school when a friend who was giving me
a ride home stopped off to audition for the
school musical, and he and the director/
drama teacher convinced me to try out and be in the ensemble. I rapidly became a drama department mainstay, and then graduated and moved on to college. For the first year or two of college, I remained only tangentially involved in theatre, until a good friend, Deb's Web's own Kim Volpe, convinced me to audition for some shows with her. My fever for drama was once again re-ignited, and hasn't abated since. To simplify my long winded and self-important storytelling, the answer is that my friends always ended up convincing me to audition for shows with them, and that invariably led to me becoming heavily involved in and increasingly devoted to theatre.
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?
Every time I've gotten on stage, whether it was in elementary school,
high school, college, or thereafter, I've always felt a sense of great
enjoyment and liberation. If I was to try to pinpoint one specific show; I guess it would be the first one I remember doing. In fourth or fifth grade, I did "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." I remember that I had somehow injured my leg in a schoolyard accident, but I was so excited about doing that show that I hobbled around on stage and did my part using my sister's baton for a makeshift crutch. I guess that's as good an indication of being hooked as any. I am inspired by good writing and good performing. I see it done well by others, and I want to be able to match or exceed the standard they set. I see good writing, and I want to be able to give it life in the truest form I can muster.
What was the first play you ever saw? Ever performed in?
I can't remember the first play I ever saw. Maybe a class trip to "Les
Miserables" in junior high school? I'm sure I saw some things before that, but I can't remember what. The first play I remember performing in is the aforementioned fourth or fifth grade production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." If I remember correctly, I switched between playing Linus and Charlie Brown at various points in the play.
Did you study acting? If not, how did you get into it?
I studied acting in high school and college, and I took some work-
shops and brief classes after graduating, as well.
What was your first audition?
I guess it would be that first show in high school that my friend
persuaded me to get involved with. I ended up being cast as an ensemble member in a production of "Hello Dolly." As I recall, the extent of my audition was being a male, being alive, and being in the auditorium where the audition was occurring.
How do you choose what play you will audition for? The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
It depends on the circumstances. If I see audition notices for shows
that I find interesting, I'll go. My interests tend toward Shakespeare,
classical pieces, absurd and experimental pieces, and to a lesser extent, some musicals. It also depends on what theatre group it is and who's directing. If there's a group or director I'd really like to work with, I'll often audition even if I don't know the play. Usually, though, the main determinant is what part I'd be auditioning for. If it's a role I think I would be well suited to, or that would be an interesting challenge to undertake, then I am all the more likely to pursue it. Sometimes, though, distance and commuting become big obstacles, and make me choose one play over another because I have to factor in time expenditure and convenience.
Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
It's self-serving to say, but if the show is pre-cast in such a manner as
to benefit me and give me the role I want, then I'm fine with it. If not, I
find it very irritating. In general, though, I almost prefer the audition
process. If I feel I earned my role fairly by being more suited to it than
the others who auditioned for it, I may take more pride in performing it.
Ultimately though, I guess I have to admit that I'm more concerned with the ends (getting the role I want) than the means of getting it.
What types of parts do you normally play? Do you feel typecast?
I usually end up playing villains, foreigners, or comic relief roles. I'm a "character actor," and while I'd relish the chance to play "Hamlet" or
other great leading male roles, I take great satisfaction in being to make the audience laugh with me, hate me, or fear me. I guess I get typecast fairly regularly. The worst case was in a production of "Oklahoma," where I played Ali Hakim. I say it's the worst case of typecasting I've encountered because that character, while being a lot of fun to play, shares both my nationality and my LAST NAME.
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 "Rodney Hakim" type?
I spoke to this in my response to the previous question. I'm usually cast as a villain, an eccentric type, a foreigner, or some comic relief character. My physical stature and appearance play the primary roles in this typecasting, which is fine by me, since the parts I get to play are usually a lot of fun. It only becomes a hindrance when I get over- looked for other roles that I feel I could play better than the actor who ends up being cast, simply because of these exterior factors. But, that's the way it goes, so I make the most of the roles that I can get by exploring them as fully and
realistically as I can.
What is your approach to developing your character?
My approach to developing my characters is primarily textual. I read and
reread the text my character is allotted many times over to explore the
nuances of what the character is saying, and how he is saying it. I feel
that a well-drawn character can usually be understood by observing the
patterns of his speech. When he speaks, is he loquacious? Is he up front? Does he reveal himself by what he says? Is there something in his words that belies some hidden feelings and motives? As I pore over the character's words, I also try to figure out what he sounds like. If I can find a voice that I feel captures the character's sound, I'm that much closer to inhabiting him. I explore the character's vocal patterns, physical appearance, gait, stance, demeanor, and all kinds of other external elements. At the same time, I try to figure out why it is that the character exhibits all of these tendencies, and why it is he is saying the lines he says, in the particular manner that he says them. What is his background? Where does he come from? Why is he in this situation? What is his motivation? Why did the author include him in the action? How do his words and deeds affect the plot and the other characters? I don't know if there's one element of a character that really unlocks him. I feel that if I can grasp his mental and physical attributes, I can understand who the character is, and that way, I can speak his words as he would.
Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
I would probably have to go with Caiaphus, from "Jesus Christ
Superstar." I did a production of that show in Queens a couple of summers ago with a great cast. Since I am not very well versed in Christian theology and history, I had to do a lot of research to find out who the character of Caiaphus was, and what role he played in the downfall of Christ. I spent many days exploring different articles and internet sites that pertained to Caiaphus, and from what I read, I came to understand who the character was and why he felt compelled to say the things he said and do the things he did. That's something I feel is important with any character you play, but moreso with villainous characters. The temptation is often to play villainous characters
as simply being mean-spirited and intrinsically evil. I feel the opposite is
true. Every character feels he is doing the right thing. Every villain has
his motivation to do what he does, and in his mind, he feels what he does is justified. The trick is finding that motivation, and seeing things from his viewpoint, as opposed to judging the character. In my exploration of
character of Caiaphus, I found he did what he did to Christ because he
thought it was for the greater good of the Jews. Sure, some of his
tendencies were sadistic, but in his own mind, he felt like his actions were making him a kind of savior, in his own right. Taking that approach helped me solidify my interpretation and characterization of Caiaphus, and to portray him in the way that I understood him. This was important to me, because my director wanted me to depict Caiaphus in a very different light, but I would not concede to her vision of the character, because it could not be reconciled with how I understood him to function. Ultimately, I think my choices were good ones, because it turns out that one of the songs we cut, in which Caiaphus and Annas discuss their plans and their rationale, verbalizes a lot of the discoveries that I had made in my own explorations of the character.
What do you think were your best roles? your worst?
Again, I think one of my strongest performances was in the role of
Caiaphus in "Jesus Christ Superstar." I think I also did very well with Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet," and with Mr. Paravicini in "The Mousetrap." As for my worst roles... that's more difficult. There was a show called "Veronica's Room" in which I really liked the play, and I really liked the role I was playing, but I don't think I carried it off as well as I would have liked to. I did a lot of preparation for the role, but for some reason, it didn't seem to "click" as well as I had hoped it would.
What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why? How well do you
think you met the challenge?
Read my garrulous account of my role as Caiaphus in "Jesus Christ
Superstar" above. It was one of the characters that I knew the least about going into the play, and that was very easy to characterize as a "bad guy." Plus, the director had all kinds of ideas that didn't sit well with me. I think I met the challenge through all my research and exploration of the character, and by convincing the director of my interpretation of the character thoroughly enough so as to set aside her prefabricated notions and go with my ideas.
What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
I'd like a second shot at that part in "Veronica's Room." Also, I did a
performance of some First Folio Shakespeare Scenes in Manhattan for a
workshop, in which the idea was to learn our sides independently and use our newly learned Shakespearean acting techniques to improvise our way through a staged performance. I was playing the titular roles in Macbeth and Timon of Athens, and ended up blanking out on a lot of lines. I hadn't prepared thoroughly enough! I wish I could try that again!
What roles or types of roles would you most like to pay in the future?
I'd love to play Iago in "Othello." I'd love to play Hamlet. I'd love to do some more Pinter, Beckett, Ionesco, and a variety of other things. There are several familiar character roles I can think of, but I'm more interested in some Shakespearean heroes and villains, and some absurdist and
How do you feel when you perform?
I feel liberated, uninhibited, and empowered. I love the freedom of the
stage and the ability to move an audience. I also love the satisfaction of
performing a role well.
What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
There are so many great plays and great characters I've yet to explore,
and that I am eager to try. It's so much fun to be on stage and to unlock
the mysteries of great characters. It's also great to get to know a cast and crew full of fun people and to go through the process of putting the play together with them.
During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to
myself?" Why do you do it?
Because I'd be remiss not to. I enjoy it too much, and take too much
pride and satisfaction in putting on a memorable performance to let the
prospect of stage fright deter me.
What is your favorite theater story?
One of my favorites to tell is the one about a production of "Romeo and
Juliet" I did a few summers ago. One night, during a well-rehearsed fight
scene between my character (Tybalt) and Romeo, my sword fell to pieces when it struck Romeo's, causing the hilt to fly into the audience, and the blade to flip up and strike me right between the eyes. If the blade had hit me an inch more to the right or left, I could have lost an eye. Fortunately, I only had slight cut, but when Lady Capulet (played by Dawn DeMaio at the time) bent over to tend to me, she alerted me that I was bleeding, and asked if I was alright. I think my witty and erudite response was a whispered, "Uhh... I don't know." Good times. Good times.
Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable,
crack up on stage?
All too often. Every single time it happens, it's due to a lapse in
concentration. I HATE when that happens I try to maintain my concentration throughout every performance, but sometimes, the mind just wanders...
What was your worst theater experience?
I was briefly involved with a small dinner theatre troupe who gave me all
sorts of headaches. We had a dispute about the length of the contract they wanted me to sign, and as a "thank you" for finally agreeing to their terms, they replaced me a few weeks into the rehearsal process with another actor who had been with the group longer, and who needed work because his show had been canceled Not only did I have problems with the theatre company, but the cast was very secretive and contentious, and I had more than my fair share of problems with them.
Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been
particularly rewarding to work with?
I've had the good fortune of working with a lot of actors that I thought
were really great performers. One of the many standouts that come to mind is Joe Morris. We worked on a production of "Man of La Mancha" together a year or two ago, and I truly appreciated and admired his dedication, work ethic, involvement, and commitment to the role and to the play. He immerses himself in his character, and his performance means a great deal to him. I admire that, and feel the same way about acting.
Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
Christopher Fabbro, the guy who played Jesus in the production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" I did, is one of the best all-around performers I've had the pleasure of working with.
Who is your favorite performer? favorite L.I. performer?
My favorite actor/performer is Patrick Stewart. My favorite Long Island
performer is more difficult to select... I am close friends with so many of
them, and I think highly of so many of them. Going back to my previous
comments though, I think Joe Morris might be one of my favorite L.I.
How do you maintain your career and do theater?
With great patience, and very little sleep. I work a 9-5 job with my
family in Manhattan, so by the time I commute home to Long Island from there, it's tough to commute out to a theatre for rehearsals every night. Where there's a will, there's a way, though. My desire to do theatre is great, so I make room, and make time.
Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
A lot of it has to do with the ability to commute to a local theatre instead of trekking back into Manhattan or sticking around the city after a long day's work. It also has to do with the fact that it's easier to get roles on Long Island than in Manhattan.
Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
How has performing enriched your life?
Definitely. It's something I'm passionate about, and something I take
great pride in doing. It's a "job" I enjoy doing, and one that I feel I do well. It's also where I've met a lot of my friends and many of the integral people in my life.
What brings you the greatest joy?
Aside from Deb's Web, you mean??? Spending time with the people I love. Well, that and listening to Howard Stern.
What really irks you?
If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would...
Invest wisely, quit my day job, and try my hand at being a professional
Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
Hmmm. Well, I suppose if you're rich enough, it'll make you look more
attractive than you might otherwise seem. And if it doesn't, you have enough cash in your coat pocket to pay for plastic surgery...
What's your favorite word?
When you reach the pearly gates what do you want St. Peter to say?
Considering that I'm a Jew, I hope he won't say "TOLD YOU SO!!!" I think
I'd like something to the effect of "Welcome. Your party's waiting for you."
If you also direct, which do you prefer and why?
I really enjoy directing. I've done a little of it, and I take great pleasure in guiding other actors through their exploration of a play. If I had to choose between acting and directing, though, I'd say I prefer acting. There's something about being on stage and captivating an audience with your
performance that can't be beat