by Patricia Grandjean
Nov 16, 2010
03:38 PM
Box Office

Q & A: Bill Smitrovich


(page 4 of 4)

You yourself are married, and have two adult children.

I do! They're almost adult. My son A.J. is 23, and my daughter Maya 19. AJ is an aspiring actor—he was one of the extras on the plane in "The Event." That happened absolutely by accident; I didn't get him on the show. So, it's our first time onscreen together. My daughter Maya is great; she's working full-time as a barista. She's delighted to be working, especially in these tough economic times. My wife [Shaw Purnell] is just a dream. She and I have been married 25 years.

Does your wife have a separate vocation?

She's doing landscaping and working with drought-tolerant plants, studying irrigation, things of that nature. She was a wonderful actress; we met in New York in a play one hot summer, called Never Say Die. I fell in love immediately; I was smitten.

What's a good work balance for you? Are you just happy to be working, or would you prefer to be doing more film or theater . . .

I'm always happy to be working; all artists want to do something creative. I'd love to do more theater; my last play was Caryl Churchill's A Number, at ACT in San Francisco. This was a great production too: It was directed by Hannah Shapiro, of Steppenwolf, who directed August: Osage County. Josh Charles was the other guy in it. It's a very, very difficult play, about cloning. An incredibly inventive play, but if you look at the text, there is no stage direction. And hardly any punctuation. So what you get is a long, drawn-out stream of consciousness. You're trying to look for a continuous thread, and they just disappear in your hand. It was like playing jazz: You're just riveted, but sometimes you don't know where it's going to take you. It's incredibly difficult but liberating once you can get your head around it. Really, it's the most difficult play I've ever done. And it was only 55 minutes long.

My theater career was just starting to take off when television pulled me in. But I've tried to stay active—I've worked at Williamstown for three years, and taken a play to Lincoln Center . . . Far East, by A.R. Gurney. So I'm keeping my hand in. I'm also working on a one-man show on Theodore Roosevelt.

I feel bad about bringing this up, but I gather you've heard that Patti LuPone's memoir just came out. She made a point of saying that the two of you didn't get along.

Yes, I have heard about that. I haven't read it. And no, we didn't. It was unfortunate, really unfortunate. I tried really hard, and there was just a lot of animosity after awhile. When we first started, she was very upset that it wasn't "Patti LuPone in 'Life Goes On.'" I think she was upset to have second billing to me, I mean, who am I?

She said some really hurtful things at the beginning. But I don't want to get into a "he said, she said" kind of thing. People can decide who they believe. But Patti has a history . . .

She does talk in the book about several axes . . .

Right. I haven't read it, does she say horrible things?

One thing she mentions is that your relationship on set deteriorated to the point where you would only talk to each other in your scenes together.

That's right. Pretty good acting though, huh? We had a great chemistry, whether she understood it or realized it or not. We had it at the audition and through the first year of the show. But she became very unhappy and made everyone else unhappy. She's a very, very guileful woman—let me put it that way.

We didn't get along, and that was kind of well-known, and it's unfortunate to take the image of the show and drag it through some kind of mud for her own devices. We have a great, loyal, wonderful audience that deserves a little bit better than that.

I'll tell you one thing that was really great during "Life Goes On"—my daughter was born. We were in, maybe, the third year of the show. And Patti had gotten pregnant. So they had to write that into the script. During this time, my wife and I were in the process of adoption. We found our birth mother and had an open adoption—her last trimester she was with us in California—and they gave me a beeper and she went into labor, so when it went off one of the show driver's took me to the hospital where I could see the baby. They brought out Maya and she was adorable, a beautiful baby. She still is. I was looking at her through the nursery room window when my beeper went off again. So I had to got back to the 'Life Goes On' set where the scene we were shooting was my character looking through the nursery-room window at his newborn baby. Do you know how many stars have to align for that to happen? I get chills telling that story—it was the easiest money I ever made as an actor. So now, when I see that episode, I remember exactly how I was feeling.

Beyond "The Event," what else do you have in the works right now? You're planning the Roosevelt show . . .

That would be in conjunction with our group; we're bringing back the show "Meeting of the Minds." Remember, the old Steve Allen show? Well, we've done a few shows in L.A., and when we can get this thing off the ground we're going to be moving it around the country, taking it to colleges and other venues. We have this great round table of assorted characters, and a couple that Theodore Roosevelt is in also involve Thomas Paine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Cleopatra and the actor who plays Steve Allen. We've got Jack Maxwell and Gary Cole alternating in that role. We have Jean Smart and Dan Lauria with us, too.

Does this theater group have a name?

Well . . . no. One of the founders of it is Dan, along with Frank Menya, who used to write for "Crime Story." There is a company that they formed, but I can't remember the name of it now.

Also, I'm going to be in the Macy's Parade, in Pittsburgh. That'll be the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That's my wife's home town, so I'm very excited about that. The only thing that could top that is if I'm in the P.T. Barnum Parade!

Q & A: Bill Smitrovich

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Box Office is your guide to entertainment across Connecticut, courtesy of senior editor Pat Grandjean. If it's a chat with an actor or actress, previewing a new play at a regional theater, the latest on a state celebrity's new movie, or recommendations for seeing and doing, let Box Office be one of your hubs.

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