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Barry Bostwick still busy 40 years after 'Rocky Horror'

Susan King
Los Angeles Times

Barry Bostwick always got the appeal of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

His family less so.

"My wife has never gotten it," he noted. "My kids weren't quite so happy with it."

But the cult midnight movie musical celebrating its 40th anniversary this year was the perfect fit for Bostwick's quirky sensibilities.

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"I was a New York actor who did a lot of off-Broadway and weird things," said Bostwick, who originated the role of Danny Zuko on Broadway in 1972 in "Grease" and won a Tony in 1977 for the musical "The Robber Bridegroom."

Being a fan of the "theater of the ridiculous-minded" also helped, he said.

"Even though I was playing a very straight character — Brad Majors — who was the epitome of the young Republican and '50s male, I was the opposite of that," he explained. "That's why I could play it and understand it. I had a real love for all of those sort of iconic characters, and I loved the tongue-in-cheek aspect of it."

Even four decades later, the fit and funny 70-year-old Bostwick is taking on offbeat roles. In 2012, he starred in the slapstick indie comedy "FDR: American Badass!," in which he battled pesky werewolves who carried the polio virus. He recently finished the independent comedy "Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves," in which he plays the romantic lead. "I play someone much younger than myself and I have too much eye makeup on," he said with a twinkle of his blue eyes

And in a few weeks he's about to start filming a Web series, "Inside the Extras Studio," in which he spoofs James Lipton, the host of "Inside the Actors Studio.

"It's all about me interviewing some of the famous extras," said Bostwick. "I run a school to teach them to be extras."

He plays a much more traditional character in his latest project, the romantic comedy "Love Under the Stars," which premiered Sunday evening on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Ashley Newbrough plays Becca, a young graduate student who is mentored by Walt (Bostwick), her sweet and concerned college adviser.

Though Bostwick's played his share of bad guys, including Fitz's horrible father who rapes Mellie on ABC's "Scandal," he loves playing someone like Walt.

"I like playing the mentoring, kind, supportive yet attractive male," he said. "It goes all the way back to when I did [the Judith Krantz miniseries] 'Scruples' with Lindsay Wagner. I did a number of Judith Krantz things. She always used to cast me because I seem to have a respect for women and her pieces always had that guy who was just a really nice guy and supportive. In a way this [character] sort of goes full circle."

Bostwick was also a mentor on set. "He was encouraging and really looked out for me as well," said Newbrough in an email. "He notices the small things that make a difference when you are an actor. After an emotional scene, he was the first one to make me laugh and help me shake it off. Barry is unaware of his enormous presence and what he gives as an actor."

He was mentored by the Tony Award-winning actor-director Ellis Rabb when he was a young actor in New York in the late '60s with the APA-Phoenix Repertory Company. "He was a wonderful man," said Bostwick, who made his Broadway debut with the company in 1969 in Sean O'Casey's "Cock-a-Doodle Dandy."

"He even paid for my first crowns because my teeth weren't very good," Bostwick said. "He would take me around to Leonard Bernstein's apartment, and we would sit there and have a drink and some of the greats would come in and sort of chat. I was the fly on the wall. I was so fortunate."

Though nearly 20 years younger than Bostwick, Michael J. Fox was also mentor to him on the award-winning 1996-2002 ABC comedy series "Spin City," in which he played the dimwitted New York City mayor to Fox's deputy mayor. Fox, he said, showed him the sitcom ropes.

"He was so smart about that genre of comedy," said Bostwick. "I would watch him work and watch him suss out what the problems were. He was so smart about what worked and what didn't work."

Bostwick, who frequently attends Comic-Con-style conventions because of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," is excited about the film's big 40th-anniversary convention New York in September.

The musical, which also starred Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry, has saved a lot of lives, Bostwick noted, because people found a community going to the midnight screenings.

"People found who they were through that movie," said Bostwick. "I can't tell you the number of people who come up to me and say it was one of the most meaningful if not the most meaningful moments in their lives when they first saw that movie and were part of the audience."

susan.king@latimes.com

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