Spotlight: Philip Baker Hall in “I Never Sang For My Father”
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Days before the opening of the New American Theatre’s revival of “I Never Sang for My Father,” the actor cast as the senile, rage-prone father, the pulsating center of Robert Anderson’s 1968 family drama, withdrew because of illness.
Anne Gee Byrd, who plays the mother, made a desperate call to her friend Philip Baker Hall, best known as a character actor in movies such as “Magnolia,” “The Insider” and “Bruce Almighty.”
Hall, 79, hadn’t performed on a stage in years but considers the theater his home. After a three-week delay, the show opened with Hall as the father.
You only had three weeks to prepare, right?
They already knew their lines and had already begun to develop a rhythm and a pace. I had to catch up. But they had some catching up to do too, because I brought a different kind of energy.
You go from 0 to 60 in the first minute of the show, and basically maintain that energy throughout. Is it physically or psychologically taxing?
Some of these scenes are very physical, so you need to be in good shape, [but psychologically] not really. American theatrical literature is filled with these troubled older men. … You can’t let them affect you, you can’t live the part.
You’re a character actor in movies, but on the stage, you’re a star. Is it nice to be in the spotlight?
It’s fun to have a role that is challenging and requires the best of what I can muster up. In film, with a few exceptions, I don’t get the opportunity to sustain a character for two hours, to have an arc of a full character.
Have you ever considered playing Lear?
I have mixed feelings about Lear. I love the first half. I love the complexities in the character of Lear, I love the challenges it presents to the actor who plays him. But once Lear gets out there on the heath, once he loses his mind, I find the character really uninteresting. Sorry, Shakespeare. … I want to play it. I want to find the key that unlocks that second part. I haven’t seen any actor, including Paul Scofield, convince me that, there’s the key, that’s how you do it. Until that time … .
Above: Hall in ‘I Never Sang for My Father.’ Credit: Daniel G. Lam