I’m no night owl, so it’s a good thing the coffee kicked in. My lights usually start to dim around 8 p.m., same time as the Union Square Theater’s, where Eli Wallach begins his performance in “Visiting Mr. Green.” (His last performance is July 5.) Our interview was set for 10 p.m.
Wallach had postponed the original appointment because of a sinus problem.
I entered Wallach’s dressing room after the last of his visitors had exited. He gave me a warm, strong handshake. The legendary film and stage actor, by the way, is in his 80s.
Question: You’re all better now, I see.
Answer: Yes. I missed one performance--first time in years--and dairy products are not good. So, I’ve had antibiotics and now I’m fine.
Q: I’m glad. Besides dairy, what do you stay away from?
A: I don’t eat red meat. I eat chicken and fish, a lot of vegetables and fruit and I exercise every morning.
Q: Doesn’t the play key you up at night? When do you go to sleep?
A: It does. I go to sleep about midnight. My wife and I did a lot of plays together. We’d go and stay out [until] 1, 2, 3 in the morning. Now the kids are all grown up and gone. We have three grandsons.
[Wallach proudly displays a photo of his three grown children and wife, actress Anne Jackson, with whom he lives in Manhattan. They’ve been married for more than 50 years. He points to his wife.]
That’s Annie. She’s good-looking.
Q: Yes, she is.
A: So are you happy coming to New York?
Q: Very much so. I miss New York. What kind of exercises do you do when you get up?
A: I usually get up about 7:30 and do 20 minutes of stretching on the floor and I get on the bicycle for five minutes. That’s enough. I had a new hip put in in August. The other one, this will be two years.
Q: Evidently both surgeries were successful.
A: Oh, yeah. Well, I walk like an old man in the play.
Q: Right, but not in real life.
A: No. No.
Q: You know what else? Your posture. You know that it’s excellent?
A: Oh, yeah. I used to dance. Martha Graham taught me at the Neighborhood Playhouse. She was a great influence on my life, Martha Graham.
Q: Would you tell me what you normally have for breakfast and lunch?
A: Dry cereal. And then I didn’t take milk. This week I’m soy, whatever that is.
Q: You don’t care for the soy?
A: It’s all right. It’s good. It’s nondairy. I stopped drinking coffee about six months ago. I drink a lot of fluids, a lot of tea. Then, I like a slice of a pear with cheese or I have pasta with fresh little clams. And I have a little bit of wine. I like a good wine, good Italian or Spanish wine. I made a lot of Italian movies in Spain. Then I go home and have not much--some--tea. That’s it. Why are you asking me about food?
Q: I have to, sir, for my column.
A: Well, I tell you something. I don’t overeat. When I had the hip operation, I lost 10 pounds. And I didn’t want to put it back on so I eat carefully and as long as I don’t feel overloaded. Meat does that to me. I used to make steaks, lamb, all that stuff. I’d barbecue it. But I gave up--we gave up--meat years ago. Oh, once in a while I’ll have a hamburger or meatloaf. My wife makes meatloaf. She mixes veal, very good veal. It makes it lighter.
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: I watch the television and think, Oh God, what is this? My wife and I do poetry readings together Monday nights. I read a lot. I read books.
Q: Stage acting takes a lot of energy. It never tires you out?
A: No. It’s exhilarating. All your juices are flowing. I’ve never lost my passion.
A: Well, there are times that I get depressed and blue.
A: Well, sometimes there’s a stress on age in this country. And as you get older the skill improves [but] you have to learn how to have other features, other things to keep you alive.
Q: You’re more animated and alive than most folks.
A: Listen, if you’re doing what you love to do, it’s like a tonic and, you know, the best diet in the world is to enjoy what you’re doing.
Guest Workout runs Mondays in Health.