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The demon druggist

WHAT began as a guest-starring role as Bree’s pharmacist George Williams for three episodes on ABC’s top-rated series, “Desperate Housewives,” has turned into a regular gig for actor Roger Bart.

“All I can say is that I’m still here,” muses Bart, who adds new meaning to the word “creepy” as the Cheshire Cat-grinning George, who is so obsessed with Bree (Marcia Cross) that he causes the death of her husband, Rex, by exchanging his heart medicine for something a bit more toxic.

The 43-year-old Bart nearly didn’t get the job on “Desperate Housewives.” The series’ creator-executive producer, Marc Cherry, had seen him in his Tony Award-winning role as Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” as the snippy assistant Carmen Ghia in “The Producers” and as an acerbic gay “housewife” in the film comedy “The Stepford Wives.”

“You can’t be naturalistic in any of those roles,” says Bart, nephew of Variety’s editor in chief, Peter Bart. “He [Cherry] said, ‘I love Roger Bart, but I think he’s going to be too big.’ The casting director, thank goodness, said, ‘Take a look at the tape,’ and Marc said OK. I was able to keep it small and real.”

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He’ll be seen this Christmas opposite original cast members Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Gary Beach in the film version of “The Producers.”

Has it been a difficult transition going from Broadway to the rigor of doing an hourlong TV series?

We did 16 hours one day this week, and the following day we did about 11 hours. It is so different. Once you kind of adjust, Broadway is this great little structure. You have to do a certain amount of work, and you get paid every Thursday. There’s something sort of taxing and tedious about it, and something sort of wonderful.

Yet the kind of part I have on television, right now I work seven or eight days a month. It is wonderful because I can spend a lot

of time in New York with my 4 1/2 -year-old daughter, Eller. But you have to adjust to the unpredictability and adjust your brain to the fact that you may get a call in New York saying, “You’ve got to get out here now.”

I would imagine that as soon as you’d been on your first episode of “Desperate Housewives,” people began recognizing you.

There was an exponential change. I think nobody is afraid of me because it’s creepy George -- fortunately that doesn’t take place. In New York I get a lot of “Did we date? Did we go to high school?” Marc Cherry has written and conceptualized a unique villain .... He is definitely not your usual nasty bloke.

But he is scary.

And sensitive. He is the guy who is just your neighborhood druggist who greets you with a smile, and little do you know underneath he’s angry. I think he’s been wounded over time and he’s very, very angry. I think that George loves Bree. Since George probably hasn’t made it in mainstream dating, he thinks Bree is old-fashioned and cares about the things he cares about. I think he is the equivalent to the knight in shining armor. She is his princess. He thinks, “Gosh, I love her and she’s made me so mad at times, but I want to do everything I can to have her and protect her. But I expect more from Bree, considering how much I have put out.”

Since “Desperate Housewives” is set in its own universe --

We call it uber-reality.

-- Is it a challenge to get the tone right without being too over-the-top?

Working with Marcia Cross [helps]. She is able to manage those things so beautifully, between making the absurd very truthful and funny, and at the same time she can be profoundly moving.

I had a great training ground in the theater because the shows I do, so many of them have been musicals, and it is important to make that segue into song almost imperceptible and graceful. That world is often an uber-reality. And in musicals done and acted right, the feelings are just as honest as they are in any other medium. This world is similar in that way -- you have to be completely honest.

This summer you re-created your role as Carmen Ghia in “The Producers.” Talk about a show set in an uber-reality. What was that experience like, especially since you weren’t getting feedback from an audience?

As we approached the beginning of the shooting, it was the one thing we talked about. We were quite over-the-top and crazy [onstage], and so much of the really vital acting partner in the production was the audience. Of course, we had a giggly crew, which helped, but it is still not the same. I think all of us in the movie who had done the play always tried to be really truthful about everything we did onstage. Having seen clips of the movie, I think we were very, very true to what we did onstage, and we can hope it will come off in the spirit of what we did on Broadway.


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