LIVING a life of honor means different things to different people. When it comes to the question of fidelity and marriage, doing the honorable thing may not always be clear-cut.
In the Los Angeles premiere of “Honour,” Robert Foxworth takes to the Matrix Theatre stage in the role of Gus -- a journalist who leaves his wife of 32 years for a younger woman, then is himself left by his lover.
“The stage is my home,” says Foxworth, who originated the role 7 1/2 years ago on Broadway. “It’s my first love and has been the pursuit of my life. I’m doing this play again because I wanted to explore it more deeply. Things have happened in the last seven years that have changed the way I look at life.”
Things like the death of his father, and a new relationship that blossomed into marriage with his third wife, Stacey. Experiences like the birth of a grandchild that have made Foxworth, now in his early 60s, appreciate family like never before.
Foxworth, whose stage credits include the national Broadway tour of “Proof” and “The Crucible” at Lincoln Center, has starred in several films and television series. The most recognized show, perhaps, is the 1981-90 nighttime soap “Falcon Crest,” in which he played good-guy vineyard inheritor Chase Gioberti, who had to fend off Jane Wyman’s manipulative rival character. In the show, Susan Sullivan costarred as his wife. Now, Sullivan plays his wife, Honor, in Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s work.
“This is the first time we’ve worked together since ‘Falcon Crest,’ ” says Foxworth, sitting in the front row of the Matrix. “Because of the nature of television, the relationship of the couple we played was less explored, and less explicit in their interactions than the couple in this play. Being onstage with Susan is like looking at someone you’ve known for a long time, so in an odd way, it works well.”
So how have the changes in Foxworth’s life changed the way he now portrays Gus?
“Stacey and I got married right after I did the play in New York, and exploring a new relationship helped me to understand what I didn’t have before,” says Foxworth, who is divorced from his first wife and lost his second (Elizabeth Montgomery) to cancer. “I realized how I had not been a good husband in the past, and the need to be a better husband and father now.
“Before, I treated marriage and my participation in it as being on cruise control. I didn’t grasp that I needed to be a full participant in the process, and that marriage is a process that evolves. In a way, Gus has been on intellectual cruise control. He’s shocked when he realizes he doesn’t recognize his own feelings because he’s always operated from his head.”
Foxworth says we live in a culture that values intellectual capital more than emotional capacity. In many ways, he notes, the creative process of taking on the life of a character has helped him evolve in his understanding of what it means to be fully human.
“Being able to play Gus, and to see Granville [Van Dusen] play the character, has been wonderful,” says Foxworth, who alternates in the role with Dusen, depending on other projects that the actors are involved in. “I’ve learned about Gus’ humanity. I think the big lesson Gus learns is that there are consequences for our actions and decisions. We all have to pay the piper.”
Born and raised in Houston, Foxworth loved to fish and hunt rabbits until acting took center stage as a teenager. At 16, he apprenticed at Houston’s Alley Theatre, painting sets and running lights as well as acting on occasion.
“Back then, you had to pay to apprentice, to learn the craft,” Foxworth says. “My dad thought I was insane. But the perspective and connection it gives you to the profession is invaluable. Everybody involved in a production is there to make a good show. That kind of understanding precludes ego. You learn it’s not all about you.”
Learning about life’s stages took a bittersweet turn a year and a half ago when Foxworth’s father died.
“I was with him for the last two weeks of his life, to be his nurse and his son,” Foxworth says. “It was a truly enriching experience. In many ways, I can’t believe where I am in life today. I have two biological children, and four stepchildren. I became a grandfather again recently. I looked at this little baby, and thought, ‘Wow, I’m now the patriarch of this family.’ ”
Life feels blessed, he says, and the roles continue to come. This fall, he’ll be seen in the feature film “Syriana,” written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, followed by a TV movie for TNT, “The Librarian 2,” in June.
But for now, he’s concentrating on the nuances he can bring to the role of Gus.
“I really want people to see this play,” he says. “It fosters meaningful discussions about marriage, discussions that could really help relationships. In a funny way, if the play were to go beyond where it ends, I think we’d see that Honor is reborn. And I think we’d see Gus writing from a new and deeper perspective.”
Where: Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays (dark Oct. 9)
Ends: Nov. 6
Price: $20 to $25
Info: (323) 852-1445