411 Mania Interview: Barry Bostwick
Barry Bostwick has been a working actor in Hollywood since 1970 with a resume that includes Rocky Horror Picture Show, the television show Spin City, Spy Hard, and countless other film and television projects. Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with the veteran actor to discuss his new film FDR: American Badass, surviving and thriving after his prostate cancer, and what he’s learned throughout his time in the business. I hope you enjoy my interview with Barry Bostwick and be sure to check out his over the top and gleefully fun performance as FDR in FDR: American Bad Ass.
TONY: What was your interpretation of this film when you first read the script?
Barry Bostwick: I thought it was difficult to read because I didn’t understand half of the language that FDR spoke because it was all street hip hop language. I had to actually ask the director and writer what the fuck is this all about. They said, ‘That’s exactly what it’s all about. It’s about fuck. Everybody says fuck. Everybody says dirty words and we tried to street the whole thing up and bring it into a modern vernacular so that kids today in school will learn their history on a level in which they understand.’
TONY: You’ve been a part of a number of different projects in your career. Did you prepare any differently for a film like this?
Barry Bostwick: I watched a few tapes on FDR because he had a certain tone to his voice when he was trying to make his points and make his speeches. It was only during those times, the more important times in the movie that I really tried to imitate certain inflections. The other times, I didn’t want to try to do a real impersonation because it would get really boring after a while. All you do is watch a guy try to impersonate somebody. So, I researched that and researched things that he had on his body, whether it’s a ring or his glasses or his hat or his cigarette holder. With the cigarette holder, I tried to get one that was just about an inch and a half longer than the one he used, something a little bit larger than life that was really what the movie was about, what the style of the movie was. It’s a fine balance between the absurd and the real of what his relationships were.
TONY: When you were researching FDR, was there anything about the man that surprised you?
Barry Bostwick: That he was so attached to his mother, but we didn’t use that in the film. When you look at it, he was really a momma’s boy and his mom lived always very close to him. When he was living in New York, she lived in the apartment next to him. She wanted to blast through the wall and put a door in. I think he said no finally. He came from privilege and that surprised me. And his sense of humor surprised me, which I was able to really just sort of skim over the top of. You look at pictures of him when he’s with other men, and he’s always the one cracking a joke and looking up to see whether or not they got it and appreciating the fact that people appreciated him.
TONY: This had to be a film that was just a blast to make, a lot of fun, very over the top. For you, when you were on set making this film, how would you describe that element of it?
Barry Bostwick: It gave you a sense of freedom. Over the top-ness is always the most difficult thing to do on film because for one, everybody has to be on the same page and everybody has to be over the top in the same way or it’s too inconsistent. You have to have a strong director who has a strong feel for the absurd and how to control the absurd. Then he has to allow you and everybody to go as far as you can at certain times to give that impression. In the scene in which I was finally elected president and everybody in the room did something that was so outrageous, so over the top, that it almost seemed normal, that’s what someone would do because everybody was doing the same thing and having a ball doing it. That’s the tricky part of these films. And the next scene is Bruce McGill who was in a hallway with somebody, and you pull the whole thing back down to reality. That’s the fun of a film like this: You’re constantly surprised by its tone.
TONY: Who else do you think would make a great president for a film?
Barry Bostwick: The other Roosevelt, obviously, Ruff Rider guy. He’s a man’s man: somebody who isn’t caught up in the technology of politics these days, somebody who did stump speeches from the back of trains, and did as much fighting in smoke filled rooms. I find that kind of drama more interesting than people controlling everything that they can about the candidate and his appearance and his appearances. I think they should find not only him, but some very obscure president, Harrison who died in office or something. You’d have to get away from the superstars and find something really interesting.
TONY: When you’re looking at scripts, is there something in particular that you’re looking for?
Barry Bostwick: I’m looking to entertain myself. I’m looking for something that makes me laugh or brings a tear to my eye. I’m looking for something that I would go pay money to see because money is really what it’s all about today: people either trying to save it or they’re thinking ten times about where they’re going to spend it. I would want to do something that people could spend their money on to see and they would get some value for their money. It is a business after all, and I would want something that was entertaining on some many levels and went into and felt, ‘Well, I got my money’s worth.’
TONY: When you’re on set or reading a script, can you gauge what people are going to respond to?
Barry Bostwick: Yeah, I think that comes from doing a lot of situation comedy where we had live audiences when I did Spin City. Every week, we would do these little plays and you thought you knew when they were going to laugh or how long they were going to laugh for. Then you learned, every show, where the laughs are going to be, what parts of the character they would humorous because they knew the character’s history and they knew how that character was going to react before that character even reacted. Then you instinctively know as an actor about how long they would laugh for.
You try to gauge your performance to that inner guide and then you hope that the editor and the director find what you’re doing funny in the same way and keep it in the movie, the setup and the joke. Many times, for time purposes, they’ll diminish the setup for a joke and then the joke doesn’t work. You go, ‘It’s because you didn’t include the setup. You needed that five second pause or you needed those three lines that you cut out in the beginning of the scene to set the joke up.’ As an actor, you try to build in the whole experience of a comedy moment so that somebody who doesn’t have the same sense of humor can’t come in and ruin it.
TONY: One of the great things I admire about you, Barry, is how you have come back from your health problems to still be working and working hard and putting positive messages out there. How did your health issues change your perspective on Hollywood?
Barry Bostwick: My health issue was important for a few years. When I was having my prostate cancer scare and operation and this and that and then recovery, it got me involved in the whole community of prostate cancer and how in many ways, it’s inefficient and ineffective in terms of its testing and how so many men I think in this day and age are operated on when they don’t need to be. The scanning and the testing processes that need to be upgraded and the PSA is working fine to a certain extent. It’s not the end all be all of predetermining. There are a number of groups that I’ve worked with.
One of them is called ADMETEA out of Harvard, working diligently to find a way to digitally image the prostate and more easily target areas or give a real feeling for the danger of it growing and how fast it will grow. It’s a tricky cancer because it affects so much in a man’s life besides just dying. After the fact, the sexual problems, all kinds of problems, emotional problems involved in what you lose. That’s all hopefully being addressed in a mature way now.
TONY: When you were going through this hard time and your health issues, what helped you during that time?
Barry Bostwick: Probably a line from the Rocky Horror Show, “The river was deep but I swam.” I think about that all the time. Having troubles, but the river was deep but I swam it. Yup, there’s troubles, but I’m getting through it.
TONY: What are you currently working on and what’s next for you?
Barry Bostwick: I just finished a movie called Blowing Vegas Off the Map for the Sci-Fi channel, directed by the same guy who directed Some Guy Who Kills People, Jack Perez. It’s slightly over the top really tongue in check, but it’s a funny disaster movie. I play a Las Vegas lounge singer and I did it because I got the chance to sing a really corny old Las Vegas song. I did that and I just finished a web series called Research, which they’re just finishing up now, just a bunch of little things. I have no plans to do anything in the next month. If something calls along and says you have to do this and it’s fun, I’ll do it.
TONY: Thank you so much for your time, Barry. It was really good talking to you. I appreciate it.
Barry Bostwick: Nice talking to you too. Good luck with this.