Seven Questions For: Mike Nussbaum

Mike  Nussbaum in Imagining MadoffMike Nussbaum is currently starring as Solomon Galkin in Theater J’s critically-acclaimed production of Imagining Madoff. He’ll also be speaking about his life and career working with David Mamet, Peter Brook, Roger Stephens and more on Monday night in the free program An Evening with Mike Nussbaum, Star of Stage and Screen. We sat down with him in his dressing room before a performance to ask him the seven questions.

1)    How would you describe what you do to someone from the 19th Century?
I’m sure they would be familiar with what I do. Stage actor today is the same as stage actor then. The technical aspect of what surrounds the actor has changed, but no performance.

2)    What did you want to be when you grew up?

An actor. I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was a child at camp. I went to Camp Ojibwa in Wisconsin and my first role was as a clown who introduced the show to the parents and visitors who were in the audience. I did a big cartwheel onto the stage and froze. I slunk off the stage crying. And the fact that I still wanted to be an actor after that is insane.

3)    Is there a book you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never read?

I’ve never finished A Remembrance of Things Past.

4)    Woody Allen, Pro or Con?

Pro! I love Woody Allen. His most recent film about Paris is wonderful. I auditioned for him once and I was told before I went in, “Don’t look at Woody!” He also has a giant mirror that runs the entire length of a wall behind him and you’re told, “Don’t look at the mirror.” It’s kind of limiting. I didn’t get the part.

5)    What’s your favorite non-English word?

I guess the one I’m using in the play, “menschleichkeit.” It’s become a favorite. It means compassion.

6)    What issue do you wish other people knew more about?

At the moment I’m thinking about the attitude towards unions has become so harsh and there is a failure to remember the enormous good that unions have created in this country. Standards of living. Work rules. They created the middle class for God’s sake.

7)    Historical figure, living or not, that you’d want to share a bagel with and what kind of bagel?

Poppy seed! That’s my favorite. Right now I’d say Tony Judt, I’m reading his book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. He recently died; a brilliant writer, a polymath, linguist and his knowledge of the political world is so deep.

Read all of the Seven Question interviews.

An Evening with Mike Nussbaum: Star of Stage and Screen

From Becky Peters, Director of Community Outreach and New Media at Theater J

For me – there are people who when they cross my path something tells me that I should drop what I am doing,  pull up a chair and listen to whatever they are willing to share.  Mike Nussbaum is one of those people.

Maybe it’s because as a fellow actor I am intrigued by his 50+ year resume as an actor/director and I can only imagine the stories that he has to share about the work he has done or the personalities he has come across.  Maybe it’s because when you meet Mr. Nussbaum there is a genuine warmth that fills the room.    Maybe it’s simply that the older I get the more I realize how much I still have to learn and as a gentleman who is nearing 90 and not quitting but instead in rehearsals right now for Imagining Madoff – he is someone I want to learn from.

I’m not entirely sure which intrigues me more.  But whatever the reason – I am grateful to have chance to see him work and hear him speak.   In addition to performing in the show we asked Mr Nussbaum if (on one of his nights off) he would let us all just pull up a chair and listen.  And thankfully he said yes.

And to paraphrase my grandmother – I am ready to put my “listening ears” on and settle in for what I think is going to be a pretty wonderful evening.   I do hope you will join me!

Mike Nussbaum*: A Life in the Theater (and on the Screen)
Monday, September 19th at 8:00 pm   FREE

Join Theater J for an evening of clips and conversations highlighting eminent Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum’s illustrious career in the films and plays of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter David Mamet, as well as Mike’s work with directors Peter Brook, Roger Stephens and countless other heralded productions over his half-century-long career.

An Excerpt of Recent Theater J Interview with Mike Nussbaum

TJ:  You have a rich history with playwright David Mamet, appearing in the original production of American Buffalo, and many more.  Can you share a particularly memorable experience from that collaboration?
MN: David and I were in a play together (written by Dick Cusack–father of the acting Cusacks)and I teased him about being such a bad actor. The next day he brought me a copy of “Duck Variations“, a beautiful play he had written, and I knew from that moment that he was a major talent.

TJ: When you look back on your formidable history in show business, what are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
MN: Most of what I’ve learned has come from watching other actors work. I am constantly amazed and thrilled by the quality and artistry of actors. I borrow shamelessly from the great ones.

TJ: You have been a major player in the Chicago theatre scene for some time now—how have you seen theatre in Chicago change over the years?
MN: When I started out over 50 years ago there were only New York touring companies in the downtown theatres–today Chicago has over 160 theaters of all sizes, doing inventive quality work by established and new playwrights (many of whom are Chicagoans) creative directors, and a huge, ever growing source of wonderful actors, all supported by the press, and an educated and demanding audience.

TJ: You are currently involved in a production of Broadway Bound, by Neil Simon—how is that going?
MN: It’s a 900 seat theater, and we’re drawing large audiences. Broadway Bound is a Neil Simon “dramady”, and most of what I do is comic. Getting the laugh is as good as it gets.

TJ: What else would you like the Washington, DC theatre community to know about you?
MN: My daughter and her family are long-time DC residents. It’s a major plus that I will get to spend a good long time with them. At least I hope they think so and don’t pitch me out after a few weeks.

TJ: Can you tell us a joke?
MN: The Frenchman says: “I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I must have wine!” The German says: “I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I must have beer!” The Jew says: “I’m tired. I’m thirsty. I must have diabetes”.

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