When thinking of Broadway and Hollywood, we often picture 2 different entities, swirling around in their separate bubbles without crossing paths. Broadway reigns in New York City while Hollywood takes over Los Angeles, California.
Theater and screen actor Austin Pendleton is one of the many artists who has bridged the gap between the 2. With a career that spans many projects in theater, television, and film, Austin proves Broadway and Hollywood share a common ground.
I spoke with Austin Pendleton about his time in both fields and his experience starring in Broadway’s new play The Minutes.
Austin Pendleton is a household name in the theater, film, and television worlds
As a young boy growing up in Warren, Ohio, Austin Pendleton had a fascination for the arts, specifically theater. He watched every night in awe as his mother, a professional actress, would rehearse plays with the town’s community theater group in his living room. He jumped at the opportunity for yearly trips to Cleveland, Ohio to see a touring company perform Oklahoma at the classic Hanna Theatre. While developing a stutter around 8-years-old, Austin realized it would go away the moment he began acting. “The combination of all those things hooked me,” he reminisces. “It was magical.”
After graduating from Yale, Austin scored a role in the 1963 Broadway show, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, directed by none other than icon Jerome Robbins. The next year, he debuted as Motel in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. Throughout his career, Austin has appeared in various Hollywood films like What’s Up, Doc?, My Cousin Vinny, and Finding Nemo, and TV shows including Good Times and Law & Order.
Austin Pendleton on the intersection of Broadway & Hollywood: “They’re not so different.”
Plenty of film actors have dipped their toes into the Broadway world and vice versa. For instance, Austin introduced Hollywood royalty Elizabeth Taylor to the theater when he directed her in the 1981 Broadway revival of Little Foxes. Earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Directing, he proved that Elizabeth Taylor’s film acting translated for the Broadway stage.
Austin argues that acting for the camera and acting for the stage have interchangeable skills. When working on his 1st movie— the cult film Skidoo— director Otto Preminger helped Austin see the connection between the two mediums. “He would say to me things like ‘you have to think of every take as opening night,’ Austin recalls. “‘If you do 30 takes of a scene, every take is like opening.’”
Whether actors reside in Hollywood or on Broadway, Austin knows both can live in harmony and share a common ground.
Austin Pendleton plays an inflexible and stubborn city council member in The Minutes on Broadway
Have you ever wondered what goes on in your town council meetings? What could they possibly be talking about that’s so secretive? In The Minutes, Tony Award-winning playwright and actor Tracy Letts develops the story around a council meeting in a small Midwestern town. Austin plays Mr. Oldfield, a man who’s been on the city council the longest, or as Austin says, “a man very set in his own ways.”
The Minutes represents a typical city council, filled with different personalities with contrasting ideals. “The play is a really funny, expert social satire of what would go on in a city council meeting,” Austin explains, “It’s sort of out of touch, and characters get into wildly trivial arguments about all these things.”
The play begins with the newest council member and young father, Mr. Peele (played by Schitt’s Creek star Noah Reid), returning to town after leaving for a week to attend his mother’s funeral. Somehow, things have completely changed. All Mr. Peele wants is the minutes from the meeting he missed. Why won’t the council members let him see it?
What new Broadway audiences can expect from The Minutes
As we live in an age of fake news, false statements, and limitless attacks on freedom of the press, The Minutes exposes the uglier side of American politics. “There’s a tonal shift in the play where it turns from being satire into something way more disturbing,” Austin says. The show refuses to escape from reality and instead faces these issues head-on.
Initially, the production planned to hit Broadway in February 2020. With previews in full swing, the pandemic suspended the show indefinitely. Tracy Letts has continued to edit and revise the script over these 2 years.
While The Minutes has evolved with little adjustments within the play itself, the country has changed as well. We’re seeing even more political corruptness and secrecy come to light. “Two years ago, the play anticipated where we are now,” Austin emphasizes, “and now it is right in the thick of it.”
Why you should see The Minutes
The Minutes, like any stage production, relies on people to show up. It depends on audiences to be there physically and mentally. Austin swears by word of mouth. If people are engaged, they’ll talk to their friends about it, and their friends might see it and talk to their friends, and so on.
What’s one way to entice viewers? Build suspense. From the plot synopsis alone, you can conclude that The Minutes will have people waiting in anticipation. “What leads audiences in is if they’re on the edge of their seats, wanting to know what happens next,” Austin explains, “and this play has that.”
Austin Pendleton has hope for the future of Hollywood & Broadway
Although Austin hasn’t worked directly in Hollywood for the past 20 years, he’s noticed that the industry has stayed afloat amidst everything. Even with economic challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic, and plenty of other struggles facing the industry, he says that somehow, “every year there are good movies.”
Austin knows that Broadway is booming with revivals of classics like The Music Man and Company. As a Tony voter, Austin caught a lot of various Broadway productions earlier in the season, making him optimistic about theater’s future.
Including The Minutes, he argues this year “is one of the most adventurous seasons in terms of new works.” While revivals have made a big comeback, The Minutes is proof that new ideas are out there, and people are listening.
Austin Pendleton shares his crucial advice for aspiring actors
Austin recalls life-changing words spoken by the late award-winning actress and friend Lynn Redgrave. As the two chatted over bowls of soup one day back in the early ‘70s Lynn stressed to Austin to keep fighting hard for his craft. “It’s going to be years (7 to be exact) before you get a major Broadway offer to act again,” he says, repeating Lynn’s words from memory. “If you retreat from acting because of this, your acting will have deserted you. You just have to keep acting no matter where.”
Now, that advice is his mantra and he pushes other actors to do the same. From waiting in line all day for Equity Principal Auditions in NYC to preparing over 30 monologues, he emphasizes that actors must enjoy what they do. “You must care very deeply about the work and developing your own work, but you have to not care at all about what the industry thinks of you,” he explains.
As The Minutes runs on Broadway, Austin illustrates the true beauty of loving the art of acting. It’s something Broadway and Hollywood can both agree on.
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