Interview with Actor, Director, Producer JACK PLOTNICK
Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with multi-talented actor, director, playwright, producer, acting coach JACK PLOTNICK
Approximately 26 years ago, a young actor walked into an audition for a major lead in crazy spoof about Hollywood. The part called for an incredibly talented, versatile performer with impeccable comedic timing and who was adept at improv. His name was Jack Plotnick and he was booked on the spot. As life has a way of coming full circle, that film was mine (Wayne Keeley’s) — and we all knew at the time that this guy was the real deal.
Now, as fate would have it, we were spot-on in our initial assessment. Over the last 25 years, Jack has built an impressive resume of solid work encompassing theatre, film, television, and even the internet. But if that isn’t enough, he and his friend and business partner, Seth Rudetsky, wrote DISASTER! A 70s disaster movie musical which not only took Broadway by storm, tidal wave, and earthquake, but will open Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series at UCONN.
We caught up with Jack, who is once again directing the production, and who took time out of his busy rehearsal schedule to chat with Pillow Talking.
PT: (Wayne) Jack, we have known each other for a long time – 26 years to be exact – and during that time you have grown to be a versatile, talented actor and comedian, insightful acting teacher and coach and, of course, a brilliant director and co-writer of Disaster! that will be featured as the opening play for Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s (CRT) 2018 summer Nutmeg series.
JP: Thanks, guys! It’s so nice to hear from you and you are so nice to want to talk about this show.
PT: We love CRT and have reviewed most of the shows over the past three years. When we discovered that your show was going to open this year’s series, we said we had to interview you. It’s really a small world!
JP: Isn’t it though? When are you coming to see the show?
PT: We’ll be there for opening night and the after party.
JP: I am so happy. Sadly, I won’t be there. I booked a very large recurring role on a TV show and I won’t be there for opening night. I have to fly out before then.
PT: (Stephanie) Is it more for Grace and Frankie? My daughter loves Grace and Frankie.
JP: No, it’s actually a show called Z Nation – a drama with Zombies. I just did an episode of Grace and Frankie and they want me to do another one, but it may conflict with this new one. So, we will have to see.
PT: It’s nice to be busy in this business!
JP: I try.
PT: So, tell us how you got mixed up in this crazy business!
JP: That’s a great question. I was a big fan of the Carol Burnett show when I was a little kid. I never missed an episode of that. I loved everything she was doing. And then when I got old enough to stay awake to see Saturday Night Live, I loved that as well. I guess skit comedy was my first love.
PT: Did you come from a background of entertainers?
JP: No. My parents didn’t take me to see theatre, so I didn’t know that there was a thing where you can perform on stage. I believe it was sixth grade and my elementary school went to see the high school production of Oklahoma and there were dozens of kids in orange pancake make-up singing Oklahoma. I said, “Oh, my God, I have to get up there!” I just became obsessed with theatre. I just started constantly doing theatre in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
PT: What did your family think?
JP: My parents were like, “This is okay, but you’re going to get a business degree” (laughs). At the time I was a senior and it was just so clear that there was nothing else I was ever going to do. So, they approved of me getting a BFA in music at Carnegie Mellon. I went through a conservatory training program and focused solely on it because it was my one true love.
PT: That’s a great story.
JP: Well, you know, it was the same thing in film. I had no idea I was going to be in film. I grew up in Ohio, so far away from that world of TV and film. I just thought theatre was all I was going to do because throughout my teenage years and college I did musical theatre. And then I met Seth Rudetsky doing my first New York show. It was called Pageant and it was a hilarious show. It was a beauty pageant spoof, but all the women were played by men.
JP: It was Drag Race before anyone even imagined Drag Race. But Seth was in the orchestra pit and we became fast friends and we started doing sketch comedy together. So now I’m doing sketch comedy with Seth and performing in shows at night. I’ll never forget, I’m doing the musical Grand Hotel at a dinner theatre. I’m dancing in the chorus and watching people eat their spaghetti and I just thought – you know, I am happier doing my sketch comedy with Seth in the basement of these rundown piano bars than being up here on-stage dancing for these people.
PT: So how did you eventually make the transition to film and television?
JP: I got my big break in the early Conan O’Brien days. They needed somebody to play a really weird character. My agent called me, and she said, “I think you could be right for this.” She knew me well. I went and auditioned, and I got the part of this character that parodied Slim Goodbody, but my character was Slim Organbody. So instead of wearing tights that had organs painted on them, my character was literally born with his organs outside his body.
PT: (Laughs hysterically)
JP: He very much wanted to be an entertainer, but because he was so grotesque, the only thing he could do was to teach children about their bodies. So, he was very drunk, very angry, Anyway, they liked the character and I ended up doing about eight appearances on Conan O’Brien as that character – and that helped me get my first TV pilot. It came out of nowhere. I flew to LA to film this pilot and then I was completely hooked – and I just never left (laughs).
PT: What was your first pilot?
JP: It was an HBO Pilot, Life on Mars with Bob Odenkirk and Janeane Garofalo.
PT: (Wayne) I had followed your career since we worked together in 1993 and you were doing some really significant and important work. I was telling Stephanie that we have to watch Gods and Monsters which I thought was a breakout piece for you.
JP: That was a definitely a break out for me. That was a big deal in my life. When I did the movie, I never dreamed it would lead to me being on the Oscar telecast. They used the clip of me and Ian McKellen for his Best Actor nomination. And that was just incredible. I think that helped me booked the series that was on Fox called Action.
PT: (Wayne) I watched Action. It was a great insider show on Hollywood.
JP: Yes, it was definitely ahead of its time. Fox just didn’t believe in it enough and cancelled it after one season. But the whole time I was filming Action I was still flying back to New York to perform my sketch show with Seth. We had never stopped performing together. We had a show at Caroline’s which is a really big comedy club in the center of Times Square.
PT: We know it well.
JP: But as the years went by, he got very busy. We both did. He is so famous. We get stopped everywhere we go together as a result of his Sirius/XM Satellite Radio talk show On Broadway. And he wrote a book and got very busy, so we had to stop performing together. But I always wanted to work with him again. The reason why we were brought together for Disaster! is because Seth had this idea for a musical which he always wanted to do which was to take all the disaster movies and do a musical and combine them all using the greatest songs of that decade. He finally said, “Okay, I’m going to pick a date and do it as a benefit.” He said, “If I just give myself a date, I’ll be forced to write it.” Two months went by and he hadn’t done any work and the time was approaching.
PT: Work expands in the time allotted.
JP: He was out in LA doing a gig. I was sitting with him at hotel he was staying at by the pool. I’ll never forget it. He was telling me he had a month to write this benefit. And I asked, “How much have you done?” And he said, “Nothing.” I opened up my lap top, opened up a blank Final Draft document and just typed. He just needed somebody to actually start to write words down. He had done a lot of brainstorming, but he hadn’t actually typed anything. So anyway, we had such a good time that weekend writing together that we just decided that we would. I was filming the lead in the movie Wrong at the time. On the drives home from the set we would be on the phone talking. He would write scenes on his own and I would write scenes on my own and email them back and forth. We would give each other notes on the scenes. So, we wrote most of the original show long distance.
PT: So, it all came together.
JP: The benefit went so well, and the idea was working so well that we knew we had something there. So, we kept working on it until we got it up on Off-Off Broadway, and then Off-Broadway, and finally Broadway!
PT: How hard or easy was it to get the rights to all the music that’s in the show?
JP: Not hard at all. We hired Janet Billing who worked her magic and was able to get all the songs we wanted with the exception of maybe two. We wanted some songs for a reason and others we just loved the music and wanted them in the show.
PT: How hard or easy is to take a show like Disaster! that’s been on Broadway and transfer it to a venue like CRT?
JP: Wonderfully easy because we’ve already done Disaster! at every size and that’s the fun thing about the show. It works in a tiny basement of a church theatre which is where we did it Off-Broadway and it works on a huge stage where we did it on Broadway. In the way I’m directing it, I’m making it feel very intimate, so the audience feels as though they are on the ship with the characters. To me, it’s not challenging, it’s fun to adjust the show in this space. I’m excited about this production. I always wanted it to feel more intimate and see how intimate I could make it feel – how much action I could actually bring out into the audience.
PT: We can’t wait to see the show. We love CRT for a variety of reasons including the fact that they have a mixed cast of students and professionals working together. How is it to work with the students and what advice do you give them about the business?
JP: I have loved spending time with the students and the non-equity performers! They are so excited about acting and thrilled to be a part of the show. I watch then during their breaks and they are still doing their dance steps during the breaks. Their enthusiasm and joy of theatre is contagious, and they are wonderful to be around. As far as advice I would give them, I teach acting as a hobby to try and give something back to the community. I teach a type of acting that is based on love rather than fear so that people can enjoy their craft more. Some of these students have actually read my free book that’s on my website called New Thoughts for Actors. And it was terrific because one of them asked me about an issue he was having with his performing. He’d read my book, so we were able to talk in the language that I teach, and it was wonderful to ease his anxiety with the issue that he was having with his acting.
PT: We know from some actors who have taken your classes that you have really helped them. What do you want the audience to take away from Disaster!?
JP: I just hope that the audience leaves feeling like they spent the last two hours laughing their asses off and listening to some of the greatest music of the 70s. I think it’s important that at a time when our nation is going through some troubles, it’s nice to see a show where a disparate group of people are all faced with challenges and they can use each other’s strengths and lean on each other to survive it. I think that is a nice message to go home with – a message of hope.
PT: That’s a great answer. We can’t wait to see the show. We always end our interviews with the same question – our signature question. If you were to sum up your life and career to date in one word – what would it be?
JP: I love that question! Wow! I would say “play.”
JP: You probably get that all the time.
PT: No. You are the first one who has said it and it is perfect! This has been a great interview. We cannot wait to see Disaster! as well as your other future projects!
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