Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with actor, singer, director, and educator TERRENCE MANN
Terrence Mann is a true Renaissance Mann (pun intended). He is an actor, singer, dancer, director, and educator. He was nominated three times for Tony Awards; for Javert in Les Miserables, as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, and as King Charles in the revival of Pippin. He also originated the role of Rum Tum Tugger in Cats. Terry is able to seamlessly cross back and forth between different media platforms, having appeared in the iconic film A Chorus Line, the popular Critters film franchise and TV programs like The Dresden Files, and most recently, Netflix’s Sense8.
He is the Artistic Director of the Nutmeg Summer Series for Connecticut Repertory Theatre at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. He will be directing the first of three productions in the series, 1776. He also is a professor of musical theater at Western Carolina University at North Carolina.
After 31 years, Pillow Talking was able to catch up with Terry to discuss theatre, film, and life in general. Stay tuned for a fascinating, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining interview with this incredibly talented multi-hyphenate.
PT: (Wayne) Terry, thank you so much for granting us this interview. You have been on Pillow Talking’s list and my personal bucket list of interviewees for a long time. You may not know it, but we met about 31 years ago – maybe 32.
TM: (Laughs) Oh, man. Okay.
PT: (Wayne) I worked on a project which you also worked on. It was a TV pilot called Adam’s Apple. Sydney Walsh and John Furey were in it.
TM: Yes, I remember.
PT: And you played the detective.
PT: (Wayne) I was the stunt and photo double for John Furey and had to do multiple takes in a helicopter. And you came down to the heliport. You weren’t working that day. Maybe you were working the shoot later. But you came down and that’s when we met briefly. I kept telling Stephanie I had to mention Adam’s Apple.
TM: Yes, I do remember. I barely remember coming to the heliport – I don’t remember why, but I do remember being there. I don’t have Alzheimer’s, but I have Sometimer’s, you know? (laughs)
PT: (Laughs) (Stephanie) Well, you know, once you hit forty it’s all downhill.
TM: (Laughs) I’ll take fifty right now.
PT: (Wayne) Me, too! But I didn’t remember until I looked back today at the cast of Adam’s Apple that John Cunningham also worked on the project.
TM: Yes, he did.
PT: (Wayne) I was producing and directing a Titanic project a decade later and I hired John Cunningham for it who was in Broadway’s Titanic [The Musical] at the time.
TM: It’s way less than six degrees of separation!
PT: (Wayne) Yes, it is. It is a very small world. When I heard you were coming to CRT [Connecticut Repertory Theatre] I said, “We have to interview you!” So now that the backstory is out of the way, let’s talk about you. We know you came from a musical/theatrical family. When did you get the bug for theatre?
TM: Okay. I don’t know if I ever had an epiphany or an “aha” moment that I was going to be a musical theatre person. I just remember growing up and my mother was a piano player avocationally; my dad was in a barbershop quartet avocationally. They both worked during the day. But on the weekends we would always have people over and we would always be playing music. My brother and I were required to play a musical instrument from third grade on. We could change it every year, but we had to do that. I was in the plays at church because our youth group did those things, so we did it. It was like a matter of course. I was always on that side of it, doing a play, singing along, learning how to play an instrument, And then in high school I got asked to audition for the junior class play called Deadly Ernest. When I auditioned for it, the scene I was reading was between a boy and a girl and at the end of the scene it said, “They kissed.” And I said, “Oh yeah, I want to do this!”
PT: (Laughs) That’s great!
TM: So I literally got into theatre to kiss girls.
PT: (Stephanie) That’s funny because Wayne tells the story that he got into theatre for much the same reason and then he would mouth the words because he couldn’t sing worth a damn. He did it because the ratio of girls to guys was perfect for the dating aspects.
TM: Oh yeah, and in musical theatre even better! And then I was in the band, the orchestra, playing the percussion for My Fair Lady. We were doing it as our high school spring musical. And I was the percussionist playing the timpani [drums], bells, and things. The director of it came down and said, “Terry, I want you to do Henry Higgins. The guy who was going to do it can’t do it. He can’t memorize anything.” And this was ten days before it opened. I went, “Okay!” And I ended up doing Henry Higgins. Out of that, the editor of the school yearbook Pixie Linton [sic] decided to become my girlfriend which was pretty cool.
PT: (Laughs) The perks!
TM: There was no direct reason that I wanted to be this actor. By the way, as things progressed, I only wanted to be a classical actor. I didn’t want to do musicals. I didn’t like musicals. I either wanted to be a rock and roll star or a classical actor down at the Public. I was happy being the third spear chucker from the left in Coriolanus or something, you know?
TM: Yes. That would have been fine with me. But as it happened, because I did outdoor drama in North Carolina, and the guy who directed it was Joe Layton, who was a big Broadway director. I didn’t know that, but in 1980 I was in New York visiting and I opened up the trade papers and there was Barnum directed by Joe Layton. And I said, “Well, I’ll go down to this open call.” I was very happy working at the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival and very happy doing that. I had a couple of months off. So I went down there and saw him. He said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I thought I’d audition for this thing on a lark.” He said, “Sure, come on in.” And he literally gave me my break and made sure I made the cut out of three hundred guys for nine roles. And that was the beginning of it.
PT: It’s interesting what you said about classical theatre. In the theatre world you are an icon and considered a musical theatre guy. But you did do a lot of film work, too. Critters was a classic franchise.
TM: Yeah, yeah. I’ve done a handful. I’ve been lucky enough to do that stuff and I enjoyed the whole Critters thing and was riding the tide of that – what was the movie that came out before that?
TM: Gremlins. Yes. That was the one that started that genre as it were.
PT: (Wayne) And Adam’s Apple was a classic and I could say I worked on that with you (laughs). (Stephanie) Wayne is shameless. He’s going to keep bringing that up.
TM: (Laughs) It was a genre onto its own!
TM: Right. I agree with you! I loved doing that show. I thought it was very good.
PT: It was. Why did they cancel it?
TM: It wasn’t picked up because they only had one slot and they had to pick us or this other series that was on, Painkiller Jane. And they thought that Painkiller Jane was going to have the better numbers.
PT: That was too bad. You were great as Bob the ghost.
TM, Oh, thank you, thank you very much! I loved doing that. We had a great time. I loved working with Paul Blackthorne. He’s awesome.
PT: Yes, he is. This is something we ask all actors who cross back and forth between theatre and film. What are the differences that you find?
TM: Coming from a theatre background, the sort of learning curve on how to really work in film – it took me a long time to get it. Maybe becoming older helped me to become more patient and calm down. I remember doing the movie A Chorus Line, which was the first movie I ever did. We were rehearsing in the Mark Hellinger Theatre on the stage. And the first shot that was ever done in the movie was the opening scene with everybody doing the dancing and me as Larry walking down the lines in between people and saying my lines and dropping them. I had to hit these marks in between – you know – you have to keep your focus –
TM: I remember Richard Attenborough who directed it came up to me at one point and said (imitating Attenborough), “Darling, Terry Darling, it all happens in the eye.”
TM: “It’s just all there. That’s the magic. That’s the only thing we care about. It’s just there. So just try to remember that.” I’ve tried to remember that ever since (laughs) but there’s still a learning curve. When I was working on The Dresden Files you had a consistent time out there in front of the camera where you learn how to get smaller – let it just come from your eyes – you know? Whereas in theatre you’re trying to hit the back wall with either an intimate moment or a big emotional moment. It’s a process and I keep trying to get better at it.
PT: We were just chatting with Paxton Whitehead who has appeared in countless plays and has directed as well. We all agree that it’s always easier to pull an actor down or back rather than to try and push them further and get more of him or her.
TM: Yes, Sir. That’s right.
PT: We’re so excited that you’re coming to CRT. How did that come about?
TM: A friend of mine, Frank Mack, who used to be general manager, producer, company manager of it [CRT] for years. He and I worked on the Outer Banks in The Lost Colony back in the seventies and that’s where we met. Literally fast forward, just like we went through 31 years later, I went back in 2000 to direct The Lost Colony and he was on the board so we kind of caught up again. And then he literally called me in 2009 or 2010 and said, “Hey Terry, you got any time? You want to come up to this Connecticut Repertory Theatre where I’m working at and do a show?” And I went, “Sure!” So he and Vince Cardinal came into the city and we had a meeting [and they asked] “What do you want to do?” And I said, “Let’s do My Fair Lady.” So I went up there and I loved it. I always do that. I’ve always done that. I always try to go back to North Carolina where I was with the North Carolina Theatre for years to remind myself of why I do what I do. That feeling of…you know we so often get caught up in the business of show, you know, that you forget why you do what you do.
PT: Exactly. We understand completely. We love Vince’s work. We found him to be very creative.
TM: Yeah, absolutely.
PT: So you are the Artistic Director for CRT’s summer Nutmeg series. We are big fans of CRT primarily because of the mix of students and professional [actors]. The last show we saw, Shrek, was fantastic.
TM: Yeah, I heard it was great.
PT: You teach and are a professor. What advice do you tell your students and young up and comers?
TM: I say most of the time you just have to work harder than anyone else in the room. That’s pretty much it. Work harder than anyone else in the room so you are prepared and capable and able when you get lucky and get that chance. There’s no magic bullet. I tell my students that all the time. There’s just no magic bullet. Say “Yes” to everything. If somebody asks you to go do something, go do it. And if you’re finding out that you don’t want to do it or want to be selective or “I’m not going to do this” or “I want to hang out to do that,” then it may not be in your wheelhouse to continue doing theatre. Theatre is literally being about wanting to do it 24/7 – all the time.
PT: So for the Nutmeg Series, the first play out of the box is 1776?
TM: Yes. It’s pretty timely.
PT: You’ll be directing, right?
TM: Yes. I think it’s always good – particularly with what is going on in this country right now – to be reminded of the constitutionality of our country and what the framers of our constitution intended. It was an ideal that we have to protect and defend with our lives – which we do – and that democracy is a set of checks and balances and that there are three parts of that government for a reason. And all three have to be respected. That’s the sort of history lesson we all get, but the other thing that is so important is to understand about the indomitability of the human spirit to want to be free and to be able to make their own choices. Those men stood on the precipice not knowing what was going to happen. As Ben Franklin said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
PT: Great quote.
TM: In terms of drama, I’ve done the show three times, I’ve seen it a bunch of times. Every time you’re sitting on the edge of your seat going, “Oh my God, are we going to become a country?” The things that they had to do, the compromises they had to make to achieve that freedom, that sense of country, the sense of democracy – it is still as poignant as when they created it.
PT: (Wayne) I’ve never seen the stage version. I saw the film version years and years ago. It was very traditional. In view of Hamilton, I was wondering what will your approach be? Are you going to mix it up or take a more traditional approach?
TM: I would say if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. This is one of those shows that is not broke, so I’m not going to try and fix it. However, there will be some mixing up within it. But you’re still living in July, 1776 and they are all wearing those costumes and you’re really going on a trip back in history. This is not a show you can take out of context because the anachronisms get in the way of understanding the history lesson.
TM: But there are a couple of mix-ups and changes that I think will make it more interesting.
PT: Did you select the three pieces that are going to be in the summer series?
TM: I did it with Matt Pugliese who is the general manager/producer and Christopher d’Amboise and Vince who are the other two directors. I just kept having a conversation saying, “What can we do here?” We had a list of six or seven shows and we had to see what we could get a hold of and what were available.
PT: (Stephanie) I’ve become a farce addict and I was really excited to see that Noises Off was on the agenda.
TM: It’s hysterical. I love it.
PT: (Stephanie) We were talking to Paxton Whitehead about that – how he started out very dramatic and he found that he was excellent performing in farces. Maybe they’re not for everybody, but I absolutely adore them.
TM: Me too. I agree. I’m glad that you like it. When it’s done well, you’re taken on a ride; you’re transported and it’s fun. Never a dull moment. So fingers crossed, knock on wood. Vince is capable – he’ll rise to the occasion.
PT: Talk about busy schedules, you have an incredibly busy one. We don’t know how you juggle the theatre gigs with the film gigs and TV. We wanted to talk about Sense8 with you. We want to review it for the blog. It’s a Netflix show and it sounds really cool.
TM: It is really cool. We just finished our second season and it just came out. Check it out. It’s done by the Wachowskis who did the Matrix films. It’s hard to explain, but it’s sort of a paranormal thriller –
PT: (Stephanie) With a bit of psychology in there, too–
TM: Yes, there is. It’s about eight people from different countries who, when they reach their late twenties, their brains become connected. And it’s about the connectivity of us all on a much more cultural, emotional, personal, and identity level. It’s about how we are so different and yet we are all the same and we all want the same things, feel the same things, desire the same things and want happiness. The metaphor is don’t be afraid of me just because I’m different and that’s where we live in this world today.
PT: We spoke to Rob Burnett whose independent film, The Fundamentals of Caring was picked up by Netflix. And he spoke very highly of Netflix. How is Netflix with a TV series?
TM: It’s terrific. They stay out of the creative people’s way. They come to you and say, “Do this.” And they give you the money and the wherewithal, the technical and administrative support, and all the systemic support that you need. And then the artists – the creators – are allowed to do what they want to do without being afraid of being hobbled by studios and/or networks saying “You can’t do this” or “You can’t do that.” So you have folks really pushing the envelope on being creative and on telling stories that are complex and diverse and have a lot to say on the human condition. Netflix celebrates this is so many ways.
PT: So you just wrapped the second season of Sense8. The thing about Netflix is that they shoot the whole season at once, right?
PT: What’s interesting is that it’s almost changed the patterns of how we watch TV – which is binge-watching entire seasons at a time. We’ve done it ourselves. We have seven kids between us ranging in age 12 to 20 and everybody has their favorite shows so a lot of binge-watching goes on here.
TM: Is there a show that all nine of you can sit down and binge-watch together?
PT: There was a time when we were all addicted to The Walking Dead and we binged-watched several seasons of that together.
TM: (Laughs) Oh, my God!
PT: We are going to see you soon at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. You are hosting that on June 26th.
TM: Yes, I am. I also wanted to let you know that on June 24th after the evening performance of Noises Off, I’m doing “Terry’s Cabaret Late Nite” and I’m doing an hour and a half with some other folks in the show singing some songs and telling stories about us. It’s a fundraiser for scholarships for the kids to be able to come and work and stuff like that.
PT: That sounds fantastic. We’ll definitely give it a shout out on our blog.
TM: Thank you.
PT: We have one last signature question that we ask every interviewee. If you were to sum up your life and career to date in one word, what would it be?
TM: (Without hesitation!) Lucky.
PT: Wow. That was quick! I think that is the fastest response we’ve ever gotten!
TM: Lucky. Because it’s true. When you have no expectations…and just hope things will happen [it] equals lucky!
PT: Well, we were lucky to catch up with you today. It’s amazing how quickly thirty-one years can fly by. Thank you so much for this great interview.
TM: Thank you, guys!