Tony Award winner John Benjamin Hickey has had a lucrative career between theatre, film, and television! On Broadway, John has took center stage in "The Normal Heart" (Tony Award winner), "Mary Stuart" (Outer Critics Circle nomination), "The Crucible," "Cabaret," and "Love! Valour! Compassion!" Off-Broadway, John has delighted audiences in "Love! Valour! Compassion!" (Obie Award winner), "Blue Window," "God's Heart," "The End of the Day," "The Substance of Fire," and "The Autumn Garden" (Williamstown Theatre Festival).
John has lit up the screen in such hit films and television shows as "The Good Wife," "Law & Order," "Sex and the City," "It's All Relative," "Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows," "The Ice Storm," "The General's Daughter," "The Bone Collector," "Changing Lanes," "Flags of Our Fathers," "Infamous," "Then She Found Me," "Transformer's 2: Revenge of the Fallen," and "The Taking of Pelham 123."
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? When I was a kid there was a television production of O'Neill's A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, starring the great Jason Robards and Colleen DeWhurst, and even though I was way too young to understand that play, there was something about those performances, those performers, that made me want to be like them. Even more than the movie stars of the day, those actors really appealed to me in a very visceral way. So I like to think that was the thing that started me on my way. They are good role models, those two.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? There are too many actors to even mention. But lets see.....a play with Meryl would be fun. Kevin Kline is a hero of mine. Um, John Slattery is a great actor and friend. He would be fun to work with. Liam Neeson. Frances McDormand. There are so many. I have worked with so many wonderful directors in the theatre, but there are a few still on my wish list: Jack O'Brien and Matthew Warchus. I would like to make a record with James Taylor or Neil Young (play the tambourine for Neil Young), even though I have no musical talent to speak of. But how great would that be? Can't anyone play a tambourine? Like didn't the youngest Partridge kid play that? I am afraid that's what I would be stuck doing.
3. What attracted you to "The Big C"? What do you identify most with your character "Sean"? What has been the best part about working on the show? I was attracted to THE BIG C by Laura Linney. She really is peerless and fearless, so anything she was attached to, I was on board as well. And then, the subject matter, just the attempt to make comedy out of cancer. I thought it was a ballsy idea. And the character I play, "Sean," is just so rich with complications and layers. He is homeless (by choice), he is bipolar, he is kind of a freegan, he is a pussy magnet, he is terribly unreliable and yet strangely a very loyal and devoted brother. All those things, all those contradictions, make him very fun to play. That, and I don't have to shower to come to work. So that means extra sleep time.
4. What made you want to film "My Eleventh" and what can you tell us about the upcoming film? MY ELEVENTH was this totally original, shocking screenplay I was sent by two young, incredibly gifted filmmakers, Gary and Edmund Entin. I had worked with them before. They played my sons in a movie that shot in Bucharest, Romania for three very long months, so we bonded during that time, and I knew they were talented young guys (twin brothers) with very unique voices. But their script for this movie just took my breath away. In a nutshell, it is just basically the story of one day in the life of a murderer. It's a very non manipulative horror film. I play the killer and I am very proud of the movie.
5. I was fortunate enough to see you in "The Normal Heart" earlier this year. What was the best part about performing in this production? What did it mean to get nominated and then win the Tony Award? What can I say about THE NORMAL HEART? It's impossible to dismantle the experience in any way and pick one thing that was my favorite part of it. I mean, starting with that great battle cry of a play, the accelerated process by which we got it on its feet (we only had about ten days of rehearsal, two days of tech, 4 or 5 previews, so we were really shot out of a cannon. It was fucking scary), doing the original benefit reading with Joel Grey, then getting into rehearsal with George C. Wolfe, and what he asked of us, then the overwhelming audience reaction to Larry's play.....I could go on and on. The whole thing seemed like a high-wire act, like a drug. It was the most exciting time of my career. And then on top of that to be nominated, to win a Tony Award, that's when the whole thing starts to become a little surreal. You know, at the same time I was performing the play at night, I was shooting the second season of THE BIG C during the day, in Stamford, CT. So most of my days involved this insane dash to make it to the stage door from Stamford, CT in time for the curtain. Even the night of the Tonys, I had to get up the next morning at 6 and go shoot a couple of scenes. I have never had the courage to watch that episode, for fear of how exhausted I must have looked that day. Thank God for the make-up dept, and soft focus lighting. I am sure they shot me like Lucy in MAME that day. That joke is for your older readers, like myself.
6. One of my favorite TV shows on ABC was "It's All Relative," in which you co-starred with Harriet Harris, Christopher Sieber, and current "Big C" cast mate Reid Scott. Looking back, what did you enjoy most about starring on "It's All Relative"? While the show only lasted one season, what impact/legacy do you think the show left on the TV industry? Oh, so YOU are the one who watched the show!! Thanks!!! I loved that whole experience, and boy, was it an education. Four-camera sitcoms are a whole different breed of television show. Unlike single camera, where you shoot a few pages of dialogue a day, in a four-camera show (I am sure people know this, but I am explaining it anyway) you get the script on a Tuesday, read it out loud, futz with it for a few days, then that following Monday you shoot the whole thing in front of a live audience. It's terrifying, and fun. We were very lucky on that show, because Harriet, Chris Sieber, and I all came from the theatre, and Lenny Clarke, who is a genius, came from a stand-up background. So we all loved being in front of the audience. You know, at the time, the show seemed a little old-fashioned, even corny, in a sweet, retro sort of way. In retrospect I realize that was what was most innovative about the show, that it was a very conventional sitcom, with a conventional format, that had a gay, committed, married (not legally, not then) couple at its center, who had raised a child, built a home together, etc. So in some ways, as old-fashioned as it was, it was also ahead of its time. None of it would have happened without WILL & GRACE though, ya know? I mean, that show just blew the hinges off the closet that kept gay characters on the margins in television. And there is really only one reason why that happened: that show was one of the funniest sitcoms in the history of television. Like, Lucy funny (another Lucy reference!). So I think it really just proves that if you build it, build it really well, people will come. I thought our show was really, really good. We had wonderful writers, and the great producing team of Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, and even though, like I said, there was a lot of stuff in our show that was sort of ahead of its time, there was a conventionality to it. It was a great job. I met my partner of 8 years, Jeffrey Richman, on that job. He writes on MODERN FAMILY now. Talk about a great show. I mean, that is the perfect example of all the elements coming together, from writing to casting, and the whole thing just exploding. It's SO many people's favorite show now, so many families watch it together, and to me, there is no sense of "other-ness" about "Mitch" and "Cam," except of course the wonderful and eccentric things that make them who they are. But they are inside the experience of that family, they are as funny and real and textured and as screwed up as every other member, in a way that I think is revolutionary. Love that show.
7. You have worked in film, television, and theatre. What do you like about working in each medium? Is there another aspect of entertainment you would like to tackle that you haven't? Nothing comes close to the experience of live theatre. I mean, being in a hit play on Broadway in New York? Come on. It feels like you are at the center of the universe. But aside from that high, there is the medium itself, which at the end of the day, involves just the actors on stage, the play, and the audience. That's it. It is a wonderful conspiracy between you and the audience, to create that suspension. And it's human-scaled. It is a human watching another human, not blown up or in close-up or through a lens, but live.
In television and film, and this is of course coming from someone who has had bigger and better opportunities in the theatre, it can feel very.....technical, for lack of a better word. There are so many different things that have to work together, aside from what is going on between you and the other actor(s), that you don't have the same kind of freedom you have on stage. But that is also the fun part, working so closely with a group of writers, camera crews, etc. There are a lot of people working together for an insane number of hours in a day on a movie, so it becomes very familial. Playing "Sean" on THE BIG C has been the funnest television/film experience of my career, because he is, in many ways, a very theatrical character. He is larger than life, and the writers really give me challenging, wonderful things to do on that show.
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? How important it is to trust your instincts, even if they are bad. Trust them, act fully upon them if you can, and then see where the chips fall. The minute you start to monitor yourself too much, the possibilities of what can happen in the moment start to go away. That's a good lesson for life too, I guess.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? Trust your instincts.
10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Friends and family I have lost. I guess that is the time to get to be with them.
11. Favorite way to spend your day off? Favorite way to stay in shape? Up in the country, at my place, in the Northwest corner of CT. Just puttering around my place, doing nothing.
The best way I stay in shape is to get off my ass and get to the gym. I usually have to indulge in a trainer, because if I didn't have the obligation to be there, and have to pay for it, I would find every reason in the world not to go. I love doing circuit training, keeping my heart up, because more than getting in good physical shape, I find it takes the edge of some of the crazy in my head.
12. Boxers or Briefs? Whatever is the first in my pile of clean laundry. But the answer to the question, it's briefs.
13. Favorite website? Huffington Post. I go on to get my news/politics fix, but invariably find myself on "cutest animal video of the week" page.
14. Superman or Wonder Woman? Can we be in a throuple?