Richard Chassler is not your average talent. Born in New York and raised between New York and Los Angeles, Rich knew at a very young age exactly what his future would hold. From theatre to television to stand-up comedy, Richard is now starring in Joan Beber's Ethel Sings, as Prosecuter Roy Cohn in this new imaginive take on the Ethel Rosenberg trial, presented by Undercover Productions through July 21 at the Walker Space Theatre (46 Walker Street). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? One afternoon, I think I had just turned 7, I built a drum set in the basement of our house using stuff that was down there. I turned a kiddie table and chairs over to make drums, got a rocking horse for a cymbal and two knitting needles for sticks. My mom came down and saw me, and two weeks later there was drum teacher at my house. That same year I did my first play and I saw my cousin, who is a rather successful actor himself, in a made for TV movie about the Scottsboro Boys. My family gathered in the den to watch my cousin. I remember how much fun he looked like he was having even though it was serious. Oh, and people sat to watch him. I liked that.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Got a legal pad. Better pack a lunch! The obvious, De Niro (not Robert, Frank De Niro his cousin), Sean Penn, Daniel Day Lewis, Pacino, Kevin Bacon, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. You get the Idea.
3. What attracted you to Ethel Sings? I love biographical pieces and I have always been a person who regards the McCarthy era as a huge black eye on the face of this country. It was an embarrassment the liberties that were not only taken by McCarthy and Cohn and the government, but suspended in the name of fanaticism. This story has always bothered me because I never knew enough about it, but after researching and learning what I have learned, I am so ashamed of our system for putting to death two parents who had different beliefs, and although ONE of them might have been guilty of far lesser crimes and did not deserve to be put to death in a time of peace, the other was simply innocent and was killed as a pawn. A lot to sink your teeth into.
4. You are going to be play Prosecuter Roy Cohn. What was it like to prepare for this role? It was interesting, annoying, enlightening, fun. Here is a lot of material on Roy Cohn, but I got to meet a man who worked for him for ten years and that was quite eye-opening and that happened by the universe tapping me on the shoulder one day. So I guess I can say it has also been a bi celestial!
5. What do you identify most with about Roy Cohn? That’s a hard question because he was such terrible human and I am so amazingly wonderful! Joking of course. His need to win at any cost is something that I identify with. Also he loved his connections….I get that.
6. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? First and foremost, I would like them to be entertained. Beyond that I think provoked, a tad disturbed, maybe somewhat pensive about the events. I would like audiences to leave knowing that it’s important to stand up and speak out.
7. In addition to acting, you are a musician and stand-up comedian. What do you like about performing in each medium? I have to say, with all humility, that I’m really lucky to be able to perform in so many mediums and enjoy each one as much as the next. There certainly is something unique about doing each one. Like for drumming, it’s really exciting to be moving 4 parts of my body at the same time in time with 3,4,5 other musicians supplying melodies for me to play that rhythm for. Music is very pure and spontaneous in its expression when executed in the way it was meant to be given away, prior to record companies. (another conversation) Stand-up is just freeing for me. I say what I want, I make no excuses, I am not politically correct. Plus, I work the crowd a lot so there is no script, or blocking or director etc. As for acting, which is my real true love, it’s conversation during the exploration that I love so much. When you are talking to the director about intentions and character and breaking down scenes and people…that really gets me off. I love that.
8. You wrote, directed, and starred in the award winning flim STOP. What made you want to write this film and what was it like to be the writer, director, and one of the actors. How did you separate yourself from each job? That’s a very interesting question, as that whole process was very out of whack. I did not sit down and say, I want to write THIS story. I was not a bully. I just wanted to make a short film that had a big juicy bone for me, as an actor, to sink my teeth into! My friend John Midas (the cop in the film) and I were trying to come up with a story and I really think he made the first suggestion about getting pulled over by a cop who recognized the driver. Then together we sussed out a story idea and I went and wrote the script. Really, once that is done, the writer is out, but being an actor and a director at the same time, in a film where I am tied to a chair for three quarters of the movie, is very hard. I had to watch playback while I was tied to a chair. I think they way I separated myself from each job was to surround myself with people who knew what they were doing and could keep me honest in each task at hand, be it directing or acting.
9. What have you learned about yourself from your various careers? WOW, what a great question! What have I learned about myself. I learned that I can be a giving, open artist, and a caring human being. I learned that I genuinely care about the quality of a product. I have also learned that, in the most humble of way, I must bring something to the table. I have also learned that I have a lot to learn!
10. What's the best advice you've ever received? Career advice or just any advice at all? Career advice, someone once told me to save your favors. That made some very good sense at the time. All around advice, that’s a good question. My friend’s dad told us when we were young, "never loan out your car, your gun or your wife!"
11. Favorite way to stay in shape? I like to mountain bike, go to the gym. I also find that going on wine tasting trips help to keep me trim.
12. Boxers or Briefs? Ummm in my daily life – neither. In this role…boxers!
13. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? If I could have any super power at all, it would be the power to make casting directors ONLY REMEMBER ME!
Richard Chassler began his performing career at the age of 9, playing drums at jazz clubs throughout NYC & Long Island. Richard turned to the theatre, as a student of famed acting teacher Stella Adler & has appeared in several films including The Insider, directed by Michael Mann & most recently, as "Martin Balsam" in Fox Searchlight’s Hitchcock, which starred Anthony Hopkins & Helen Mirren. He can be heard doing a myriad of voices in numerous cartoons & commercials. He also wrote, produced, directed & starred in the Award-winning dramatic film, STOP.