Phil Proctor Pic

Philip Proctor PicturePhilip Proctor was born 7/28/40, a Leo, in Goshen, IN, and raised in New York City. He is the professional actor, professorial philosopher, mesmerizing mimic, pugnacious promoter and the giggling glue of FIRESIGN THEATRE. As a young child Phil displayed a burgeoning talent for acting, mimicry, vocal, and language skills that quickly evolved over the years into appearances on local school, radio and television programs. Young Proctor also had access to the family tape recorder creating little skits and fake commercials for his own enjoyment. He honed his abilities continuing through high school and then on into college as a member of the Yale Dramat, starring in musical comedies.

It was while at Yale that he befriended fellow future Firesigner Peter Bergman, as they worked together on drama school productions. Phil Proctor played the lead in "Tom Jones" (1960) and "Booth Is Back In Town" (1961) to Bergman's lyrics, and his first 'commercial' recordings were of these two shows released on LP.

Proctor possesses a proclivity for foreign languages and dialects, speaking many and once toured the former Soviet Union with the Yale Russian Chorus. After numerous college and summer stock productions, Phil next made his mark on the stage in New York City, graduating to Broadway, where he understudied for "The Sound Of Music", working with Richard Rodgers. Phil joined several successful touring companies, and had his first big break as a lead in "The Amorous Flea", winning one of the Theater World Magazine's Awards for the Promising Personalities of the 1963-64 Season, getting a photo spread in the annual and receiving his honors from Paul Newman at the awards presentation.

During this period Phil also launched both his television and motion picture careers appearing in New York City based productions. His first film role was a bit part in the Jane Fonda / Rod Taylor vehicle "Sunday In New York" (1963). After making appearances on "The Edge Of Night", a television soap opera, Proctor went on a trip to California to appear in the "Daniel Boone" TV series. He hooked up again with Peter Bergman, sitting in on "Radio Free Oz", and meeting the rest of the would be FIRESIGN THEATRE. Proctor provided the impetus for Bergman to realize his dream of creating 'The Beatles Of Comedy'. He shortly left to finish his theater commitments and later returned to join the group.

All of the FIRESIGN members had outside jobs, so Phil Proctor continued to make television, commercials, and stage appearances. He performed in the Broadway production of "A Time For Singing" (1966) and is featured on the soundtrack recording issued by Warner Brothers. A movie was being made of one of his theaterical projects, so he again took a leave of absence from FIRESIGN THEATRE to be cast along with Orson Welles, Jack Nicholson, and Tuesday Weld in director Henry Jaglom's "A Safe Place" (1971) Phil also has a cameo in the movie, "Zachariah" (1971) written by FIRESIGN THEATRE.

During the FIRESIGN years he has continued to appear in numerous movies, including "Tunnelvision" (1976), on television shows like "All In The Family", in commercials, providing countless voices for major cartoon studios, such as Disney and Hanna-Barbera for their movies and television programming, and recording voice over specialties for literally hundreds of television and major motion pictures such as "Aladdin" (1992) "The Lion King" (1994), "Doctor Dolittle" (1998), "The Rugrats Movie" (1998), and "A Bug's Life" (1998). Hardly a day goes by today, where Phil Proctor's voice or image is not on network or cable TV.

Phil Proctor not only added his superb acting and vocal talents to FIRESIGN THEATRE, providing such memorable characterizations as Ray Hamberger, Rocky Rococo, Ralph Spoilsport, and Principal Poop, he also contributed a great deal of his excellent writing skills, and love for puns and word play to a maniacal sense of timing and furry of hilarious improvisation.

Proctor and Bergman formed a sub-group, as a writing and performing duo creating several LPs, tours, and movie projects; "J-Men Forever" (1979), substituting humorous dialogue to cliff-hanger serials, and providing the screen adaptation and basic premise for "Americathon" (1979), among others.

Through the '80s and '90s, Phil Proctor continued his work with FIRESIGN THEATRE, producing videos, commercials, albums, exploring the world of CD-I, developing computer games and concepts. Phil performs lectures and workshops for various colleges and universities, business organizations and conventions. Proctor has served on the Board Of Governors, LA Chapter, Of The National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences, representing Spoken Arts.

Dubbed "The Busiest Mouth In Hollywood", Phil Proctor continues to add his voice and make many television appearances on programs such as "The Tonight Show", "Ink", "The Young And Restless", etc. He possesses a brilliant comic mind, a remarkable memory with a machine gun delivery of an avalanche of stories and an incredible articulation of a philosophy that positively beams with a love of life for his fellow human beings. Phil displays an ability to clearly lecture on his own thoughts and can't resist injecting his beliefs into any thing he talks about, from the stage or in conversation. Phil Proctor possesses a positive commitment to changing society for the better with his performances, abilities, and heart. His overwhelming affection for FIRESIGN THEATRE continues to be the glue that bonds the group together, through thick and thin, providing opportunities to work and communicate, and shedding light in the most positive way. It was also at his wedding to the lovely and talented actress Melinda Peterson in 1992, where the group reunited.

Young Phil Proctor
FIREZINE: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a professional actor?
PHILIP PROCTOR: Oh, my God, I don't know. When I was a child I always knew it was fun to dress up and do make-up and be funny. It just came naturally. I was born with these particular talents into a pretty 'hammy' family, so I was encouraged. We had relatives in the business and we were always around theatrical people, friends of my family. And then in my school, Allen Stevenson, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Green, was a very close friend of Helen Hayes.
I opted not to do legitimate theater until later, although I did some live television shows, like "Uncle Danny Reads The Funnies", which Elliot Gould had done. Slowly but surely I got into it, really through school. That was where I discovered that I could really do it.
FZ: So after your successful Yale theatrical experiences, then you started thinking about doing it professionally?
PP: Yeah, I did but because Tom Jones Promo Picthere was the fact that I knew people in the business was a double edged sword. People were always complaining that they didn't have enough work. It was a tough business. I heard this from the time that I was very young. And they always said, "It's always good to have something else you can fall back on, besides your butt." So I was encouraged not to jump into it, which was kind of strange. I could have but I didn't. That's why I really took languages as a second major or focused on language studies because I had a knack for that, which came out of my musical abilities.
FZ: Did you think about being a translator?
PP: Yeah, I thought about being a translator or using it in diplomatic service. My dad, when I got out of school, introduced me to some higher ups at the C.I.A., which didn't interest me, kind of scared me actually. But it was the possibility of going into public service where I could use my linguistic and diplomatic abilities. The trip to the Soviet Union with the Yale Russian chorus and various other experiences like that, kind of satiated my appetite for that kind of politics. The whole Cold War scene was so over hyped and so obviously dangerous that I just didn't want to get involved with it. So that was the primary reason that I didn't pursue that… well the primary reason was it was too much fun just to do plays and stuff. It was too enjoyable and I was too successful at it so why should I go and do something else that wasn't ultimately what I was having fun at?
At least, when I finally committed to getting into show business as a real profession and kind of dedicated my life to it, by then I was much more realistic about what my chances were and what kind of opportunities were afforded to me, so it wasn't so scary to commit to it. And it's been a great ride.
FZ: It really impressed me when you told me you never had a real job.
PP: No, I never had a real job. I never had to wait on anybody at a table or anything. That's just the way it happened. I was always working in show business in some capacity or another and I still am. The only job job that I ever had, for about a week, I was a public relations schill for a young lady named Diana Dew, who had invented electric strobe flashing clothing back in the mid to late 60s. She was working for a company called, Experipuritaneous, which was a spin-off for outrageous clothing for a big clothing company. We lived together in the East Village, briefly, and I would go down to this office area and make phone calls to promote her stuff.
She invented clothes that strobed. There was this translucent plastic material that would retain an electrical charge and glow. She created a line of men's ties and men's and women's unisex belts and disco dresses and vest and things with the potentiometer that was connected to the side of the dress that could work rhythmically so that if you were on a dance floor you could adjust the beat of your tie so that it would flash in rhythm to the music. One of her dresses, her most startling, was a black and white, plastic vinyl dress, with these strips of plastic material, kind of up and down zebra-like, slatted, and she could make it go around in a circle. The strobe would not only be in rhythm but it would go around in a circle even, to the right or to the left. It was amazing! It was great stuff, great disco dresses. It ended up the company went bankrupt and she was given her clothing line and she sold it to Salvador Dali', who bought everything.
So that was the only so-called straight job that I ever held other than picking up laundry for a laundry service at Yale. And my scholarship job at Yale was editing the radio program, a show called Yale Reports. So I always had something that was somewhat affiliated to the business.
FZ: What was your first real paying acting job?
PP: My first job was fingering a princess on television. In those days and times they did live commercials on the news breaks at NBC. So I went up to the NBC news studio in Rockefeller Plaza and they were just introducing the new "princess" phones, which were these little light phones that had lights on them when you lift them up. So what I had to do was simply point at the phone when they talked about the different models. So I was a hand model and that's how I got my union card in 1962. It was a hand job from a princess. Life is strange.
While I was still at Yale near the end of my senior year, I got a call for an audition to go down and audition for a soap opera. I took the train to Grand Central Station and got to the audition. I went up. There was a little room in a high rise and they taped my audition. It was the first time I'd ever been taped or auditioned.
And I walked down stairs and I had some time to kill before I took the train back to New Haven, it was a beautiful early summer day. They were building the Pan Am building on top of Grand Central Station, so I stood and I watched the construction for awhile and it got near the time for my train so I went into Grand Central. And as I'm walking across the grand concourse I heard over the loudspeakers, "Will Phil Proctor please report to the station master's office." So I stopped and people were flowing around me. And I said to myself, "That's me!" Once again this booming voice said, "Will Phil Proctor please report to the station master's office." So I walk over to this one corner and there's a bunch of desks with people in funny caps. And the guy said, "Your agent called and wants you to call her." I called and the agent said, "You've got the job!" I said, "I did?" She said, "Yeah, you're going to be Julie Kurtz, a juvenile delinquent on "Edge Of Night" and your first week is so and so and gonna do shows on such and such a day and such and such. And you're going to get $375 a performance and da da da da." I went, "Wow!"
So I had my first job on a soap opera. And when I was doing that, that underwrote my getting established in New York. And it helped me to get a little apartment down in the Village and decide what I wanted to do. Then I started doing plays in New York. And the first play I did was "Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man" (1962) and "The Bar Room Monks" (1962) down at the Martinque Theater produced by John Randolph, who is now my daughter's godfather and who we've known for many, many, many years. That was really kind of the beginning of it all. Then I did "The Cherry Orchard" (1962), directed and adapted by David Ross, and we did it at the Theater 4, which was built around us. It was a church, over in the far west '40s, that they converted into a theater. I remember we were doing "The Cherry Orchard" in the winter, they couldn't get a permit to build in the outside of the back of the theater, so there was no cross over, and so they built a temporary cross over out of corrugated steel. So, we would go walking off stage right, step out into the outside, and when it was snowing there would be somebody to throw a blanket over us and we would stand there shivering, with the snow kind of filtering down over this shanty we were standing in, and get ready for our next entrance. It was absurd.
Then I did "The Sound of Music" (1963) I understudied Rolfe, 'the singing Nazi', on Broadway, Nancy DeSole was in the company then. I got to work with Richard Rodgers, in the understudy rehearsals. What a wonderful man, he directed all the actors who went into that show, and later I was chosen because of my ability, by him to tour in a major national company of the show, which I did, which was great fun. I also did at that time, a play called "Thistle In My Bed" (1963), directed byThe Amorous Flea Promo Pic Howard De Silva, starring Sam Waterston and John Cullum, among others. And it was a Welsh folk tale, kind of a comedy-fantasy, and it was mercifully closed the day after JFK was assassinated. It closed because we were assassinated, the reviews were abysmal. But that was an interesting project, to work on, I rather enjoyed it. I met a lot of wonderful actors that I worked with later. Then I did "The Amorous Flea", in early 1964, which was kind a my big break at that time. "The Amorous Flea" was an original musical written by the late Jerry Devine, who wrote and directed a lot of early radio dramas like "Gangbusters", and "This Is Your FBI", and stuff like that. I created the role of the lead ingenue 'Horace' in the thing, and played opposite Imelda De Martin and Lew Parker, who was a great comic actor in the tradition of Jack Carter, and Phil Silvers, who came out of a vaudeville background, married to Betty Keene, a very famous funny kind of roustabout comedian. And Jack Fletcher was in it, and that show was very successful 'Off Broadway'. It was a big hit and a delightful musical adaptation of Molier's "School for Wives". I won a 'Promising Personalities Award from 'Theater World', and Paul Newman presented me with my award.
Later we were asked to go to LA with it, which I did and that's how I came out to LA, and played to the Las Palmas Theater to great success. Anyway, I'm out here with that, and I had auditioned for a musical, "A Time For Singing" (1966) on Broadway, which was a musical based on "How Green Was My Valley". So they called me up and said they wanted me to be in the musical, so I left "The Amorous Flea" and flew back to New York, to be featured in "A Time For Singing", which was produced by the Cohans, directed by Gerald Freedman, music by Jerome Morose, who did the music to "The Big Country". It was a beautiful, beautiful musical about the Welsh minors. It was not successful enough to get a long run on Broadway which was really a shame. It had gorgeous music and told an epic story in a very exciting way.
I was in New York again for about a year, and then that show closed, and I understudied Brandon De Wilder in a play by Evan Hunter, called "A Race Of Hairy Men" (1966) which was a kind of a ham-handed take on the upcoming youth revolution. Evan was sensitive enough, and intelligent and aware enough to know that something was going to be happening. He didn't know exactly what it was, but he knew something was gonna be happening with the youth of America. And he wrote a play which hinted at this, in a kind of bittersweet way, and I give him credit for that. The thing that happened to me there was that I understudied 2 of the lead roles, and I became very very close friends with Brandon De Wilder, whom I had always been fated to meet. And whom I had been fated to understudy. All through my life I had these strange almost meetings with Brandon. Finally when I met him it was as though we were soul mates. We were absolutely fated to be friends. We went through a lot of very interesting changes together. But I ended up understudying in this. We became very close friends. His wife's brother was a classmate of mine at Yale.
Generation Promo Pic We found a lot things in common and eventually we left New York and drove out to LA together, to check out the scene there. That's when I started doing a lot of TV with "Daniel Boone" and so then he and I went back to NY. I toured, I did a lot of theater in those days. I toured with Bob Cummings, in a play called "Generation" (1966), that was a great success, we toured the south. I toured with a play "Brigadoon" (1964) "Finian's Rainbow" (1964) with Pat O'Brien, up the east coast on tour, and I toured all over the country, doing the "Guber 4 Music Circus". I'm sure I've forgotten some of the things as well. I was a very legitimate theater actor, doing TV and movies on the side, until I met FIRESIGN THEATRE and they ruined my life.
FZ: How did you connect up with the FIRESIGN THEATRE?
PP: When we drove out to CA, to meet with Peter Fonda. Peter Fonda was putting together a movie which he called "Captain America", which later became "Easy Rider" (1969), and he and Dennis Hopper were working on the screenplay for this. And Brandon wanted to meet Peter and so did I, and we drove out and we met him. And to make a long story just a little longer, we went to do research, as it were, for the screenplay about the youth revolution, down to the Sunset Strip, where the young people were protesting a curfew, that the city had imposed on them, the young people, to prevent revolution. And we became involved in a riot. Brandon was beaten up, Peter was arrested, and I, I was writing then also on the sideline, for the 'East Village Other', which was a kind of emerging newspaper at the time. And I held up my 'East Village Other' press card, and the police just flowed around me like lava. It was amazing, I said, "Press, Press". And they welded their clubs on other people not me, it was very bizarre. And I later wrote an interesting article about the whole event. But I sat down at one point during this protest, on an open issue of the LA Free Press. And when I pulled the paper out from under my butt, I realized that I had sat down on the face of my friend Peter Bergman. It was open to a picture of Peter Bergman, it said KPFK news man Peter Bergman interviews a returning Vietnamese war veteran. I said, "I'll be damned", so I called KPFK, and that's when I learned that he was the renowned 'Wizard of Oz', on the "Radio Free Oz" show. It was like a 4 hour late night radio show. It was the first counter culture talk show. It was an amazing, amazing show, and it was at the time produced and engineered by Phil Austin, and David Ossman was poetry adviser or something. And I went down to improvise with Peter on the show and do crazy characters, and that's where I met Phil, the other Phil, and Dave Ossman, and one night we all did this improvisation together, "The Radio Free Oz Film Festival", and that was where the FIRESIGN THEATRE happened. We learned we were all fire signs, and Peter suddenly had this vision of us as being the 'Beatles of Comedy', and the rest is hysteria.
FZ: By then you had made some real movies, like "Sunday In New York" with Jane Fonda?
PP: Well, that was the first movie I ever did. I've actually got a copy of it. That's the first time I ever spoke Norwegian to someone because I was stuck in a row boat with this very pretty Norwegian blonde and of course they put a dark wig on her because Fonda was a blonde. They didn't want any competition. You can't have 2 blondes in the same movie. My scene was a little, little scene where our boats pass one another and my lady is rowing me and I'm kind of directing her and so this thing between Fonda and Rod Taylor is, "Well, why don't you do that for me?" The scenes ensues and blah, blah, blah.
FZ: Your uncle Clarence Eurist is listed as production manager of that movie.
PP: That's how I got the job! He got me in for a reading with the director and the director said, "Ah, sure, use the kid." That was my first movie job. My uncle got me into AFTRA and SAG, basically. Because once he knew that I was serious about becoming an actor, he said, "Oh, we've got to get you in the unions."
But it wasn't until I had really committed to staying out here that I began to get work in the movie industry. And I think my first job in LA was theater, primarily, working at the Mark Taper and doing those plays down there. Then from that I got some movie and television bites. I did the "Daniel Boone" show. My recollection of these is very vague because it wasn't my primary focus. But I did some various leads, they were good leads, guest starring in lead parts in television series.
Jack Argue - Muzeeka  Muzeeka Poster 
Phil and Costar  Proctor and Austin on stage
Proctor Close Up

And then I was in "The Thousand Plane Raid" (1969) which was typical. It was a film that used every young actor who was out here from New York so it wasn't any big deal that I was in it. It was interesting. There was like a thousand of us who were flown up to Lompac to be in this movie. And Firesign was happening at that time so I was in conflict with that. I had to miss a couple of radio shows or something. I really didn't have a firm grip at those times as to . . . Well you can manage your own career and your partners will help you and you'll be OK.
We were all kind of terrified at that time of breaking the chain of events that were happening with the energy of the group. So I ultimately had to kind of turn my back on my burgeoning career. Although the things that happened like "The Thousand Plane Raid" (1969) and Henry Jaglom's movie, "A Safe Place" (1971) were really a lot of fun and did me OK. I elected to turn down a role in "The French Connection" (1971) which was difficult. And I also turned down a role in a pilot that was shooting in Tahiti, which was difficult. I think that if I'd known what I know now about how the business works and how partnerships work, I would have accepted both of those roles and said, "Fellows, you'll just have to work around me."
I remember in one instance we were going to do a live show at the Ash Grove. And, you know, I've felt an allegiance to that because as I've often said, "We weren't like a band were you could replace the drummer for a gig. The FIRESIGN THEATRE is the 4 guys." I would have impacted on the ability of the other guys to make a living at that time, had I gone off and done these various jobs and other jobs that were offered me. So I had to make some pretty tough decisions.
FZ: You guys were co-dependent on each other then?
PP: Yeah. I think so. Yeah, really because now we might be able with our understandings or foresight… I think we might be able to sit down and really talk about what we might have been able to do to work something out. And say, "Well we'll just postpone that show for another week. Let Proctor go to Tahiti, Finian's Rainbow Promobut we didn't do that. And that's the way it is and here I am. I'm still doing OK. But I still haven't been to Tahiti. What can you do?
FZ: But your versatility really got you a lot of jobs.
PP: Sure, that's true. The fact that I could really sing, helped a lot. I toured "Sound of Music" in 1964, I played opposite Gloria De Haven. "Bell Book And Candle" was 1965, that was with Betty White and Alan Luden. "Brigadoon" and "Finian's Rainbow" was '63, that was with Pat O'Brien.
FZ: What was he like to work with?
PP: Oh, he was great. He was terrific, he really had it together. What was fun about him was that he was Finian. Whenever he would go up on his lines, he'd just start interpolating and babbling in character. And I'd just wait down there until he'd stop and I throw him a cue and carry on. He was absolutely a wonderful man to work with and had a great memory for people and places and things.
FZ: You've down played your theatrical achievements but I think you've had a really terrific career.
PP: Yeah, I've had a good career. No I don't mean to put down my career. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Don't get me wrong, I've had a good career. What I'm saying is that there were choices made that limited where my career could have gone, that's all. And I think every actor feels regrets about the auditions they missed, or the part they didn't get or the stuff they turned down. Everybody in the business is upset over the things they've turned down that went on to be big hits or that changed other people's lives. But that's just the nature of the business. I'm not unrealistic about that.
FZ: You have that variety and quality that many people never touch upon.
PP: It's been a fun career. The fact that I'm back again at doing theater is really terrific fun because I'm reconnecting with my roots, from whence IPatience Promo come. I'm doing musical comedy again. Anyway, it's great to be doing theater again. That's all I can tell you. It really is. It's just a terrific feeling. There's nothing that quite compares to the family of theater in doing a production together, and all that it entails. This is a classic experience now appearing in Gilbert & Sullivan's "Patience" with the Antaeus company. We've workshopped it. We've had the luxury of performing it in a shorter version. And now we're mounting a fuller version, we'll have more choreography and more music and more staging and more costumes and more lighting and more everything. So that it's like the luxury of putting a play on it's feet with a decent rehearsal period, for a change, you know.
We are going to be doing our production of "Patience" at the newly renovated John Anson Ford Theatre which has been taken over by the LA County Commission of the Arts. So it will be receiving a good amount of publicity since we've been chosen as really the first production to be mounted in this newly renovated theater. So that's going to be exciting and both Melinda and I will be in it. It's going to be a crowded stage. Melinda is now doubling in the role of "Lady Angela" and I'm doubling in the role of 'The Duke', which I created for the first go round. And they've restored some of the music that we'd taken out in the North Hollywood version, which was a shorter version of the play that we did. There's more music for 'The Duke' and more music for everybody in it. It's going to be quite beautiful and fun to do.
FZ: Have you done Gilbert & Sullivan before?
PP: I started with Gilbert & Sullivan at the Allen Stevenson School in, I guess, the 50s, singing. I was an operatically trained, if you will, classically trained boy soprano. And I assayed the female leads in the Gilbert and Sullivan productions that we did at the Allen Stevenson School, in NY, which was famed for it's Gilbert & Sullivan and for it's orchestra which toured around and appeared on television, also the chorus, we appeared on television live around Christmas time on several morning shows and things like that. So it was quite a prestigious and interesting group to be working with. The first Gilbert & Sullivan I ever did, if my memory serves, was "The Pirates Of Penzance", in which I played Mabel. I think I did "Ialanthy" but I don't really recall what I played. Pinafore PicAnd later on at the Dennison Summer Theater, during the summer of 1961, which ironically I learned is that Michael Eisner, who went to Allen Stevenson School with me, also apparently went to Dennison, but anyway, I did "H.M.S. Pinafore" and I played Ralf Rackstraw, pronounced Raff, who was the love interest in that particular thing. What a great season that was.
FZ: And so going back to your theatrical roots has really helped with your FIRESIGN work too, right?
PP: Absolutely. I know that just doing this musical and a bunch of musical things that I've committed to doing in the last couple of years has strengthened my voice enormously and given me confidence in performance again. The other night I also had a chance to do a farce monologue called "The Jurist" by Feydeau at the Antaeus as a part of an evening of farce. Melinda also participated in it. It was great fun. The opportunity to be able to do theater again is something that until Melinda had gotten me back into again, is something that I had just kind of forgotten how much it feeds me. And how much fun it is to be working in a company of tremendously talented people, you know, to be inspired by them and to work with them. It's just great. So since I've been back at it, I did that and I did that the role of Captain Brazen in Farquar's "The Recruiting Officer" which is another workshop presentation that we did in a stage reading. It's great fun. And I get to work with my wife.
So I have no regrets at all that I got involved in theater. Because this is a professional company of actors who are working all the time, it is of necessity, designed for the working artist and therefore it's something that we can all manage at the same time as we're doing other things in our career. And that's terrific.
FZ: Let's talk a little about the difference between stage and film acting. Now in "A Safe Place", there's that one scene where it's a straight on shot of you where you go through all these emotions and things, talking to the camera. I thought you did a terrific job and you can see the emotion coming through your face and all and your voice. And that just seems that that was something you could not do on a stage.
PP: Well, that's not necessarily true.
FZ: I mean it just would not come over or across was well.
PP: Yeah, that's true. There's a philosophy of theater where the audience should feel the emotion, not the actor. And if you can simulate an emotion that touches the audience and moves them, you've accomplished your goal. On the other hand, all acting is based on reality, on true emotion. I think, to me, the paragon of successful acting is when you convince yourself that something is happening to theA Safe Place Promo extent where you are deceived by it and true emotions are created, in you. So much of the skill that we work at is to create a technique in which we are relaxed enough as humans doing this complicated work on stage that real things can happen to us. We're not just constantly recreating, showing the same movie over again. We're actually living and breathing and responding to things that happen. There's the wonder of acting and how much fun it is just to be in the fraternity of the theater. Of being able to hang out in the green room and to discuss with your fellow actors all the things that went right and went wrong with the performance that night. Because the thing that people can't understand about theater, movies or television for that matter, it's never perfect. You're always striving for perfection. And in film you at least get there if you have the money to shoot over and over and over again. You can see when you put it up there on the screen.
We train in order to be as skillful as we can possibly be to do something quote unquote the right way but very few actors… most actors admit that they don't really know how they do it. And they're not really sure if they're even doing it correctly. And most of them are terrified that they're going to be discovered as frauds. Which I think is hysterical and really funny.
But the technique is putting in all of the training so that you can then relax on stage and be open to the mistakes that are going to happen and make them work. My daughter called me from Cambridge last week, very excited, because she said that she ad-libbed in the middle of a scene for the first time and saved the scene. This was the first time that she'd been able. And she said, "That I was able to do it in character." I said, "Good for you!" It's like putting the training that she's been getting in A. R. T. together that she had a real life theatrical experience where something went wrong, you know, the show must go on, the scene must go on. She saved it, so she's learning.


A Safe Place Poster  Phil and Tuesday Weld 

FZ: Some actors say that they don't like doing films because it's like rehearsing all the time, doing the same scene over and over and over again.
PP: Well, yeah, that again, belies their technique. I mean, if you have an opportunity, believe me FIRESIGN THEATRE is a classic arena for the freedom of this kind of approach. And the reason why we have so much fun doing what we are doing and the result is really so excellent is because all 4 of us enjoy repeating a performance, because we know we can do something a little different with it every time and that our partners will play off of it.
What I complain about is that when you go in to do a sitcom or when you work with a director in a movie for television or a film, who doesn't appreciate the actor's art. Let's go to the sitcom first. When you're working for a sit-com, you're being directed and supervised by a board of directors. And because all of these writers have been given production heft, so you've got a panel, a jury of producer / writers, 'suits', they call them, who come down at certain points during the process, the 5 day rehearsal process, and look at a run-through and then revise the show. So the greatest complaint that actors have is that they're cast in a role in a sit-com and they come in and they've beaten out 500 other actors or actresses to get the role and in they come. And they read it around the table. Everybody laughs. And then they start putting it on it's feet. Then they have their first run-through and then the part is changed. So that ultimately, in many instances, it's either cut to nothing or to one line or two lines or the whole concept of the part is changed to the extent that you're suddenly doing something that you're not comfortable with. It can be a nightmare. And then you have to do it in front of an audience.
FZ: And still be funny.
PP: And still be funny. Now the thing that most actors say about film work is that is the most difficult and Dacon Mathews, whom I have enormous respect for, who created the Antaeus Company, or is at least funding the Antaeus company, he said the hardest thing, and he works all the time, is hitting your marks and holding yourself in unnatural positions for the camera. And this is true. And this is true.
The first time I did the soap opera, I remember, I was talking on the phone. And the director said, "No, you're covering your mouth with the phone." I said, "I am?" He said, "Yeah, you have to hold the phone down so we can see your face." I said, "Oh." Ha, ha. That was my first clue. And then I had to drive a hot-rod. I didn't even know how to drive. I had to drive a hot-rod on to the stage about 6 feet and pull it to a stop on a mark. Oh, man, it was trial by doing, I guess. I don't know how to say it. Anyway, it was scary as hell. Remember, soaps in those day were live! Now, if you do a soap you know that can always stop and do a pick-up and blah, blah, blah.


Tunnel Vision Poster
PP in Tunnelvision
Again, the difficulty of working in film and television for an actor who is not a 'star', or a recognized feature player, you never know what they're going to do with the work that you do. The last soap opera that I did, the way they shot around me and everything, it was a delightful experience. I had a wonderful time shooting it. It was General Hospital, I think, I don't remember. I had a great time shooting this flamboyant, he was a Ralph Spoilsport character, basically. He was a used car dealer and he'd hired one of the regulars on the soap to be the spokesperson. She was this cute little genie, the spokesperson for his car line or something. Anyway it was great fun and I had three or four scenes. They shot 'em well and I got 'em right. We did each one, maybe twice or something. And I thought, "This will be great. I set my tape recorder and record it and I'll put it on my reel. This will be really terrific." Well I set both of my tape recorders for the wrong hour or something. I know what I did. I set it from 12:00 to 12:01, instead of 1:01. I don't know, I made some horrible stupid mistake, common mistake, on both machines! So I didn't get anything on tape, so I called my mom. I said, "Hey mom, how was it?" She said, "Oh, don't bother. They shot all around you. You were on screen for about 3 seconds." I said, "No, you're kidding! I had four scenes!" And sure enough a friend finally sent me a copy, a relative sent me a copy and I looked at it and I said, "Yeah." The way they staged it they featured this cute little actress, the 'star' and I was just like a mosquito in the scene, you know, buzzing around the star. It was ridiculous. There you go.
So that's one of the things that's discouraging about it. You can ask any actor, "Oh yeah, I did seven great scenes and they cut them all out of the movie. I was only in one brief shot, one reaction shot. And that's it. But I worked seven weeks on the movie and I made $25,000 and I'll get residuals and so who cares." Well, that's the way it goes. Those are some of the realities of the business and you just kind of keep slogging away until finally you actually do get a break that stays in the movie. Anyway that's been my experience.
As far as rehearsing it and filming it and all that, that depends on the director. If the director says, "Throw out the script and do whatever you want with this scene right now.", then you can have some fun. Or if he says, "I don't expect you to be the same every time." But if you've got to hit a mark and you've got to turn, and the camera is going to zoom in on you and you've got to do whatever. Well, that's different. That might be something that everybody can complain about.
Melinda and I worked recently on Steve Kessler's "The Independent" (1998).
The Independent Promo We were able to subtly change what we did every time because the director had covered us in a proper way. And he was respectful of the fact that we're good comic actors. So he let us, basically, subtly, because, you know, the changes that you make in film are based on the character that you've established but then within the context of that you can change it. He let us experiment and I'm sure he's chosen the best take to put in the film.
When the four of us did "Gods' Clowns" (1998) for Sandoz recently up in Portland, the same kind of thing went on, except that we were shooting it in a smaller ratio of takes to film. So we didn't want to overshoot, you know, to keep it within budget. But we basically could do variations on a theme and experiment a little bit with what we were going to do in each take, until the director said, "Yeah, that was great. We don't have to do it again. I got it." To my way of thinking, the more often you get to do something, as long as the director isn't saying, "You're not doing it right! Do it the way I told you!", it's the fun of doing movies and TV.
FZ: Do you think the independent directors are more sympathetic to the actors?
PP: Oh, sure. But it varies. There are excellent directors on every level who come out. People complain they didn't like working with Hitchcock and look at the great body of work he created. I mean, it has to do with your own sense of professional control and being able to work under any given circumstance to the best of your ability and to use your training and your talent to meet the demands of the particular circumstance. That's a combination of training and professional experience. The more work that I've done in television the more that I've been able to see how even the very best of seasoned stars and featured players can blow a scene over and over and over and over and over again. They just can't get the line right or something that throws them off. But the pressure that's on us, as guest artists to come into a sitcom or into a short term project are much greater.
FZ: They don't give you that latitude?
PP: They will if you have the confidence to say, "Can I do that again?" But they won't if you're just trying to do it right. If you're trying to do it right doesn't necessarily mean doing it your way. And so you look for an atmosphere where they say, "No Phil, just do what you want with this." And that doesn't happen very much in television. They're so terrified, you know.
FZ: This is kind of a dumb question but . . .
PP: I expect no less from you.
FZ: What is your typical working day like?
PP: Well the last couple of days have been kind of typical. My life is a balance of my personal life with my professional life with my private life. What am I trying to say? I try to live a life where I can I enjoy my home, my place that I live, and my life with Melinda and my obligations as a father and a husband and a citizen in balance with making a living in the profession. And I think for the most part I'm able to do that. So if I'm not working at a professional job that I'm making money from and residuals from that I've been cast in, that I'm doing, I will go down to the office and turn my attention to FIRESIGN THEATRE or to Planet Proctor or to updating my professional phone book or to making some contact calls or to something that furthers some aspect of my career. Or I will put some work into to this voice tape that I have to do soon and various other things that are professional obligations that will help forward my career. Or, since I'm now doing a play, spend some time going over my role and learning some new music and what have you. There's always something to do that relates to my professional life because the professional life is kind of blended into the personal life. There's a smooth blend in my existence of how I make a living and how I live and they're both really fun.


PP Ad #1
PP Ad #2
PP Ad #3

I really have a good time in my life, it's a very nice life. I'm enjoying my lifestyle and everything I do and my friends. Melinda and I are very happy together and we love to got out and see theater and movies and we like to spend evenings in. It's a very good existence because I'm not a star, I'm not recognized to the extent that I'm constantly getting invitations to things that I have to be there for because it's a professional obligation and people expect me to be there and blah, blah, blah. So at this point I've got a nice balance of professional recognition and admiration for my work and yet a respect for my privacy and my own life. It's pretty neat.
FZ: But you're like on call almost, aren't you?Ortega Food Ad
PP: Well, in terms of how I make my living, I'm on call primarily in the commercial and voice over arena. Today, for instance, as I was talking to you, I got a confirmation of a job at noon. And yesterday I got a call at 10:00 for a job at 12:30 that I hadn't expected. So yes, what I have to do is that I call my agent on a regular basis and I tell them when I need to be booked out. Next week the FIRESIGN THEATRE is working together. David is coming down with his wife Judith to meet a producer because they have an obligation to develop a children's program that Judith has created. David will stay on and we'll work for a couple of days with the entire group. We'll be working on the new album, we'll be working on the touring show and any other business that might be coming up. So I called up my agent and I said, "Book me out from 8:30 in the morning till 2:30 on one day because I have a job at 2:45 and one at 6:00 that was moved from Monday." and so on. And on Wednesday I said, "Book me out from 8:30 till 4:00 for auditions. If a job comes in, call me about it and I'll see if I can manage it." Because the Firesign has an agreement that if any of us get work we have to give it our best efforts to be able to do the job. But that's how we make a living. We do make a living from Firesign Theatre and we might make a better living from Firesign Theatre if the album really goes well and we find that there's a focus in the future, which seems to be coming together but it still means that we don't want to give up our regular day jobs until we are so well compensated for it that we can afford to do that, which is a practical reality.
FZ: If you start blowing off too many of those jobs, you won't get called back.
PP: Yeah, you hurt your reputation, you see. So basically there are two major factors to my career. One is flexibility, I have to retain a tremendous degree of flexibility and the other is self management. I have not pursued and do not pursue very aggressively theatrical work. I mean by that, film and television work, these days. I don't find it to be very satisfying. I find the audition process to be nerve racking and sometimes humiliating. I don't find that hours that you're required to work for the money that you make on my level of achievement to be worth the effort. So, unless I'm requested specifically or I get an absolute booking, I just don't pursue those things with very much intention. That means that I focus my life primarily on, now, on Firesign Theatre and on voice over work. Cashie the Bag on LenoThe voice over work is another thing that I don't pursue aggressively. I don't call up my ADR groups and say, "Hey, I haven't worked for you in the last three months, are you doing anything you can use me for?", because I get calls when people want me and need me and that's a booking. They call up and say, "Phil are you available on such and such and such?" And I'm not always available. I was called last week to do some looping for Lee French for some project and I was doing one radio spot that day and that's it. Looping and dubbing usually takes half a day or a full day. And if you're working one of those days, that's it, you can't do it. I've learned to kind of be sanguine about that. That's the nature of the business for me. Sometimes you turn down a $576 job because you've got a $385 job. But that's just the way it is. And I've only regretted, once in a while, turning down looping and dubbing jobs that turned out really great. I had to turn down "Forrest Gump" (1996) because I was writing with Bergman on the 'PYST' project, many years ago and now I wish I hadn't turned down that. And I could have. Peter would have said, "Yeah, go ahead and do it." But at the time we were under the gun to finish some writing at a certain time. We had a deadline, so I didn't do it. And so that means a whole bunch of residuals from a big hit film have been cut out of my life forever. You now, that's the way it goes. There will always be something else. I did "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) and "Star" later so that will be eventually good. But anyway, it's a game, it's a game. Sometimes I get caught. I'll get an avail for a radio spot and then I'll hang up that phone and then I'll get a call for the same day for a looping job that really is something I want to do. So I'll call back and say to my agent that I'm not available. And that's difficult but it's also something that happens. It not just happens to me, it happens to all of us actors and that's because I manage my own career. I make decisions about these things and I have to live with them.
It's the same with the FIRESIGN. I mean, it's terribly frustrating, as it is with next week. Here we have David coming down, and he's being flown down by this production company, so it's Phil in Eyeball Hatnot costing us anything to have David down here. We've got to take advantage of that. But the other advantage is that there's four of us. As long as we don't have to appear on camera together or work in the studio together, we even manage to do our studio work under these circumstances. David had to go and work at Disney and I had to go and do this spot and that spot and this thing. The only thing I had to turn down were full day ADR jobs. I called the people that I usually work for and I said, "During this period of time I'm gonna be in the studio and I can't do a full day of ADR, so please just remember that. Don't call me and force me to turn you down on the best job that you've ever offered me. I don't want to know." That's the way it is. But on the other hand there is tremendous flexibility and eventually when push comes to shove, we're all in the same place and the same time to make that proper decisions at the right moment to do what we have to do. You know what I mean? So that even if the development of the touring show goes on in the next week a little bit more without my presence, we've already had enough discussions about it that people know how I feel and I would like to see done in the new show, so it's not as though that my opinion is not included. "This is terrible guys, you can't do this. I quit!" That's not the case. We're all very sensitive to one another's needs and the right decisions are invariably made.
FZ: That's seems like kind of a unique way of operating.
PP: It is. Again, one of the reasons why I have the kind of a life that I have, why I don't have writing partners and go off and write sitcoms and why I don't get together with somebody and write a movie, because I have offers from other people in the business to get together and do this kind of thing. I say, "I can't do it because if I do that I give up the freedom of the life that I have and I'm in a situation again that I can not be as flexible as I need to be to make a living the way I make a living."
I've kind of designed my life in a way where I can make a living with my particular special skills and still have fun. That's the trade off. I may not make as much money as other people I know. I may not have as many material possessions as other people have but I've sure got a lot of memorabilia. I'm doing fine and I'm having fun doing it and I'm among the one percent of Screen Actor's Guild who work. My pension and welfare is taken care of and our health coverage is maintained. I'm doing what's necessary to be part of this company town.
Having an opportunity like this to kind of take a look at my career is very healthy. Because yes indeed, I do tend, I think all of us tend to focus on the moment. When a show closes, actors always say, "I'll never work again. That's it." If you ask Melinda what she's doing next week, she'll say, "I'm not doing anything for the rest of my life.", because that's the way it appears to us if we don't get any work or if we've lost a job. "Well, that's it! That's the last opportunity I'm gonna get." And yet it never is and there's always something else going on.
So it's fun to revue, to be forced to look over my entire career again and to be reminded of all of the things that I've done. One of the exercises I've started is assembling all the pieces of the puzzle. It's a time consuming, on-going process. I've just discovered about a dozen plays that I've not listed in my theatrical resume that I've played roles in that I'd forgotten completely. Of course that is the nature of summer stock, you go in and do a different play a week. I need an entire room of file cabinets to store all of this stuff. Every once in a while, when I have some time off, I will go into the files and reorganize things. It's daunting and tremendously challenging and yet it is something that is fun to return every once in a while, when I have some spare time.
FZ: Do you feel that you have to compete with your past self though?
PP: No, I don't. But as I say as returning to the roots in theater as the Antaeus Company does has given me an opportunity to recognize from whence I come and from where the root of my talents lie, which is in performance and characterization. That aids me enormously in approaching FIRESIGN THEATRE because I feel more fully realized without having to put that onus on the group.
There have been times when, Peter, particularly, felt restricted by limitations that the group was offering at a particular time and boldly stepped out and did his own thing. And we've all done that. We've all had to do that at certain times because what the group was being offered . . . our opportunities, FIRESIGN THEATRE's opportunities became limited at a certain point and we really kind of had to step out on our own and re-establish our own personalities so that we could bring that back into the group. That's part of the dynamic. And the fact that we sometimes did it willingly and other times we didn't is again part and parcel of the choices you have to make sometimes. But when art is worth doing, we will do it. And that's been proven true with the Firesign, that time and patience and slow but steady dedication to the craft that we've created together, will pay off.
FZ: We've talked about how your acting experiences paid off on making the new Firesign record . . .
PP: For all of us.
FZ: Now how would that be in reverse? How has the experience of making this new record effected your acting abilities, I guess I'm trying to say.


Rappa This!
Vinnie Gumba

PP: The challenge of creating characters in a vocal realm, in the oral realm, is something which is a very distinct skill that requires not only good acting abilities, which is the powers of characterization, and timing, etc., etc., but it also requires you to be able to express that in a vocal realm as opposed to a physical realm. So naturally the subtleties of your intonations and timing and the ability to evoke a mental image, in the listener's imagination through the power of the voice alone, essentially is an aspect which cannot help but heighten one's abilities on the stage. Because, as you said, the subtleties of close-up work in film and television are lost on the stage. The stage is a larger realm. And so much of what has to be conveyed has to be conveyed vocally. The fact that I've been training decades now to use my voice and to create character, and subtleties of variation in little sound bites and things, that has helped enormously. It's helps in both realms. It helps my acting on stage and in other work that I do in the medium but it also helps my work with the FIRESIGN THEATRE because then the standing up and physicalizing it, makes it easier for me to stand in front of a microphone and become a character. I can physicalize a character in front of a microphone, it helps the voice come out. It's all tied together. The instrument is being used in different ways to achieve the goal of the particular professional challenge. What I do in LA is basically live on the edge, because we are on the edge of the continent. I call it the big dust pan of the nation, because the pioneers were swept across the country until they ended up at this edge and couldn't go any further unless they wanted to retire in Hawaii. When you're living on the edge as most of us do in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, which by the way, if you move the letters around, spells 'Legs On Sale', or for Hollywood, 'Say Hello To Legs', 'cause there's too many of us, you're basically picking up as many jobs as you can, which is why we stay here.
Because I'm known as a voice over artist and kind of created a career for myself through the FIRESIGN THEATRE, and I'm known more so as a voice over artist than I am as an 'on camera' these days. I basically am in the great voice talent pool (gargles) "---trying to stay afloat". As I result, I get a lot of different jobs in the commercial arena doing radio spots and television voice-overs. I also appear on sitcoms doing voice over work. Those are fun because you actually have to go down to the set on the last day when they're taping and you stand off stage with a microphone in your hand and you do whatever these lines are.
When you work, as I do, in a kind of a scattershot fashion, where I come in with what we call an ADR group, or a "WALLA" group, or a "loop" group, we are adding all of the other voices to these films and animated features that fill out and create the verisimilitude, the reality of the experience or the unreality of the experience if they want to go "cartoony".
A little background on that, ADR means "Automated Dialogue Replacement" or "Addition Dumb Replies", and every movie that you see, whether it be a television or in the movie theater, the film is shot in such a way that the extras in the background can't really be talking because if they do, you can't cut from scene to scene. They shoot a scene, as most people now understand, from many different angles, over sometimes an extended period of time. So as a result, once the film has been finished, they will bring in a group of talented improvisational actors and we will then fill in the backgrounds. So you gather these people who have theses various abilities to do these things. The sessions can be a great deal of fun. You seldom know exactly what they're using of all the stuff that you've done until you go to a screening of the film.
In any event, the majority of the work that I do is in motion pictures now. I add voices to cartoons and to animated features, a lot of stuff at Disney. I'm in the Pixar feature, "A Bugs Life" that incidentally, David Ossman is playing a featured role in, the ant "Cornelius". In that instance my voices are integrated into the total film. I play several ill-tempered flies and various other characters in it, yet to be determined. But we've done a lot of very interesting stuff. We've played grasshoppers who are kind of like bikers. We've done ants who are being besieged by the bikers, to whom they have to collect food for protection. We also play flies and various other kinds of strange insects. It's a wonderful film. It's beyond "Toy Story" in the kind of computer animation that they've created. It will just boggle your mind. They call it an "epic of miniature proportions", and it truly is, and the people are great fun to work with. Bug's Life Loop GroupSometimes, because I have not been hired as an individual actor, but as a member of a group, we will be highlighted within that group, because they'll, say, "OK, we want you to do the voice of this particular announcement". And when I listen to these films I say "Oh there I am!", and other times I can just hear myself screaming as somebody kills me, because we have to put in the voices of all of the people who die.
It's so funny because in these various movies, where, this hasn't happened just to me, this happens to all of us who work in this medium, we'll find that suddenly we're sitting in a movie and our voice pops out where we least expect it, because you often forget. You do enough of this work, you forget exactly what you've laid down, what you've auditioned to do during the session.
Very often they'll say "OK, you five guys read this line" and then later the director picks out what they want. Often I've also been deeply disappointed. For instance, I worked for Barry Levinson in two movies recently, one of which is "Wag The Dog". My voice is featured when the principles are listening on the radio in Washington, DC, to this song called "Old Shoe". That's my voice that introduces the song. In another film I did for Barry Levinson called "Sphere", a very bad science fiction story by Michael Crichton, which I had read before actually and said, "Why are they making a movie of this? With Dustin Hoffman?". So anyway, in this particular movie, I was hired to specifically interview these characters off-screen because there was this whole sequence about "their not being able to remember anything that had happened after they…" Well, in case you haven't seen this terrible movie, I don't want to spoil the terrible ending for you.
So I was called in twice to do this, and Barry, says "Ah, could you do it a little more realistically". The director very often says things off screen to get the actors to respond and then they replace the voice later. When I went to see the movie and I said "Here comes my part, honey", it's Barry Levinson's voice who's doing it. He decided not to replace his voice --- just to use his own voice. But I'm paid for it nonetheless and I'm paid residuals on it. That's another secret of why I stay in Los Angeles and don't come out and perform much anymore.
The reason is, that the work that you do in the union AFTRA or SAG, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles is residual bearing, which means that every time that you do a piece of work, you receive a percentage of any moneys that are forthcoming from that work in perpetuity, as it says in the contract, throughout the known universe. I suppose if they start showing these movies in the unknown universe we can't expect to get any intergalactic cash, but that's the way it goes. Maybe we build up some sort of spiritual validity in the next life. In the next life, you're on your own, but you won't own anything, so it doesn't matter. Anyway, that's why we stay there and work there, because for whatever work we do, we get this lovely return over the years.
We also get pension and welfare which means that we can retire eventually as a gentleman or gentlelady, if you will, and all that stuff makes it comfortable to work there and a little less humiliating if you go in a group and everybody's very talented and they should all be having their own series or starring in movies but they're not. They're adding voices to some silly movie that somebody else has made and yet it's fun and there you are working with all these great people and you're employed. So that's what I do.


Proc at his computer