Actor Frederick Weller is mainly known for playing Marshall Mann in the acclaimed US television series ‘In Plain Sight’. But his first and foremost passion is the theatre. The New Orleans-native has been living in New York for many years and has built an impressive resumé on and off-Broadway. Among his plays are David Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ with Alan Alda and Tom Wopat, and the Tony award-winning play ‘Take Me Out’. Time to catch up on some of the highlights, challenges and funny experiences in his career.
One of Frederick’s personal highlights of his acting career is the television series ‘In Plain Sight’, about two US Marshals of the Federal Witness Protection Program. “We were having a lot of fun on set in Albuquerque, where we filmed the series. There are gag reels on the internet that are a testament to that,” he laughs. “My co-star, Mary McCormack, and I had such a great working relationship, being close on and off screen and we’re still good friends. I remember working really long days. Quite often we had workdays as long as fourteen hours! Yet it was always exciting, never boring. There were also a lot of different locations where we had to film, which was one of the reasons we always went into overtime. But it was a great, wonderful series and I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
Driving Harold Pinter out of the theatre
Another pinnacle in Frederick’s career is ‘The Shape of Things’, in which he co-stars with movie stars Rachel Weisz, Paul Rudd and Gretchen Mol. The play was written by his friend and longtime work partner, American playwright and director Neil LaBute. “Before we filmed ‘The Shape of Things’ as a movie, we performed it as a play in the London West End in 2001,” Frederick explains. “Before the play started and between the scenes, Neil had ordered the sound technician to play music by The Smashing Pumpkins as loud as legally possible. The goal was to prevent the audience from talking about the play and figuring out the plot twist. But it just so happened that on the opening night the infamous playwright Harold Pinter was there. And just before Paul Rudd got on stage, he ran into Harold off-stage, who had his hands over his ears and was yelling at him that he “couldn’t take it anymore” and walked out of the theatre. So Paul was a bit taken aback after that encounter with the legendary Harold Pinter, but he still had to perform. It all turned out alright though, because the play was a great success in London and we turned it into a movie two years later.”
Christopher Walken’s mysterious disappearance
For decades there have been many funny and downright strange stories going around Hollywood about Christopher Walken. Almost everyone in the industry has either first-hand experiences with the actor, known for movies as ‘The Deer Hunter’ and ‘Suicide Kings’, or has heard interesting stories about him. Frederick, who does an uncanny impression of the man, is glad he got to experience the man’s quirkiness in person. “I was working on a play with him in 2006 on Broadway,” he recalls. “One day a few actors and I were rehearsing, when we heard a couple of strange noises coming from the balcony. It turned out to be Christopher, who was trying to get our attention. He asked “Does anybody have a watch?”. I said “I don’t, but I have a cellphone”. So I wanted to reach for it, when he went all “No, no no, I just want to know what time it is!”. Maybe he wasn’t aware that you can check the time on a cellphone or something. It was strange. After my colleague told him what time it was, he disappeared. And that was the last time we saw him. The next day he was replaced by Kevin Kline and we have no idea why.”
Theatres and the pandemic
Unfortunately, during the pandemic the famous theatres of Broadway and all around the country have been closed for many months. Some of them are slowly opening up again, but it’s not quite the same just yet.“Many people, including myself, are a bit hesitant at this point,” Frederick admits. “I recently had a few offers for a role in a new play, which initially got me excited again after a long time. It was an amazing feeling to think about doing a play again. But I eventually turned them down because I wasn’t comfortable about being in a theatre now.”
Playing guitar with his kids
There was one upside to the lockdowns though: getting a chance to spend more time with his family. “My son and daughter are great musicians, and I love playing guitar, so it was fun to play music with them. I enjoyed being more at home, because they are growing up so fast. That time is precious. They’re eleven and thirteen now. Soon they probably don’t want to hang out with their dad anymore,” the 55-year-old jokes.Even though Frederick discourages his children to choose acting as a career, he’s glad his wife Ali Marsh is an actress and a writer.
“It’s easier to be in a relationship with someone who understands the job and is also part of the entertainment industry. And to be honest, I’d feel kind of silly if my partner had a very serious profession, like a surgeon or something, while it’s my job to dress up and pretend to be someone else.”
Challenges that actors face
Both he and his wife know all too well that an actor’s life can be full of challenges. “For many of us the financial element plays a role in the projects we take on. Sometimes you have to say no to a wonderful theatre job and go for one that pays better, because job security is tough for actors who aren’t Brad Pitt-like-famous… Both in the theatre world and in Hollywood. And you have to audition, which can be a time consuming process, yet you don’t get paid for that. But it is part of the job”, Frederick clarifies. “Working on a television series is great, because you have a steady income. Even a small role in a big movie production, like I had in ‘Armageddon’, can result in a bigger paycheck than multiple theatre gigs combined. But I really love being on stage. Every performance is different. The people in the audience are different. It’s just amazing.”
Designing board games
At the moment Frederick focuses on projects outside of the theatre. On his Instagram page he recently posted a teaser about a new film project called ‘Out of the Blue’, with his friend Neil LaBute and actor Hank Azaria. The movie is planned to come out next year in the fall. “I can’t say much about it at the moment though, as it’s still a work in progress! But there is also something else in the works… I’ve come to love board games a little later in life. In fact, I enjoy it so much, that I’m working on the development of my own games. The first one is planned for release on funding platform Kickstarter in the spring of 2022. I’m looking forward to that!”
Keep up with Frederick Weller and his latest projects on Instagram and Twitter.