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Peter Jurasik, Actor in Hill Street Blues and Babylon 5 – Episode #183

Oct 26, 2021 | 2 comments

I can’t give a better piece of advice to a young actor than just make sure you do it, and do it enough so that you can find out whether you really love it or not. Because if you love it, you’re going to stick with it. You also could do it enough to say, I like this, this is okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t know that I really need to do this for my life. But so my advice is try to fall in love with it. Do it enough so that you’re sure you really want to be in love with it and want to do it.
~Peter Jurasik

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several decades, then you’re likely to be a fan of Peter Jurasik, who began his long-running professional acting career in 1972, working Off-Broadway in New York and touring in shows up and down the East Coast.

In the mid-70’s, Peter moved to Los Angeles where he began working as a character actor, while also writing and performing comedy in nightclubs such as the Improv and the Comedy Store. Ever since then, Peter has appeared in a wide range of feature films and TV movies, while also acting on stage in legitimate theaters such as the Mark Taper Forum.

Peter’s made hundreds of appearances on TV, playing a wide variety of characters in both comedies and dramas. Peter’s been a regular cast member in three television series and a recurring character on another seven series. However, audiences seem to remember him best for his regular performances on Hill Street Blues as Sid, their resident snitch, and later as alien ambassador, Londo Mollari on Babylon 5. But he’s also guest starred on such shows as: One Tree Hill, NYPD Blue, Sliders, 3rd Rock from the Sun, L.A. Law, Matlock, Growing Pains, Columbo, Remington Steele, Bay City Blues, Barney Miller, and most recently, in the PBS series, Mercy Street, among many others.

Peter’s work on the big screen includes: The Longest Ride with Alan Alda, Arthur Newman with Colin Firth, and 42 with Harrison Ford.

Today, he lives with his family in Wilmington, NC, continuing his acting career but also teaching as a guest artist at the University of North Carolina.

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Read the Podcast Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat…

Peter Jurasik: I can’t give a better piece of advice to a young actor than just make sure you do it, and do it enough so that you can find out whether you really love it or not. Because if you love it, you’re going to stick with it. You also could do it enough to say, I like this, this is okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t know that I really need to do this for my life. But so my advice is try to fall in love with it. Do it enough so that you’re sure you really want to be in love with it and want to do it.

Narrator: This is StoryBeat with Steve Cuden, a podcast for the creative mind. StoryBeat explores how masters of creativity develop and produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden.

Steve Cuden: Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several decades, then you’re likely to be a fan of my guest today, Peter Jurasik, who began his long running professional acting career in 1972, working off Broadway in New York, and touring in shows up and down the East Coast. In the mid-seventies, Peter moved to Los Angeles where he began working as a character actor, while also writing and performing comedy in nightclubs such as the Improv and the Comedy Store. Ever since then, Peter has appeared in a wide range of feature films and TV movies, while also acting on stage in legitimate theaters, such as the Mark Taper Forum. Peter’s made hundreds of appearances on TV, playing a wide variety of characters in both comedies and dramas. Peter’s been a regular cast member in three television series and a recurring character on another seven series. However, audiences seem to remember him best for his regular performances on Hill Street Blues as Sid, their resident Snitch, and later as Alien Ambassador, Londo Mollari, on Babylon Five. But he’s also guest starred on such shows as One Tree Hill, NYPD Blue, Sliders, Third Rock from the Sun, LA Law, Matlock, Growing Pains, Colombo, Remington Steel, Bay City Blues, Barney Miller, and most recently in the PBS series, Mercy Street, among many others. Peter’s work on the big screen includes the Longest Ride with Alan Alda, Arthur Newman with Colin Firth, and 42 with Harrison Ford. Today, he lives with his family in Wilmington, North Carolina, continuing his acting career, but also teaching as a guest artist at the University of North Carolina. So, for all those reasons and many more, I’m deeply honored and truly thrilled to welcome the great Peter Jurasik to StoryBeat today. Peter, thanks so much for joining me.

Peter Jurasik: Steve, thank you so much. What an introduction, way over the top. It was great. That introduction reminds me of, it’s not even a joke, it sort of describes the actor who goes out on his first date, and the person who goes out with him says let’s go out and have a little dinner. They have a little dinner, and the actor is talking about himself the whole time and continues to talk about himself through the entire dinner. Then around the dessert course, he says, oh my God, I’m so sorry. I’ve been dominating the conversation with all this me, me, me, me. Let’s not talk about me anymore. Let’s talk about my work. There is something appropriate about that story about actors and to me, too. So it’s nice that you lay that introduction on me. There’s nothing I enjoy more than hearing someone talk about me except me talking about me.

Steve Cuden: It’s not like you’ve done nothing. You clearly have done a few little bit parts here and there.

Peter Jurasik: That’s right.

Steve Cuden: It’s all wonderful stuff. So let’s go back in time. Let’s go back in your history. At what point in your life were you a little boy, when you thought to yourself, acting, stage, being on camera, when did this the bug bite you? When did you first start thinking about this?

Peter Jurasik: Truly the only time I started, I didn’t start thinking about it until I was in high school, but I feel like it’s important to note, I had a mother when I was young, who was a schoolteacher.

Steve Cuden: You are the one.

Peter Jurasik: Who had a mother?

Steve Cuden: Yes.

Peter Jurasik: That’s the old joke. I was close to my mother. I was born at an early age. I was close to my mother. Anyway she was a schoolteacher and she loved literature, and so she read to all of us, my brother and my two sisters. I think back to that and realize that was really where the seeds were planted, because acting is about interpreting words and it’s all about the writer, really, for me.

Steve Cuden: And storytelling.

Peter Jurasik: And storytelling. She was the person who turned me on to that, and she gave it to me. In high school, I was studying to be… I was in a seminary studying to be a priest, so a Catholic priest. So I guess that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up, was a priest. But I ran into a teacher there who was my mentor. I’m a big believer in mentors because he was the person who said to me, you could do this for a living. I had never thought that I could do this until I had somebody like him who said, do you know what? You’re good enough that if the circumstances were right and you wanted to, you could do this.

Steve Cuden: This was in high school?

Peter Jurasik: This was in high school. A teacher named Reverend Earl Buisenack was his name. Great guy. He would take us off the campus of the seminary occasionally, go into New York. We’d see opera, we’d see plays. It was all in a sense, all because of him.

Steve Cuden: Well it’s interesting, you were thinking about going into the seminary which you had already seen that they stand up in front of people and give some kind of an oratory or a performance or something like that.

Peter Jurasik: Yes. There is something theatrical about that profession.

Steve Cuden: Those folks, the clergy, the ones who are really good, are actually pretty decent performers, is what it turns out to be.

Peter Jurasik: I was a little boy. I think back as it being in church and hearing great preaching. I remember one particular preacher. I grew up in New York. He used to start everything, like a story he’d say. It was 1942 and the people were in a small town in Austria. I mean, he was the greatest storyteller. He didn’t do fire and brimstone preaching. He did everything in the context of the story. Again, stuff like that, I feel, are the seeds that were planted in me to become an actor.

Steve Cuden: You saw somebody in front of a crowd of people, and it didn’t faze you. In fact, it drew you to it.

Peter Jurasik: Absolutely. As I said, my mom, she’d read the High Women and the Raven and epic poems that tell stories. The Face Upon the Barroom Floor, all that stuff. I learned to love that, and she acted it out basically for us as kids.

Steve Cuden: That’s wonderful that she gave you that impetus, that inspiration to go into that kind of a business. Not every parent will do that, so that’s really great when you have something like that.

Peter Jurasik: I think she was reading to us. Again, I thought I wanted to be either a baseball player or a priest or something. That’s what I was pursuing. But this teacher said to me, if you were interested in being an actor, you could do it.

Steve Cuden: So you’re in high school at this point. Did you then go off and get training somewhere? Did you go to school for it?

Peter Jurasik: No. I did plays in high school, and when I left high school, I spent a summer in a summer theater at University of New Hampshire. One of my real acting teachers, and my true mentor, was the guy who asked me to come to that. He saw me as a student in the seminary in a play contest and invited me to come to UNH. I did. We did a play contest, and then when I left the seminary, I spent one year at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Steve Cuden: Oh, yeah.

Peter Jurasik: They had set me up as a pre-law, but all I did was do plays and watch baseball. So then the next year I transferred to the University of New Hampshire and this fellow, John Edwards, who was my real first acting teacher and my real mentor started by my teaching then.

Steve Cuden: It wasn’t long after school before you went out to LA, yes?

Peter Jurasik: I graduated in ‘72 and I didn’t go out to LA until ‘76. What I did afterwards, I went into Boston and got lucky enough and got into a production of Godspell.

Steve Cuden: Oh, wow.

Peter Jurasik: Something that Marley Sims, who was one of your guests also did and met a lot of. So I was lucky enough to get a job right off the bat that brought me into New York. Then I did some Broadway and off-Broadway work for a couple years there.

Steve Cuden: At what point in all this did you think to yourself, do you know what, I am actually pretty decent at this, and I think I could make a living doing this. Did that occur to you at some juncture?

Peter Jurasik: Do you know what? It’s funny. I pulled out a box of memorabilia to inspire me or to recall things for this talk. Right on top was my first contract that I signed. That was 1972.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Peter Jurasik: It was 360 bucks or something like that. I think back on that and think, wow, that was so much money to me when I was 22 and that I was actually getting paid to act. I mean, it was beyond my dreams. I was “one of the lucky ones” that I just worked and made some money at it. It was great.

Steve Cuden: Did you feel like it was a vocation versus a calling? Did you just know you were decent at it or good at it, or great at it? How did you come to that conclusion?

Peter Jurasik: It’s funny. I do need to say this as a caveat, so people understand. There is no one way to become an actor, and there is no way to get there. So my way is just the way it happened for me. I had theatrical background, and I went to school at the University of New Hampshire, as I said. We studied acting, and I learned things like oral and torp, and did a lot of plays. So I thought I was going to be a stage actor. I did that for a while. I went to New York. I got cast in Godspell and a couple of other things. I said, I don’t want to be this. I want to be a serious actor because I had a big ego which I still do, thank God, and decided I want to do something serious. So I went for a year up to Portland, Maine, and did repertory theater where I did really kind of serious plays for a while.

Steve Cuden: That became your proving ground.

Peter Jurasik: That’s right and it’s a great place for actors to begin their learning process in the theater. Because the actor is in charge in the theater.

Steve Cuden: Well, let’s get into process then, because I think that’s a very good transition to it. Aside from reading a script, when you first get it, which is obviously the very first thing you do, what are your first steps? What is your approach to a script? You’ve read it. You’ve either gotten a gig or you are having to audition at some point. What is your first step?

Peter Jurasik: This is a lucky break for me. I’ve always been an actor that understands that it’s about interpretation of the writer’s work. It’s all about writing for me. So what I do now, I’m 50 years an actor now. What I did when I was one year an actor, two years, was a different process. I would get the script when I was young and say, where are my lines? When does my character talk? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and then I talk. That’s why I said, theater is such a great training for actors. It’s a great place to start because the process is about you. Eventually, what happens in the theater, as you know, is the writer steps away and the director steps away, and you are left alone on stage with the audience. That’s why it’s a great place to train because it really comes down to you and the audience. That’s not true in TV. It’s not true in film. It’s a much more sophisticated process as time goes by. It’s a great place to learn.

Steve Cuden: Do you think it’s important that an actor have the sense and the understanding of what it is to perform in front of an audience, to get that feedback and to have them working with you, an audience, so that when you get in front of a camera, you understand where those beats and that timing is?

Peter Jurasik: Steve, I think it’s really, I mean, for me, it was essential. I mean, I can’t imagine being an actor who doesn’t know how to listen and kind of has a sense of where his words are going and how it’s impacting. That’s the great thing as a young actor when you’re on stage. In a drama, you could hear them get quiet and “listen to you.” In a comedy, you can hear them laugh or not laugh. Right?

Steve Cuden: Right. Well, yeah.

Peter Jurasik: That’s a wonderful thing. It teaches you about your work right there. It’s just you and them. Later on in life you gain some confidence about, and you might be lucky enough to actually sit down with the writer and the writer tells you a little bit about what they intend and want. You certainly have good directors who do that. But as a young actor, I can’t imagine not having done comedy in clubs or theater on stage.

Steve Cuden: Because the opposite happens when you get on camera. There’s no sound at all. Everybody goes quiet. So you don’t have that feedback. You get the opposite of it.

Peter Jurasik: That’s exactly true. Of course. What’s interesting about that process is hopefully you have a good director, and he or she’s watching you do the work and can comment and say, yeah, that seemed to be working, or that’s not going in this direction. Let’s talk about the overall scene a little more and figure out what do we want it to do. Or let me show you where the jokes are. You get a good comedy writer, and they’ll say, yeah, this whole section is the setup. We can’t miss that, and here’s the payoff. Or here’s what the dramatic arc of the scene is. You have somebody who tells you, but again, you’re working with a group of people.

Steve Cuden: So you’ve clearly developed a pretty significant number of characters, but the two that we mentioned in the opening bio, Sid the Snitch, and Londo Mallari, so when you come to those, and you may not know what the producers or the director wants of those characters, what are you looking for in the words? What are you trying to find? It’s got to be something that then becomes internal to you.

Peter Jurasik: Both of those were different. So I can’t talk about them together. But in terms of Hill Street Blues, first of all, here again, I run into a really great writer, Steve Bochco. Steve Bochco is one of the greatest TV writers. He was winning awards for Colombo and stuff long before he did Hill Street. The first thing he cast me in was a show with James Earl Jones called Paris. All I did was play a really straight schoolteacher. But what I learned from Steve and from working with him was he basically told me I don’t want you to dress any differently than you dress. I used to wear clogs all the time then. He said, yeah, this guy would wear clogs, Peter, and he kind of dresses like you. What Steve was kind of saying to me, or suggesting to me, is the character is you. So you be the character, and everything is going to be okay. The way I had been taught in theater was to build the character from… I built the character from the outside in. In college, I learned, how does he walk? How does he talk? What kind of shoes does he wear? What does he drink? What does he smoke? Steve wanted me to understand, we’re going to be looking for something a little different from you. We need what’s in your heart and what’s inside you, and that’ll be perfect for what I’m looking for.

Steve Cuden: You’re not building from the inside out at all.

Peter Jurasik: No. I’m not building from the inside out. I mean, it’s interesting because one of my good buddies in Babylon Five, Andreas Katsulas who did G’Kar, he was really from the inside out. He and I had a great relationship, did a lot of work together, but it never conflicted that we had different approaches to the work.

Steve Cuden: Well, because at the end of the day, there’s still an external factor to it one way or another.

Peter Jurasik: That’s right. It’s what I said to you also, there’s lots of ways to do this and how it’s done. So this is my way. My teachers taught me theatrical stuff first.

Steve Cuden: There’s the famous story on Marathon Man of Olivier and Hoffman acting together. Because Olivier was from the outside in, and Hoffman was from the inside out. Hoffman says to him, why aren’t you trying to figure this out from the inside out? He says, no, dear boy. It’s called acting.

Peter Jurasik: That’s a great story. That, in a lot of ways, speaks exactly to what you’re talking about. When I got rolling up to Steve Bochco and I got a good writer in front of me, he wanted me to start pulling on the stuff inside me, not just the outside of the character. He did that. It’s also interesting when you talk about Sid the Snitch, though, because after I did Paris for him, he offered me a couple of roles in Hill Street, a couple of lawyer parts, I think they were, and maybe even a doctor. I said to him, I mean, talk about big cajónes in my life. I actually said to him, I don’t want to do that, Steve. But I’m waiting for something more interesting. I want to find a more interesting character.

Steve Cuden: Wow. Those are cajónes.

Peter Jurasik: They were. What’s the Bob Dylan line, when you got nothing to lose. I wasn’t making a big splash at all. I was a new young actor. So I felt like I could talk to Steve. He’s a guy like you. You want to talk to him as soon as you see him, and you start the conversation.

Steve Cuden: Oh, thank you.

Peter Jurasik: Yeah. So I said to him, good, when you come up with somebody really interesting call me again.

Steve Cuden: When you get scripts or when you get offered parts or when you’ve gone up for parts, what for you makes a good role good?

Peter Jurasik: It’s the position you find the character in within the story.

Steve Cuden: Meaning.

Peter Jurasik: Meaning, let’s talk about Babylon Five for a minute. I read that script and I said to my wife, I’m not even positive why, but I really want to do this part. I really would like to get this part. You’re jinxing yourself if you do that as an actor because I had to still get it. But I said, I really did. What I liked about it is Joe Stravinsky who wrote the Babylon Five, had put the character in a wonderful corner in his life. He was stuck. He was at a low point. He was drunk. He had failed at just about everything. He was a bit of a fool. He had nowhere to go, but down or out. Everything was in front of him. Sid the Snitch that I did for Batcho was that same kind of character. He was down and out. He would do anything for 20 bucks.

Steve Cuden: I love Sid.

Peter Jurasik: I love Sid too, but I mean, he’d do anything for 20 bucks. That’s all you could say. He liked the people around him, but he was in a particularly interesting position in life.

Steve Cuden: Would you say you gravitate toward conflict-filled characters?

Peter Jurasik: Of course. I mean, I think you’ll find out, I mean, you’ve met so many actors, Steve. You know that those are the parts that people really want. The conflict, the nuance, the struggle, the hardest stuff to play really is the straight-line stuff. I look at Babylon Five and I think God bless Bruce Boxleitner, was able to do, what do I always call it, perfect human beings, good guys. That’s really difficult stuff to do.

Steve Cuden: He’s good at it.

Peter Jurasik: Oh, he’s great at it. Are you kidding? There are people who are really, but it’s like a straight in shot in pool, you want to see somebody get nervous, you just take the eight ball and put it right in front of it and give them about six feet of green and say, go ahead. Just knock that right in. Just straight in. Then it feels pressured.

Steve Cuden: Yeah. The bank shots and the curve shots are easier.

Peter Jurasik: Yeah, exactly. So I like the bank shots and the curve shots.

Steve Cuden: Same thing in golf. When you’re putting a ball, it’s easier to put something that’s on a curve than it is straight in.

Peter Jurasik: It’s so true. For me, that’s the way. When I look for a part, that’s what I was always looking for, the offbeat.

Steve Cuden: Do you find that when you get into a series and you’re in a run and you’re a regular character, do you find that both you and the writers deepen the character? Or is it usually left to you to deepen the character?

Peter Jurasik: Not left. I understand what my work is and what part I have in it, but yeah, doing a long run of something is completely different than I did, I don’t know, 50 guest stars where you’d stop in for one week or 10 days, you worked with a cast and developed a character that fit into their overall story, the story that they had for their regular characters that week or that season. But when you’re doing a regular character, God, there’s a lot of input that goes on. The really good writers lead you and let you know where they’re taking you. David Milch, he is a great writer, and I was lucky enough to work with him. He wrote Sid the Snitch, basically. He loved that character and I think in a sense, created that character.

Steve Cuden: If I know Milch, it’s because he loved the track and that character looked like he belonged at the track.

Peter Jurasik: Definitely. That’s true. Yeah, I think it was the last time I saw David was at the track. Interesting enough.

Steve Cuden: There you go.

Peter Jurasik: He loved the slippery part of who Sid was. He loved the underground, the behind-the-scenes kind of person. Again, the Dylan line to live outside the law you must be honest. I’m left. I’m definitely outside the law and I’m going to play it straight up for you.

Steve Cuden: Yet, slippery as can be.

Peter Jurasik: Slippery as can be. As I said, do anything for 20 bucks. David used to come and hang out on the set, and he would listen and watch me interact. At some point I realized he’s watching Dennis Franz and I as we goof around, and as we play around with each other and as we interact. He watched the other actors, and that would change what he would write about. You would literally find stuff that you were talking about in your life in next week’s script.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Peter Jurasik: Not so much with Joe Kosinski that way. Joe worked on his own, but that was true with Milch.

Steve Cuden: So was that at all freakish when you’d see it in a script, something you talked about the week before?

Peter Jurasik: Not for me. I liked it. I realized I was in good hands, Steve. I really didn’t lose track of the fact that the center of the whole process comes from the writers. The writers create the characters and bring it up and then we are the interpreters. We’re the directors, the actors, the lighting people, the costume people, the hair people. We are all taking your ideas, talking to the writer now, and interpreting those and bringing those on, and putting what we feel about them on.

Steve Cuden: So without naming names, I’m going to assume over time you’ve worked with actors who think they’re more important than the writing. When that happens, if you’ve had that happen to you, how do you as an actor work around that, where the actor’s on set trying to change things to suit them versus trying to work the material?

Peter Jurasik: Well, it depends again, what position I’m in. If I’m working with somebody who’s a star of a show or just a bigger fish in the pond – I’m working with Burt Lancaster, I’m not going to tell Burt Lancaster what to do.

Steve Cuden: No, you’re not.

Peter Jurasik: I’m not going to tell Jane Alexander what I think about the work she’s doing. If I am one of the leads in the show, if someone came on Babylon or came on Hill Street, then I might feel more like I could say something about the character. But the truth of it is, it’s really about building rapport. It’s not for me to tell somebody, no, you’re off the track, or, no, this is not the place. That’s what a good director does. If a director doesn’t do that, they’re really not great.

Steve Cuden: I think it was more trying to see how it was how you handled it for you, not how you tried to correct them. But how you would adjust yourself in order to, or do you just think about you’re just doing your job and you do your job, not worry what they’re doing?

Peter Jurasik: No, Steve. Actually, I spend a lot of time whenever I meet people, on developing chemistry. I feel like that’s part of it. If we’re going to do a scene together and I’m in a scene with an actor, even if I don’t like the person, even if I don’t think they’re on the right track, I feel like it’s really important to have a rapport. So I would work, and I used to work really hard to develop a rapport with actors. Some people say, oh, you had great chemistry with Andreas, or you had great chemistry with Dennis Franz. That wasn’t by mistake. We worked at it, and we made ourselves connect and fired each other in a good sense, in terms of striking a flint.

Steve Cuden: Well, in the little bit of time that I’ve chatted with you, you clearly have a sterling personality that just shines through. You’re not a stiff sitting in the corner locked into your own world. You’re out there. You’re full of energy.

Peter Jurasik: Philip Proctor used to use the word about actors, and you interviewed Phil, and you said you were a friend. He used to call them zips.

Steve Cuden: Okay.

Peter Jurasik: I’m definitely zippy, there’s no question. But a lot of good actors are zippy, but I’m zippy. He used to say they’re zips.

Steve Cuden: Again, I’m going to imagine that you’ve worked with every kind of human. People that are very internal, and they don’t talk to you at all, and they’re trying to figure their role out, and they won’t connect with you at all. You’ve worked with people who are, like you say, zippy and everything in between.

Peter Jurasik: Absolutely.

Steve Cuden: Part of your job, I assume, as an actor, is to do your characters to the best of your ability and to do the lines to the best of your ability and to do your job. It’s not to correct anybody on a set.

Peter Jurasik: Oh, no. I mean, absolutely not. Right. You could get yourself fired or punched by telling people what to do. That includes directors. Certainly, I never felt like I was in a position, even with the most inexperienced and youngest, greenest actor that showed up on the set, to tell them what to do.

Steve Cuden: Are you the type of an actor that breaks down your script into beats? Or do you just go for it?

Peter Jurasik: I didn’t break it down into beats, but it really felt important to me to understand the beats of the overall scene and understand what my character’s role in the scene was to make it work. That’s the kind of thing I like to talk to a director about. What is this scene about in your mind? Why are we doing this scene and how do I influence this scene? Am I the person that’s pushing the scene along or slowing it down? Or am I the protagonist in this or am I the antagonist in this scene? Who am I in this?

Steve Cuden: You said something really important there that a lot of writers don’t understand. That in every scene there is a protagonist and antagonist, and it is not always the overall protagonist and antagonist. Or the antagonist in the movie can be the protagonist in a scene.

Peter Jurasik: Of course. Yeah, that’s true.

Steve Cuden: A lot of writers don’t understand that.

Peter Jurasik: That’s why you’re blessed with good writers. I mean that. I have done a lot of work as you said, fifty years as an actor is a long time. I have been blessed with a lot of good writers, but I’ve seen a lot of bad scripts too.

Steve Cuden: I’m sure you have.

Peter Jurasik: I really have. I’ve had to do stuff where I got it and I thought, ay-yai-yai, what the hell am I supposed to do with this? Most of the time I’m pretty bad in it. You go back and look at those and say, yeah, that didn’t turn out very well. It didn’t turn out well for a lot of reasons. But the number one was the script wasn’t good, and people couldn’t figure it out. It didn’t kind of make sense.

Steve Cuden: But let’s be clear about that. You have been for a long time, a working actor, and it’s a job, and you take certain things because there’s money involved. It’s not just for giggles and grins.

Peter Jurasik: Absolutely. I mean, there’s the business aspect, but you have an agent and stuff, and you take things because the agency tells you to take it too. If, once in a while, the agents would say, you’re going to read for something and I would say, I don’t want to read for it. I don’t like it. They’d say, we want you to read for it. “Take one for the team,” I think of it. There was a movie called Howard the Duck.

Steve Cuden: Oh, yes. The infamous Howard the Duck. Yes.

Peter Jurasik: Right. Someone sent me the script for Howard the Duck, and I said, I don’t want to be in Howard the Duck. I really don’t want to be in this movie. I told my agent that, and my agent said, yes, you do want to be in Howard the Duck, and you’re going to read for it.

Steve Cuden: Well, it was George Lucas. You had to read for it.

Peter Jurasik: That’s what he said. That’s exactly what he said. You’re going to meet George Lucas, so you have to go and read for it. I was delighted that I didn’t get in the movie. It was a good movie though. I think back to a show, there was a show called China Beach.

Steve Cuden: Yes. China Beach. Sure.

Peter Jurasik: It’s a Vietnam show.

Steve Cuden: John Wells.

Peter Jurasik: That’s right.

Steve Cuden: Mimi Leder.

Peter Jurasik: There were a lot of good people in it. It was a good show. I forget how long it went, but they called for me to come in and read on that show. I said, okay I’ll read. I read the part they wanted me to do. It was just a guest, I think, or maybe a recurring. But I went in, and I read. I did my best. When they got back to my agent I said to my agent, so you hear anything from China Beach? Did they say anything? He said, yeah. They said they liked you very much, but they said you read it Peter as though it were a comedy, and it’s a drama. They were kind of offended by that a little bit. So I don’t think you’re going to do it.

Steve Cuden: That’s a great question for you because you have done so much of both. You have done both comedy and drama. You are one of those guys that can just swing in either direction. So my question is, do you have a preference? If I said to you, Peter, you’re only going to be able to do one or the other for the rest of your career life, would you pick?

Peter Jurasik: Oh, that’d be horrible. Why would you say that to me? But no.

Steve Cuden: I just wondered if one’s a favorite. That’s all.

Peter Jurasik: I couldn’t say that. Again, I was so lucky that I’ve been able to. Certainly, I led off with a lot of comedy, and that’s what I did. I’ve already confessed to you. I have a big ego that thinks, oh, you’re a great dramatic actor and you can do it, Peter. So as a young man, I was too stupid to understand that you’re getting paid to do a musical comedy, for instance, in New York. You’re making some money, and they’re casting you in musical comedy stuff. What are you doing? You’re going to turn that role down. You don’t want to be in that. I remember I said to a wonderful writer, Mike McManus, I don’t want to be on. He was writing for Chips. I said, I don’t want to be on Chips. He laughed at me. He said, what are you crazy? What are you nuts? You take whatever you can get. So I was working in comedy, and I started, but I really wanted to do drama too. It really was important.

Steve Cuden: Do you find your preparation for one or the other is different? Or are they all the same?

Peter Jurasik: Oh, there’s a lot that’s the same. They’re very different processes too, about how you go about them.

Steve Cuden: Well, tell us how you get there. What are those differences?

Peter Jurasik: In terms of what a comedy is about. I mean, let’s face it, the script is very different. There’s an unreality that you need to buy into. In a drama, if the character climbs out on the roof to get a child that’s sitting at the end of the roof. In a drama, we worry that the child is going to fall and that the actor’s going to fall. In a comedy, if I climb out on the roof, we hope both of them fall and they’ll be okay. The consequences are not the same and are not as serious. There’s more energy. Certainly, this is not always the case, but there’s certainly more energy about comedic characters. Their response to things are faster.

Steve Cuden: Louder, faster.

Peter Jurasik: Louder may be true. Louder may be true. It doesn’t have to be, but certainly it’s faster. That’s one thing. They don’t think things through. You prepare for a comedy by, again, as I said, better look for the setup and then you got to look for the payoff. My acting teacher, John Edwards, who I mentioned to you, used to say if you’re not getting the laugh, check to see if they can hear you and if they can see you. Those are the first things to check.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Peter Jurasik: Right. Can they really see your face because that’s going to help. Can they hear you? If they don’t hear the joke, you don’t have any hope. In drama that’s not as important.

Steve Cuden: Your facial, of course, on camera, facial reactions are basically everything.

Peter Jurasik: Absolutely.

Steve Cuden: So your facial reaction is likely to be quite a bit different than if you are reacting in a drama.

Peter Jurasik: Absolutely, of course. That’s true. It’s important for the actor to have that in your head and understand what the nature of the script is and what the director would like to do and the stuff that moves back and forth between comedy and back and forth, over from comedic to serious is kind of interesting.

Steve Cuden: Is that the most fun for you, when they go back and forth?

Peter Jurasik: Of course. Again, nuance, changes, dynamics. Those are the things that are most exciting to me as an actor. I played a lot of straight guys. I played guys who were lawyers, and I played some scientists. I don’t really enjoy those. I like offbeat characters. Characters that go left and then go right, and then go up and then, like we do in life, that have ups and downs and some things are I can’t believe how dumb he is and then how smart he is. That same character.

Steve Cuden: So physically, Sid to me was all about the hair and physically, Londo was also all about the hair.

Peter Jurasik: It was a lot of hair on both those characters.

Steve Cuden: When you had to go and do Babylon Five, how long were you in the makeup chair every day?

Peter Jurasik: Two and a half hours.

Steve Cuden: Two and a half hours.

Peter Jurasik: Yeah.

Steve Cuden: What was your process of getting through that every day? Did you read? Did you sleep? How did you go through it?

Peter Jurasik: You can’t sleep. You can’t read. You can listen to ambient sound, but you can’t have headsets in because they’re working on your head. You need to relax, and you need to enjoy the time. Hopefully you have a makeup artist that you really like. They’re doing their work and all you’re really required to do is sit there and shut up and that’s probably what you should do. They don’t want you to eat. So we would come in at five o’clock in the morning so that we were ready at seven when everybody else came in. You’d spend two hours with somebody. If you were lucky, again, somebody like Bill Mumy on Babylon would bring in music tapes. He’s a musician. He would come in to do his makeup for two hours and we would all sit together, and he has really wide and eclectic and great musical tape. So we would sit quietly and listen to the music, and it was a great way, it was meditative and a great way to get yourself into a day’s work.

Steve Cuden: Alright. So I’m curious. You clearly have to be a pretty good memorizer of lines. Do you have any tips or tricks for memorizing?

Peter Jurasik: You might think, as I said, I have a big ego. I brag about a lot of stuff, but this is something I was truly gifted with. I mean, I was lucky. I don’t think I have a photographic memory, but I was really great at learning lines. You can see if you look at some of the long-term stuff Milch wrote me and the stuff JMS wrote me on Babylon Five, were long speeches because I was good at that and I was good. Milch used to write stuff while you were doing it. I did NYPD Blue, and he was on the set, and he would hand you new pages while you were doing the scene, basically.

Steve Cuden: Really?

Peter Jurasik: Yeah. You’d finish take one. He’d say, I was pretty good. Let me write something else here. How about we move this around? So you having a good memory was really an important part of the process. You better be good at it. I was lucky, as I say to you, I was blessed with a real ability to read stuff and then really give it a go.

Steve Cuden: Were you able to read it? Are you able to read it and recite it back verbatim? Or did you work with it?

Peter Jurasik: I was pretty close to verbatim for when I was—

Steve Cuden: That’s amazing.

Peter Jurasik: I’m not that person anymore. I’ve really lost that ability and I’m not fast anymore. I don’t think I can do that anymore.

Steve Cuden: Do you think that you got faster by doing more and more of it? Or were you always that fast?

Peter Jurasik: No. I think I was pretty fast. But, yes, the more I did it, the more they fed me, the longer I think I got good at it. I got good at really just taking it in.

Steve Cuden: I’ve spoken to several people including Melody Thomas Scott from 40 years as Nikki Newman on Young and The Restless, the soap opera people, they’re doing an enormous number of words a week. It’s just a humongous number of words. So they get really good at looking at a script and figuring out how to remember.

Peter Jurasik: That’s right. That’s a gift they have. Certainly if it’s not a gift they have, it’s one they develop as they go along. You better get good at it if you’re doing a soap opera because you’re getting new scripts all the time.

Steve Cuden: For the listeners that are trying to figure out how to make a career out of this business that we’re in, especially as an actor, you are going to go through a degree of auditioning before people offer you parts. So what is your philosophy toward auditioning? How should an actor approach auditioning?

Peter Jurasik: I taught a little bit. I’m not teaching at the university anymore and I’m not teaching anymore. But when I taught, I did teach about auditioning, and all I can say is I used to approach it where I was the answer to their problem. That’s the way I used to think about it. I would say they are a group of people who are sitting there with a script trying to figure out who in the world is going to understand what I meant for this character to be or understand what this plot was about. I tried to project when I went in, I’m confident that I understand what you’re trying to do, and I have an idea of how to do that. So I guess it was, I don’t know who said it, but there was some actor, it was the guy who did the movie about the baseball player is coming out of the cornfield.

Steve Cuden: Oh, that’s Kevin Costner.

Peter Jurasik: Kevin Costner. He said at some point in his career, he realized they weren’t looking for talent, they were looking for confidence. I thought, woo. I thought that was pretty interesting to say, right.

Steve Cuden: Whoa. I think that’s a really spectacular thing to say.

Peter Jurasik: At some point I realized they’re not looking for talent, they’re looking for confidence.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Peter Jurasik: I can relate to what he meant by that. He’s not disregarding talent, or he is not disregarding what somebody looks like. For instance, the character’s going to look right. I’m not going to be able to play the tall, handsome astronaut. What he’s saying is they want people to come into the room and say, I’m going to solve your problem. I can do this for you. I understand what you need done.

Steve Cuden: That’s an incredibly great lesson for pretty much any career. If you come in and be the person who can solve the problem in the room, then you’re likely to get the nod.

Peter Jurasik: Steve, when I was teaching that I would very often say that, and my students would attest to the fact that I’d say to them, this is really good life skill to have too. It’s a great thing to do. There’s a lot about the work of acting that translates over, chitchat and being able to talk and staying in the moment and paying attention to what the other person is giving you. Those are all things that are really great to have in life. They work really good on dates. I wasn’t married until I was 40, so all I did for a number of years was TV and dates.

Steve Cuden: Well, it might be very good until they find out that you’re an actor and then you might have a problem because they’re thinking, oh, you’re not going to make any money.

Peter Jurasik: I went out with actresses, so I was—

Steve Cuden: You were okay.

Peter Jurasik: I also made a lot of money. So I was really lucky. I ran into a good business manager. Early on I had one of my actor friends, Dennis Dugan.

Steve Cuden: He did lots of acting and then he directed for a long time.

Peter Jurasik: That’s right. He did a lot of Sandler movies and stuff. He introduced me to my business manager. That was one of the most important things in my career. What it did is that guy helped me understand there are going to be lean years and there’re going to be good years. It’s important for you to manage your money right so that you’re not stuck in a place where I hit a dead end here now, I can’t go forward. It was really important and useful because he took my money and helped me save my money.

Steve Cuden: Well, it’s the one thing that is completely absent in most arts programs is how do you manage a career from a financial perspective? How do you manage it from a career perspective? They teach you how to be the artist, but they don’t teach you how to be the human in the middle of the arts.

Peter Jurasik: Right. All I would say about that is you go to a doctor, if you’re not feeling well, you better go to someone who had some medical training at some good university to get it done. If you want to manage your money, you probably shouldn’t leave it to an actor who’s studying.

Steve Cuden: Unless it’s Wayne Rogers.

Peter Jurasik: Unless it’s Wayne Rogers. Why is that? Wayne Rogers?

Steve Cuden: Wayne Rogers was a financial planner.

Peter Jurasik: Wow. Is that true?

Steve Cuden: He handled money for lots and lots of people.

Peter Jurasik: Wow. There you go. See, it’s a great skill to pick up if you can do it. I was smart enough to realize I couldn’t do it, so I found somebody good who could do it. That’s another good lesson for actors coming up. Try to find out what you do well and do that and get good people around you for the stuff that you can’t do well.

Steve Cuden: Yeah. I think that’s very sound advice. I want to talk about directors for a moment. You’ve worked with many, many different directors. Notoriously, TV directors tend not to actually direct the actors very much. They tend to give you your marks and it’s on you to figure out how you’re doing what you’re doing. But I’ve got to believe that you’ve worked with some great directors who actually did help in some measurable way. I’m just wondering, what would you say are the most important lessons, or maybe one lesson that you’ve taken away from working with your favorite directors? Did anybody teach you anything that you’ve then used over and over again?

Peter Jurasik: Again, I’ll say to you, it’s about listening. You better be smart enough that if you have a man or a woman in front of you, some of my favorite directors were women directors too. That’s just by chance, I guess. But if you have someone in front of you who wants to talk to you about the scene and trying to tell you this is my idea, they’re going to be the one who edits the final product. They’re the one who the writers and the producers hired to shape this overall piece. If they’re being kind enough and generous with their time to talk to you, you best listen and try to hear what they have to say. Because you’re going to be able to glean from that what you’re doing in the scene or whether you’re headed in the right direction, the wrong direction. Once again, it all varies a great deal if you’re guessing something, if you’re a small part in a big movie, if you are a lead, if you’re one of the leads in a movie, how the director approaches you and what the director says to you can be different. Some of my favorite directing stuff is—I wish I could remember her name right now, but you’ll have to forgive my memory as I get older.

Steve Cuden: Take a number, get in line.

Peter Jurasik: Yeah, that’s right. Join the 70 group, right?

Steve Cuden: Oh yeah.

Peter Jurasik: The big, long group over here, long line. I was with her during Babylon 5, so she understood that I knew the character practically better than she did, but she gave me one of my favorite pieces of direction. She said I don’t know what you’re doing, Peter, but do something else. I loved that. Isn’t that great? What she was saying was, she trusted me enough that I had enough confidence that I wouldn’t be hurt by the fact that she didn’t like what I was doing. She also trusted me enough to say, I don’t know what to tell you to do, but come up with something else please.

Steve Cuden: But the message was clear. Whatever you’re doing isn’t working really well. Find something else.

Peter Jurasik: Whatever you do isn’t working, try something else. I trust you can come up with something else. That was a great piece of direction.

Steve Cuden: Did you ever get notes from a director, and you had no idea what to do with it? How do you handle that?

Peter Jurasik: If they’re bad or I don’t agree with what they’re saying, it probably is smart for you to believe you understand. Just do what you want to do. I have definitely done that plenty in my career. If at some point a director shows me that they’re not really in charge or not really paying attention, or they don’t really care about the project for any of the different reasons that people… I have a hangover, I don’t give a shit, I’m just doing it for the money, whatever it is, if they’re not into it, then just shake your head. Again, same as you do in life. You shake your head like, yeah, I understand what you’re saying. Then you do just what you think you should do.

Steve Cuden: Well, one of the famous things that pretty much any writer that’s ever worked over a period of time in Hollywood knows, you can get tons of notes from the studio, from the executives, from whoever. There are tons of stories of these voluminous notes coming down from on high and the producer going, we’re not doing any of those notes, we’re just going to give them back what we want. Invariably the next day the notes come back. That is so much better, and they didn’t really change anything.

Peter Jurasik: That is great. That is true.

Steve Cuden: It’s really true.

Peter Jurasik: I heard everything you said, I didn’t change anything, and you like it better.

Steve Cuden: But you’re giving it back to them as if you’ve made the changes and they’re going, this is really so much better now, and you haven’t done anything.

Peter Jurasik: I’m so glad I thought of that and told them that.

Steve Cuden: I’ve asked a number of people this question, and I find it fascinating. Sets are notoriously distracting places. There’s a lot of activity going on. People are running around doing things. There’s a lot of yelling and screaming. Some actors are verbose, and some are very quiet. I mean, there’s a lot going on. Do you have any particular technique for you that you use to zone out the distractions? How do you stay focused?

Peter Jurasik: Do you mean when I’m working?

Steve Cuden: Yeah. When you’re working. When you’re on set and you’re in a scene and there’s a lot swirling around you, do you have a way to maintain your focus?

Peter Jurasik: Steve, I can’t imagine, again. But what’s interesting about the question is that there’s a lot going on under the set when you’re not working that you need to keep away from you.

Steve Cuden: Tell us about that.

Peter Jurasik: When you’re working, you and the other character, you’re under the lights and somebody has, as they said, rung the bell and ringing the bell means everybody shuts up and stands still. So when you’re working, everyone is paying attention and focused on your work and what you’re doing with the other actors, or what work they have to do. The dolly grip is figuring out where they’re going to dolly. The key light person is moving the light. The focus puller is pulling focus, and you’re concentrating on your work. So that’s an easy time to concentrate. When you’re off that, once they say okay, let’s take a break. The new setup. That’s the time that it’s interesting about who stays in character, who doesn’t, who can stay together, how can you keep stuff back? What do you need to do? It’s a completely different process. I was a person who liked to get away from the character. So as soon as the scene stopped, I like to be Peter again and goof around and talk. I talked a lot. I wanted to get away.

Steve Cuden: You’re a kibitzer.

Peter Jurasik: I’m a kibitzer. I had one of my favorite people to work with, let’s see if I can remember his name, Jerry Orbach.

Steve Cuden: Sure. Cool. Yeah.

Peter Jurasik: So I did a Perry Mason with Jerry Orbach and spent two wonderful weeks with him in Denver. Yeah, it was a paramedic. But he was a great kibitzer. He and I were so tuned in on the sand. He loved to do tricks. He was always rolling a coin around. He would write down riddles and after a take was over, he’d hand you a piece of paper and say, see if you can figure that out before the next take. See if you can figure that one out. He would do card tricks and tell jokes. For me that was great. Because what that did is take me away from the process for a little bit and gave me a chance to relax. When they talk about baseball players, it’s all counterintuitive. Relax your hands. Don’t grip the bat tight. Let your hands be loose on the bat.

Steve Cuden: Well, isn’t that the key to great acting is to be relaxed?

Peter Jurasik: Yep. I don’t know if it’s great acting, but it’s good acting. You certainly want to be relaxed enough so that you can hear what the other person says so that you can respond in a real way to what’s going on. So you can concentrate on what you wanted to do in the scene. So you can get the scene where the director or the writer wants it to be.

Steve Cuden: I just wanted to make sure that those listeners that don’t know, Jerry Orbach was well known for having been on the original Law and Order.

Peter Jurasik: That’s right.

Steve Cuden: More importantly, I can’t remember. I think he was the original El Gallo. I can’t remember which character in the Fantasticks.

Peter Jurasik: You got it. That’s him.

Steve Cuden: He did lots of Broadway. He was a very good singer. He had an incredibly beautiful voice.

Peter Jurasik: May I tell you one little story about that?

Steve Cuden: Please, please.

Peter Jurasik: As I said, we had a great time in Denver. At the end of the day, the very first day, I’m sure, because he liked me. He said, I’ll meet you down at the bar after work or before we have dinner. I said, okay, that sounds great. So I went back to my room, shower, whatever, and I went down to the bar and there is Jerry Orbach. He’s in the bar. He was not a womanizer. He was not chasing girls like some, or not chasing guys, like some actors and actresses do when they’re on set or on location. But he was playing the piano and he started singing for people in the bar.

Steve Cuden: Oh, wow.

Peter Jurasik: What a trip it was. People would be sitting there and at once, there is Jerry Orbach and he’s playing the piano and singing for you. You’re sipping on your little beer or your gin and tonic in Denver and you think, wow, this is cool. He was that kind of guy. He was very relaxed. I don’t mean to suggest in any way he was a big drinker or anything like that, but he wasn’t. He liked to sit in front of people. There was no problem for him to start singing and be Jerry Orbach.

Steve Cuden: Isn’t that wonderful?

Peter Jurasik: Isn’t that great?

Steve Cuden: I would give anything to have that experience to go into a bar and there’s Jerry Orbach not just sitting there, but singing.

Peter Jurasik: It knocked people out. Some women would just go crazy. It was fun. It was a nice quality.

Steve Cuden: So, okay. A couple questions before we wind the show down a little bit.

Peter Jurasik: Wow. I can’t believe…

Steve Cuden: We’ve been talking for an hour if you can believe that.

Peter Jurasik: As I always say to you, let’s not talk about me, let’s talk about my work.

Steve Cuden: There you go. So, let’s talk about teaching for a moment. What did you enjoy about teaching? Did you learn anything from teaching students that actually helped you in your own work?

Peter Jurasik: Oh, I learned so much, Steve. I never thought I would be a good teacher and it took me a long while to become a good teacher. I had to do it a long while before I got good at it. I underestimated the profession, I think, in terms of preparation. I underestimated the profession.

Steve Cuden: Hard work.

Peter Jurasik: It’s hard work. Right. I was obviously teaching acting, not astrophysics. They asked me to teach acting. What a surprise, right?

Steve Cuden: I taught screenwriting for the last 10 years here in Pittsburgh and it’s hard work. It is hard.

Peter Jurasik: What’s interesting about it is I take a process that I do naturally, and I’ve been doing for 50 years how to do it. But for students, I need to deconstruct that process, work it kind of backwards, pull it all apart and then be able to talk to them about it. That’s a completely different thing than what I do.

Steve Cuden: Totally different skillset than doing what you do.

Peter Jurasik: That’s right. The best thing I liked about teaching was that I eventually figured that out and deconstructed it, and I got better at preparing. I think I got to be a better teacher. But I love the people and I love to see the process. I’m not saying this because I’m on your show, but I was excited about being on your show because it’s about that. What you say in your lead is it’s how people do what they do. So it was really interesting for me to watch, here’s a young actor or a young actress, look how they are going about this. Here’s how they approach this scene. Look at the amount of nerves they’re dealing with, or look at the amount of trouble they have with this. Or look at how easily they move through that part of the scene without… I love that about it. I love the students.

Steve Cuden: It didn’t screw you up in your own work in some way where you were actually deconstructing it a way where you didn’t want to deconstruct things for yourself.

Peter Jurasik: My ego’s too big. I didn’t know. Also I’m confident about my process too. That’s because people hire me and stuff. I know how my process works. It was fun for me to see. I like when I see actors who are handling stuff that I couldn’t do.

Steve Cuden: So I’m curious. You started off as a stage actor, as many actors do. You started on the stage. You also then, I assume, got pretty far away from stage acting for most of your career. Most of your career was on camera.

Peter Jurasik: I did some stage acting in LA.

Steve Cuden: But that wasn’t the focus for your career. Did you miss it? Do you prefer the stage to sets, or do you really like the sets?

Peter Jurasik: No, I definitely don’t. I always liked TV best. I liked it even better than film because it was so fast and spontaneous and I liked that kind of work. I’ve done some stage since I’ve come back here to Wilmington. But I don’t find it that interesting. It’s too much about just the actor experience. What I loved about TV and film is that it’s an ensemble experience. I love to know, as I said, what is the focus puller doing over there? What is the director, how is he thinking about cutting this? How can I give him a lot of different takes of this so that he has something interesting to do with it? I like the ensemble nature of the work.

Steve Cuden: You probably, I’m going to guess like the fact that you memorize something, you do the scene and you’re done and you’re not repeating it night, after night, after night.

Peter Jurasik: Good and bad. That sword cuts both ways. That knife cuts both ways. You do stuff and you say, God I so wish we could do that again. That was not very good. But that was Tuesday’s work and today is Wednesday, so we’re going on. I did like that, I liked the work ahead of me. So yeah, that’s true.

Steve Cuden: Did you find that you could really improve performance over a long run? I am not talking about a TV series. I’m talking about a stage play.

Peter Jurasik: I don’t know about that. At some point I did really long runs of stuff. At some point your focus starts to change —

Steve Cuden: Diminishing returns.

Peter Jurasik: Yeah. Diminishing returns. I’m trying to just stay focused in this. After I did Godspell, I don’t know, nine months, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. At some point, you’re just having trouble just trying to stay on the ball. There’s something wonderful about doing it and letting it go.

Steve Cuden: Richard Burton famously doing Camelot was thinking about laundry lists and grocery lists. Anything but the show.

Peter Jurasik: That’s exactly what happens, Steve. You think, wow, I know what’s coming up and I don’t particularly like that.

Steve Cuden: Well this has been about as much fun as a person can have fully dressed. I have just been having a fantastic time talking to Peter.

Peter Jurasik: I’ve enjoyed it too. You can tell that, I think.

Steve Cuden: Peter Jurasik. The last two questions for you today, Peter. You’ve clearly worked with a ton of people and I’m wondering if you can share with us an experience or something that has happened to you that was either quirky, weird, offbeat, strange, or just plain funny.

Peter Jurasik: No, nothing came up in those 50.

Steve Cuden: 50 years.

Peter Jurasik: No, nothing came up. I can’t think of anything.

Steve Cuden: Sitting in a corner by yourself minding your own business.

Peter Jurasik: I could tell you about when I was on tour with the first show that I got, which was Godspell. It was a show about clowns and Jesus. We had the same night off in Pittsburgh as the circus did. The Barnum and Bailey people.

Steve Cuden: In Pittsburgh, here in Pittsburgh, where I am?

Peter Jurasik: In Pittsburgh, that’s right. My first professional gig was at the Nixon Theater, which I don’t think is there anymore.

Steve Cuden: No, it’s not there anymore.

Peter Jurasik: Right. But that was my first gig. We had Monday off and so did Barnum and Bailey Circus that was in town. So a couple of people from Barnum and Bailey Circus said, why don’t you come over to the train and party with us? So I could tell you that story. But I won’t tell you that that was pretty weird and pretty trippy. We had a lot of fun.

Steve Cuden: You’ve just set us up.

Peter Jurasik: Circus.

Steve Cuden: Jesus and clowns at the circus.

Peter Jurasik: Yeah. I mean, we were a really young group of just good old New York actors. They were a group of pretty veteran circus people. Yeah. We had fun parties that week that night, as you could imagine. I could tell you that. Or I could tell you the story of Raymond Burr or Peter Falk. Raymond Burr when I worked with him, read everything off of cue cards. But no one told me about that. So when I started to work with him and I started the first rehearsal, he began to talk and was looking past my shoulder at his cue card. I didn’t know what the hell was going on because no one had told me. So I would like sort of slide over to the right a little, and then he’d slide over to the right. Finally, somebody told me, no, Peter, he is not looking at you. He’s making believe he’s looking to you. He didn’t do it the way Brando supposedly did it, which is read it and then look at you. He just made believe you, with a cue card.

Steve Cuden: Have you seen the picture from the Godfather set of Duval with the words on his chest?

Peter Jurasik: I have. It’s a great picture. It’s very funny. I hear he used to change it and make Duval purposely put the wrong words up. With Peter Falk, when I did Colombo, they told you, don’t look into his, only look into his real eye. Don’t look into because he had a—

Steve Cuden: Glass eye.

Peter Jurasik: Of course that caused you to look into his glass eye all the time because people told you that. So you’d be doing the scene with him and then you think, wait, I’m talking to the wrong eye. I could tell you that story.

Steve Cuden: I spent six months working with Peter Falk and John Cadis on three plays.

Peter Jurasik: Oh my God, I’m so jealous. Wow. They’re part real heroes of mine. Wow.

Steve Cuden: It was the most spectacular moment of my whole career to work with those.

Peter Jurasik: You need to tell me about that even on or off sometime.

Steve Cuden: John Voight and Jenna Rolands, they were all involved.

Peter Jurasik: Oh my God.

Steve Cuden: It was spectacular.

Peter Jurasik: Boy, you’re talking topnotch. You can’t get higher level acting.

Steve Cuden: It was as good as it gets.

Peter Jurasik: I don’t think they get better than Gena Rowlands. Fedi was great. Falk was great. So you were really with the very best.

Steve Cuden: So you have one more story? Is that what you had?

Peter Jurasik: I was going to say, how I got my very first job was kind of interesting.

Steve Cuden: Sure.

Peter Jurasik: I got to California, and I told you my first job in New York was Godspell. But when I got to California, I didn’t know anybody. I saw that Dustin Hoffman was doing a movie called Straight Time.

Steve Cuden: Yeah, sure. Ulu Grosbard.

Peter Jurasik: You’ve got it. One of the great things about being on that set, I give away the end of the story now because I did get the part. But they had a big fight the day they worked, Dustin Hoffman and Ulu Grosbard’s on the set of a bank robbery that I was in. But it was early on in California when you could still sneak on the lots. I don’t think he can sneak on the lots anymore. I snuck on Warner Brothers. I found the office where they were, and I told the casting person, my father… Dustin Hoffman worked with my father, which he did typing for my dad when my father was doing ad work in New York. He was a temp worker. I said, he is, and he didn’t tell me this, I said, Dustin said I should look him up when I come out here. They said, really? I said, yeah, really. They said, okay, well good. Here’s the script. You take a look at this part, and we’ll call you tomorrow, or something like that and send me on my way. When I called them the next day, or when I went in the next day, he said, we talked to Dustin, and he doesn’t know your father and he doesn’t know you. You completely made that up, didn’t you? I didn’t completely make it up, but he didn’t tell me to look them up. But they said we were so impressed though we would like to read you anyway. They did read me. I didn’t get the part they read me for, but they put me in another scene and that was my first role.

Steve Cuden: Wow.

Peter Jurasik: I think that’s a cool story that I actually talked my way in and that they let me read and ended up in the movie.

Steve Cuden: You BS’ed your way into your first part.

Peter Jurasik: You got it. I BS’ed my way.

Steve Cuden: That’s amazing.

Peter Jurasik: Isn’t that good?

Steve Cuden: That’s great.

Peter Jurasik: I know. I still get residuals for it.

Steve Cuden: So for those actors out there right now trying to find their way to their first part I don’t know that you want to BS your way in, but it could work. You never know.

Peter Jurasik: That’s why I tell it now. I don’t think it’s as easy, as it was 1976 or something. I wouldn’t suggest trying to sneak on the lot.

Steve Cuden: No, it’s very different times quite obviously.

Peter Jurasik: That’s right. Yeah.

Steve Cuden: So, alright. Last question for you today, Peter. You’ve already given us an incredible amount of great advice, but do you have a solid piece of advice or a tip that you can lend to those who are trying to break in or maybe you’re in and trying to get to the next level?

Peter Jurasik: If you are an actor, my best piece of advice is act and do the work. If you’re a young actor, you need to act every chance you get. You need to get in any play you can get in. You need to read at the church, if you go to church or volunteer, even if you don’t read at the church. What you want to do is do the work. That’s it. I can’t give a better piece of advice to a young actor than just make sure you do it and do it enough so that you can find out whether you really love it or not. Because if you love it, you’re going to stick with it. You also could do it enough to say, I like it, this is okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t know that I really need to do this for my life. So my advice is try to fall in love with it. Do it enough so that you’re sure you really want to be in love with it and want to do it again. It’s good advice in life too, right?

Steve Cuden: Well, it’s very good advice in life and it’s true, especially in the arts. Not that it isn’t true in business and medicine and everywhere else. But in the arts, it’s particularly true that you can’t go down to the corner store and buy yourself the ability to act. You have to act. Just like you can’t purchase a script to sell. Well, unless you’re a producer. But as a writer, you can’t go buy the script to sell. You have to write the script and you have to write and write and write to get good at it.

Peter Jurasik: Any good writing teacher tells you, write. Everything else is an excuse. Get writing.

Steve Cuden: That’s correct. Same with acting. It’s more challenging for a director who can’t always… you can go find a way to act without actually being paid by anybody. But it’s very hard to find a directing gig without that.

Peter Jurasik: That’s really true. That’s why I say it. The other thing is the second part of it, which is fall in love with it, Steve. Because if you fall in love with it, it’s going to protect you from the hardships of the business and whatever else you might run into along the way. If you really love it, great. You’re going to stick with it.

Steve Cuden: Well, I think that that’s very sound advice, Peter Jurasik, this has been so much fun. I’m so grateful for your spending some time with me on StoryBeat Today.

Peter Jurasik: Steve, for me too. It’s been just great to chat with you. Thanks.

Steve Cuden: So we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you liked this episode, won’t you please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you are listening to. Your support helps us bring more great StoryBeat episodes to you. StoryBeat is available on all major podcast apps and platforms, including Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, Tune In, and many others. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden. May all your stories be unforgettable.

Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group

2 Comments

  1. Diane May

    Wonderful interview with Peter Jurasik. Informative and fun. Wanted more!

    Reply
    • Steve Cuden

      Thanks, Diane. Peter is awesome. We love hearing such glowing reviews!

      Thanks for listening!

      Best,

      Steve Cuden

      Reply

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