Magazine article Variety

Masters of Thesp Tenacity

Magazine article Variety

Masters of Thesp Tenacity

Article excerpt

THEY’VE ENJOYED LONG, successful careers. They’ve been honored with multiple awards for their work. They have money, fame and all the peer respect they could desire.

But at an age when most other people are contemplating retirement - or have long since called it quits - many veteran actors seem to be working harder than ever. They include Tony winner Andrea Martin, who appears in NBC’s new comedy “Great News,” and John Lithgow, who did supporting turns on both Netflix’s “The Crown” and NBC’s “Trial & Error” this year. Not to mention actors on continuing Showtime shows such as Jon Voight (“Ray Donovan”) and Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland”), who have already been Emmy-nominated for their work, and Laurence Fishburne (ABC’s “Black-ish”) and Gary Cole (HBO’s “Veep,”) who are familiar faces audiences love to see.

So what drives them and keeps them coming back for more?

For Jonathan Banks, who’s excelled at playing heavies in movies and TV for over four decades, and earned three supporting actor Emmy nominations for playing crime-scene fixer Mike Ehrmantraut in AMC’s “Breaking Bad” its prequel, “Better Call Saul,” it’s the artist’s imperative. “I told myself a long time ago I couldn’t live without it, and as an artist, you never give up, whether successful or not,” he says. “And that’s the appeal of playing a character like Mike for nearly eight years. He’s so flawed, like all of us, and older and tortured, but he keeps on going. He never gives up, mentally, physically -just like an actor.”

Banks also cites the appeal of working in a TV world “that’s so different now, with so many shows playing out like great novels, with these long, complex story arcs. It’s like something out of Dickens.”

But now 70, he also admits that the demands of the job “do wear on you, with all the traveling and being away from your family for months. I’d never retire, but I do understand why someone like Gene Hackman would quietly walk away and just paint.”

For Blair Brown, Emmy-nominated five times for “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,” it’s a similar “need to work, otherwise I don’t feel quite whole as a person -> ?- if I’m not involved in a project, whether it’s thinking about it or rehearsing or whatever. It’s somehow the way I participate in our society. So I have to work, even if it’s not for money. It helps me make sense of the world, and your antennae are up and you’re connected, and I just like my life better when I’m working.”

She’s quick to stress that “there’s not much of me in Judy [King],” the imperious TV personality she plays in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.” Brown says the role has been “so much fun to do, and while you couldn’t call her a feminist, she is this cheerful self-made woman whose M.O. is, ‘If it’s good for me, then it’s bound to be good for you,’ which is a wonderful new take on selfishness.”

At 71, Brown notes that longevity in the business pays dividends, “because when you’re young and female, there’s a lot of work for you as ‘the girl,’ but that work is not very interesting. You’re not doing too much of anything, except be likable and look good, all that stuff. But as you get older, the parts certainly get a lot better, and once you get past all the usual tropes - the cougar, the bossy woman - or take them and spin them around and make it all far less predictable, it’s so much fun. So I’ll keep working till I drop.”

Carol Kane, 64, who stars as the colorful landlord Lillian Kaushtupper in Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” won two Emmys for her work in “Taxi” back in the early ’80s, and says that “nothing’s changed” in terms of her long “love affair” with acting and working. …

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