Theater has more of a “human touch,” but telling someone about a great live performance is like telling them about your dream.
Question: What first drewrnyou to the theater?rnrn
John Buffalo Mailer: rn You know I grew up in an artisticrnfamily where everyone was doing something in one field of the arts orrnanother. I was I think 12rnyears old when I did my first acting at the Actor’s Studio and, you rnknow,rnJames Dean once said that the only reason to become and actor is becausern yournhave to. I think that you knowrnfrom a young age if that is a certain rush that you’re going to need to rnsatisfyrnyou and to make you feel fulfilled—and if you don’t then you shouldn’t rndornit. It’s just too brutal of arnbusiness most of the time. So Irnthink that at the ripe old age of 12 I figured out, you know, I kind of rnlikernthis thing. I like talking tornthese people.rnrn
Question: How is workingrnon a play different from working on a film?rnrn
John Buffalo Mailer: rn Man, it’s apples and oranges. You can’t rnreally beat movies. It’s a fun gig. rn I mean it’s nice to have a trailer andrnmakeup and you know an entire army that is basically all there for the rnsamernpurpose, which is make the best film we can. Yeah,rn when you’re on an Oliver Stone set everybody bringsrntheir A game. Everybody bringsrntheir A game, from the top to the bottom and in between. rn In terms of theater you know there isrnno way to really duplicate that rush you get when you take an audience rnthat isrnlive and right there in front of you through the journey of a great playrn andrnyou go through these emotions so that they can experience them without rnhavingrnto go through them themselves. rnIt’s a certain kind of human compact that obviously you lose as rnsoon asrnthere is a screen and a camera there, so I think we’ll always haverntheater. I think theater willrnalways be a powerful force because we need that human touch, rnparticularly as wernspend more and more time with machines, cell phones, computers we start rnto losernour humanity. I mean the price ofrnour technology may very well end up being our humanity, so I think you rngot tornhave that balance. Personally Irntry to do one for one if I can. Dorna movie, do a play, do a movie, do a play—while at the same time writingrn andrnbeing in that cycle. Those twornfields are very… Writing and acting are almost diametrically opposed in rntermsrnof being an actor it’s in your interest to be in shape and to be healthyrn and tornhave a strong voice and to be flexible. rnAs a writer you’re sitting in this position for hours on end. You get up and you can’t put yourrnshoulder down. It’s not a healthyrnexistence so to speak and it’s probably not healthy for the person that rnlivesrnwith you either, but you do the best you can.rnrn
Question: What theatricalrnwork are you proudest of?rnrn
John Buffalo Mailer: rn You know I’m probably most proud of thernplays that I’ve written just because as the playwright, you know, you’rernGod. You get to do everything. Yourn don’t make any money hardly at all,rnbut you really get to kind of control the scene. Asrn a screenwriter you’re the towel boy in thernwhorehouse. I mean you knowrnyou’re lucky if you’re invited to set. rnIt’s kind of like here is the blueprint, go and that’s you know rntherernhas been some debate as to whether or not a film should be by the rndirector orrnby the screenwriter or by both. rnThe screenwriter lost out on that. rnDirectors win. In theaterrnit is absolutely the opposite, but you know I’m proud of all the… Well, of most of the theater actingrnthat I’ve done. The thing is, torntry to talk about a performance that will never be seen again, that was rnonlyrnlived by the people there, it’s kind of like telling somebody about yourrn dream. You know if they love you they’llrnlisten and smile, but they can’t really get it, so there is a certain rninfiniternquality to film that is nice. Yourndo the work and you know it’s always going to be there. Thern flip side is if you do bad workrnit’s always going to be there.rnrn
Question: What are yourrngoals as an actor and playwright?rnrn
John Buffalo Mailer: rn You know, I just I love telling storiesrnand as long as I can make my living doing that in all the different rnmediumsrnthat I have been lucky enough to, that’s enough for me. Reallyrn it’s, you know, there's differentrnscales of stories. Sometimes yournwant to tell one that 20, 30, 40, 50 million people will want to see andrnhear. Sometimes you do one thatrnyou know 150 will want to see on one night. As rnlong as you’re telling the right story for the rightrnaudience and they’re getting something out of it it’s essentially the rnsamernfeeling to me. Obviously there isrnyou know the economic necessity of paying your bills and how do you dornthat. Ten years ago when Irnstarted out I was kind of told I was insane for trying to pursue rnmultiple fieldsrnat once because in five years everyone who just did one would have five rntimesrnthe resume I would if I was lucky, but I took that gamble because I justrn my gutrntold me it was the right thing to do and you know as an actor there is rnso muchrndowntime you want to fill it with something else and as a writer you rnknowrnsometimes you’re doing a passion project, sometimes it’s a paid gig, rnsometimesrnthere is nothing, so you can do a journalistic piece. Atrn this point I think the shift starting about 2008, a lotrnof factors as well I’m sure, but whatever the reasons, 2008 it felt as rnthoughrnthe combination of distribution models starting to tighten and the rnpublishingrnand film and music industries having to revolutionize themselves to rncatch up,rnand understand how this is going to work in the new millennium has made rnit arnlot easier to pursue multi-platform careers. It’srn much easier to hire one person who can do three or fourrndifferent things than one specialist in that field, which as I think rnabout therncollege graduating classes and high school classes that are coming up rnnowrnthey’re in a unique position. Irnmean they’re entering one of the toughest economies of all time. At the same time if they’re willing tornwork really hard the ability they have to learn something much faster rnthan wernever did before is there and it’s really a question of are you willing rnto putrnin the effort and go that extra mile. Because if you are I think there'srnactually more opportunities out there.
Recorded March 30, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen