Denis O’Hare: Know Your Audience

Photo Source: Courtesy Liane Brandon

Actor of the stage and screen Denis O’Hare is no stranger to Backstage. Having spoken with us several times before about his craft, he’s long proven to give a great interview, and our Oct. 19 Backstage Live was no different. The Tony winner and “This Is Us” Emmy nominee spoke on what it was like bringing a literary legend back to life for “Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive” as part of PBS’ American Masters series—plus his advice for delivering a monologue, dealing with sleeping theater-goers, and writing your own work.

Playing Poe ‘wasn’t fun to shoot.’
“He’s a tortured guy. He really was as unhappy as you can be. He had a miserable life; he died young. I always knew a lot about him, but I was surprised by a lot of the things I found out.... What I didn’t realize was that he sort of courted his own misery. He actually once talked about the deliciousness of pain and the romance of the darkness. So I’m not saying that he brought it on himself, but it was a milieu he was comfortable with.”

‘Buried Alive’ required long passages of monologues, poems, and essays.
“Regarding Poe, [the monologues were] often a difficult thing, and I would often turn to Eric [Stange], our director, and say, ‘Who am I talking to? I have to know who I’m talking to. I can’t just talk.’ And that’s hard when you have a device or you have a convention. And so I would come up with somebody for every poem or every monologue—I had to have an audience. Even if it was only the audience in the camera, I had to have someone to talk to. Otherwise, you’re just doing an affect.”

READ: Emmy Nominee Denis O’Hare on How to Nail a Monologue

In theater, he wants audiences to do what they paid for.
“Early on as an actor, I would get offended when someone would knit in the front or would yawn. I’ve seen everything: I’ve seen knitting, falling asleep, people leaving—people have thrown things at my head. [But] they bought their seat, they get to do whatever they want to. I really believe that. Whatever they do in that seat, that’s up to them. They can sleep. I don’t want them texting because I don’t want them disturbing their neighbors. But short of that, as long as they’re not bothering people around them, they get to do whatever they want.”

Actors who want to write should write what they know.
“The best content out there is coming from an original source, whether it’s ‘Broad City’ or ‘Girls’—something that’s coming out of the head of someone that’s unique to them or that’s specific to them or that is their story.”

On his advice for career longevity.
“I always ask actors who are starting out, ‘Why do you want to do it?’ And there’s no wrong answer. I remember asking this one kid years ago, and he was like, ‘Because I want to be rich and famous.’ And I was like, ‘Perfectly legitimate—seriously! That means you’re going to go after it in a different way.’ That wasn’t my reason. My reason was because I couldn’t not do it. I loved it too much.”

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