Steven Weber makes return to ‘Chicago Med’
Steven Weber is just one of those guys that people adore and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk bad about him. Whether it’s his peers or fans they just love him. Best known for his role as Brian Hackett on the popular NBC series “Wings” that ran from 1990-1997 he has also been in numerous movies and has performed on Broadway. (Including starring in the smash hit “The Producers”.) This fall you will be able to see him on “Chicago Med” as he will return in the role of Dr. Dean Archer. I recently had a chance to speak with him for my podcast CooperTalk.
Q: How did you get your career started?
A: My father was a theatrical agent, which is a fancy way of saying he was an agent of Borscht Belt comedians and singers. In fact his father was a guy named Willie Weber. Willie Weber was historically significant because he was Jackie Gleason’s early manager and Don Rickles early manager. Before that, he had been in the Mafia, the Jewish mob in New Jersey. So it’s a logical progression, I suppose. Jewish mob to agent and so it was sort of in the air for me. My mother was actually a nightclub singer so that whole kind of atmosphere growing up was a little spiced up with backstage stories and seeing my dad come home from various nightclub gigs and as a young kid I got a chance to go backstage a couple of times. But that aside, I mean that obviously was a contributor, but like you say, you know, there’s so many people who are in the industry who don’t have a background, don’t have a family kind of lineage unit. I wouldn’t say it detracted from it, but what it did do was it gave me an idea that there’s a seamy underbelly to the industry. It’s glitz on one side and as soon as you go backstage it ain’t so pretty. So I had that at an early age and that’s when I got started by trying to get my parents approval and doing imitations, acting up and being a smart aleck. I ended up going to the High School of Performing Arts in New York City and becoming more serious and then I went to a great school called State University of Purchase in Purchase, New York where there were a lot of great actors and a lot of great theater designers and lighting designers. It was a school for the arts and that’s how I got into it.
Q: How did your role in Wings come about?
A: I went through the normal procedures which entails doing one audition and then passing that test and doing another audition and passing that test, and then eventually more and more people directly involved with the show see your videotapes and they start pairing you off, pairing you with people and it got to the point where we had to do a screen test, which wasn’t as romantic as it sounds like you’re pampered over by make-up people. In this case you’re brought in with all the other actors who have made it this far to a room which is a little amphitheater. It was at NBC. And in this room, in the case of this screen test was Brandon Tartikoff who was the president of the network at the time and dozens of executives, creative executives, and casting people watching and judging me and Tim Daly and Tom Haden Church and a bunch of other actors who they then paired off to see if we had chemistry. I was a real smart ass at the time and I was really feisty so I did some ad libbing which wasn’t really the type of thing that you were supposed to do, but I just did it. I had a carelessness or carefree attitude that I guess fit their idea of the character and that’s how I got it. It was pretty, pretty wild.
Q: What was it like when you did “Curb Your Enthusiasm”? Was it as great as everyone says it is?
A: In two words, yes! Um, yeah it is. It’s as great as everybody says it is. I had done a film with him and Craig Bierko called “Sour Grapes” which was not widely seen and not a widely appreciated film. I think it’s an absolutely perfectly funny film. Perfect for what it was, but unfortunately it was being compared to Seinfeld and everything else at the time so it sort of went its way. That said, working on “Curb” was fantastic because you’re working with all these people who are kind of at the top of their game and for a guy who’s known to be so prickly and sour and volatile, Larry is one of the kindest, nicest, coolest and best adjusted people that I have ever met.
Q: You’re very diverse. Do you approach every role the same?
A: I mean, look, I wish I was an actor of Daniel Day Lewis’ depth or Denzel Washington’s depth, so I’d be able to answer that with a great kind of detail. The fact is that I found myself playing all these douchebags for about 15 years and I approached them just trying to make each character sound plausible and sound like I was speaking their lines and not sounding corny. When I was growing up, I always loved character actors. I always loved the darker characters, always loved the villains, the broken shambling people who were way more interesting to me than the square jawed leading man types, so I gravitated towards those. I guess I just try to make it as truthful as possible for each role, whether it’s a comedic one or a dramatic one.
Q: I’m sure it’s hard but what are three career highlights?
A: It’s like you said, it’s hard. I have really great memories from doing “The Producers” in New York. It was a complex time for me personally, but it was also a fantastic experience to be in that show at that time. Brad Oscar and I took over for Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. We were the first people to take over for them and that’s a whole conversation in itself, believe me. Another role that I really think of a lot, but probably only a few people know of, there was a show called “Party Down” and I think it ran for two seasons with Adam Scott, Martin Starr, Ken Martino and Lizzy Caplan. I played a kind of a Slavic gangster with a lazy eye that I pinned glue on the skin of my eye so that there was like a weird flap. It was so much fun and people seemed to love it, so that was another kind of highlight. But then look, also working with Mel Brooks was and remains probably the greatest thrill of my life. You know, he was a guy that I grew up with listening to his albums and watching his movies, like The Twelve Chairs and the original and best The Producers with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Then I got a chance to work with him and get to know him. He came to dinner. You know, we went out to dinner with him and Anne Bancroft. They came to my 40th birthday. It was unimaginably blissful. I would have to say that was really the highlight of all the things that I’ve done.