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Anthony Edwards interview by Chet Cooper
In the past three years, Anthony Edwards' work on the number one rated television show E.R. has earned him nominations for nine major acting awards, two of which he has wonthe People's Choice Award for Favorite Male Television Performer and the Screen Actor's Guild Award for Best Dramatic Actor.Yet, after spending an afternoon with Edwards I was left with the impression that he might be just as happy and fulfilled doing E.R. on a local cable access station without any of the ratings and all of the awardsas long as it was good work and at least entertaining to someone.
All of the accolades seem to have changed very little in what this unassuming actor calls his "real life." Indeed in person he seemed so "normal" that I almost couldn't help but feel as if somewhere on my way to do a story about a big Hollywood star that I had run into my next door neighbor. Perhaps it is this "ordinary" quality about him that has made it so easy for millions of Americans to invite him into their living rooms in the ten o'clock hour of every Thursday evening.
Even being named in a recent poll as "The Sexiest Man on E.R." seems to have had little effect on the actor who asks himself, "Why is there such vanity about hair? I make a point to bathe. I worry about boogers in my nose and I ask the makeup artist to cover up my pimples, but beyond that I try not to be too vain."
He confesses that this is all part of his conscious choice to "usually be smaller than life." When he is asked about what it feels like to be famous he responds, "It makes me feel like hiding under a rock. It helps that I like the showI truly think we're famous because we are doing the best hour on television. But I'm not comfortable with fame. It's like having a hump."
Edwards readily admits that he never came to Hollywood hoping or thinking that he could be a star. Instead his priority was always to just have fun doing great acting.
Yet, Edwards certainly was never encouraged by what he saw on television as a child. In fact he would have never of had the opportunity to watch a show like E.R., as evening television was not allowed in his parent's house. Instead Edwards drew his inspiration for acting in his school plays and within Santa Barbara's local community theatres. His boyhood idols weren't the likes of Newman, Redford or DeNiro as one might expect. Instead he watched musicals with Gene Kelly, which made him dream of becoming "a song and dance man." To this end he and fellow actor and school chum, Eric Stoltz began taking ballet classes in high school. Later he would attend London's Royal Academy of the Arts and the University of Southern California all with a single goal in mind - becoming a good actor.
This unconventional and in many ways classical education in the arts and acting has left Edwards focused and grounded to what he feels matters most in Hollywoodquality art and entertainment. This dedication to the craft of acting has led him to a rather bumpy road to stardom. Because it was never something he consciously sought, he has experienced it sporadically throughout his young career. Yet at thirty-five with a wife and two kids, he isn't letting the Hollywood spotlight change his focus or his drive to produce quality work. To this end he has continued to work as a creative force on E.R. and in his own production company with Warner Brothers.
Recently Edwards has been using his visibility in Hollywood to press for changes in the casting of actors with disabilities. As a long-time member of Santa Barbara's Access Theatre he has had the opportunity himself to work in the disability community and become better aware of the issues concerning actors with disabilities. Chet Cooper and I began our conversation with Anthony about how E.R. approaches its unique position and opportunity in this respect.
Chet Cooper: Do you think people connect the setting of E.R. as a place that shows the thin line between anyone instantly acquiring a disability? Most of the characters in any given week on E.R. are at the crossroads per setheir lives are changing.
Anthony Edwards: Yeah I think that is where E.R. succeeds and that is where all things succeed because they are original. People relate to things that feel real to them. All the good, happy, over-sexed and moneyed endings on TV are not the way most of us feel in our lives. The success of E.R. I think is not relying on overly sentimental stories that are solved where people's lives wrap up nicely with happy endings.
AE: Within the school system. Santa Barbara has really good theatre in the schools. There was so much opportunity. It was like being in a small town that had a great little league set up where you loved to play baseball.
I think it is a real crime what has happened where there is no money for arts in schools. Kids aren't getting anywhere near the opportunities that I had. It's now considered extracurricular when it is important as reading and writing.
CC: Things have really changed for you since those school days. How
have you taken all of the attention of having the top show on television?
We even recently saw that you were voted as "The Sexiest Man on E.R."
AE: And you agree with that poll? (laughs). It's like living in a hula-hoop. The majority of talk or attention this show gets has nothing to do with the show and more to do with just being the show of the moment. It's not reality based.
CC: But was being on a "#1 show" one of your goals or dreams?
AE: No I never dreamed about being on a hit television series. I've never really related my dreams to that specific of a work goal. I was always enjoying the moment. Acting, writing, looking for roles and getting involved with people and trying to create something that would be entertaining to people. With E.R. we were all very lucky to get this combination of people together in the right story in the right way to take it to the level it has reached.
CC: What are your plans after E.R.?
AE: I'm kind of doing it now. I'm developing a lot of projects to direct and I'm working with different writers and bringing together a lot of talent trying to get other deals and television shows and films set up. Which is the kind of theatre I've always enjoyed which you only experience when you don't act. It's about being interesting and not getting bored. If you're bored everything is going to suffer. But I'm having fun as an actor here it's not boring.... knock on wood.
I only ended up in this industry because I like to act. There are definitely roles within this industry that are industry related but to be a good actor you really have to want to act first. At the same time my goal was never to go to Hollywood to make movies. I think if you come here with that attitude then you've missed a few steps. My only goal was to act in theatre. But as with everyone's life the road changes and I ended up here. Now I'm focusing more on my production company with Warner Bros. We executive produced a movie in London last summer and we have about ten or twelve other projects in different stages of development. And its all been a lot of fun.
CC: I recently met you and the casting directors of E.R. at a national conference for the Association for Theatre and Accessibility's. Your group's panel discussed the casting of actors with disabilities on E.R. How did this occur?
AE: On E.R. there has been an ongoing awareness of this issue. John Levy is the casting director, his education is growing more in relation to how many actors there are who are available with different disabilities. I think they've made a very conscious and good effort in trying to hire actors with disabilities, whether they are visually impaired, hearing impaired or people in chairs.
I think our show is a natural for it because it is always trying to do a nice cross-culture of inner-city lifecertainly the disabled community is a big part of that especially in county. As far as the business, it's a tough thing because it's hard when you establish a label like, "We must hire more black actors." If you do that it can really create a separation of black actors. Ultimately the goal is we just want to have "actors" and the same applies in the disabled community. I know that it's hard because you first have to define yourself by creating a separation, yet the goal is to eliminate the separation so that's the big challenge of it.
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