the traveler's resource guide to festivals & filmsa FestivalTravelNetwork.com site part of Insider Media llc.
Q&A by Brad Balfour
Never in a million years did I expect that composer/musician Prem Murti and I would cross paths. The Indian-based composer/performer produced the song “Love and Peace” which has won the Best Music Video and Best Experimental Film honors at the Canadian Cinematography Awards (CaCA). It also received multiple Josie Awards nominations — Song: Vocal Event of the Year; World Artist of the Year: Prem Murti of India; Songwriter of the Year: Mike Greenly; Musician of the Year: cellist Tess Remy Schumacher. "Love and Peace" is up for consideration on the Grammy® ballot in “Best Global Music Performance.” There will be a show in Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House on October 22, 2023.
It’s not that Murti doesn’t already have something of a track record — so to speak. He was part of “Divine Tides” — the 2022 Grammy Award-winning full-length release ("Best New Age Album") by Stewart Copeland , former drummer of The Police, and Ricky Kej. He did the official Lo-Fi mixes for the album.
But it was thanks to his connection to my friend Mike Greenly that I was turned on to the song, A multifaceted artist — skilled in singing, music composition, production, mixing, engineering, and voice-over artistry — Murti has worked with several notable record labels, such as Saregama, Zee, and Shemaroo as well as collaborating with numerous artists in India and abroad since 2013. Based inChandigarh, India, Murtigained fame when his rendition of the song “Toofan Ko Aana Hai (Ik Pyar Ka Nagma Hai)” went viral across social media platforms during the pandemic. He also co-arranged and sang lead vocals on “Vande Bharatam” for the Republic Day parade at India Gate as 500 dancers performed to it. With Kej, he made “Salaam” — an anthem dedicated to India’s armed forces.
Though Greenly is gay, he didn’t write the lyrics to “Love and Peace” with Pride or same sex relations specifically in mind. His message was meant to be far more universal than that. But LGBTQ-identified people are reaching some of the highest positions in society now and attaining more cultural relevance. For example, Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Eric Varadkar, came out as gay. (He’s of Indian and Irish descent.) Pride Month has become more visible than ever.
Even with Pride month in the rear mirror now, “Love and Peace” struck me as the perfect song to highlight LGBTQ pride by writing about Prem Murti. Greenly’s lyrics squarely keep the sentiments of that recent month in mind while suggesting loving acceptance of every diverse individual among us.
Recognized for his calming and restorative voice, the youthful Murti performs a vast repertoire of devotional songs, mantras, and other spiritually uplifting compositions. Buoyed by Murti’s beautiful and exotic music, “Love and Peace” has a universal quality that makes the message all the more profound.
Q: Have you always focused on being a musician?
PM: Yes, it was always my childhood dream to pursue a career in music. Despite not having any musical background, I began a journey of self-teaching. Along the way, my friends and audiences recognized my blessed voice, encouraging me to include a focus on singing. As a result, I’ve found a balance between being a composer-producer and a singer. In the song 'Love and Peace,' I not only composed and produced the track but also performed the Shanti (Peace) Mantra section.
Q: It seems like a unique combo of people. Do you always do such eclectic music?
PM: While producing music, I prefer not to confine myself to any rigid style. Instead, I think of whatever serves the song best. Since 'Love and Peace' is about harmony and togetherness beyond any geographical or language barrier, the selection of musicians and singers from different cultures was an obvious choice. For other projects, also, I would go with anything that will make our listeners feel good.
Q: Are you planning a full album?
PM: While I have a deep appreciation for music albums, as they provide a compilation of songs with a shared flavor, I wanted to take a different approach for 'Love and Peace.' Instead of releasing an entire album, I aimed to combine the efforts of 5-6 songs into a single track, with the goal of creating a distinctive and exceptional masterpiece. There are additional factors influencing my preference for singles over albums, one being the shift in how contemporary audiences consume music.
Q: Have you done music for films?
PM: I would love to, but until now, my focus has primarily been on creating music, doing production and mixing for independent artists. That’s kept me occupied. I’ve also been actively involved in singing and providing voice-overs for various projects. However, I’m always open to new opportunities.
Q: What was the origin of your “Love and Peace” song?
PM: There are certain topics or ideas that we often don't have the opportunity to fully explore when we’re focused on creating 'commercial' music. Love, in its broader sense … peace, in light of the world's current climate of hatred and conflict … and spiritual themes and social issues are a few examples. These subjects have always inspired me and I’ve longed to create meaningful art around them. In this particular song, everything came straight from the heart, without adhering to any typical format. The inclusion of the Shanti (Peace) Mantra in Sanskrit was an unconventional choice, but it’s been widely embraced and loved by everyone. Furthermore, Natalie's addition of some Hawaiian traditional lines beautifully complemented the song and harmonized with its essence.
Q: I assume you had a musical idea but of all the lyricists, how did Mike Greenly enter your sphere of reality. What did he bring to it that you didn’t find elsewhere?
PM: I and Mike Greenly were in contact via email, sharing our thoughts and philosophies. We both had an interest in collaborating and creating something new together, although the specific topic was not yet clear. When the idea for the 'Love and Peace' song emerged, Mike was the first lyricist who came to mind. I believed he possessed the maturity and sensitivity required to write on such a subject. I had trust in him based on his previous works, which I had explored.
When he sent me the first draft of the lyrics, I knew I wouldn't need to seek out anyone else for this song. I truly loved the lyrics. There were a few lines that I asked him to revise, and he graciously made the changes. Mike is an enthusiastic individual and was always prompt in making adjustments to the lyrics whenever I requested. Consequently, there was no need to search for another lyricist for this particular song.
Q: Who did the production and how was it done?
PM: I composed and produced the song 'Love and Peace'. The song is about peace, so I wanted it to sound very ambient and soothing. The selection of instruments like acoustic guitar, flute, cello and violin was done accordingly. However, considering the concept of peace and silence, it was also important to incorporate elements of contrast and dynamics. Just as you can't fully appreciate light without darkness, I wanted to provide a contrast that would capture the listener's attention. This is where my singing part came into play, utilizing large drums, electric guitars, heavy orchestration, and thick layered vocals. These elements added a powerful and intense dynamic to the song, creating a striking juxtaposition against the peaceful elements.
Q: How did you find the musicians you used and what's their backstories?
PM: Before I started working on this project, I had already established connections with so many musicians and singers through various social media platforms. They loved my musical style and singing and were also willing to collaborate with me in future. When the idea of 'Love and Peace' came, Natalie Ai Kamauu was our first choice as a lead singer because of her soothing and peaceful voice which was apt for this song. When it came to the lyrics, we sought out the expertise of Mike Greenly, a highly experienced songwriter who possessed the necessary skills to craft the ideal composition for this particular piece.
Once we had a basic foundation of the song ready, I approached other singers and musicians who seemed suitable for it. Annemarie Picerno has not only provided backing vocals but has also served as a guide throughout the process of releasing the song. Another lovely musician on our team is Tess Remy Schumacher, a talented cellist who, despite being senior to me, has consistently shown tremendous support and enthusiasm. She approaches music with the curiosity and dedication of a lifelong student. An Vedi, as a skilled violin player, and Russ Hewitt, as a talented guitarist, brought an extra dimension to the song.
Q: You and your team were nominated for various Josie Awards. How did the awards organization hear of you and the song?
PM: 'Love and Peace' was my first song with this incredible team of singers and musicians. Receiving recognition at the 'Josie Awards' earned their trust. I was absolutely thrilled and honored upon hearing the news of our song and our team being nominated in various categories for the 'Josie Awards'. It validates all the hard work, dedication, and creativity that went into creating the song.
I’d like to thank my collaborators, especially Annemarie Picerno (vocalist) and An Vedi (violinist), for keeping me informed about the award shows happening around us. Additionally, I actively promote my work through various channels, such as social media, music platforms, and my official website. This helps in gaining visibility. Furthermore, positive reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations have also played a significant role.
Q: Given the Pride Month that passed us this summer, did you see the song’s connection to universal love … not just personal love, but the general love that Pride Month embraces?
PM: The song goes beyond personal love and does aim to highlight the concept of universal love. It explores the idea of love that transcends individual relationships and embraces love and acceptance for all people. The song celebrates the notion of love that unites everyone and promotes inclusivity and understanding.
Watch the “Love and Peace” music video here:
Prem Murti’s Website:
Luke McManusPhoto: Killian Broderick
Film: “North Circular”Director: Luke McManusOpens: Friday, July 28th, 2023At: DCTV FirehouseWhere: 87 Lafayette St.
Having been to Dublin before, my image of the city is filtered through one idealized version or another. I’ve met buskers on Grafton Street and seen hipster haunts in Temple Bar. I’ve traipsed over to the scene north of the Liffey, and hit the bars there. But I’ve never found myself on the North Circular, meeting the characters and musicians who populate this much talked-about new hybrid doc. “North Circular” makes its New York debut this Friday at DCTV Firehouse with director Luke McManus in attendance.
This film maker has not only traveled the length of Dublin’s North Circular Road — exploring the area’s history, music and streetscapes — he is now bringing his documentary musical to the States, presenting it by making its NYC theatrical premiere.
Told in a black and white 4:3 Academy ratio, the film evokes many narratives from the history of the city and nation to its musical styles and mores. Topics range from colonialism to mental health to the struggle for women’s liberation, all while considering urgent issues of the day. The film addresses the battle to save the center of Dublin’s recent folk revival — the legendary Cobblestone Pub — and looks into its destruction at the hands of cynical property developers. The movie also includes musical performances from artists local to the North Circular, including John Francis Flynn, Séan Ó Túama, Eoghan O’Ceannabháin, Ian Lynch and Gemma Dunleavy.
Numerous themes, characters, and issues bubble up from underneath the surface of this windy thoroughfare when you walk it. It’s couched in darkness at some times while exuding a celebratory energy at others. This single road encompasses so much diversity of human experience. While McManus’s film only offers a glimpse of local life through a couple of moments, audiences also get a taste of the complex history of this multifaceted place. And It’s actually traveling the world now while being linked to some of the Emerald Isle’s most beloved and infamous places.
Music is used as a specific storytelling technique both aesthetically and editorially. The result combines the musical and the factual in a way that makes this neither a simple music documentary nor a road movie. What emerges is a musical-as-documentary. According to the information provided, “This narrative form reflects the tradition of musical storytelling and narrative in Dublin that began with Peader Kearney and Dominic Behan and continues with Lankum, John Francis Flynn, and Gemma Dunleavy today.
“The use of black & white imagery reiterates the connection between the values and culture of the past and those of today. There is a timeless quality to the challenges that face our characters with yesterday reflecting in their eyes as they live their present lives.”
The film had its world premiere at Dublin IFF (Special Mention for Best Doc), screened at Sheffield DocFest and won the American Cinematographer Magazine Award at Salem Film Fest as well as the Grand Prix in Music Documentary Competition at FIPADOC. In Irish cinemas, it has had a very successful theatrical run starting last December — and is still selling out screenings.
Based in Dublin, filmmaker McManus has produced and directed award-winning projects for NBC, Netflix, RTÉ, Virgin Media Television, TG4, NDR/ARD, Al Jazeera and Channel 4. He’s won four IFTAs, a Celtic Media Award, and the Radharc Award in the process. McManus’ debut feature as a producer was “The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid,” which premiered in the Main Competition at IDFA in 2018, won the George Morrison Award for Best Feature Documentary at the Irish Film & Television Awards and the Best Irish Film Award at the Dublin International Film Festival. All of this positive feedback led him to finally direct “North Circular” —his debut feature documentary.
There will be Q&As with McManus and musician Annie Hughes at select showtimes — and maybe a performance or two as well.
Q: This is a pretty dark film. Did you make it with the idea that it was going to be dark? Or did it become that as you were in the process of making it?
Luke McManus: You kind of follow your instincts a bit. I did know that it was a place that had a bit of a troubled history and I thought that maybe that would be an interesting thing to investigate. I think Irish folk music is quite dark in its tone. Its subject matter typically is dark as well. I was following that path, but I like to think that the end of the film is uplifting enough to give you a sense of the light at the end of the tunnel. I think it’s ok to bring people into the darkness as long as you leave them in the light.
Q: From your experience on the road, were there some dark moments that aren’t in the movie?
LM: Making any movie is a challenge and the creative process tends to lead you into a lot of self-doubt and difficulties. This was no different. In fact, it was difficult. But in my experience, the hard ones are the good ones. You know, the easy ones are mediocre. So even though this was a very hard thing to make, it certainly gave me immense satisfaction to see how it turned out. The success has been incredible.
I suppose I didn’t want to make a film that pulled its punches. And this area of Dublin has a notorious reputation for criminality, poverty, addiction and suffering of various kinds. It’s a humorous place and a cultured place. So I wanted to make sure all that came through in the film.
Q: If you had just lived in a nice, sweet suburban area without any of these elements to it, could you have made this film?
LM: I probably could have, but it might have been somewhat bland and an uninteresting one. I think hard times make good art as a rule. Suffering is like the Irish way of dealing with trauma and suffering: to crack a joke, tell a story or sing a song. I think something that came out of the film as a kind of learning is that it’s not about whether you suffer, It’s about how you deal with and channel that. I was lucky to meet a lot of people that channel that suffering into their art.
Q: You concentrate on a couple of people whose life experience was dark. I wasn’t sure that there was anything else redeeming about them. But in a funny way, like the one fellow who went on a bit, they were intriguing. He had the really cluttered apartment. That was the way he lived. I was trying to say that to myself since I have had issues with clutter myself. I was worried to see if I was being reflected in him and maybe that’s why I was reacting.
LM: They say that clutter and hoarding is sort of a response to loss and bereavement. I mean, we’ve all suffered a loss. I hope you haven’t suffered a too-traumatizing loss. But that sort of thing is a catalyst. I mean, you’re talking about the tin whistle player. He did have a very tough life, but in a way I find him a very inspiring character because he’s managed to find a way, despite being homeless at times, incarcerated in the mental hospital and witnessing some dreadful events. He still might start playing his whistle, cracking his jokes, giving his speeches, talking to people in the community. And he’s managed to go out into the world and make a life for himself which has a bit of meaning. So even though in many ways, inmanyways, he’s a tragic person, he also sort of also inspires me.
Q: I really was being a little bit tongue in cheek when I was asking this. But in any case, I don’t think Tourism Ireland will be promoting this film because I thought of it as the dark side to the tourist vision of Ireland. We’re getting a sense that living in Ireland is not quite what we see when we’re on the tourist bus.
LM: Well, that’s for sure. I think this community has had a very bad press and it’s been in some people’s eyes, too dangerous place to go to. But ultimately, I think it reflects the spirit of the city and of the country very well. We’re not a fancy country, we’re not a blandly bourgeois place. If you want that, France is there. But if you want somewhere where, as I say, hard times are met with the raise of a glass and the cracking of a joke, then Ireland’s the place. I think that as a reality, it reflects a rich, cultural, diverse, always interesting place.
Q: You didn’t try to offer any social solutions. In other words, in some ways, I didn’t get the feeling that any of this could be corrected in one sense or another. Wrong or right? Do you have solutions that are you just going to do in the next film?
LM: You’re both wrong and right. I didn’t offer solutions. I don’t really feel that the role of a documentary maker is to offer us allegiance necessarily with a filmmaker. Well, what I like to think I did do is as we were going down the road in the film during the making of it, I realized that not only was it a journey through the city. It was also a journey through the history of the city. We start with the 19th century imperialism, soldiers, the British army and you move through revolution and land war and incarceration and institutionalization. But when you get to the end, you find that these young women are very 21st century characters, very independent, very high achieving, very positive. You have Jennifer Levy the singer who’s a wonderful kind of spokesperson for her area as well as a creative force. You have Kelly Harrington, the boxer who’s a gay woman who’s you know, celebrated her gold medal return with her wife and her family. And it isn’t even a thing that she’s a gay person. It’s not even a, a remarked upon thing. It’s not even that it’s accepted in Ireland. That’s not even remarkable. You have these people at the end who represent contemporary life very powerfully and, I think, are quite inspiring. Part of the thing in the film is that Ireland, even though it has problems around housing and accommodation, it’s also in a good place. I think as a country, maybe, a better place than it’s ever been in.
Q: It’s the women of Ireland who have really been saving the country. in fact, when you show those scenes of the soccer lads, it’s almost like, “I’m really embarrassed to be a guy.” Thankfully, I’m not a sports fan so I’ve never been in that kind of a rally, like a neo-fascist environment — it really did come off like a Hitler rally.
LM: It’s an interesting point because there’s a reason those rallies were so popular. And the reason is that they tap into a very human need or just the need to belong and to escape your own ego by being subsumed into the crowd. That’s interesting for me and has always been a subject I’ve been fascinated with from my own time as an Ireland fan and experiencing the good-natured euphoria of being an Ireland fan. It was something I wanted to capture in the film. But what I find about that scene particularly is that it’s very strongly connected to the start of the film where we have some people talking about the reason young men join armies. You’re looking for excitement, for adventure, for brotherhood and camaraderie. You’re looking for an enemy to focus your aggression on — your masculine energy. It feels to me when I look at that bohemian crowd that I think there’s the same cause that made young Irish men join the army and go to die in the fields. In the first World War or even to join the IRA. There’s a sense of purpose and a mission that’s very seductive.
Q: Do you think that the experience of joining… because women had a more equal position in the NRA, in the IRA, excuse me? Sorry f had a Freudian slip there. But in any case. And I think that in a way part of being involved with the IRA elevated women in many ways, like look at who the leader of Sinn Fein is now.
LM: It’s very true. I mean, the left in Ireland has had a lot of successful women politicians. We’ve had Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese as presidents, obviously. And we’ve got a woman Sinn Fein leader now and there’s a female Labor party leader now. Having said that, I don’t think the IRA by any means had a monopoly on feminist feminism or progression of women. And there has been a lot of very questionable stuff that’s come out about abuse — sexual abuse inside thr organization that was covered up by Gerry Adams and a few other people. So it’s a tricky one. But, generally speaking, I think the story of Ireland now is very much a positive one as regards the quality of gender equality.
Q: One thing I thought about while I was watching the film was how you evolve the songs. You start out with the old kind of sessun type song, where it’s got that ambling sort of melodic quality. Then you start to get into pop music at the end and there’s still a strong lyrical sense there as well. But it’s now connected through a much more up-tempo pulsing experience.
LM: Well, that part of the journey through time was also reflected in the music. The very first song you hear is about Charles Stewart Parnell, the great nationalist leader of the 19th century — “The Sweet Blackbird of Avondale,” that was his nickname: The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale. And that last song with the Flat, which is kind of like a garage R&B type sound of Gemma O’Riordan, very modern sounding. But having said that, when you look at her band, she has a harpist, which is the most traditional Irish instrument of all. And not only is it on our money, it’s also on our pints. and she even has a fiddler as well. So even within that very 21st century slick kind of construct that she has, that heartbeat of folk music is still there. The penultimate songs, “Rock the Machine” is sung by Lisa O’neill and written by O’neill as well. So the performer wrote that song. It’s very much in the folk and traditional idiom, but it’s written in the 21st century. So again, that journey into the present and the past.
Q: I think there’s an Italian film that I saw at a festival that had a similar feeling of the road about Rome. It’s kind of like the circular road around Rome.
LM: That’s Gianfranco Rosi’s “Sacro GRA,” which is a magnificent film and very much an influence in my film. There were also some writers in the UK, in the ’90s, called the Psycho Geographers. A lot of what they did was about journeys and places and wandering about. Iain Sinclair, Will Self and a few others even back in the ’70s. There was a wonderful French film about the road in Paris. So, it’s certainly been done before, this idea of traveling through a place and meeting people on the way. But I don’t think there’s been a film in Ireland like this, in this way. I think every film is built on the shoulders of giants that came before, and there’s very few original projects in this world now.
Q: This is an unusual way to make an American debut. In any sense, it’s a pretty unconventional film, number one. And number two, it’s very Irish-centric. Are you worried about it having a reach a more general audience? Or do you feel it’s going to at least reach Irish audiences who would come out to see it because it’s a portrait of Ireland that they don’t often see.
LM: It’s an interesting question. When I was making the film, I didn’t think people outside of Ireland would be that interested. But what I’ve discovered is, in fact, [there’s an audience beyond Ireland.] I think we’ve done 40 festivals now around the world. I’ve had amazing feedback from Melbourne to Istanbul, to Buenos Aires to Vancouver. We got nominated for an award in Shanghai, and it’s surprising how much global purchase the narratives have, the stories have and the music has. I’ve been doing a lot of Q & As and had a lot of discussions about the film. My favorite question of all was from an Italian man who said, “I don’t have a question, but I’m from Napoli and I’d like to thank you for making a film about Napoli,” which really stopped me in my tracks. I then knew exactly what he meant. There’s a certain type of a place that’s chaotic, dirty, energetic, funny and frightening in nearly every city in the world. I think it is universal.
Q: One thing that’s interesting about the film is that you feel like you walk into it in a way without it starting with a more traditional kickoff of a film. Did you back into that idea of doing it that way or was that always in your mind?
LM: You mean the song at the very start or at the park?
Q: Well, there’s just elements to the film — it doesn’t start like a typical documentary which sets you up in a certain way and says this is a film about this experience or that idea. The idea kind of evolves as you watch it.
LM: Well, a huge thing for me was the fact that this was a cinema film. I’ve done a lot of TV. I’ve done jobs for streamers. And when you make those films, you’re always under huge pressure to get your cards on the table very early on, to try and hook people in. I knew that if you’re in the cinema, you paid your 16 bucks, and you’re sitting in the middle of aisle four… You’re not going to get up and leave after five minutes. You have the luxury of time with people. I thought, “Well, why not just make it experiential and bring people into a world?” The journey begins and you’ve established the grammar of that world, the atmosphere and the tone of that world. It was a rare privilege to do that. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to make a film exactly as I wanted to in a very old commercial way. But the irony of that is the most commercial film I tried to make has been the most successful as well.
Q: You’re from Dublin. You grew up there or you are from a suburb?
LM: I grew up in a little town called Bray, which is somewhere in the county island of Dublin. It’s right on the edge of the city where there’s fun fairs. When I grew up there, there were the movie studios like Ardmore. There were film makers like Neil Jordan and John Boorman making movies there. Bono and Sinead O’Connor lived there and it was quite a creative place. But I moved to the North Circular in the ’90s. And during the making of this film, I discovered my grandmother grew up on North Circular, literally around the corner from where I live now. And her life experience actually informed a lot about this film.
Q: When did you know you wanted to make movies? And when did you have the idea that you’re going to make documentaries? Some people make documentaries, but don’t necessarily move to narratives. But do you want to move to narratives after you’ve done a few or more — or not?
LM: I’ve done a few. I’ve done a web series. I did a TV movie for Channel 4 in the UK and in Ireland. I did a few shorts and I love narrative filmmaking. But I think documentary is sort of my [thing]. Narrative is hard, man. You get one thing wrong and it destroys the entire illusion. You mess up a costume choice or you cast one bad actor and your film is wholly below the water line straight away. The margin for error is miniscule. Whereas with documentaries, there’s always a different way to tell the story and you always have reality there. It’s sort of the wind beneath your wings, carrying you along a bit and just providing a foundation. And in a weird sort of a way. I think documentary now is just as creative, if not more creative than narrative filmmaking because of the freedom it gives.
Q: You have a better opportunity to blame people if it goes awry with a narrative production rather than a documentary. With a doc, you can only blame your editor, maybe your DP, and yourself. Whereas on a fiction feature, you have a lot more people to blame.
LM: That’s very true. In fact, ultimately, I had no one to blame but myself on this project because, for the first time ever, the Arts Council of Ireland gave me a grant to have complete creative freedom. I hired everyone in this job. I didn’t have anyone to tell me what to do. It was a wonderful gift, but it was also terrifying because of exactly that thing. It was only going to be my fault and I bloody lived there. I’d be reminded of how shit it was, every morning when I opened the door. So I’d have to move my house if it hadn’t worked out well. I’m totally relieved and thrilled that it has.
Q: I saw that somebody had …. There was an “in memoriam” for someone there. I don’t know if anyone else died during the process, but yes, you’d better get it right because some of these people are still on the street. Right.
LM: I meet them all the time and they come to see the film, some of them numerous times. It’s been one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling aspects of the whole process … seeing their pride, happiness and joy in what I’ve done. Even though sometimes it’s maybe not the most flattering portrait of people either, you know. But they accepted my values and approach and the deal I’d done with them. Yeah, it’s been wonderful.
Q: Do some of them join you for Q&A’s?
LM: In New York, I’m being joined by Annie Hughes, who’s the extraordinary singer at the very start of the film, and who’s in the trailer singing “The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale.” She’s going to be in the Q&As and might even sing a few verses of a song or two if you’re very lucky. And we’re also being joined by Maeve Mulligan from the cobblestone who has that very emotional moment when she’s given the speech on the steps of the city hall to the protest. And she’s joining me in New York, too. So I’m really lucky that we’ve got such a high-caliber of talented and interesting people coming over to join us.
Q: How did you pick this time to be the time when you’re putting this film out and bringing it to an American and particularly New York Irish audience.
LM: To be honest with you, it’s probably not the ideal time because it’s the middle of the bloody summer. I’d say half of the people are going to be on the beach. But I was offered the slot by the cinema and they programmed it. They said they wanted a program for a week which is going to qualify us for the Academy Awards, which is incredibly exciting for such a left field film to be on that list. I didn’t want to say no to that. And my wife is very pregnant. I couldn’t wait for the autumn. I won’t be leaving Ireland then, that’s for sure. I’m doing well to leave next weekend, to be honest with you. Its world premiere was in March of last year and it has traveled all around the place. We’re still on at the cinema in Dublin 33 weeks after we released the film, which is mind-blowing. But I think New York is going to be a high point on the end of the journey probably.
Q: Has it changed your ideas of what you want to do next? Or have you an idea of what’s going to be the next project?
LM: It’s been incredibly fulfilling. I feel almost unburdened, as if at the age of 50 I’ve finally fulfilled my potential as a filmmaker. You know, it’s a wonderful sense of satisfaction and sort of calm I have now, and I just did a TV series about homeless people in Dublin. Since I made this film, I did a three-part TV series. I’m now in development on a few more projects. I have a range of things on the development slate, but I think my next project is going to be a baby girl coming in September and I might just give her some attention.
Q: That becomes a project in and of itself and that project never ends. My daughter is in her late 30s and I still feel like I’ve got a baby on my hands.
LM: This is the thing. I’m sitting with a nine-year-old very patiently looking at his Nintendo on his laptop on Zoom. So, yeah, it’s here. It’s a joy and I think as a creative person as well, it’s very easy to become wrapped up in your own bullshit. So I think kids are brilliant at sort of making sure you have a bit of perspective and an outward focus.
Q: This is your second child, right? Do you think that’s going to change your filmmaking perspective?
LM: Hopefully. It’s certainly changing my perspective on many things. It’s just been such a weird time, the last couple of years, with the lockdown and all that. I think this film was a product of the lockdown in Ireland. We were restricted to a very tight radius of our homes during lockdown. And if it’s got that “first film that I’ve been dreaming about for a very long time” quality, well I realized that if I don’t make this film now, it’s never going to happen. Because this is the perfect moment.
Who: Katie Boyle When: Sunday, April 30 8pm, Doors at 7pmWhere: Littlefield 635 Sackett Street Brooklyn, NY 11217
For upcoming headlining dates:
Follow her on instagram for weekly show details
Though the cliches abound about dark Irish humor and the Gaelic gift of gab, a list of comedians from Ireland doesn’t instantly pop into mind. Well, Kildare native Katie Boyle is working hard to modify perceptions about the Irish comic cavalcade.
Offering a demonstration, the 30-something now celebrates the release of "I'll Do It Myself!” Her debut album drops this April 30th at Littlefield in Brooklyn. A new, hour-long show based on her experiences in America —how she navigated a different culture, went into therapy, tried dating and, of course, dealt with shame — will also be on display. And Boyle throws in a few bits about favored sex positions.
She also asked fellow immigrant friends to join her — Atheer Yacoub (Comedy Central) and Mohanad Elshieky (Conan) — with Cansu Karabiyik (BBC) as emcee. So to find out about positions or anything else from a non-American perspective, Boyle’s offering a fun night of comedy.
As the Irish person living in NYC, Boyle performs frequently all over the city and has been seen regularly at New York Comedy Club, Stand Up NY, Eastville and many other amazing clubs. She’s also headlined clubs around the country and brought her hour-or-two sold out shows to Dublin this year. Through her podcast, “The Shift,” guests talk about sex and dating from an Irish perspective. She also runs the monthly Transplants Comedy Show, Fridays at 7.30pm at QED. Boyle recorded this debut and special, “I’ll do it Myself” with Pinch Records and New York Comedy Club. She was also featured in the NY Funniest showcase for the New York Comedy Festival 2022. And she’s performed at festivals all over America — Asheville, Cape Fear, Laughing Skull Atlanta, The Women in Comedy Festival, Kansas City Irish Fest — and on Sirius XM. She joined the Real Irish Comedy tour, as well.
“I’ll Do It Myself” is titled after what every Irish parent constantly says. Boyle decided her show will start off with audience participation, crowd work and then an hour of standup. Also, Boyle will be the first Irish comedian to film a full length special in NYC.
Q: What are the inherently funny things about people of Irish descent?
KB: Irish people have always been storytellers who use humor to deal with hardship. I think that’s been passed on through the generations and produced some amazing comedians from Ireland.
Q: Who do you think are the funniest people — Irish men or women or the American variants?
KB: I don’t think anyone could answer that since humor is subjective. But I do think through the internet people globally now have access to Irish humor for the first time and Irish women are getting a platform they didn't have before. Women in general are getting stage time that wasn’t accessible before and they’re now breaking the stereotype of “women aren't funny.” I wouldn’t say that any one group of comedians -- men, women, Irish, American -- are funnier than the other since each individual does the work of writing, performing and presenting their unique style. I will say Irish people are all very witty and the best craic and every person back home is hilarious!
Q: When did you first realize you were funny?
KB: When I moved to America. Everyone at home was hilarious and I think I just enjoyed it and laughed along. But when I moved here, I met so many people from different countries and cultures. When I told stories of home. They laughed and told me I should be a comedian! The friends who made me feel funny are the same ones seven and a half years later at the back of the room for my comedy special taping!
Q: When and how did you make the leap to be on stage and stick to it?
KB: There was a show at the Creek and the Cave that let audience members tell jokes on stage. I did that one night and then was doing mics the very next night. I started a show a month later and that was that. From what seemed like a fun way to tell a story and work on my own anxiety with public speaking became an instant “I’m going to do this forever!”
Q: What was the funniest moment of heckling?
KB: There's been so many. I perform nearly every night and there's always at least one guy who heckles me at some show and I just roast back so it's hard to answer. But there's lots of examples of clips on my instagram. It's mostly men trying to be funny but not being funny.
Q: Who was the coolest person you had in the audience?
KB: No idea! Really depends on what you mean by cool but the coolest audience members to me are the ones that laugh!
Q: When you were living in Ireland, did you really think you'd move to the States and carve out this career here?
KB: No, I'd never have dreamed of trying standup. If you told me a decade ago I'd be living in NYC living off that comedy, I'd have said you were mental!
Q: What would you have done if you hadn’t done standup comedy?
KB: I’ve a degree in art so I would have stayed in the art world or managed a bar since I also worked a lot in bars.
Q: Talk about this new show and your guest comedians.
KB: The new show is about navigating a different culture. When I moved to America, I had to slow down my speaking, learn new words, how to take a compliment and say “Yes” when I actually want something instead of the Irish polite of “No, I’m grand” three times, because here they won’t ask you again!
My biggest culture shock was with the people I met here and their openness to talking about sex and mental health confidentially — and at any volume. I’d have never gone to therapy in Ireland. I wouldn't have known how to, but going is the best thing I ever did. I felt inspired by the “Who cares what people think?” A New Yorker's attitude is so different from “What will the neighbors say?” So in the show, I talk about that journey -- navigating America, therapy, relationships, sex and childhood trauma. My three comedian friends will open the show. They’re all so talented and are also immigrants who talk about their journey and life in America.
Q: How did you prepare for this show?
KB: Running the material on showcase shows and planning it out so it flows for the hour.
Q: Talk about the different formats for your routine — podcast, video live and recording...
KB: I do stand up in a conversational tone. I want the audience to feel like they’re listening to a friend. I do a little crowd work; just have fun chatting with the crowd and playfully slagging them or myself in the interaction. Additionally, I record a weekly podcast, “The Shift,” which is about dating, sex, anti-shame and the chats. My Patreon has a work in progress stand-up and also solo eps about my life and the movies I watch.
Q: What are your short-term and long-term goals and what would be your dream show? Who would you like to be performing with [living] — your all time guests?
KB: In the short term: I’d like to headline more and keep growing my audience. As for long term — be as successful as I can be. I’d love to make a movie, a TV series and gig theaters one day. As for my dream guest, I’d ask Colin Quinn, Nate Bargatze, Dara Ó Brian, and Zainab Johnson to join me.
Q: Is there any book or film you'd like to perform and any place you'd like to play that you haven’t yet?
KB: No. not really. Maybe my own but who knows. I enjoy acting but I’m a better stand up. As for the ideal spot — the Gramercy Theater would be amazing.
To learn more: katieboylecomic.com
Photos Brad Balfour
Actor, teacher and now director Thomas G. Waites doesn’t shy away from taking chances or courting controversy. For his first directorial outing, he pushed the envelope creating “Target” — a gender-bending, sexually provocative dark comedy which doesn’t shy away from challenging audiences with extreme language or suggestive scenes (though there’s no nudity).
Born January 8, 1955 in Philadelphia, Waites ultimately found himself in New York City. A member of the Actors Studio since 1984, the upper eastside resident runs his own acting studio in New York City which is named after him. The son of Michael and Anne Waites, this Philly native completed grade school at Immaculate Conception and then high school at Bishop Egan in Fairless Hills, PA. After a year at Bucks County Community College, he received a full scholarship for acting at New York City’s Juilliard School. Once he had a B.A. degree in Writing from The New School, he got a Masters of Fine Arts in Playwriting from the University of Iowa.
Then the 21-year-old Waites was offered two movies simultaneously: “Snowbound” and “Pity the Poor Soldier” (the title has subsequently changed). Despite being offered twice the money for the former, Waites chose the latter because it was celebrating the American Revolutionary War centennial. He’s inevitably a man driven by ideas, not necessarily money.
Waites then played Oliver Treefe in Simon Gray’s world premiere of “Molly” -- at the First Annual Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C. After this acclaimed performance, he returned to NYC to be cast in the Joan Micklin Silver-produced “On the Yard” (1978), co-starring John Heard. Subsequently, he was offered a three-picture option deal with Paramount Pictures.
After strong critical notices the rambunctious actor auditioned for and got a part in Walter Hill’s “The Warriors" (1979) playing the character Fox. After disputes with the director, he was fired. When the studio asked him where he wanted for his billing he told them to remove his name completely, a decision Waites now regrets. He has since reconciled with Walter Hill.
Bouncing back, Waites auditioned with Al Pacino, and was cast in Norman Jewison’s “...And Justice for All” (1979). This began a long relationship with Pacino — the two worked together again in Shakespeare’s “Richard III” and he got strong notices again. Waites originated the role of Mitchell in Alan Bowne’s “Forty-Deuce” Off-Broadway at the Perry Street Theatre. In 1982, Waites competed with Matt Dillon and Kevin Bacon before landing the role of Bobby in David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “American Buffalo.” Kurt Russell and John Carpenter saw his performance and cast him as Windows in “The Thing” (1982).
It was during this time that Tom met his namesake, singer Tom Waits, who generously taught Tom the song “Jersey Girl.” Out of deference to musician Waits, Tom added the G. to his professional name to offset any confusion between the two talented artists. Waits even played the bass drum on a demo tape of G. Waites’ music. Tom G. began writing music and formed a band called The Push Ups, playing gigs around NYC in clubs such as CBGB’s, Limelight, Trax, The Bitter End and even opening for The Smithereens.
And that’s just a part of the first couple of decades in his long career. There is much more, but now, he grapples with the next big challenge — releasing his directorial debut.
Q: How did we land here? What are you doing, what are you going to do and what have you done?
TW: Well, that’s a loaded question for me because I’ve done quite a lot. But the most important thing I’ve done [lately] dropped April 18 on all the video platforms -- Amazon, Apple, Google, VUDU. It’s called “Target” — a playful sex comedy. I wrote it during the pandemic when we were trapped inside here. I am sure you were trapped inside your crib too. I just said, “You know what? I want to make a movie, Goddamn it, and I’m gonna fuckin’ make a movie.” So I proceeded to write 27 drafts.
Q: Wow, 27 drafts — and do you have them all [laughs]?
TW: No. They’re somewhere I guess. But then I found a great script doctor who really whipped it into shape and I got a shooting script. Then, of course, when you get there everything changes because — that’s the Movies! It’s sort of a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” meets “The Big Lebowski.” It’s wacky.
Q: You wrote the story during the pandemic shutdown. But did you shoot some of it during the pandemic, or was that after?
TW: No, we didn’t start shooting until May, 2021. Then we spent a year editing and scoring. I wrote almost all of the music along with my producer, Tony Daniels — who is par excellence. I think the music really helps the film a great deal. It helps to pull people in, at least that’s what some people feel. They like to get a soundtrack of just the music. So we are going to try to work that out. We are being distributed by Deadtalk Live Films on Deadtalk Live Media. It’s a chance to laugh at ourselves. I think it’s important that we get to have a good laugh at ourselves, at our sexual idiosyncrasies shall we say.
Q: You have a special position in the cinematic universe having been in “The Warriors” — a cult classic. You can do a lot of movies, but a film that helps define an era –– a movie where you’re a character in a film that plows through genres –– that’s rare. “The Big Lebowski” is one that has and certainly, so does “Taxi Driver.”
TW: Or, in doing John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” I may have made just as much money signing autographs for John Carpenter’s remake. It is still terrific — and still holds up. [When I was doing] “The Warriors” was an interesting time period in my life. I was 23 and had just signed a three-picture deal with Paramount. It was supposed to be my name above the title — “Thomas Waites in ‘The Warriors’” — but I pissed off the director so badly that he fired me after seven weeks. And I deserved it. I was a bit of an angry young rebellious ... you know. “What are you rebelling against, Johnny? Well, what have you got?” That was my story. I stepped over the line and paid quite a price for that erroneous behavior. Since then, I’ve been able to make amends to Walter [Hill] and make things right which is really good. It was hard kicking back. After that, almost two months after I got fired, I booked “And Justice For All” with Al Pacino which didn’t hurt my stage career because I went on to do “American Buffalo.” You can see the poster over there ....
Q: You are a little more chastened....
TW: I was immediately chastened, went into therapy and studied karate for discipline. I really put myself under the knife so to speak.
Q: At what point in the script of “The Thing” did you die?TW: I guess about halfway through... No, a little more than half, make it 3/4th of the way. Q: Oh, that’s good. That helped your therapy. [You remember] the blood test thing [where they expose the alien].Q: Your therapy, could you apply it more effectively then?
TW: I’ve gotten along great with every director since. It was just that one false step. You know we all make mistakes but I happen to have made a pretty big one at a young age. The good thing about that is, I am also an acting teacher — TGW Acting Studios. One of the beneTts of that is that I can help young people not to step into the same bear trap that I did.
Q: Young people that are actors — they get the idea in their head that “Yes, you’ve got to have It, that motivation and energy” but you also have to get rid of yourself, let go of your ego. That has to be one of the biggest lessons you have to teach.
TW: To be of service to the story and the director is the conduit to the story. He/she takes the writer — and sometimes that’s the same person — but it’s their job to convey the writer’s intent and it’s your job [as the actor] to follow that. I guess I just asked far too many questions. I think subconsciously I wanted to be making my own movies [laughs]. So I stepped out of bounds. But I’ve been able to bounce back and have made 30 Tlms. I’ve done seven “Law & Orders.” I was on “Oz” for six years. And I have been on Broadway five times. It didn’t stop me.
Q: In being an actor or musician, you can go back and forth but they are very much two sides of the same coin. Yet they still are these very different sides. A musician has to articulate some vision of themself whether it’s “I am the rockstar” or “I am the gritty underground guy” while the actor has to let go of articulating that. They have to get out of themselves.
TW: Yeah, I’ve never thought about that. That’s true.
Q: It’s a great exercise for a musician to do acting and vice versa. Look at David Bowie. What made him successful was he could move from one to the other. You’re a musician as well ....
TW: That’s right, he absolutely could. When he did “The Elephant Man” on Broadway, The New York Times said, “Bowie Is Splendid.” You know how often that happens. Very Rarely. It is an interesting shedding of the skin in order to be subsumed by the character and allow it to come from your subconscious mind. Whereas a stage performer / musician / songwriter / singer, which is basically what I am. I’m more the storyteller — the Irish storyteller with a tale to tell. There is suffering involved in that, as well. And redemption. And love and children and romance and all the great wonderful things worth living for.
Q: Which one takes the most pain? You exemplify somebody else’s pain or your own pain? At the end of the day, a song isn’t great if it only respects one state of mind.
TW: If it’s not universal ... It’s like poetry, what makes Walt Whitman so brilliant, what makes Shakespeare so brilliant, what makes Hart Crane so brilliant is their capacity to reach the universal man and that’s art.
Q: They are also reaching into their own inner pain. Where do you think an actor has to go to reach into the character’s inner pain — to understand it and such? In Method acting they pull something out of themselves ....
TW: Lee Strasberg definitely stressed using oneself whereas Stella Adler stressed using the imagination. I was trained at Juilliard which didn’t stress either of them. I picked them up along the way and became a member of The Actor’s Studio in ‘85.
Q: Did you get a chance to join in with the reunion recently? With Al Pacino?
TW: No. I didn’t make it but a friend of mine did. He took a picture with Al and said, ‘I studied with Tommy Waites’ [imitating Al’s voice.] ”Tommy, How’s he doing? He’s a great actor. Give him my love.” We keep in touch. He was very helpful to me as a young actor. He was not just great on stage every night but we became very, very close as friends. We shared the same dressing room for a year. My God, you really get to know somebody [that way] ....
Q: Yet it’s funny. The acting and rock ‘n roll worlds are so strange. Everything you do is new — a movie, a play, or in going on tour — even in joining a different band — it’s like being reborn into a new life each time. It’s not like you have a consistent day-to-day thing. You might if you had a regular TV series or theatrical production, but, at the end of the day, you know at some time or another, it’s going to end.
TW: You’ve got to reinvent yourself every time out. You’ve got to sing for your supper — you know this. I mean, every time out you’ve got to outdo yourself from the last time or you aren’t really an artist, are you? You must be allowed to fail and, as Samuel Beckett has said, “If you fail, next time fail better.” And if you don’t adopt that kind of reckless attitude toward creating then you’ll never be any good.
Q: You’ve finally done this feature. Has it been a while since you last worked on a film? You’ve kept it relatively self-contained. What did it take to get it done and find the actors? Now it’s all the process afterwards. A lot of actors and directors don’t realize that if you are not involved with the production all the way through, you’ve given up a part of it. You’ve got to stay engaged in a way that you don’t realize till you are into the next phase.
TW: Yeah, it’s a lot more work than I had anticipated. First of all, I raised the money myself which is quite a challenging exercise. When you go to people and say, “Excuse me, can I ask you for help” and they say, “Sure.” Then you say, “I need money,” they change rather on a dime. But I was fortunate enough to be able to find, I guess, about seven or eight people who chipped in, and smaller amounts in exchange for points in the film.
Q: You didn’t go the social media route?
TW: No. I tried to do that. We raised $2000 and that wasn’t going to do me any good. I knew $2000 was nothing. I needed to get more. So I just went to fans that I knew who had money and friends that had money — people that believed in me — people that knew me well enough to know that if Tom does this he’ll do it right. And I feel that I did. Guess the audience will be the judge of that, won’t they?
Q: It’s a pretty provocative subject. You’ve got a couple who are opening up their marriage and are going to have sex with other people. And it doesn’t quite end up the way it sounds like.
TW: Right, we don’t want to give away the ending. Let’s just say It’s that five-year hitch [point]. After five years — as anybody that’s married can tell you — things hit a wall and people tend to either have affairs or try to spice things up. So the characters I created chose to spice things up and there are moral consequences.
Q: How did you find those two actors?
TW: My manager David Guss at Vanguard Management recommended them because I couldn’t afford a casting director. I had to just find actors. I’ve been working with actors for decades so I can read them pretty quickly. Then I found Jam Murphy. Jamie’s a lovely human being and an actress who’s great to work with. I found them and we did Zoom readings. It was [during] the pandemic. Although I had to meet Jamie in person before I could cast her. Her part was so integral — she is the fulcrum upon which the story turns. We met at Siena right here in the neighborhood. We sat outside wearing our masks and as far as I could tell I felt we had a great connection instantaneously. She’s proven to be not just an asset in terms of helping me get the film off the ground but on set, she was such fun. She was just like, “Let’s make a movie!” That’s the greatest attitude you could possibly dream of as a director. And there were tough conditions. We shot a 90-minute film. I had to go back and do a re-shoot, so it was really 15 days.
Q: You didn’t tap your students?
TW: I did not because none of them at the time were right for the roles that I was looking for. The vision changed through each rewrite. It kept on getting clearer and clearer. It was sort of like going to the eye doctor and they put on this fuzzy lens and it got clearer and clearer. Then finally I got into focus — “Oh I see, she has to be 30 years old; he has to be 50 years old” — in order for this story to work. I was lucky enough that I saw Jamie in a video, a video about dogs. I went, “There’s something about her that’s extraordinary.” She’s even more beautiful as a person – as a human – than she is physically. And she’s quite stunningly attractive, as you can see. But then I got the other two actors from David Guss and hired the rest. I did hire one student. Well, he was really a professional actor from Utah. Wilford Brimley had asked me to direct “Harvey” and he played the main character. Dr Lyman, I think that was his name. The doctor in the story of Harvey was this brilliant kid from St. George, Utah. He was a student of mine, and I cast him in the role of the cop.
Q: Is there a preference of doing theater, film or even TV for acting, but what do feel about directing?
TW: I have directed tons of theater. You see there on the wall — the poster of “Twelfth Night.” I’ve probably directed over 50 plays Off Broadway, Off-Off Broadway and regionally. I’ve got a lot of experience directing plays which is quite challenging, You’re in one space. You can’t really change locations, but I’ve had some great set designers that have helped. I did a production of “As You Like It” where the set designer, a Japanese guy, painted the entire poor as the forest. The whole play is in different places but the forest is significant, the fulcrum! Directing theatre is exciting, challenging and motivating. People have to give the same performance night after night as opposed to film. There, it is really up to me where I put the camera, how I want this story to be told, who I want to focus on and why.
Q: Is it harder to find the right crew or the right actor?
TW: Finding the right actors is everything! And I had a great crew. A terrific crew –– Vinny Patricini, Steve Concha and Alyssa Rabinowitz. The three producers found the crew for me because I didn’t know where to find crews. I am an actor, for God’s sake. We’ve got great people and they worked long hours, under arduous conditions in the summer at night. But we had a great deal of fun which kinda makes up for it.
Q: You were 23 when you basically got this crucial role. Had you always known that you were going to be an actor?
TW: Actually, my first film was when I was 21. I did a film called “Pity the Poor Soldier” that had the actor William Sadler in it.
Q: Oh, I love Sadler.
TW: Yeah, Billy’s great. Then I did the lead in a movie with the great actor, John Heard. It was “On The Yard” produced by Joan Micklin Silver, whom you probably remember from “Hester Street.” Her husband directed this film. “On The Yard” was based on a book by Malcolm Braley who had spent 21 of his 47 years in prison. He wrote the book whilst Rafael Silver wrote the script. John and I starred in it. I had those two movies under my belt. “On The Yard” got great notices especially from The New York Times. So that got Paramount and Walter Hill’s attention. John Heard is the “Home Alone” dad. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us but he was a very underrated actor. As brilliant on stage as he was on film.
Q: Where did you grow up?
TW: I grew up outside of Philadelphia, a place called Levittown Bristol. I lived in a place they now call Crack City. It was a rough neighborhood and I knew that I wanted to get out. I was headed for trouble, myself, I was a member of a gang. I was not going anywhere but prison and I got hit by a car. In the hospital, I got addicted to Demerol. In those days you could lay in the hospital bed, light up a cigarette and just drift off to sleep.Then they stopped giving me Demerol because it was a week into this pretty serious accident and I wanted this pain medication. I pulled the chain for the nurse to come and would put on this big show of how much pain I was in. Then of course, they would give me the injection. A few days later, the doctors looking at my chart would be like, “Why are you giving him so much Demerol?” The nurse looked at me then at the doctor then back at me and she went “You ought to become an actor.” A light bulb went off over my head and I thought, “Well I can’t play sports anymore because I have no legs. I had gotten them both broken severely. So in the hospital, I started to read and watch films. I started to identify. Then when I came out of the hospital, I was in a high school play, then another. Then someone suggested I audition for Juilliard and I got a scholarship.
Q: Obviously, you got off the demerol.
TW: Obviously, yeah [laughs]. They took that away instantly — my addictive personality notwithstanding. But I also realized that Shakespeare — I’d seen [Franco] Zefferelli’s “Romeo & Juliet” — was God. I went to the library and memorized the entire balcony scene of both characters which, to this day, I can recite by rote. I knew Shakespeare would get me out of that neighborhood —it was my ticket out. I wasn’t particularly bright like my oldest brother with an IQ of 151. I didn’t have that going for me. I couldn’t play sports or fight or be in a gang anymore. I had to get out of this environment. It was bad for me. Sure enough, I dedicated myself to Shakespeare and still do. He is the greatest of all writers. There are a lot of us that have tried writing. He is God and we are all somewhere underneath.
Q: Sometimes I think Shakespeare is overrated and other times I go back to read it and find a particularly bizarre but logical turn of phrase. Then I say, “How did he come up with that?”
TW: And he did. 75% of it is iambic pentameter. He stuck to a very strict meter: beat stress beat stress beat stress beat stress beat stress. He made great characters and stories. He was a great comedian, philosopher and poet — all in one. Perhaps, he even invented us, I’m not sure. But he certainly stands out in the hierarchy of literature. Even Tolstoy tipped his hat to him. So did Faulkner. They were afraid of him. How could anyone be this brilliant and write 37 plays, two lyric poems, 146 sonnets and be dead by 52 — and do it all by hand?! If you go to England, and go to Strafford, there is an entire town that makes its living on his name. Shops, bars, stores, and clothing – the whole town would just be another small English nothin’ town except for the fact that he was born there in what appears to be the smallest bed I’ve ever seen in my life. That’s where his mom was. I guess people were really small back then. That’s why when you go to England the rooms are so tiny. They never expected us to grow up fat!
Q: I never understood how an actor can claim to be an introvert or shy because they have to be able to project beyond the stage. How does that work?
TW: Well, I am an introvert. In fact, I ACT. But truth be told, I am sort of a priest — really an introspective kind –– at least a Black Irish poet in my own mind. I spend a great deal of time alone, of course. To write songs, you have to be alone for long periods of time, or to write plays — of which I’ve written several — I got my MFA from the University of Iowa in writing.
Q: I think William Burroughs ended up out there...
TW: A lot of great people have gone through there. Some of our favorite writers have gone through there and taught there.[The school] teaches you craft and skill. Of course, nobody can teach you talent — that has to be born. Talent is work essentially. Because I spend so much time alone, when I have to be with people, like with you or out at a party, I just ACT.
Q: How much are you acting and how much are you giving me the real deal? TW: You’ll never know the real deal, will you? Having mentioned being Irish, tell me a little bit about your Irish experience. You’ve referenced it several times. What county is your family from?
TW: My family is from County Cork. My mother’s maiden name was Joyce. I came from an Irish Catholic family of seven. My oldest brother was a priest; my oldest sister was a nun. I went to 12 years of Catholic school and am grateful for the strict education I received there. I am still in touch with some of the priests and teachers from my high school days. But when I visited Ireland, I could feel that I’ve been there before. Crossing the Irish Sea, I stood on the bow of the boat with the Irish Sea spraying over my face and I just cried. Of course, I had a pint of Guinness in me. I’m Home. And I can’t wait to go back there. I’d love to go back there and perform. That’s my dream. Home is where you hang your hat. I want to note — I’m Thomas G Waites, not to be confused with the great musician, Tom Waits.
Q: You know him though...
TW: I knew him and we spent time together. I guess the first time we met was back in 1977. We were both at a production of “West Side Story” and I saw this strange looking person in the lobby. He was standing there in his leather jacket kind of rocking back and forth. I went up to him and said “Excuse me. Are You Tom Waits?” He didn’t say anything but just shook his head, “Hmm.” I said, “So am I.” Then he looked at me and went [in Waits’ gravelly voice] “So you are the guy out there impersonating me?!" We had a good laugh and went out to have a pint at Jimmy Ray’s that night, the old one on 8th Avenue. He gave me his number and we kept in touch. He moved downtown in 1980 for a bit, when he married Kathleen and we saw each other several more times. We met at the Broome Street Bar where I’m like, “Tom what are we going to do about our names? I mean, I was in the business first but I used Thomas.” He said, “Well, if you ever get a deal, my record company will ask you to change your name.” We went back and forth.
Q: This was around the time after “In the Heart of Saturday Night.”
TW: Right around then. I love that album. I love those songs. He is an extraordinary individual, the kindest man [again in Waits' voice] “Well it’s not like my name is Bruce Spring-stein [both laugh]” He’s a very, very funny man. Then he was generous enough to come to a recording session. At the time I was doing a demo tape. I was signed to a letter of intent by a publishing company called CESAC. There’s ASCAP, BMI and CESAC. They usually do country artists and Europeans but they wanted to break in here. I had a new wave punk rock band called The Push Ups. They liked my songs. So I was signed to them and we did a demo. Tom agreed to come and sit in. He found a big, gigantic VFW bass drum hanging from the ceiling and took it down. He played on it and taught the bass player how to play the bass line to the song that I was doing. But it required double fingering on the big standup bass which you had to have huge hands for. The guy had a really hard time doing it but he, Tom, very patiently kept showing him. He very patiently taught me “Jersey Girl” — how to play it properly. He’s been nothing but kind. We used to exchange; I would give him acting tips and he would give me music tips. He was quite extraordinary in terms of his kindness and intelligence really. I would say he affected me and then I met Kathleen. I had a play published that I wrote when I was in Iowa about baseball — I played baseball when I was a kid. I wrote this play and it was published. They sent the play and the check to Kathleen and Tom [chuckles.] She wrote to me with the play, “Dear Tom, here’s your play. I read it. I liked it very much and hope you are doing well.” Tom gets stopped frequently in the place that used to rent movies all the time...
Q: You mean Blockbuster...
TW: People come up to Tom all the time in Blockbuster and tell him how great he was in “NYPD Blue” [laughs]. And rather than dispute he just stands there and shakes his head [laughs]. He’s never done “NYPD Blue” obviously. But I’ve done two of them.
Q: How many cop shows have you done?
TW: Oh God, I don’t know. I always play the bad guy. I played “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” with Vincent D’Onofrio. I played a guy who kneecapped old Jews even though his daughter was Jewish. But I’ve never done SVU. They’ve never brought me in. I don’t know why. Maybe they just don’t like me but I’ve done the other two. I think seven of them I’ve done and then you know tons of other TV shows. “The Punisher.” “Homeland.” When I lived in LA, I did a lot of TV.
Q: Thank God for TV and the streamers now. Everybody survives by that.
TW: It helps. The residual checks have kept me alive and my family too. And having health insurance all those years for the children was a big accomplishment. So I consider myself a successful actor [chuckles] because of that.
Q: I could consider myself successful on one front just because I’ve had my apartment for 45 years.
TW: There you go. That in New York is an accomplishment.
Page 1 of 63
Sign up for our weekly newsletter!