The So-and-So Profiles shines a spotlight on Jason Stuart, a longtime character actor with hundreds of TV and film credits to his name and a pioneering stand-up comedian.
1. When, where and how did you decide to become a performer?
I never was NOT hit by it. I’ve been acting and doing stand-up and being on stage since I was probably around 8 or 9 so I never NOT wanted it.
2. What was your first acting role or performing gig -- professional or otherwise?
8-years-old I was in a Purim play I played a slave. I ripped up one of my mother’s sheets and she’s been unhappy since.
3. How did the acting lead to the standup?
I had a manager who had talked me into doing it. And that’s all. I didn’t realize it would be a second career. I thought it would be a way to get more acting work.
4. What was/is the struggle for you in being a full-time performer?
Doing things you don’t want to do. Taking one-nighters all over the country. Work in film or TV shows that you don’t like that’s really badly written.
They don’t respect someone being in the business a long time. They just want to hire people that other people like. It’s just odd.
I sit next to a wonderful character actress who has been around forever at a screening of the Meryl Streep movie The Iron Lady. She was telling me she went in to audition for five lines. The fact that they wouldn’t offer her that part…
5. What is your dream role or type of role?
My dream role would be one of two things. More like three things. Alright, six.
My first one would be to play someone bossy and controlling on an hour drama. I’d only have to do three scenes a week. You could do other things and then also [have] the celebrity of being in a series, [have] a regular paycheck and [have] a place to go so you don’t cry yourself to sleep every night, throw up and eat and watch TiVo.
A great supporting role in a film by Scorcese or Alexander Payne -- some great director that I’ve loved forever.
I’d love to do is a supporting role in a play where my kid was murdered that I have to tell someone about it and have that one great scene. That’s all I have to do is that one scene. And maybe another scene. I love that.
6. Does your Agent pitch you out as a gay actor?
He doesn’t. He specifically doesn’t. We do jump on gay roles that I’m right for but he’s great that way.
7. Do you now or have you ever felt pigeonholed into a particular type of role?
I don’t mind being pigeonholed. If you’re pigeonholed into playing a cop that’s great because there are tons and tons of cop roles, but if you’re pigeonholed playing the fussy manager – there aren’t a lot of them so you want them to keep adding stereotypes they think you can do.
I’m playing a boss in this movie. This is a new thing for me to play. It sort of came from the fussy manager. I’ve done some indie films but they didn’t care. They don’t know me from other things so they were more open.
8. How would your comedy/performance style best be adapted into a sitcom?
It would be more fun to do a series where I could be funny and then occasionally really sad and tragic.
I don’t want to be the lead. I’m not a leading actor. I come in, do something really dramatic and I leave. I come in, I say something funny. I’m bossy, I’m tragic, I’m sad – that’s what I do.
You have to know where you belong.
9. Do ever think about awards like an Emmy, Oscar, Tony or a Grammy?
No. Not really. I just want to do good work. I want to be known as someone who does good work.
I’m an artist. I’m not about being famous, meeting people, or “see me all the time” anymore. That’s ended in my mind. I’ve done thousands and thousands and thousands of shows. I don’t need it anymore. I need the art. Artistic fulfillment.
It sounds so pompous.
10. What is your approach to comedy?
I show up. I make people laugh. They give me a check. That’s basically it. I think funny. It’s not an approach. It’s just the way I am.
11. What inspires your comedy?
It’s about me. It’s about my life. What’s going on with me, how I feel about things, it’s about getting older, it’s about dating, it’s about my family, it’s about pop culture. It’s about politics. It’s about time. It’s about space. It’s about the times you slap your face.
You talk about your mom a lot.
There’s always something about her. She’s insane. She’s five minutes from an OJ trial.
12. You also talk a lot about being gay in your stand-up regardless of the audience or the venue. Have you ever had any problems or gotten any pushback for that?
I just headlined the Riot Act Comedy Theatre in Washington, DC. Much more straight people than gay people came. They seemed more shocked. They like jokes, straight people. Gay people like details. That’s the difference.
There’s also a difference between what I call smarter audiences and, I wouldn’t say dumber, but more or less interested.
13. What has been your greatest performing experience?
I have to say The Closer was a great experience working with Kyra [Sedgwick] and working with the director Michael Robin and producers Adam Belanoff and James Duff. They’re all so great to me. And Kyra is so on it. She had very little lines in my scene. I basically talk for six pages or whatever because I’m there to give a lot of information. She was just great.
When I worked on My Wife and Kids -- that was great with Damon Wayans. That was a career high for me.
I loved working on Bitter Bartender (upcoming web series premiering in February 2012). That was so much fun.
14. What has been your worst performing experience?
The first movie I did was called “The Lost Empire”. I played Gay Dude #1 or something like that.
The whole thing was the lead guy steals my purse. He walks by me and I think my line was “That’s my purse!”
This is in the 80s. He [the director] says to me, “Come to the set and wear a blousy shirt.” -- which I did, sort of a gay blousy fun colorful shirt.
And then he says, “Oh, this shirt is all wrong.” He looks around. He looks at the makeup woman. He makes her change shirts with me. I had to wear her shirt, which was two sizes too small. It was one of the most degrading experiences I’ve ever had.
I talked him out of the scarf.
Now I would just say, “No honey, I’m not wearing that. It’s not happening.” But I was a kid.
Most of the time I have a really great time when I work because I just try to do the best I can being as prepared as I can be and have fun.
15. Do you see a difference in your performance since coming out?
You’re a much better artist if you’re out. You’re being yourself. You use all of who you are. You use your own experiences. If you’re in the closet, it is very difficult. I think that’s what made Rock Hudson so wooden. Even though he was charming and beautiful, I don’t think he really ever got to do THE performance because he was so concerned with being masculine and being a man.
For me it’s gone full circle. I’ve played a lot of straight guys recently. You’re able to go around to the complete other side and start to play the other side of you and embrace the masculine side of yourself.
How has your career changed?
I came out 18 years ago, so there’s no change recently other than playing straight guys that were actually written for straight people.
Not that I mind playing gay people at all. I did two or three gay movies – I did Bear City 2, I did Finding Mister Wright and Walk a Mile in My Pradas. I wasn’t a gay guy in Walk a Mile in My Pradas -- I was a Jewish doctor, Doctor Feist.
16. Who are your professional inspirations?
Whoopi Goldberg. Big Dustin Hoffman fan -- just love him. Streisand. Lily Tomlin. Philip Seymour Hoffman. All the great character actors – Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin, the late John Ritter.
17. If a production was casting for a "Jason Stuart" type, what would they be looking for?
Somebody who plays an efficious manager because that’s what I played mostly. I’m in charge of something but yet I have no power.
18. What is your ultimate goal -- if you haven't already achieved it?
A husband, a home and a beautiful film career. I have a great home though.
19. What’s next for Jason Stuart?
I got cast in two more films. One is called DVD License to Thrill with Sean Young and Fred Willard. It’s a comedy.
Then I’m also going to be in this gay movie called Hush Up. It’s a satire on Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte that Billy Clift is directing.
K11 is a prison movie starring Goran Visnjic from Beginners where I play a straight guy who hates gay people.
Much of this has been about your performing career but you do other things outside of that.
Oh yes. Michael Ferrera had asked me to do this benefit for gay kids five or six years ago so I started doing that to support the youth. I do the benefit for gay kids every year. It’s in March usually.
I mentored a kid. It’s hard. It’s not like in a TV movie where it’s really great and in two hours they want to be your friend for the rest of your life. No. They fuckin’ hate you if you don’t do what they want you to.
And I’m the chairman of the Screen Actors Guild LGBT Committee that I created with Duncan Ireland, legal counsel at SAG and sort of a mentor to me. I started the first Screen Actors Guild LGBT Committee because it was time to get some support and now UCLA Williams Institute is doing their first survey on out actors.
Are you still lecturing?
Occasionally. I do it a couple times a year to Fortune 500 companies and colleges about being openly gay in the workplace.
I actually started doing the lectures because I couldn’t get hired in certain colleges.
Background: I recently met a guy who was in the process of transitioning from NY to LA. When asked what he was doing out here, he said that he was an actor.
A guy nearby responded, "So what restaurant do you work at?"
The actor took exception to that response. So I asked Jason what he thought of such a response and how he would have reacted.
It’s an old joke. He’s probably trying to be funny.
They think, “What have you done? Have you ever made a living?” I’ve made a living for over 20 years. Since the late ‘80s.
It’s always in the back of your mind. Certain things have dried up for me in certain areas because you don’t get to do that forever.
How would you have reacted?
I’d just look at them and go, “Would you like to see my resume? I’ve been in 150 films and TV shows as an actor and a comedian. And you?”
For more information on Jason Stuart, check out his website www.jasonstuart.com
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