Live Chat with Michael Cerveris
AJ Forum
May 9th, 2002 @ 9PM EST

Thanks to Leanne Shawler, Anne Marie Brown, Shannon Miller

CARAHORATIUS: Michael, what was your favorite "bit" in American Embassy?

M_CERVERIS: You mean a particular scene?

CARAHORATIUS: or line, or moment in a scene. An "ah ha" kind of thing.

M_CERVERIS: Probably something that never quite made it to air -- the reaction on the little boy's face who played my son when we were in the van driving to the location and he realized I was wearing nail polish. (I wasn't in drag for the scene but I still had the nail polish left on. He was very sweet and didn't want to mention it, but kept stealing looks as we drove along. It was for the little piece of us playing football (well, soccer) in the field, which was part of a larger scene originally.

BLADEFANATIC: Gary was a very laid back character… are you the same?

M_CERVERIS: I'm fairly laid back in life, I suppose, though I've played some pretty outrageous characters at times - -actually that's pretty much like Gary, too…

AJHQ: Shannon, do you have a question for Michael?

KILVERSTONE: Sure do. Michael, what was it like shooting on location especially considering the first episode was filmed before Sept 11?

M_CERVERIS: whoa, that's a loaded question….give me a few seconds to give my response.

M_CERVERIS: First of all, London was more than just the location for filming. London was one of the main characters in the show. We all benefited so much from being there. It made everything seem authentic because it was authentic. And it wasn't just the scenery, but also the British cast and crew and staff. They were all so helpful and talented and put in insanely long hours in very trying situations, working to make the best possible show with far too little time. Personally, I benefited enormously from having British culture everywhere I turned. Trying to pass as a Londoner on screen was hard enough and I was constantly asking everyone from the hair and make up women to the unit drivers for dialogue and dialect advice.

Then there was the particular difficulty of being abroad during September and October last year. I'll never forget the surreal experience of watching my hometown's tragedy while being fitted for wigs an ocean away. It was obviously a very traumatic time for everyone, and it was very difficult being so far away. I've never felt so foreign or so homesick. I remember going with one of the drivers to find Arija who hadn't been working that morning. When I got to our flat (she and I shared a place in Belsize Park during the three months of filming), she was outside being comforted by some of our neighbors. That night the producers opened their homes to us so we could all be together and share what the world was going through. In the days that followed, we had shows of concern and support from many people in London and we stopped working for a while as everyone tried to figure out the ramifications of all this in terms of storylines. Since the pilot was shot months earlier, there were certain things set in motion that needed to be followed through, but no one wanted to seem to be capitalizing on the tragedy. In the end, I think the writers and producers managed to find a pretty courageous and thoughtful response to the many competing emotions and points of view they faced.

The most interesting thing was watching the contrast between the American news coverage and the British and world responses. It drove home the disparity between how Americans perceive themselves and how we are perceived by others. And that seems to me one of the most unique and valuable things TAE could provide to commercial television. It has a rare opportunity to show more of the world to an entertainment audience than any other show. And it has the opportunity to hold a bit of a mirror up to the country and explore what it means to be American and an American abroad in these times.

whew...told you that was going to be a long one

KISSYNOSE: Do you have any plans to return to playing Hedwig in the future?

M_CERVERIS: No, I think my days of playing Hedwig are probably over. I had a truly fantastic time doing that role--I think it was the most satisfying one of my career--but after a year in New York, 4 months in LA and three months in London's West End, it really took its toll physically and emotionally. Time to be moving forward, I think. Besides, I still get to wear dresses to work if TAE gets picked up by someone...

KISSYNOSE: One more quick question. Do you plan to play more with Retriever and is there any way to get a CD of the band?

M_CERVERIS: The rest of the guys in the band are all in London still and have begun to get involved in other things now, so Retriever may not continue in quite the same way. It was so great getting my own band to be Gary's on screen band, and I think everybody loved the day we shot the club scenes. Plus recording the stuff in Wales was a blast. We have been searching for a record deal in England and the US, but haven't found a label so far. Ultimately, the record may come out independently and would be available via the Internet or mail order. And in the meantime, we're planning to put stuff exclusively on the website, hoping that people will buy it still. Hey, it works for Weezer.... I'm also doing a lot of new writing these days--bit darker, sadder stuff--and may release that under a different name. But if you keep track through either the Amazing Journey or Retriever websites, you'll be sure to know what's going on first.

BLADEFANATIC: Could you explain what drew you to your next role in Passion?

M_CERVERIS: Well, primarily the fact that it's a Sondheim musical. I never set out to become known as a musical theater actor and I keep saying I want to concentrate on other things--the kinds of dramatic things I've more often done in my career. I'm often approached about doing musicals and almost always pass because they don't really excite me all that much as something to work on. Passion is different, though. I think it's the fact that it's not a typical musical that appeals to me. It's "Sondheim"-- which to me is synonymous with the best in Broadway music theatre (Sweeney Todd was the first Broadway show I ever saw…and from the very last row of that enormous theatre.) And it scares me in terms of the musical and acting skill it demands, and that kind of challenge always interests me. It's also dark, brooding, cynical but ultimately about believing in love. And I can relate to all that…

M_CERVERIS: But most appealing of all is not having to wear a dress…

BLADEFANATIC: LOL That was funny!!! I can't wait to see you in the show.

AJHQ: Or much else according to the first scene...

M_CERVERIS: I think Rebecca Luker has other plans for that first scene, actually… I read somewhere that she has no intention of recreating the Broadway production's nude opening scene. Maybe it's just me……….and the whole crossdressing thing does put some people right off…

M_CERVERIS: I notice with interest that we have the same number of visitors as the battlebots chat-but more than abuse survivors. Not sure what to make of that…. Just thankful there is more than the Hepatitis C chat.

CARAHORATIUS: Well that's good in both cases right? The fewer people with HepC or being abused the better!
CARAHORATIUS: It's like Spiderman's takings last weekend…. Folks seeing pure escapism.

M_CERVERIS: Absolutely Cara, but trivia has the most of all…….not sure what that means about the state of the world.
M_CERVERIS: But I loved Spiderman… and I do understand the value of escapism…

KILVERSTONE: Along with the work you are doing with "Passion" this summer, do you have more plans for theatre work, or are you going to focus on films/TV?

M_CERVERIS: I'd really like to focus on film/TV. I've spent many years doing 8 shows a week and performing some interesting roles on stage. I sort of want a new challenge of working in front of the camera and on different locations. Also, these days, the better stage roles often go to TV and film stars so in a sense the best thing I could do for a stage career is to do some more film and TV… but I'll always return to the stage. Just a bit burnt out after the last 10 years. Also really enjoying the music I have been doing and would like the time and income to be able to follow through with that a bit more.

BLADEFANATIC: So Michael… Villain or hero which is more fun to play?

M_CERVERIS: I'd say villains are more fun…Although if you're good -- even people on the set don't like talking to you. So it's either flawed hero or villain with a heart that I really love.

AJHQ: I have some questions that were E-mailed before. Gruene Tea asked "How would you like to see Gary evolve if the show is picked up?"

M_CERVERIS: I'd like to explore more of that flawed hero thing, actually… I think the things that have led to his complicated dress must be pretty complex and could introduce themes that haven't had a good airing on commercial TV. Gender issues..What really makes a man a man or a father a father... Also, the producers and I have discussed Gary's background and history of abuse perhaps (self inflicted or other) and the other elements of his family and background. Gary's sort of Emma's window into parts of London and parts of life that no one at the Embassy ever sees. And then there's the relationship with Emma. They are very close already and who knows where that may lead?

MCQAZ: Can you reveal anything of the last two hours of AE that were shot but not shown?

M_CERVERIS: Well, I don't want to ruin anything but I can tell you that things heat up between Emma & Doug, get very complicated for LQ and Liz and Jonathan Cake gets to do some very interesting pig chasing. Emma sees parts of Paris she never imagined and there is a plot involving moon rocks and at the end of episode 6 is about as patriotic as they come.

MRLACE has left the chat.

M_CERVERIS: I'd have thought Mr Lace would have lots of questions for Gary...

MCQAZ: Good teaser, how do we get to see it? Sorry I came in late-when is the deadline for a network signing on the show?

M_CERVERIS: They announce on May 15 but we're all under contract until June 16th AND as it has happened once in a while a show gets picked up even after that and the new network has to renegotiate to get the people they want back. So it's hard to say when we'll know something definitive….makes planning one's life complicated…let alone one's TV scheduling!

CORDELIAMUK: Michael, do you think that the relationship between Emma and Gary is so close because she doesn't perceive him as a threat? (btw I think you did a pretty good Brit accent)

M_CERVERIS: Thanks! I do try!

CORDELIAMUK: Er… I meant a threat to the heart… not a nasty one!

M_CERVERIS: I think that's quite possible. She seems to have problems being friends with men, doesn't she? I think it could make for some very interesting complications if Gary's sexual ambiguity makes him seem less safe at some point. If Emma started seeing him as a man, would she feel violated having opened up to him as a "girlfriend" as she has done for so long? Could be interesting and something that could be discussed. Gary suffered under the editing ax (along with many others) often in the attempt to keep the focus on Emma and the Embassy intrigue in the early going. Carmen, Liz, and Lord Wellington and Lee Williams' characters are all full of possibilities and the intention was to always make it a rich, multi faceted show with a strong female lead.

MCQAZ: The relationship between Emma and Gary was kind of a relief, when so much of the show was tension and action. It was nice to see them stop and talk and try to help each other through the business of life.

M_CERVERIS: Yeah, they do need each other and it would have been nice to see how and why Gary needs Emma. He did a lot of Oprah-like advising, but you knew he must have had deep reasons for seeing things as he did and being there for her. Plus let's be honest, Emma could teach Gary a lot about hair and make-up.

AJHQ: Daniela from Sweden E-mailed this one: "Has Michael written any songs for American Embassy?"

M_CERVERIS: Well, not specifically but the hope was that Gary and the band would perform regularly on the show, so it was in the pipeline for later. The producers had bought one of my songs for one episode, but the scene ended up cut, sadly. It was recorded however and can be heard via the Amazing Journey or Retriever sites along with Cheap Trick and Ash covers that we recorded that were aired in short scenes.

AJHQ: Weren't they developing a storyline around your song "Star"?

M_CERVERIS: Well at one point, Jim had said he liked it so much that he was going to develop a thematic device involving a storyline for Gary and one for Emma to tie the episode together. It made it as far as the first draft or two on set…But, LA had other ideas…
M_CERVERIS: We had a blast recording it though.

AJHQ: It sounds fantastic -- did I ask if the CD was available?

M_CERVERIS: Not yet --still looking for a label, but as I said, if not, we'll make sure it's available (exclusively....) on the site

FAMEFOREVER: Michael, I'm curious if you ever wrote a song for Fame?

M_CERVERIS: I did write something that, again, wasn't used. The same thing happened to Carrie Hamilton and Janet Jackson -- If, I was correctly informed….

FAMEFOREVER: You and Carrie Hamilton were part of a band, correct? Did you two ever make a recording of your music that it could be heard somewhere?

M_CERVERIS: We never recorded anything, it was usually a live thing for parties and fun. I cherish our times caught on screen though. Especially our little bit side by side at the piano. That was her mom's favorite. She used to play it for people…

AJHQ: Another E-mailed question: "Does Michael make his characters based on his own person or are they based on people he knows and observes?"

M_CERVERIS: Well, it's hard to say where one begins and another leaves off…I suppose I look to what the writer's give you first, try to soak all the information you can from it, then hold it up to you like a suit in a shop--see where it fits and where it needs tailoring. Then you fit yourself to it where you can, fit it to yourself if you have to, and choose the right accessories from the people around you... How's that for a clever (and not entirely rubbish) metaphor?

M_CERVERIS: Any more questions?

AJHQ: Thank you so much Michael. To wrap it up -- do you want to answer the questions they ask at the end of Actor's Studio?

M_CERVERIS: What are they?

AJHQ: Some quick questions. What profession other than your own would you like to?

M_CERVERIS: Well I wanted to be a vet for years ………musician? Not exactly a good fall back profession.

CARAHORATIUS: You could be a musical vet! *grin*

M_CERVERIS: grin or groan? Very clever.

AJHQ: You are a musician... what profession would you not like to try?

M_CERVERIS: producer. Not an enviable job, that

AJHQ: What turns you on (creatively we assume)?

M_CERVERIS: What scares me.

AJHQ: What turns you off?

M_CERVERIS: Are you sure he didn't steal these from Playboy Centerfold questionnaires?

BLADEFANATIC: I love Actor's Studio.. hopefully we'll soon see you on the show.

FAMEFOREVER: LOL You sure have a wonderful sense of humour.

CARAHORATIUS: You haven't heard the last one yet.

AJHQ: Just a few more--What turns you off? (creatively-emotionally, we can be clean for this one).

M_CERVERIS: Turns off creatively? Anything that seems motivated primarily by desire for attention or self glorification--in other words not driven by a desire to express something.

AJHQ: What is your favorite curse word?

M_CERVERIS: FUCK or should that be spelled F-O-X?

AJHQ: If heaven exists what would you like God to say at the pearly gates?

M_CERVERIS: hey, at least you tried…….come on in and bring your dog and your mates.

AJHQ: Very cool. Thanks so much Michael for taking this time with everyone. I'm sorry it was very confusing for a bit. You've handled it all brilliantly as usual.

M_CERVERIS: aw shucks…

BLADEFANATIC: You are such a sweet guy and again thank you for taking this time. Hopefully we didn't scare you off!! LOL

CARAHORATIUS: Thanks Michael!

KILVERSTONE: Yes, Thank you!

FAMEFOREVER: Thank you I hope we can do this again sometime.

M_CERVERIS: Thanks all of you, honestly. Especially everyone giving their time to keep the show alive.

AJHQ: Maybe we should quickly ask about the campaign? Any suggestions?

M_CERVERIS: so hard to say what's going to find the right ear on the right day. I guess everyone should do what they feel compelled to do. And above all, try not to get bogged down in struggling with each other -- I know things like this can result in toes stepped on and feelings hurt at bit sometimes. Just appreciate each other and respect each other as much as all of us involved with the show do

M_CERVERIS: As Gary would say… Cheers!!

BLADEFANATIC: bye, thanks!

CARAHORATIUS: Bye thank you!

AJHQ: Thanks again Michael.

KILVERSTONE: Thanks again Michael, I'm now even a bigger fan. :-)

M_CERVERIS: Right, then. Off down the pub. Who's getting drinks in?

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