Playbill Online Chat Feb 9, 1998
Playbill Online Chat
Monday, February 9, 1998 at 9pm EST
Playbill On-Line's Andrew McGibbon hosted a chat with Titanic's Michael Cerveris. Michael
is probably most known for originating the role of Tommy in the Broadway musical Tommy.
The transcript of that chat follows.
You are incredible as Andrews, Michael -- how did you approach the role? Lots of research
in the real Andrews, or did you just work from the script?
No, a lot of research, a lot of reading, a lot of watching old videos and documentary
footage. That was the ground work and then from there we tried to find the parts of the
historical Andrews that would fit in the show.
Hi Michael!! I have been an avid fan of your work for several years now and I was
wondering how much longer you are planning to stay with Titanic? I'm hoping I'll have many
more chances to see you!
I have no immediate plans to leave. We're coming up on our 1 year anniversary and
everyone's contracts are up for renewal. Assuming everything goes well in negotiations I
should be there for some time.
How do you react to reviews? Good and Bad?
I try not to read them at all. Because good or bad, when you are looking at the printed
word it just has too strong an effect, on me anyway. You end up finding out the gist of
what was said anyway. And in the end it's just one persons opinion. I try to have my life
as "unrelated" to critics as possible. It's just too hard not to take it
Michael, I am a huge fan of the show and I want to know if it is possible for me to
somehow get a backstage tour of the Lunt-Fontanne Theater.
They discourage us from taking tours because they usually are trying to close up the
theatre really quickly. They like to have everyone out of the building by 11 PM. But they
do occasionally allow tours. The best way to do that is to contact the stage management
staff and arrange for it through them. And I would be happy to say hi.
Hello Michael. Do you feel the Titanic movie has increased ticket sales?
I think it probably has. In what is traditionally a slow theatre time, the month of
January, we really didn't see much of a dip. And beyond that, I think it's made people
more excited about the show as they're seeing it because they're familiar with the
characters already. And of course, they know how it ends.
-- bowing to Cerveris-- Hi Michael! I have a few questions for you 1-Are you leaving
Titanic? 2-If you are, where are you going? 3-Are you married? 4-My friend and I are
coming to Titanic soon, we want to know if you want Pop Tarts or Zero Bars. YOU ROCK! I
LOVE YOU! ~Farin
I'm a fan of Pop Tarts or Zero Bars but I don't require any gifts. I'm not married, not
engaged and sadly single.
If you could star in any musical role, what would it be?
Maybe Sweeney Todd because that was the first Broadway musical I ever saw.
With the success of the film, do you think a motion picture will ever be made of the
musical, especially since the film industry seems to have turned its back on musicals as a
I doubt they would ever make a film of the musical. And I think it's a shame there aren't
more films made of musicals. I think in a lot of cases there would wonderful films that
could be made from big and small musicals but I agree that unfortunately, Hollywood
doesn't seem interested.
1- Congratulations, you are BRILLIANT in Titanic. I would like to know what do you do to
keep your voice perfect singing 8 times a week ? 2- Do you know that there is a wonderful
page about you on Internet, called Amazing Journey ? I wish you all the success of the
world. Your Brazilian fan, Rosana Moraes
Lots and lots of water. I just try to be careful to rest my voice when it's tired. And not
eat and drink things that are going to make it harder to sing. It's all a question of
We have heard reports that there is a web page out there dedicated to you?
I heard from the people who created that page on the net and I was very impressed by it
and I just wrote them recently to offer them other material if they need it. It's a little
scary sometimes to have people creating these terrific things for you and you don't even
know about them. Especially since I'm technologically challenged right now.
Michael, what advice do you have for aspiring actors?
First of all, staying in school through college. That is the simplest recommendation I
have. And secondly, if you focus on the process of improving yourself and your skills
instead of focusing on specific goals, like being on Broadway, or being a movie star, then
you'll always find yourself satisfied with what you are doing. Instead of always feeling
like you're chasing some illusive prize.
Michael, where did you get your training (which college, etc?)
I went to Yale undergrad. And high school for 2 years at Philips Exeter Academy. Where I
studied with a man named B. Rodney Marriott.
Hi Michael!! Who are your influences as an actor?
I'm influenced in one way or another by just about everything that I see and I have a lot
of actors that I respect and admire. Robert Duval is one, Gene Hackman, Tommy Lee Jones,
Alan Rickman, and lots of actresses too. Juliet Stephenson, also friends and co-workers
inspire me all the time. I've been really lucky to be in two big ensemble companies in
Tommy and Titanic. Where you can look left and right on stage and be inspired by people
Hey Michael! Is there any chance for a ''Lame'' reunion? Thanks, Emme
I've been thinking about that a lot just this week. And I actually have spoken to Alice
Ripley about possibly doing that. And if we do I'll certainly make sure that Playbill
knows about it.
Hello, Michael. I'm curious, out of all the roles you've done, which was your most
I'd say Tommy. It really was my heart and soul poured into that character. Which is why, I
think, I was able to do it for so long.
Mike, what are your hobbies?
I don't have enough time for hobbies really. But I do like listening to music a lot. And
reading, and playing with my dog.
How do you feel playing a character that actually lived?
It's a really big responsibility to take on the memory of an actual person. During the
85th anniversary of the Titanic sinking we were on stage at the same time that 85 years
ago these actual people were experiencing the event for real. And I think all of us hope
very strongly that we're doing the memory of these people justice.
Are there any memorable bloopers that you've seen at the Lunt Fontanne?
A lot of them were overly chronicled by the NY Post. And more recently, Mr. Heartley
dropped his violin bow overboard and had to flee the stage.
When did you begin acting?
My father is a university professor so when the schools needed a little kid for their
productions I was often the kid they used. The first time I was ever on stage was about
2nd grade. As one of the princes little friends in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. So when you
start out your theatrical career with Brecht at the age of 7 or 8 you know you are in for
the long run.
Did you like the portrayal of Andrews in the movie Titanic?
Yes, very much. I thought Victor did a really terrific job. He got to use Andrews' correct
dialect, which would be Irish and he got to use hair.
How do they actually make the ship sink on stage?
Vast quantities of water!
Michael--does it bother you at all that, no matter what roles you conquer in your career,
you'll probably always be remembered as Tommy?
No, it's better than being remember as Richard Nixon
Is it true that Andrews really killed himself by staying on the sinking ship?
We think so. He was last seen in the smoking room surrounded by his plans.
Did you ever really get hurt in the scene where the ship sinks?
Not badly hurt. But I have a nice collection of small bruises and scrapes. It seems like
any time they need someone to sing while things blow up, spin around, fall down or sink,
they call me.
I am a fan from when you were on Fame. What was it like working on Fame?
That was a really fun experience. Again, I was part of a great talented ensemble. And it
gave me the opportunity to be paid while I learned to work in front of a camera. I spent a
lot of time sitting with the editors and directors and writers learning how everything was
How long have you known how to play guitar? And do you like to play classical music on
I started playing guitar when I was about 11. And I studied for a while at first and
learned the basics and even studied a little jazz and classical technique. But I'm really
not that accomplished to be able to play classical music for guitar. But some of my
favorite guitarists are classical guitarists.
Titanic has such a wonderful score... what are some of your personal favorite scenes and
numbers from the show?
I still can't watch or listen to "Ladies Maid" without getting all choked up.
It's such a great expression of the hopes and dreams of people like my grandparents coming
to America. And I especially like singing "The Blame" because of the interaction
with David Garrison, John Cunningham and Martin Moran.
Why did the writers choose to make Jack Thayer a child when he was 17 in real life
I don't actually know. My guess is that they wanted a character who would represent all
the youthful innocents that was on board the ship. So they bent the historical truth a
Titanic as you know is a passionate and emotional show, Do you find yourself getting
choked up at the end?
I find myself leaving the theatre with a kind of melancholy. It's a lot different from the
way I felt leaving after Tommy.
On your way to Broadway Titanic experienced turbulence. Was there someone in the creative
team or a cast member who kept up everyone's spirits?
I think that everyone in the creative team were excellent at hiding whatever doubts they
may have had. And making us feel supported and as confident as possible that we would
weather the storm. But Richard Jones, our director, set such a brilliant example of
selflessness and generosity that it made everybody work together.
Michael, I was wondering if you share a dressing room at the L-F? If so, does it get
cramped at all?
Yes and yes. I share with the actor playing Mr. Etches which was originally Allan Corduner
and now Henry Stram. Luckily both of them are very flexible and fairly small.
The actor who play Andrews in the movie, Victor Garber, has appeared in several shows. Any
chance he'll replace you. I saw Titanic, The Musical last May and enjoyed it very much.
I don't think so because he opens very soon in Art. But I'm a fan and friend of his for
What do you mean by "technologically challenged"?
I don't have a computer. Yet! But my family insists that I get one soon so they can at
least email me.
Do you have a fan club?
I don't. But I do know that there's at least one website The Amazing Journey. The URL is
http://www.web-span.com/micheez/index.htm and I think there is another one as well, but
I'm not sure of that address.
Did you major in theater at Yale?
Yes, but it was not its own department in the undergraduate school in Yale. At least at
that time. So, I was a theatre studies major in the humanities department. So I had to
fill a lot of regular academic requirements in addition to theatre work.which was exactly
the kind of education that I wanted.
WHAT is Lame?
"Lame" is a band that I started while I was doing Tommy. Comprised of myself
singing and playing guitar, Alice Ripley singing and playing guitar, her husband Shannon
Ford playing drums and John Jinks playing bass. Doing a lot of our own original material
and some covers. We played at clubs in NY and then I later formed another version of
"Lame" while I was in Germany with 2 German musicians.
Do you think Titanic will win the Grammy for best cast recording
I certainly hope so. I confess, I voted for it.
Hi Michael, I remember hearing a great story about your audition for the Broadway version
of Tommy. I was wondering if you had any other great stories to share.
Actually Michael, why don't you tell us the story about the Tommy audition.
We all had to re-audition for the Broadway company after doing the show 110 times in La
Jolla. But when my turn came to audition I had to fly to NY and unfortunately, I was just
getting over a cold. I was put up in a Times Square Hotel where they initially put me in a
room next to one sealed off with NYPD crime scene tape. And the next morning I warmed up
in an apartment full of cats (the animals, not the actors) and I'm allergic. So... by the
time I got to the audition, my voice was pretty much dried up and gone. So, I plowed
through a couple of songs before it disappeared altogether. The good thing is that it
forced them to judge me on the basis of the work that I had done since I couldn't really
have done anything better in an audition room that I hadn't done on stage. It also taught
me that even your worst nightmares coming true are not always the end of the world. And
most importantly, it gave me a good story to use on the Tonight Show when I met Jay Leno.
I'm not sure the producers thought it was as funny a story as Jay seemed to.
David Robert Laro:
Do you like to listen to your cast albums?
I finally listened to Tommy (once) on a car stereo and I have yet to get through all of
Titanic. I basically listened to enough that I know that I don't have to hide in public.
What kind of dog?
She is the greatest dog, although, I'm sure every owner says that of their dog. She looks
like the RCA dog, Nipper. She's all white with one black ear and one spotted ear. And I
found her at the ASPCA in Manhattan. She's the only dog I know that has lived in Europe
for 2 years and gone swimming in the Mediterranean.
Were you able to meet anyone who actually knew your character in real life?
No, but I communicated by phone and by fax with people at Harland and Wolff ship builders
where the Titanic was built and also with people from the Ulster Titanic Historical
Society about Andrews as a person and a designer. He does have family still living in the
family home outside of Belfast but they prefer not to be approached by people from the
outside. So I respected their privacy.
Greetings from Germany (from Markus). How did you like Germany?
I LOVED Germany. I had a great time living there and travelling all over the country. The
German musical fans are extremely enthusiastic and supportive and I hope to get back there
some day. Either working or just visiting.
Mr Cerveris, where are you from? For the longest time I thought you were British!
That's probably because I seem to only play British characters. But I actually grew up in
Huntington, West Virginia.
You've performed for audiences outside of this country, are there any interesting
differences with how they behave during shows and also afterwards as well?
Well, for one thing, in Germany, fans are extremely organized and bring you little stuffed
animals and also you have cards made with your picture from the show that they call
Autogram Cards that you sign for people. As far as in the show, the reaction to Tommy in
Germany was much like the reaction in the US. Maybe a little more wild because they really
appreciated the unique character of that musical. It was also very interesting working
with European actors and stage crew. Especially when your show begins with a five minute
re-telling of WWII. In fact, when the British soldiers used to sing We've Won, We've Won,
We've Won one of our German stage managers used to smile and sing. We've Lost, We've Lost,