Recently we had the chance to interview John O’Hurley. From playing J. Peterman on Seinfeld to performing on Broadway, to hosting NBC’s National Dog Show, John O’Hurley has had a successful and interesting career. We recently got to chat with John about his new film Swing Away, travelling, and if he could interview anyone, who it would be!
upfrontNY: Can you tell us about your new movie “Swing Away” and your character Glenn?
John O’Hurley: The movie takes place in Greece and it concerns the life of a female golf professional who has a bit of a meltdown at a major golf tournament in the US and does something on the golf course that you’re not supposed to do and they suspend her indefinitely. During the suspension she decides to clear away from the limelight and go back home to Greece where she grew up and she reattaches herself to her culture and to her upbringing. In Rhodes where she grew up she finds a little 10-year-old girl who is playing golf just like her with the same aspirations that she has. So she mentors her and in the process learns a great deal about herself again and rediscovers the passion that she originally had for the game and why she was playing it and the poetry of why she was playing it. It is a wonderful redemptive movie.
My character is a greedy American developer who has come over there to take the only golf course that they have there in Rhodes. One of the only golf courses they have in Greece because they don’t play golf often. He is there to take the course over and turn it into a resort with a water park. It is a very charming movie, very funny movie. It has that wonderful message at the end that all things are redeemable.
upfrontNY: I read that you are channeling Donald Trump in this role. Can you tell me about that?
John O’Hurley: Yes indeed. I have known Donald for 25 years. It’s certainly channeling the businessman in him and the ruthless negotiator. That is basically kind of caricature of that type of personality. I make him absolutely unredeemable. I like that and I own it. It makes the character a lot of fun to play and a great contrast to the other characters in the movie.
upfrontNY: What was it like working with Shannon Elizabeth in this film?
John O’Hurley: She’s a nice actress. We are both studied actors. I always like playing against a heavyweight. I want to know that I am looking in the eyes of a heavyweight, someone that has their game together. Shannon certainly is that. She is honest and has a lot of depth to her.
upfrontNY: You play golf in real life. When you booked the role for this film, was it an added bonus that it was about golf?
John O’Hurley: Yes, there were many things that drew me to the film not the least of which is that it was about golf and it was also in Greece. I had never been there before. I liked the character. They gave me permission to really sculpt the character, most of my scenes in the film are improvisational.
upfrontNY: What was your experience like in Greece?
John O’Hurley: It was spectacular. I had no expectations. I didn’t know what it was going to be like but I was blown away by how beautiful it was and how easily I got into the Greek culture. The people have a sense of pride that I have never seen before in another culture. They are proud to be Greek when they wake up at 6 a.m. and they are proud to be Greek when they go to bed. They are very supportive of each other. They are lovely people. It should be on everyone’s bucket list.
upfrontNY: Have there been any other places that you have filmed that were your favorite?
John O’Hurley: I did a mini series for NBC. We shot half of it in the US and the other half we shot down in Australia in Sydney. That was about as special, because I fell in love with that city, the harbour, and some of the places that I went to. I have had the chance to work in a lot of different places. There are certain spots in Europe that I like as well, but Greece would be fighting with Sydney, Australia for the top in my career.
upfrontNY: Are there any places that you haven’t been to that you want to go?
John O’Hurley: South Africa or I’d like to do something in the Kalahari, the Okavango Delta. I’ve done a lot of shooting for National Geographic down there, hosting. but I love that area. I also love Iceland. I think it is one of the most singular places in the world and just one of the most gorgeous topographies anywhere in the world.
upfrontNY: You have had so many roles throughout your career. Do you ever get surprised by roles?
John O’Hurley: I say one prayer before I do anything in this business whether I’m going on stage on Broadway, whether I’m walking down to host Family Feud, or I’m doing a film. The one prayer is right before I begin I just say God let me be surprised and that’s it. What it does is it calms me down and allows me to relax and wait for the reason to say what I’m going to say. It allows me to rely on the other person as the reason I’m there in that scene.
upfrontNY: What did you enjoy about being on Broadway and being in NYC?
John O’Hurley: I think it is probably the thing I like the most and the thing that embraces my skill set probably better than anything. I have large voice and I know how to fill a room and can hit the back wall with my voice. I also know how to command presence on stage. Those things combined give me the skill set to understand where you begin a role. I love it because I love taking a character at 8 o’clock that has an arc. It has a beginning, middle, and an end and I know that at 10:30 the audience will have had the time of their lives. It is the joy of presenting it every night that makes it fun. Then at 10:45 I have reservations at a nice restaurant. I love the ambiance of being on Broadway as much as I love the actual work.
upfrontNY: You have a very strong stage presence and distinctive voice. Is there anyone who embodies that for you?
John O’Hurley: The actor Armand Assante. I thought he was one of the most provocative actors that I have ever seen. I just thought that he had a sense of presence that I absolutely keyed into.
There was another actor I saw years ago named Brian Beford. He was the psychiatrist in Equus play back when I was in college. I went to see him 4 times because I was watching him and his ability to command an audience without saying anything. That’s where I want to be. I want to be able to hold an audience and not say anything. Silence is much more compelling to an actor than laughter is.
upfrontNY: Is that what inspired you to become an actor?
John O’Hurley: I think that whole experience. I have known since I was 3 years old what I was going to do. I was a theatre major in college when I saw him. It was basically connecting the dots for me. But at the age of 3 when people would say what do you want to be when you grow up I put my hands on my hips pointed at the black and white television and said well I am an actor that’s what I’m going to be.
Oddly enough I have been motivated less by actors as I have by writers. It is the depth of material that I attach myself to. It is writers like T.S. Eliot, G.K. Chesterton, and Peter Shaffer who wrote Equus and Amadeus.
upfrontNY: You knew at the age of 3 that you wanted to be an actor. Do you ever look back in shock of all the things you have accomplished?
John O’Hurley: I have always listened to my imagination and whatever my imagination tells me to do I do and I know that it will take care of me because it is what I’m supposed to do next. I have always lived by that.
upfrontNY: Is there anything you want to try that you haven’t?
John O’Hurley: I compose but I don’t write songs. I have written one and I’d like to continue more in that direction. I am touring Chicago the musical right now. While I’m out there I’m also touring my one man show which is called A Man With Standards. In fact I’m coming to New York at The Café Carlyle for 2 weeks from March 28th- April 8th.
upfrontNY: What can people expect from A Man With Standards?
John O’Hurley: Expect to be surprised. It is a personal story of growing up in the times of the Great American Songbook of the 50s and the 60s and using the music of that period to parallel my life. At the same time, tell the stories of growing up in the shadows of men who had standards and manners. And talking a little bit of that period of swing and style and elegance and contrasting it to the way we are today. It is an interesting way to shroud all of the music and the sounds. It is a highly personal show. In that show, some of the songs I have written are part of that show. I am starting to get more into that and it is starting to make more sense to me that this is the direction I should be going.
upfrontNY: You are very busy. What do you like to do to relax?
John O’Hurley: The time I take for myself is usually the month of June to the middle of July. We have a summer home in Vermont. I bought it 10 years ago because it has its own private lake. I am a fisherman so I am able to go back to my roots which is new England. It is absolutely gorgeous.
upfrontNY: You have done so many interviews throughout your career. If you could interview anyone, who would it be?
John O’Hurley: My best friend in the business and outside the business as well is Bryan Cranston. Brian and I have grown old together for the last thirty something years. When we first met each other all we did was make each other laugh. We’ve grown parallel as human beings and as I’ve watched his work intensify and this depth that you wouldn’t know that he had come out of him. It has been wonderful when he and I sit together for dinner and really genuinely talk about how we’ve grown, watched each other grow, and helped each other. That to me is probably the interview that I constantly like to do because it is so personal to me because he and I are so close. I always admire his perspective on things.