If you ran into the actor Frederick Weller in the street, you might get the notion, that feeling, “I know this guy.”
You’d probably be right, in the sense that we feel we know people we’ve seen on television frequently or regularly. They occupy a kind of continuous familiarity that stays with us, in the back of our heads like a kind of, but not actual, meme.
But that wouldn’t be the whole story, not that there ever is one.
Talking with Weller during a telephone interview, you get the sense that he’s something of a layered multi-tasker, not just on the phone, but in his life, his whole life — and his life as an actor.
Weller is playing the challenging leading role of the tortured longshoreman Eddie Carbone in the Young Vic’s acclaimed production of Arthur Miller’s classic American play “A View From the Bridge,” which settles in at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre, Nov 18 to Dec. 3.
During the course of the conversation, we talk a bit and a lot about the production, which has Belgian director Ivo van Hove at the helm, a director who almost inevitably takes different approaches to familiar material. (His powerful “Antigone” was at the Eisenhower in 2015). But we also touched on some of his other stage work. He seems particularly and especially drawn to sharp, contemporary material, in-the-elbow plays of David Mamet (a star-filled revival of “Glengarry Glen Ross, which won a Drama Desk Award for Best Ensemble), Terence McNally (“Mothers and Sons”), and especially Neil LaBute, a playwright whose work has often been done in Washington, many at the Studio Theater. Weller starred in the stage production of LaBute’s “The Shape of Things” and the film version with Rachel Weisz and Paul Rudd.
“I love working with him, doing his plays,” Weller said of LaBute. “It’s not easy. They’re tough plays. He doesn’t blink, and I can’t say his characters are particularly appealing in terms of how they behave or treat each other, but it’s challenging work.”
He’s also acted in independent films—“The Business of Strangers” and “When Will I Be Loved” —as well as in blockbusters, such as “Armageddon.”
The familiarity comes with television, where he works frequently in such series as “Law and Order” (in many of its guises), “Monk” and more recently in the popular Friday night “Blue Bloods” series. Most memorably, he co-starred with Mary McCormack in “In Plain Sight,” a sort of buddy-rom-com about two U.S. marshals protecting witnesses. It ran from 2008 to 2012.
Weller is also a husband—his wife is the actress Ali Marsh—and the father of daughter Azeala, born in 2007 and a son, age six.
That father became self-evident, when we talked about “A View from the Bridge.”
“I saw the production in New York, and it was really powerful,” Weller said. “I auditioned in Los Angeles and was cast. I talked with my agent, and, basically, it was about wanting to do this play, this work.”
“Miller you know, he was that great American playwright, with a feel for tragedy. ‘Death of a Salesman’ is basically a tragedy, and ‘Bridge,’ I think, is like that too. It’s tricky, but you have to give him his due, that he sacrifices himself. He’s a worker. He’s worked hard all of his life, and his orphaned niece has been raised by Eddie and his wife Beatrice, but as Catherine, the niece, matures, he becomes emotionally, and passionately obsessed with her. And he loses a part of himself, especially when a young relative arrives from Italy, and Catherine is drawn to him.”
“What happens is a lot like a Greek tragedy. There’s a starkness about it. And Ivo [von Hove] brings that out, its intense. Doing this is such a challenge, but it’s totally exhausting.”
And suddenly, you lose him on the phone. You hear this urgent pleading sound: “Go, go, go. No, don’t go to second. Stay there. Stop there. All right.”
Turns out, Weller was in Central Park with his six-year-old son, who was playing in a baseball game. You could hear the voices of other kids.
Somehow, it fit. The movies, the plays, the theatrics, parents who were both lawyers, growing up around Louisiana, the familiarity of television roles, instantly recognizable. You listen to the shouts. You also, back of your head, remember his presence on screen, a young-looking, handsome, tall guy, 50, with a lot of presence.
“Good job,” he shouts to his son.
“I’m a big fan,” says Weller, returning to our conversation. “We love the Cubs, at least this year, with the Yankees out of it.”
“What’s his name?” I ask him about his son. “Hank,” he replies. “Right.”
“A View from the Bridge,” if you’re looking for bridges, takes place in an Italian-American neighborhood in 1950s Brooklyn, presumably when the Dodgers were still the Brooklyn Dodgers.