The second part of our interview with OLTL star Brian Kerwin. Kerwin discusses his career outside of daytime and his work in theater.
In part two of my interview with One Life to Live star Brian Kerwin (Charlie), we ventured into his successful career in Hollywood and on Broadway. Kerwin, a diverse actor who has played various types of characters, says he prefers the “most complicated” as his favorite roles.
His television credits include roles on the Showtime series Beggars and Choosers, recurring roles on The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, The Chisholms, Roseanne, The West Wing, Nip/Tuck, Big Love and guest appearances on The Love Boat, Simon & Simon, Highway to Heaven, Murder She Wrote, St. Elsewhere, Frasier, Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Boston Legal, Medium, Without a Trace, and Desperate Housewives.
During the 1980’s, Brian Kerwin’s career was booming. He was landing guest starring roles in primetime, as well as several film roles. In 1985, he starred opposite Sally Field and James Garner in the romantic drama, Murphy’s Romance. “I remember the day I read the script, I thought it wasn’t good. Like a bad television movie. I got the part and James Garner was going to play Murphy. During filming, I thought the film was really lightweight with no substance to it. At the time, there weren’t a lot of films like Murphy’s Romance and I really didn’t think the movie was going to go very far. Slowly, but surely, the movie became a classic film. I pulled it out about five years ago and watched it and thought it was a beautiful film. I put Murphy’s Romance and Torch Song Trilogy at the top of the list.”
Three years later, Brian landed the role of his career, playing Ed Reese, a bisexual in the film, Torch Song Trilogy. “Before I did the film, I saw it on Broadway, but had no intention of being a part of it. They were doing a west coast company that was going to San Francisco and Los Angeles and they cast me in that and I wound up doing the show for 10 months. There wasn’t a second on stage that I didn’t love it. Then the offer for the film came up and an agent gave me advice. He said, ‘Don’t take this part. People will get the wrong impression.’ I’m listening to this guy and don’t really know what’s going on here, but a year later, he tragically died of AIDS. He was a very closeted gay man and that was what life was to him. Don’t do this, you don’t talk about it. I felt sorry for him, but he was the only person who brought it up, who out loud said you’re taking chances. To this day, I have no idea if someone who was considering me for a role might think I was gay because I did Torch Song Trilogy or they wouldn’t want a gay guy for the role. I don’t know if it ever came up or ever happened. If it did, I’m glad I didn’t know about it but who would want to work with people like that anyway. I’ve had plenty of people come up to me and tell me this movie changed their life and for so many people it meant a lot to them. I am so proud that I was a part of it.”
In 1990, Brian joined the cast of the hugely popular ABC sitcom, Roseanne, playing the love interest of Rosanne’s sister, Jackie. “It was a little scary for me and then it turned out to be a great disappointment. They were already a hugely great show and I went on for a guest role and the producer pulled me aside in the parking lot and asked if I would consider being a love interest for Jackie. They said it would start at the end of the current season and we’d pick it up the next season and we’ll see where it goes. It was practically a done deal. I did two episodes at the end of the year and it was at the time where there was a lot of volatility between Roseanne and the producers during hiatus. Roseanne fired all the production staff, including the guys who hired me. So they come back in the new year with new producers and said they were going to back off the Jackie has a boyfriend story and just drop it. I went to them and said you can’t drop it, but we shot two more episodes where we broke up. It was a shame, because Laurie (Metcalf) and I loved working together. We worked together again on a pilot and on Desperate Housewives. Working with Roseanne was a bit daunting, she’s such a powerhouse and I loved working with John Goodman.”
During our discussion on his many roles he’s played throughout his career, he mentioned his character, Eugene Alderman, on the F/X medical drama, Nip/Tuck. “Every so often you’ll get a good one.” The producers described his role as a white supremacist bigot, but one who looks like an all American guy. Kerwin explained that the role took a deeper and darker tone than he could have imagined. “I went to the producers and said, ‘I know where this is going. He’s going to beat up his wife isn’t he?’ They told me we were going much darker than that. Then they told me the storyline about one man castrating another man. I turned into an evil man like Mitch Laurence!”
Having worked in multiple genres, Brian honed his craft over the years. “From the top down, it starts with theater as an actor. I majored in Film/Cinematography at USC and luckily it was a nice segue from stage acting to the technicality of film in connection to television, it was fairly simple for me. I truly understood what goes into film making. I recently went into an audition for a film, and they handed me 5 pages of dialogue. I realized my experience of 3 years on One Life to Live, my memory muscles are strong, and it was so easy to learn 5 pages of dialogue without fear of forgetting the lines. You have to learn so much stuff on One Life to Live, learning my lines is the easiest thing to do. They all contribute; I’m not one of those who thinks one is better than the other. When I see Johnny Depp on film, I’m not going to say his work is any less than some stage actor, his work is brilliant. Luckily some people connect with the work or the medium, and it works out brilliantly.”
Outside of acting, Brian briefly stepped into the role of executive producer. “My manager is a television producer and manages now only me, we’re the oldest of friends, but he was trying to pitch a show at Showtime and I think HBO had a huge success with If These Walls Could Talk. It was an anthology that covered 30 years and he was pitching something like that at Showtime about Gay Rights and Equality. I asked Harvey Fierstein to get involved and we wound up getting two more major playwrights: Terrance McNally and Paula Vogel to write a three part anthology. We went to William Morris and said, “We want to pitch this,” they all jumped at it and we got a table at O’Neil’s on the Upper West Side and said, we want to do something in the 40’s, 50’s and in the 60’s, who wants to do what? It was a great experience across the board. At the time, I was in the middle of Beggars And Choosers, so the nuts and bolts of production went to my manager, AD. I was just there to pick a director and the cast.”
As our interview was coming to a close, I asked Brian, if there was anything else he was itching to do, that he hasn’t done yet. “Acting keeps me pretty busy and executive producer is a big job. I have a feature film in my mind that I’d like to do, so maybe someday. It takes a lot of work to produce a film.” We briefly discussed roles he regrets turning down and he said, “Oh my yes. The worst one, many moons ago, my agents sent me the script for Sex, Lies and Videotape. It was a low budget, independent film and I remember that after reading the script I told my agent I thought it was soft core porn, I don’t think this is even worthy of an audition. It just wasn’t good. A year later someone told me they were up at Park City Film Festival in Utah and it’s the hit of the festival.”
Brian says that if in 10 years, if he was still doing One Life to Live he would be happy. ” I love living on the Upper West Side, doing theater when I get a play, making my money doing the day job. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there will be many soap operas in 10 years. One Life to Live is the last soap opera in New York City, everybody is gone or canceled. It’s the nature of broadcast medium. All broadcast television is suffering because of the computers and cable. Scripted drama is suffering because the FCC ties your hands and as long as you have the Sopranos with that kind of quality plus nudity and violence, they are going to be out. It’s a shame because there is a place for soap operas. Maybe they will move to a different format or venue or something. The networks are making less and less money off of it. It may get narrowed down to four or five of them; hopefully One Life to Live will be one of them.”
At the close of our interview, I mentioned three actors he has worked with in the past and to give us one word that best describes them, this is what he had to say:
On working with Gregory Peck: “Esteemed. Oh my god, it’s Gregory Peck. I had done a TV series, Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo; we were shooting down in Arkansas. We’re out in the country, a bunch of kids came over and I’m standing with Gregory Peck, Stacey Keach, Geraldine Paige and they all want my autograph, they couldn’t care less about these nobodies I was standing with because I was Sheriff Lobo. I think Gregory Peck’s performances in To Kill A Mocking Bird and Roman Holiday were some of the best I’ve seen.”
On working with Robin Williams: “Melancholy. Robin is a really interesting example of someone who’s always funny but there’s something sad going on there.
On working with Sissy Spacek: “She’s very quiet and to herself. She’s very private. Hard Promises might have gone 5-6 weeks, and I never felt that we were real friends, but very cordial. I adored working with her.”
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