Mr. Rogers

Mister Rogers died yesterday, and it wasn’t until I heard the remembrances on the radio that I realized what a huge impact he had on me as a person and as an actor.

‘What made me an actor’ is one of those topics I obsess about since I probably shouldn’t be one. I grew up as a musician and although it might not seem such a huge jump, the chasm between these two types of performers is enormous. The strange looking kid who, although not gregarious, has two or three really close friends, and together they create little worlds and study how things work- that is a musician. The child who has a thousand friends but none of them too close, who discovers that they can speak loudly and handsomely to a group and that group will listen, who finds a way to be that which each person needs them to be- that is an actor.

I am a musician at heart, although I am not actually a very good musician. I have always had two best friends, from Tom Wilkinson and Eric Landis to, presently, Mac Rogers and Steve Alexander, (and including ‘Mannin and Jay’ and ‘Chris and Chris’ and ‘Memo and Carlos’ and ‘Mike and Dani’) (although for a brief time it was just ‘me and Craig’, but that was a different thing altogether) (and some might argue that right now it’s ‘Mac and Jordana’, but when you are a ‘dork’, any girl who lets you ‘kiss their boobs’ is less a ‘friend’ and more a ‘miracle sent from God’) and my friends and I were generally always involved in some group project, dorking out all over the place.

Maybe it was living in LA, where I would run into people who call themselves actors, but who had no real talent, they were simply beautiful and well connected that gave me this disparaging view. Maybe it was that, in opera, you refer to the two different groups as ‘musicians’ and ‘singers’. But of the legions of actors out there, most of them are horrible people. I am less mad about this than I let on, I feel like I ought to be outraged and actually I am a little annoyed, so my reaction is somewhere between.

Anyway, I retrace my steps and I realize there are a hundred little things that made me want to be an actor.

Kevin Bacon in ‘Footloose’. Seriously. He is the new kid and he walks down the hallway and, as an actor, he decides to wipe the crap off the sides of his mouth and wipe his hand on his pants. That kind of detail is amazing.

Tim Matheson in Animal House. Again. He walks in the room and says ‘One, two, three, four… well I only brought a dozen roses so some of you boys are gonna have to share’, and on the last word he is decked. You have to see it to believe it.

Chip Zien in Into The Woods. His rendition of ‘No More’ must have been a dream come true for Sondheim. When you listen to this, you know why musical theater can be so effective.

And a thousand more. I could make a huge list, and it isn’t just actors. However, the best musical theater actor ever was probably Mr. Rogers. For any hosers out there who are mi-mi-mi-ing there way in a practice room at some junior college, watch Mr. Rogers sing a song.

There is a cheesiness with which so many singers decide to extend certain phrases and land on certain beats, like they are using their voice as an instrument. And that is fun sometimes, when you are desperate for them to get back on track. The flip side is when a singer keeps everything on the beat and let’s their amazing voice just ride and wail. I have taken to calling these singers ‘strippers’ because they just stand out there and let you see their goods.

Mr. Rogers speaks through his songs. It helps that he wrote all of the music on his show, but he is telling you something with each song he performs. The idea that every day someone got on TV and said to kids, some of them hiding from raping uncles and malicious parents, that he loved them exactly the way they are is actually his greatest legacy. But I was fortunate enough to not need that. What I got instead was to see first hand what it means to turn a phrase. As an adult I would watch his show and find myself choked up, not because of the message but because of the incredible honesty.

Play the tape in your mind. When he sang ‘let’s make the most of this beautiful day,’ listen to it. There is no better teacher for how to turn a phrase than Mr. Rogers. He was a great man, and his death is an enormous loss.