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Q&A – Michael Cristofer (Truxton Spangler)

Michael Cristofer plays Truxton Spangler, the formidable head of API. In this exclusive interview, Cristofer talks about his return to acting and feeling powerful, among other things.

Q: Your character is said to be a man of habits. Would you describe yourself that way?

A: I’m the complete opposite. I’m totally unpredictable and never do anything consistently. It is one of the enjoyable things in playing the part. Henry Bromell and I based him on a couple of people that we knew who had very specific, peculiar and funny habits and we stole them.

Q: Is that why he eats cereal for lunch and wipes his mouth with his tie?

A: Yeah. The people that we used, the first was Sam Cohn, one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood back in the ’80s and ’90s. I knew him. And Henry, when he was very young, he worked at The New Yorker magazine and the person who ran that magazine forever and ever was William Shawn. And, for instance, Mr. Shawn had corn flakes for lunch everyday. That’s what he ate. And Sam Cohn had a habit of putting things in his mouth like handkerchiefs. Everyone was convinced that he ate paper. Things like that. The wiping of the mouth with the tie came from the Sam Cohn behavior. They are legends.

Q: Do you like corn flakes?

A: No! In fact, I said, “Can we please make it Cheerios?” [Laughs] That’s my breakfast of choice: Cheerios, yogurt, blueberries and walnuts. But Corn Flakes were accurate and also they look better on camera. They sit up on the spoon. [Laughs]

Q: Having been so successful as a writer and a director, is it hard to just be an actor?

A: It’s a real pleasure to me now, having been away from acting for about fifteen years, to just come back to it. It isn’t difficult at all, and people who are good collaborators are not intimidated by that. If they want to use something that I know, they use it, and I’m happy to contribute if it’s required or asked for.

Q: Have you ever felt as powerful as Truxton appears to be?

A: No. That was the other fascinating thing about jumping into this part, the notion that there are these very powerful, very wealthy people who, from the far background, influence and control events. I do believe that’s true. More people are aware of this after the fiscal catastrophe of the last few years and the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. My feeling is that most people in our country are complete victims to these powerful corporate persons. But no, I’ve never felt that kind of power.

Q: What about when you won the Tony Award for your play The Shadow Box?

A: It was funny. That night, Raul Julia was there. We were working in a play together when I got the prize, and Raul came up to me after and said, “Now you can do anything.” I thought that was kind of a silly thing to say. I don’t think I can do anything. I mean, I felt I had been given a bit of a gift and a key to a kind of a future. And that turned out to be true. But I’ve always felt there is more that I can learn and that there are many people who are as good as, or better at, what I do than I am. I’ve had opportunities, but I’ve never felt power.

Q: Do you agree with Truxton’s theory that a compliment from a stranger means more than a compliment from a loved one?

A: I do. It’s called objectivity. He understands the value of objectivity and objectivity, he understands, is more important than any other connection that is tainted by humanness.

Q: When, in your own life, have you been influenced by a stranger?

A: Early on, when we were first doing The Shadow Box. It moved to Broadway and it started winning prizes and it was all about theater, you know? Every now and then someone would write to me or stop me (because there was so little literature at that time that dealt with what people were going through in terms of terminal illnesses and relationships under those circumstances) and say to me something about their response to the play or a character, and tell me about their personal life, and the whole notion of theater just fell away. We really are speaking to people and connecting to people and touching people and affecting people. That is beyond all the brouhaha of entertainment. And I’ve never forgotten that.

Q: It sounds like you’re more powerful than you think.

A: What we do is powerful. That’s true. You’re right. I am very powerful. Why am I talking to you? That’s what Spangler would say. Yes, I am very powerful and we’re finished.

Click here to read an interview with Dallas Roberts, who plays API analyst Miles Fiedler.

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