EXCLUSIVE: Interview with 'Zero Hour’s' Jim Brochu
The actor shares his thoughts about the legendary Zero Mostel
Jim Brochu’s one-man play about the legendary Zero Mostel won him a New York Drama Desk Award and a Los Angeles Ovation. He returns to Toronto for a limited engagement of the play Zero Hour, directed by Oscar-nominee Piper Laurie, which runs until March 11 at the Bathurst Theatre. Shalom Life caught up with the writer and star of the play to talk about Mostel and the show.
What drew you to write Zero Hour?
I thought he was a great central character who was both funny and dramatic. He overcame so many obstacles - physical, professional, personal and he did it with an outrageous sense of humour. And through it all he was a passionate painter. It was his first and maybe only true love.
How would you describe Zero Mostel for those who don't know much about him?
There were two Zeros. There was the Zero who, if he had an audience of only one, would become the compulsive bellowing, outrageous, show off and if you had the great fortune to be the witness of Zero up close you were dazzled by his brilliance or cowered by his extravagant roar. The other Zero was a quiet, solitary painter who enjoyed long stretches of just himself and his canvas.
What's your favourite Mostel character?
Jean in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. He did the stage version and then recreated the part on film opposite Gene Wilder. If you can find the DVD, he is just brilliant and his transformation into the beast is unforgettable.
I read that you knew Lucille Ball. How did that friendship come about?
I wrote a play in 1987 called “The Lucky O’Learys” about two sisters in their mid-sixties who have always been, and still are, sibling rivals. I found her address in a Maps To The Stars’ Homes and sent her the play along with a note that said I had taken a comedy seminar with her in 1977 and that I played backgammon. I don’t know which part of the letter worked but she called a few days later and invited me to play backgammon and talk about the project. We hit it off immediately and I became a daily visitor until the day she died. I still miss her 22 years later. The project was optioned with Lucy and Audrey Meadows as the two sisters but her health was too frail to go ahead with it. One night at dinner, I had Lucy on my left and Miss Meadows on my right and for a kid who had grown up in the fifties it was like being in TV heaven with Lucy Ricardo on one side of me and Alice Kramden on the other.
What do you hope audiences take out of the play?
After playing over 550 performances of the show, I have had the opportunity of meeting so many audience members after the show and what they tell me was they came away with an inside look at a man they thought they knew so well but didn’t. It’s not only the story of an actor who was an artist but someone who was caught in the frightening grasp of the blacklist which affected the lives of so many people just because of what they believed in. But most come away telling me that they laughed their tukases off.
What's it been like working with Piper Laurie?
Piper is a very old friend who also knew Zero. I thought it was important that the director actually knew the man. She told me stories of how they would sit in the Tip Toe Inn on 86th and Broadway while Zero told stories and buttered his arm all the way up to the elbow. She is a tremendous teacher for an actor and a terrific editor for a writer so she was the perfect choice. Her new autobiography called Learning To Live Out Loud has just been published and the last chapter is dedicated to working together on Zero Hour.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Well, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a big fat liar; there are second acts in American life and I’m the poster boy. Winning the New York Drama Desk was an amazing night being honored by my peers and being named an overnight success – after 40 years in the theatre.
What's next for you?
As soon as I leave Toronto, I leave for Hong Kong to board the beautiful Crystal Serenity where I am going to do one performance of Zero Hour and then spend three days in Beijing. As soon as I get home I am going to debut a new theatre piece called, Jim Brochu: Character Man and then there will be a production of the first musical I wrote with Steve Schalchlin called The Last Session opening in London in the fall. So if I am in the second act of my life, thank God it’s a long one.
For more about Zero Hour, visit www.zerohourshow.com.