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Onstage / Ten Questions for Sean Cullen



Sean Cullen—star of stage (Broadway’s Golden Boy and South Pacific), film (Michael Clayton), and television (Mindhunter, Bull) and founder/producing artistic director of American National Theatre—returns to his native Buffalo this month to star in The Antipodes at Road Less Traveled Productions (RLTP). A graduate of Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School, St. Bonaventure University, and the Yale School of Drama, Cullen first met RLTP artistic director Scott Behrend when the late A. R. Gurney recommended Cullen’s play, Safe Home, and RLTP did a reading of it in its former Market Arcade space.


Now living in the Catskills with his wife Tess and five-year-old daughter Clara, Cullen hasn’t worked in Buffalo since 1993 at Studio Arena, and this is the farthest from home he’s worked since his daughter was born. He’s excited to be part of the community again, if only for a short time, and to spend time with his Southtowns-based family.


What’s your relationship to The Antipodes? 

I was at Berkshire last summer and Scott emailed me, “Do you know this play?” The second email said, “Would you be interested to take a look and maybe do it?” I read it and said, “Yes.”


What’s the best acting advice you were ever given?

By the time I left Bonaventure, I thought I wanted to direct, so applied to Carnegie Mellon and then Yale. At Yale, you had to do monologues, and the head of directing said, “Have you considered being an actor?” And that’s why I’m on the phone with you right now.
On my second day of Michael Clayton, I had an idea of how a particular scene should go, and the director, Tony Gilroy, said, “I don’t care, I trust you, just make it alive.” It was a permission he was giving me. Give yourself the permission to do your work, and not wait for others to give you that permission. That’s a conversation from recent play we did; that conversation was electric and from that night on, the show was great.


What’s your best “the show went on” moment?

When I went on last minute for Christopher Walken in James Joyce’s The Dead on Broadway. I’d only been on the job six weeks at that point, and I was told the night before that he was going to Sundance for a movie and the next night, I went on. It was a great night.


What’s the role that got away?

Edmund in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. I just always wanted to play Edmund and got too old. Also Higgins in Pygmalion. I auditioned for it once about ten years ago, but I was too young.


What line from a play have you never forgotten?

There’s an Ibsen play called The Wild Duck, and there are too many lines in that play to put in the answer. I love that play; I’ve done it three times. Also, from The Dead, “The world I’ve come to think is like the surface of a frozen lake. We walk along, we slip, we try to keep our balance, and not to fall. One day, there’s a crack and so we learn that underneath us is an unimaginable depth.” James Joyce is one of my favorite theater experiences ever.


What “against type” role are you dying to play?

Higgins; I don’t know if it’s against type. I’ve been pretty lucky; I’ve gotten to play a range of things.


What’s your classic actor nightmare dream?

That I’m not in the play!


What audition would you love to do over?

About two months ago, a New York Theatre Workshop callback; the people who did Once are doing a new Irish musical called Sing Street. I have to wear glasses now and I don’t want to be wearing glasses and reading off a page when I’m auditioning. It was a short time to prepare and I didn’t know the lines as well as I thought I did without my glasses, and I was betwixt and between. I was fortunate to be really good in the first audition but whatever magic happened the first time, it was completely opposite for the callback.


What’s the best thing you’ve seen recently and why?

I saw a really good production of a play at Denizen—a new theater in New Paltz near here—called Cal in Camo; it was the first-ever production in a brand new space. To see a really good production of a really good play is kind of rare thing.


What other projects do you currently have in the works?

The last thing I did was a couple days on this HBO series, I Know This Much Is True based on the Wally Lamb novel; that’s coming out. I also did the movie Unintended with Elizabeth Lail; they lost Tom Wopat for the lead and four days before called me. And David Fincher’s series Mindhunter on Netflix. I’m in season two playing FBI director William Webster.



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