Barry Bostwick is one of those actors that you know you’ve seen but sometimes can’t name. Let me help you out. The California-born Bostwick was bitten by the acting bug early, often putting on shows in his backyard with his brother. After high school he moved to New York to continue his education and started getting small stage roles. His career was made when, in 1972, he originated the role of Danny Zuko in the Broadway musical “Grease,” earning his first Tony Award nomination. Another nomination came with his work in “They Know What They Wanted.” The third time was the charm when, in 1977, he won the Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical for “The Robber Bridegroom.”
In 1975 he starred as Brad Majors in the still-cult classic “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Television fans may remember him as the Mayor on “Spin City” or as the title character in two “George Washington” mini-series.
Bostwick is now appearing in the new film “Finding Joy, ” which opens this Friday in the States. While promoting the film he took time out to speak with Moviehole about the weather (we spoke after a much publicized week of tornado-like weather), spray tans and why, forty years later, “Grease” is still the word.
Mike Smith: Hello from Kansas City.
Barry Bostwick: You’re still there? You haven’t blown away yet? (laughs)
MS: So far.
BB: I don’t know how you do it. You guys are braver then me. (laughs)
MS: Can you give us a little insight into Alan, your character in “Finding Joy?”
BB: Was that his name? (laughs) I never remember the names of my characters. He’s a very interesting guy. He’s very agoraphobic…he hasn’t left the house in years. And I found that to be a link to his whole personality and character. He would import any excitement in his life through his girlfriend. It was an interesting journey for this guy to unbind himself from his reasoning about why he couldn’t leave the house as well as unbind himself from the reasons he Is so angry and resentful towards his son. It all comes together in the end and he’s able to solve all of these issues. (SPOILER ALERT) And then of course he dies! That’s movie-making (laughs)
MS: What attracted you to the role?
BB: There were some real challenges for the character, and for me there were many opportunities to try to be funny…try to be quirky…try to be different. The hardest part was keeping my tan. He has this hideous orange tan which is a side effect of the erectile dysfunction drug he’s taking. Every two days I had to stand naked in front of some young girl in my hotel room as she sprayed me down. It was very uncomfortable. Mostly because I was standing naked in front of a young girl in my hotel room! (laughs) It was a very weird situation. It took forever for that spray tan stain to get out of my hair. When I look at photographs from the film I think to myself, “God, I look like George Hamilton.” The white hair and the dark tan go very well together. The quirkiness was also what I found interesting. In mainstream show business I have a tendency to be cast in more conventional roles for my age. So myself, and many other actors that I’m a contemporary with, get very attracted to these projects because we get to do things we may not be able to do anywhere else. I also get to work with a lot of exciting, young talent. Whether they’re behind the camera or acting…it’s people who are experiencing their creative chops for the first time. Sharing the excitement of them getting their first movie made. There’s an enthusiasm that’s catching and you like to be a part of those people that are just starting out and still have that energy.
MS: When you’re on the set with someone who’s just starting out do you ever think back to when you were just starting out?
BB: Oh, yeah. I try to tell them how damn lucky they are to have a job in show business and to not complain about the hours and the food. (laughs) I know I wouldn’t want to start out in show business these days. I have an 18-year old son (Brian) who wants to be an actor. One week he thinks he’s just going to hit the pavement and become a big star and then the next he’s thinking he’ll never make it. He knows that there are 10,000 young guys in Hollywood who are starting out on the same level. It’s a tough, tough, tough, tough time. These days you not only have to be a good actor. You have to be a computer genius and a networking maven.
MS: Here’s a name I’m sure you’ll remember: Danny Zuko. You originated the role of Danny in “Grease,” earning a Tony Award nomination for your work. Why do you think the show is still so popular after four decades?
BB: I think it’s because of the archetypical characters that everybody grew up with. Everybody had a gang of some sort, whether it was just friends in the neighborhood or a real gang. And I think that the issues that they face in the show…personal issues of identity…are universal. Every actress at that age likes to play the “bad girl” and every actor likes to play the “bad boy,” and “Grease” is full of these phony “bad boy/bad girl” characters that, underneath it all, are really quite innocent and genuine. Just like kids in high school it’s all about façade and image. And the music is fun. Plus I think kids like to say “f***” on stage! (laughs)
MS: What do you have coming up?
BB: I have a web series debuting June 3 called “Research” which is being platformed out in 10-12 minute episodes. I have a movie coming up on the SyFy Channel called “Blowing Vegas Off the Map” and I just finished a film called “Slay-Bells” where I play a biker-Santa. I’ve also got a role in an episode of Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” a series about Masters and Johnson, which should air in the fall. I’ve got a lot of family stuff…my son graduates high school this week and I’m knocking on every piece of wood I see!
Finding Joy opens Friday