Barry Bostwick is a renowned stage and screen actor who has, among many things, originated the role of Danny Zuko in the original Broadway produce of Grease, played Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Mayor Randall Winston in Spin City, and acted in a variety of genres ranging from dramas to musicals and horror films.
At Wizard World Comic Con Chicago 2015, I sat down with the Rocky Horror Picture Show star, who was there promoting his latest project, Tales of Halloween, a horror anthology film chosen as the opening night film for the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival. We talked about his acting background, his filmography, and the changes in the entertainment landscape.
I want to talk to you about your filmography first. You’ve done theatre, television, and film in almost every genre and category – what has been your favorite medium to work in?
Probably television because it goes so quickly. You’re in, you’re out. I just did a Hallmark movie that was on two nights ago – I went to Victoria, Canada for seven days, did it, got in, got out, had a nice time, had some good meals, and came home! Movies have a tendency to take a long time, a lot of sitting around, a lot of reshoots, but I like doing episodes. I just did an episode of Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce on Bravo last week in Canada again: five days, working with interesting people, quick, very improvisational, spontaneous, that’s what I like. And I’ve done a lot of movies in the last couple of years where they were, not groundbreaking, but certainly parodies and things that require you to be very in-the-moment, and for me to use my twisted sense of humor.
Do you find you approach acting different in each medium?
Nah, it’s the same thing.
You attended San Diego’s International University and NYU programs, getting your start in theatre. Are there specific techniques or methods you rely on – Stanislavsky, Strasberg, Chehkov?
I have no method at all! My method is to get through the day, and be as honest and real as I can be, and to remember my lines. That’s the whole kit and kaboodle right there.
Whether it’s theatre like Grease – in which you originated Danny Zuko, before John Travolta – or a movie like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or even something more recent like Teen Beach Movie, do you bring the same level of work ethic to each performance?
Yeah, yeah. And also, I like the musicals. I love the musicals, that’s where I got my start. Whenever I get a chance to sing a song, I will. We have a show coming out called Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, which is coming out this next month, sort of four-walling around the country, and I get a good song in that. That’s directed by the same guy who directed my piece in Tales of Halloween, that’s premiering here at the film festival. That’s really why I’m here is for the film festival and Tales of Halloween. Darren Bousman is his name and I’ve done three films for him this year, and he’s a very talented, wacky, weird, wonderful director that I like working with because he always leads me in a direction that’s as far away from the conventional television performance because he likes these larger-than-life parodies. That’s why I do that.
So you find yourself gravitating more towards genres and niche audiences more often than usual?
Right now I do, only because they’re unusual and I like the unusual. I make a living doing Hallmark movies and doing episodes of other things on television that aren’t necessarily that fulfilling from my sense of humor. I have another film coming out this year called Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves, which is a sequel to FDR: American Badass!, a movie I did two years ago that’s hysterical, but it’s very rude, and it’s the kind of movie that, well, FDR: American Badass! came out two years ago and was downloaded over two million times illegally – every stoner around the world downloaded this movie and so when I come to these conventions occasionally, it’s amazing what kids will remember, whether it’s FDR or even Teen Beach Movie. I have 10-year-olds who come up to me and go, “Don’t I know you?” and I go, “Did you see Teen Beach Movie? I played so-and-so.” And their eyes get saucer-like!
That’s a whole lot better than any shallow award show trophy.
Well, yeah, exactly! And so, I’m always happy to be here. I’ve never done the Wizard World before, so I’m looking forward to this. They seem like very nice, very well-organized people, and I hope to have a relationship with them in the future.
So what are you most proudest of out of your towering filmography? Or is it like choosing between your children?
Wow. That’s sort of true. Well, I did a miniseries years ago called Rocky Hor– wait, no, maybe that’s what it is! No, no, it was called George Washington, it was a ten-hour miniseries and I played George Washington on CBS. That was a very big job for me, hard but unique in that I was able to play George Washington like nobody’s ever played him before, and with a lot of research and a lot of integrity. That was a really meaningful job for me, because it was a flip-side of my usual stuff, which was the Rocky Horrors and the Greases and the parodies and funny stuff. I proved something to myself doing that, that I really was a legitimate real actor.
Do you find yourself continually surprised by the longevity of movies like TheRocky Horror Picture Show and Grease?
They’re just so iconic! I think they just struck a note. When we did Grease originally, nobody had really explored the ’50s theatrically, I mean, we weren’t really so far from them, we did it in 1971, so we were really only twenty years away. It would be like if somebody did a 1998 reboot of something.
It’s crazy, we’re doing that now! Everybody’s digging up properties from the ’80s and ’90s and adapting them for today.
Yeah… well, it’s all about audience recognition, are they comfortable with the things, will they make money, can you get the right talent involved in it, and it’s like, they’re talking about doing a reboot of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for Fox.
That’s one of those things that comes up every five years.
They talk about it, they talk about it, but they’ve yet to find the right person to play Frank-N-Furter, I think. And I think it’s the same thing now. They just haven’t found the right cast yet. It’s hard to redo an iconic show.
And finally, have you noticed any changes in the film/tv landscape since you started?
You have to be able to tweet, Instagram, Facebook, and all those things I’m not comfortable with right at the moment. I mean, I Facebook, but somebody has to help me put things on it, and from a social media standpoint, it’s a whole different world out there. A lot of these movies that I’ll be doing, that I’ve done, four or five of them, their first views will be seen online, and that’s how it will build its audience, from its Twitter followers and this-or-that. That wasn’t like it was when I was starting out.
Thank you so much, Barry!
You’re very good! You do your research!