Twenty Questions





Cullum in as Caldwell B Cladwell
in Urinetown: The Musical.

American Theatre - May 1, 2002

John Cullum is a two-time Tony-winner appearing in this season's most irreverent musical comedy, Urinetown: The Musical. He invited American Theatre to his dressing room before an evening performance at the Henry Miller Theatre.

What's your sign?
My sign is Pisces. I'm glad I knew that! I thought you were going to ask me something I'd have to struggle over. Anything you know about that sign, other than that it's a water sign? That they're some fishy guys is all I know. They're led around by the nose.

Do you find it kind of ironic that it's a water sign and you're in a play that...?
No, I never have thought of it. A fish raised in the kind of water that this show is about....I don't know how long it would survive.

Maybe your astrological sign directed you to the smallest dressing room you've ever had.
This is the tiniest room I've had since The Saving Grace, which was 30 years ago, down on the Lower East Side. I don't know whether it's a step up or a step down from where we [the Urinetown company] were Off Broadway. Off Broadway we all shared one dressing room--the men and the women. We had a sheet draped between us.

You must have overheard some interesting conversations?
I heard some things that I never expected to hear young ladies say. It was very, very educational.

Any stories you want to share?
No. I wouldn't even share them with my wife.

Did you have an affection for rabbits before you sang "Don't Be the Bunny"?
Well, I have eaten rabbit--but not since I've been in this show.

Where are you from?
I'm a hillbilly. I'm from east Tennessee. Knoxville. The foothills of the Smokies.

How did you make the way from there to here?
By bare foot. Actually, I'd been in the army for a year, in Korea. I was working on a master's degree in finance at the University of Tennessee. I gave myself a couple of years to try acting. I was lucky and got involved in stuff pretty quickly.

What do you think is the secret to a long and healthy career in the theatre?
Luck and perseverance. You have to have a kind of a competitive spirit. It's something that you have to keep.

Who are your favorite playwrights?
Well, Shakespeare. And I guess Arthur Miller, among my contemporaries.

Any plays you wish you'd done but haven't yet?
I've never done O'Neill. I've read all of O'Neill's stuff and come close to doing the play that I think I should have played by now--Long Day's Journey--but never have.

What's the tackiest thing you own?
My unconquerable soul. [laughs] The tackiest thing I own...would probably be my general wardrobe. Practically every piece of clothing I have on and practically every piece of clothing that I own is from a show.

Do you have any phobias?
Yes, and I'd rather not talk about them because they're too frightening. I'm slightly claustrophobic. I think that's brought on by this "enormous" dressing room.

Who are your theatre idols?
Alfred Drake. Howard da Silva. Jason Robards. George C. Scott. I've also shared dressing rooms with some of those guys.

If you weren't an actor, what would you be?
Probably I'd be in mortgage loans, trusts or real estate. I'd probably be in jail by now for having done some kind of arbitrage deal.

What do you enjoy reading?
I read plays more than I read anything else. I like mystery novels. Graham Greene.

What's your greatest indulgence?
I'm certainly not going to answer that.

If you could see one more play, what would it be?
My last play? Oh, my God! I think the last play I'd like to see, or certainly the last play I'd like to be in, is King Lear.

It isn't theatre if...
If you don't love it.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Theatre Communications Group
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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