Exclusive LB Interview

Blessed with All the Right Stuff

There are only a handful of actors in Los Angeles who straddle the fence of television and stage work as gracefully and successfully as Scott Paulin.

Paulin, 61, works steadily in episodic tv, most recently playing Stana Katic’s father, ‘Jim Beckett’ on ABC’s Castle. His television resume, acting and directing, totals nearly 100 credits, including series regular work on the short-lived but much decorated I’ll Fly Away, and some powerhouse guest starring roles, most notably The Twilight Zone, directed by William Friedkin, and the original Amazing Stories, directed by Steven Spielberg.

But when asked where the actor-director’s heart is, he does not hesitate. “Live theatre. It’s where it all started.”

Last year Paulin received rave reviews for his direction of the Open Fist’s Getting Frankie Marriedand Afterwards by the late Horton Foote, a long time friend and colleague. He closed out 2010 directing Conor McPherson’s St. Nicholas, a one-man show starring Michael McGee. Earlier this year he teamed up with another long time chum, Nick Kazan, on Kazan’s riveting and provocative Mademoiselle God at the Ensemble Theatre in Atwater Village. In all three cases, Paulin’s reputation as an actor’s director was on full display, bringing out captivating and honest performances from his casts.

Now he is set to open another significant stage play by yet another long time colleague. Opening tonight at the Open Fist Theatre in Hollywood is Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, the Los Angeles premiere of the newly revised Obie award-winning classic.

I caught up with Scott Paulin a few days ago in his westside neck of the woods, Santa Monica.

Lars Beckerman:  How’s life?

Scott Paulin:  Life is good. It’s sunny in Santa Monica, as it should be on opening night for Curse of the Starving Class.

LB:  Why this play, why now?

SP:  Well, Sam Shepard was a big part of the early days of my career. He was pretty responsible for some of the success I had getting started as an actor in the Bay Area. We did this play together, I played ‘Wesley’ in the Bay Area production of Curse of the Starving Class back in the mid 1970s – Sam didn’t direct it but he oversaw the production – it was a tremendous experience, very successful, got me a lot of attention up there. I loved the play then. It’s a play that takes place in Southern California, in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where I also grew up – the desert town of San Bernardino, which is similar to the setting of Curse, Duarte, just east of L.A. All of that made it very interesting to me. Not to mention the fact that Sam and I both had a great deal of success doing a film called The Right Stuff in the early 80s. So it just seemed like a really great fit for the Open Fist – and for me.

Scott played ‘Deke Slayton’ in the 1983 Oscar winning film The Right Stuff, opposite Shepard, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, and Fred Ward.

LB:  The Right Stuff had a great cast. What a thrill to be a part of that group.

SP:  Indeed. A really remarkable and life changing experience. Such great memories.

LB:  And to be working with your friend from the Bay Area theatre scene on such a high-profile studio film must have been pretty sweet.

SP:  Yeah. Sure was. 

LB:  Tell me about those San Fran days.

SP:  Sam was something of a fixture in the Bay Area theatre scene in the early 1970s. He was around a lot. I guess he had just come back from London, and he and his wonderfully eccentric wife were well-known to everybody in the Bay Area. He was writing plays for the Magic Theatre. He’d done some early stuff with them when he was living in New York and then he came west and kind of became their playwrite laureate where he wrote some of his best stuff.

LB:  So you played ‘Wesley’ back in that 1970s production. Now that you’re a little more mature do you find yourself relating more to the father character of ‘Weston?’

SP:  I do. It was interesting to realize that I’ve never seen the play. I’d never seen any scenes except the ones I was in. I guess I just wasn’t that actor who hung around watching other actors rehearse. I had never seen this play live before I took it on this time. And as a result, when I started working on the part of ‘Weston’ with Kevin McCorkle, I found all sorts of stuff that resonated in my own life. The ‘Wesley’ character, straight out of high school, is very far from where I am now in my life. Although I still love that role. And fortunately, we were able to find a wonderful young actor named Ian Nelson to play him in this production. Could not be happier with the work he’s doing. In fact the whole cast is just really, really good.

LB:  Tell me a little bit about your relationship with your wife, Wendy Phillips. Is she your number one collaborator?

SP:  She is, in every part of my life, my number one collaborator. She is my aesthetic backup. The truth of it is, it is important to me at some point in the process of directing to have her come in and iron out my mistakes.

Scott and Wendy worked together in the 1986 Emmy Award winning mini-series A Year in the Life. Wendy is currently teaching film at USC’s graduate school.

LB:  What conversations are you hoping to spark with your audience leaving the theatre after Curse of the Starving Class?

SP:  Funny you ask, because last night after the preview a couple came up to me, and had noticed in the program note that Sam had revised the play, some minor changes, nothing really all that significant – shortened the play a little bit. And they wanted to know how much had he changed or updated the play to make it fit today’s socio-economic climate. And the truth is, he changed none of that. It was this way from the beginning. This whole notion that real estate is an investment that can never go wrong. And of course all of the personal issues of a family facing bankruptcy. A family that can no longer hold itself together culturally because it has lost its footing economically. All of those things I would love to find that people were talking about in the lobby after the show.

LB:  What’s next for you, Scott? Do you have your eyes set on another piece?

SP:  I have my eyes set on a vacation with my wife. After that, I will be helping produce at the Open Fist this summer with their annual First Look Festival. And probably be back next season doing something at the Open Fist. I hope.

LB: Thanks so much, Scott.

SP:  You bet, Lars.

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