1981 New York
I dropped out of Juilliard in the Spring of 1981. I had no diploma, no prospects, no agent, no money – nothing! Then I got an audition for the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare in the Park program by basically browbeating the casting office. I ended up getting cast in the ensemble and had one scene with five lines opposite Mandy Patinkin (now the star of “Homeland”). Val Kilmer also got cast in similar supporting parts in Des McAnuff's production of “Henry IV, Part 1” in Central Park.
This was my first job in New York as a professional actor, and it was pretty exciting to spend the summer getting paid to do Shakespeare. But after that my luck ran out, and I just couldn't get any acting work, so I decided to go see Joe Papp for a job. Papp was the influential founder and director of the New York Shakespeare Festival who created the Public Theatre in Manhattan. He remembered me from the Park show and gave me a job in the supply room in the basement of the Public Theatre.
While working there, I got cast as the lead in an Off-Off-Broadway production of Friedrich Schiller's “The Robbers.” We performed in a dance space on 13th Street. The play earned me my first New York review in the Village Voice. It was a good one, that oddly compared me to both Marlon Brando and Karl Malden in the same sentence. For weeks my friends called me Marlon Malden!
Joe Papp showed up for the play one night and fired me the next day! I was stunned, because the job at the Public Theatre was paying my rent. Joe explained by saying: “I went to the theatre last night and discovered an actor. You've become too comfortable here so it’s time you get out there and work.” He did me the greatest favor in the world by giving me three months’ pay and literally shoving me out the door. Four months later, Joe and his wife Gail were in the audience at opening night of my first Broadway play, Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts”, opposite Liv Ullmann and John Neville (who used to run the Old Vic Theatre).