THE EMMY WINNER ON MAMET, HIS LONG HISTORY WITH AL PACINO
On many levels, it seems somehow preordained that Richard Schiff, who’s known probably around the world for his Emmy-winning portrayal of Toby Ziegler on television’s The West Wing, should be making his Broadway debut in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, playing the Schoenfeld Theatre. As the actor recounts, “When my first wife – with whom I have a great relationship so this isn’t weird – heard the news, she said “You used to read American Buffalo aloud to me.”
He laughs, adding “Other guys read Shakespeare to get their women to fall in love with them. I was reading Mamet to her which gives you an idea of where we were at.”
Schiff’s relationship to Mamet – and his play about a group of cutthroat real estate men – goes deeper. “I was invited to do the first table read for the film version of Glengarry with Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon. And the next thing you know I’m in New York auditioning for the film, for both Moss and Aaronow [the role he's playing on Broadway].”
Schiff continues, saying “They kept me in New York for quite a while,” and then adds with a laugh, filled with a bit of self-deprecating irony, “But then they realized that there were bigger movie stars who wanted to do these roles. Bigger movie stars? I wasn’t even in the movie yet.”
“It was my first kind of inkling that maybe I could work with these guys at some point in my life,” says Schiff, and indeed he has, appearing with Pacino in films like City Hall and People You Know.
Schiff describes Pacino as “a walking, funny, living museum, who’s just full of love now. He loves his fellow actors, he love the words, and he loves what he does. I feel kind of blessed to have a working relationship with him and working with him now is beyond anything I could have imagined.”
And, even as Schiff performs in Glengarry (which also stars Bobby Cannavale, Murphy Guyer, David Harbour, John C. McGinley, and Jeremy Shamos), he’s also serving as executive producer of Chasing the Hill, “a web series – or a digital series as they like to call it now. It centers on a fictional race in California for a congresswoman played by Robin Weigert,” says Schiff.
The actor had first been approached by writer Brent Roske about starring in the series, but Schiff felt “it was too close to The West Wing,” but he was intrigued enough to sign on as executive producer and Roske eventually created a new role for him.
Schiff notes that, as they’ve mixed their fictional world with the political world, they’ve attracted some major players to appear in the show including Governers Ed Rendell (PA) and Gray Davis (CA), along with political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell.
Schiff says what he’s finding most appealing about his work on the show is that “it’s like doing off-off-Broadway in the 70s and 80s when it was like “Oh you got a play? Let’s rent this church basement. I’ll drive a cab two nights extra a week for the next month to help pay for it.”