If you watch CBS’ Madam Secretary, you know the cast consists of Broadway greats gone small screen stars. Keith Carradine (Hands on a Hardbody), Bebe Neuwirth (Chicago), Patina Miller (Pippin), Sebastian Arcelus (Elf) and Željko Ivanek (The Pillowman) graced the BroadwayCon stage in an epic MainStage panel.
Theatre has impacted on their work in television, and the panel spoke to the differences between the two entertainment formats. Along the way, the stars revealed tidbits about their relationships with one another and the crew. The panel ended with a sneak-peak at next week’s new episode of Madam Secretary.
1. The first time Bebe Neuwirth saw co-star Keith Carradine, he was naked.
After Carradine spoke of beginning his long career in the cast of Hair opposite Ben Vereen, he admitted that he wore his birthday suit onstage. Neuwirth was happy to let him know that the production was the first Broadway show that she had ever seen.
2. Sebastian Arcelus owes Anthony Rapp his Broadway debut.
After auditioning for Rent seven times, Arcelus received a phone call in which he was told that he would be making his Broadway debut in Rent. He was called back thirty minutes later, at which time he was informed that plans for the production might change; there was word that an alumnus could be coming back. “So, thank you for being busy,” Arcelus said to Rapp, “because if you had come back, I might have not done the show.”
3. The pronunciation of Željko Ivanek’s name.
4. Bebe Neuwirth often finds television frustrating and daunting.
Neuwirth loves the rehearsal process when she is doing a play. She said that she gets frustrated with television because “you don’t get to find things like you usually do in theatre.” She also pointed out that there is a lot more on-the-spot problem solving when acting for television, and that you only know what happens with your character up to that week’s script. “In theatre, you know exactly who a person is,” she said of stage characters. “[Television] is daunting.”
5. Patina Miller was scared about her first day on the set of Madam Secretary.
Madam Secretary was Miller’s first television show, and no one prepared her for what she was supposed to do upon entering the set for the first time. “I remember…thinking, ‘How am I going to mask that I’m new?’” she said. The first direction she was given by anyone was that it was important that she hit her mark. “I was trying to act and trying to feel it,” she said, laughing. “They were like, ‘No. Hit your mark first. Do all of that other stuff after.’ With TV I had to allow myself to learn this new thing.”
6. Sebastian Arcelus sees theatre coming to television.
“When I watch television these days I see so much theatricality,” he said, pointing out that there are a lot of similarities in the execution of moments, especially when it comes to comedy.
7. What makes Ivanek go crazy...
All of the actors on the panel agreed that the unexpected nature of shooting for television is par for the course; however, Ivanek recalled working on Damages under more extreme circumstances. On at least one occasion the team ended up blocking a scene without even having a script. “I’d go a little bit crazy,” he said.
8. Why Spencer Tracy is Carradine’s hero.
Carradine discussed the challenges in looking at your mark—finding the exact spot you need to be so the camera can capture you—while filming. “Spencer Tracy made looking at his mark part of his performance,” he said, right before demonstrating Tracy’s swift skills.
9. Morgan Freeman directed the episode of Madam Secretary in which Miller and Neuwirth sing. (Yes, that Morgan Freeman!)
According to Neuwirth, Freeman began his career in theatre as a dancer in at least two Broadway shows! His first show was Hello Dolly! in 1964. Neuwirth thought that filming that scene was easier than most because she had a live audience for it.
Iris Wiener is an entertainment journalist. Her work appears on Playbill.com and in TheaterMania, Long Island Woman and Long Island Herald, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter @Iris_Wiener or visit her at IrisWiener.com.