Monday, April 19, 2010

Actor/Director Adam Carl: Renaissance Man

Adam Carl has been acting since he was a child, and has appeared on some of the most iconic television shows of all time, working with legends like John Ritter, Ed Asner, Bob Newhart, Patti Lupone, Dixie Carter, and so many others. His acting resume reads like a classic TV lovers dreambook, as he's performed on shows like Cheers, Who's the Boss?, The Facts of Life, Newhart, and Family Ties, to name just a few. Yet, his talents reach beyond acting on television. And it's clear why he is always working. He's one of the most amiable people in the industry.

Adam took the time to chat with me about his awesome and versatile career (which now includes directing feature films). Let's take a listen.


HJP: Adam - you're quite an eclectic individual. Your talented, intelligent, funny and insightful. Tell us about how it all began. Where were you born and raised, and what lead you to work in the entertainment industry?

AC: Well, first of all, thanks for the kind words. I was born in Fullerton, in Orange County, and my family moved to Tustin when I was in first grade. I wanted to perform for as long as I can remember. When I was five or six I wrote a letter to The Mickey Mouse Club asking to be on the show. I think they wrote me back a form letter thanking me for my interest and claiming that I was on some sort of a "waiting list." I'm not sure I knew at the time it was a blow off, but my folks did. When I was twelve, I convinced my parents to take me to an open call at Fox that we saw in the newspaper. It was for a lead role opposite Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon in a feature film called The Buddy System. My Dad drove me to the audition, dressed in my little league uniform because I had a game I had later in the day. They saw us seven kids at a time, but I ended up getting a call back. Then another. And another. At one point, Fox was messengering scripts to my house. It got down to the wire, and then Fox head Sherry Lansing saw the screen tests...and Wil Wheaton [Star Trek: The Next Generation] got the part. But they offered me a tiny co-star role as a consolation, playing an Ear of Corn in a school Thanksgiving pageant. Jason Hervey [The Wonder Years] played the Potato. After that auspicious debut, I got an agent and started auditioning regularly and working. And my parents were saints for constantly driving me back and forth from Orange County and laboring to make sure I had an otherwise normal childhood.

HJP: You've worked on so many wonderful classic TV shows, specifically, the short-lived but very funny Hearts Afire, with the great John Ritter, Designing Women, with Dixie Carter, who just recently passed away - and Life Goes On. The list itself goes on and on. And before we get into many of the other shows you worked on, what are your memories of working on these three shows in particular? And what was it like to work with John Ritter and Dixie Carter on theire respective shows? Do any particular memories stand out?

AC: All three of those shows were terrific to work on. John Ritter was one of the sweetest, funniest, most generous actors I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Whenever he thought you did something particularly funny, he always went out of his way to point it out and tell you, no matter how subtle it was. He'd pull you aside and say, "You did a thing there that was so great..." If you said something funny, he'd run around telling everyone and make sure to give you credit. That's the kind of guy he was. He noticed and he was a champion of everyone around him. I got to do a dance number in drag with John and Billy Bob Thornton and it remains a highlight of my life. As for Designing Women, that show was just so much fun to work on. I remember being terrified because the show was in the tabloids at the time, and there had been reports on on set strife. But I have to tell you, I saw absolutely none of anything like that. All of the women were so sweet and welcoming to me and it was a pleasure to get to come back and do two more episodes after the first. I love that there will always be footage of me out there with Dixie, who was so fantastic. And I also got to work with Alice Ghostley, which was such a thrill for me because I'm a huge fan Bewitched [on which Ghostley portrayed the bumbling witch-maid Esmeralda]. Life Goes On was also a lot of fun. There were lots of young people to hang around with Kellie Martin and Tanya Fenmore and Seth Green, and we had a great time. And Chris Burke was such a nice kid and always remembered me every time I came back for a new episode. That show gave me the opportunity to do a scene with Quincy Jones, which was very cool. And it was also fun to get to play the boyfriend for a change and not just be comic relief.

HJP: Ok - let's delve into a few other you've appeared in: The King of Queens, Silk Stalkings, Charles in Charge, Who's The Boss?, The Bronx Zoo, The Facts of Life, Dear John, Newhart, Cheers, Family Ties, Benson. Again, the list goes on and go. But if you would, please share with us at least some of your behind-the-scenes experiences from the iconic sets of these shows.

AC: All I can say is, it can be very scary being a guest actor on iconic shows. You're walking on to a set that is already a family and trying, like a brand new in-law, to desperately fit in and not break anything. And yet I don't think I ever worked on a show the cast and crew of which didn't make me feel welcome and supported. And, not surprisingly, the bigger the stars, the nicer they tended to be. Ted Danson and the entire Cheers cast were absurdly kind to me, as were Michael J. Fox, and Jamie Lee Curtis (Anything But Love), and Carol Kane (All Is Forgiven) and Tony Danza, who I'm told personally insisted on my character coming back. Ed Asner - who I also got to work with on Hearts Afire - wrote me a letter of recommendation for film school. And on Benson, which was my first TV gig, I got to do my scene with Rene Auberjonois, who I had just done Richard III with at The Mark Taper Forum, so that was a great way to get my feet wet. I don't remember having a lot of personal interaction with Bob Newhart, but I can't tell you how much it means to me to have had the chance to do a scene with him. He is one of my comedic heroes.

HJP: What many people might not know, is that you are also a busy voiceover actor who has worked on animated shows like Batman: The Animated Series and The New Adventures of Batman and Robin. Tell us what this type of work involves. And besides the obvious differences between performing for a live-action series or movie, explain the "emoting" process, if you will, for finding your "creative voice" for an animated character.

AC: I loved doing cartoon series - just a bunch of actors standing in front of microphones and playing. It really is like doing an old radio play, except that they put the sound effects in later. And I got to work with the best of the best. On Peter Pan and the Pirates, I would watch Tim Curry do Captain Hook with my jaw slack. He was just so freaking good. And it was fun doing a show like Denver the Last Dinosaur because I got to play two different characters, sometimes bouncing back and forth between the two. I don't really know how I came up with the voices I did. I was never as versatile as most of the actors I worked with, who it seemed could work miracles. I could pretty much just do different versions of my own voice! It was either higher or lower, either more realistic or more "cartoony," but it was still pretty much just me. Even when I played Donatello in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, I didn't do much more than just my own voice in a silly, higher register. But the vast majority of voice actors I got to work with - amazing actors with control of their voices finely tuned to the point of being very humbling.

HJP: You've clearly appeared on many family-oriented shows. How do you think the family shows of the past compare to the family shows of the present?

AC: That's a good question. It's probably best answered by true students of the genre, but I definitely think family shows now are much edgier. What is considered acceptable by today's standards would have been downright pornographic in previous decades, even recent ones. I myself prefer the edgier fare - family shows were never really my cup of tea - so it's hard for me to really judge.

HJP: In addition to continued acting appearances on shows like CSI: Miami, you also appear on radio. Tell us about that.

AC: I've made a few appearances as a panelist on a called The DAM-age Report and it's hosted by comedian Johnny Dam. It's a celebration of the First Amendment, so, naturally, not only is it political, but it can get pretty raunchy. Right up my alley, I'm afraid. The show is on every weekday from 2-4 on Johnny's a great guy and he cares about free speech, so he's my kind of guy.

HJP: You're also a film director and writer. First, tell us about some of the films you've written and directed, and then tell us about how these aspects fulfill your creative spirit.

AC: I've made three films - Performance Anxiety (1996), Pieces of Eight (2006) and Waiting For Ophelia (2009). All three are essentially romantic comedies, although the first one is slightly darker than the others. Because all three films were "microbudget" indies I was able to make them absolutely the way I wanted to, with no studio executive breathing down my neck or giving me notes. The movies are far from perfect, but at least the mistakes are my own. Working with so little money, though, you definitely have to make tons of compromises. You end up having to learn to love the movie you made as it invariably ends up being different than what you set out to make, but often in better and more surprising ways. Regardless, it's a special kind of thrill to see words you've written come to life on the set and in the editing room. I think it's truly a privilege to have had the opportunity to express myself in that medium. I'm probably the most relaxed and happy when I'm on a set, directing material that I think I really "get." I wouldn't know where to begin to make a big action blockbuster, but small stories that are dialogue heavy and deal with personal relationships... those I understand. The first two movies I made never really saw the light of day, but the latest one played a couple of film festivals and will soon be available on DVD. And it features what I think is a tremendous performance from Emmy winner Yeardley Smith [The Simpsons].

HJP: Out of all the varied talents you have, which do you enjoy most: acting, animated voiceover work, writing, directing or radio.

AC: So hard to pick just one as each has its own unique charms - but I think at the end of the day it would have to be directing. I don't think I'm a particularly talented director. I don't have a specific style or a lot of technical chops. I would probably be lost on any set other than one of my own. But it gives me a tremendous amount of joy to get to sit around all day working with great actors and technicians, having fun, keeping things light, and getting to play and create "moments." As a director, if I can foster an environment that makes the actors feel safe and supported and lets the cast and crew do what they believe is their best work, then I feel my own work has been a success.

HJP: Thank you so much, Adam, for the visit. We all look forward to seeing, reading and hearing your various and wonderful talents for years to come.

AC: Thanks Herbie! The pleasure was mine.

For more information about Adam Carl, click on this link:


Tinky said...

Definitely an interesting career! Thanks for "introducing" us to him, Herbie.

Herbie J Pilato said...

You're welcome, Tinky!