Williston: Your stage career started here at Williston, when you starred as Hamlet. What was it like to see Ellis Baker in the crowd as you performed as an adult in The Effect?
Brad: I simply couldn’t have been happier to have EB and his fantastic wife, Barbara, in the house. Mr. Baker had a huge influence on me, of course, and on so many others in his many years at Williston. He’s one of those “most-important-mentor-in-my-life” type of guys. He’s changed remarkably little since those days—he’s still the smartest guy in the room, funny, warm, and a pleasure to hang out with.
Williston: What drew you to your character in The Effect?
Brad: I was drawn more to the notion of doing a play than to the specific character. The amazing director of the show, Sam Weisman, and I have done about a half billion TV shows and movies together, and we have always kidded each other about the theater being our first love and how we’re gonna go back and do plays and leave Hollywood behind—and then we never do. At least I never did. Whenever I would have the opportunity to do a play, something would always pop up to make it impossible—some professional conflict, a manned moon mission, or a government assignment that I can’t say much more about. This time, however, I had no excuse, the timing was perfect, the stars aligned, all other actors being considered for the role mysteriously perished, and Sam threatened to expose some of my most lurid secrets, so I polished my tap shoes and showed up for rehearsal. The character was fun—he’s a drug-research psychiatrist who thinks he’s just so great, but is actually a pretty unpleasant egomaniac. Villains are always more fun to play than good guys.
Williston: How was it to spend a few weeks at the New England seashore in early summer? Did you get to take a swim in the cold Atlantic?
Brad: Gloucester is fabulous. I mean, it’s absolutely an undiscovered little paradise. And, yes, I did go into the chilly Atlantic (which isn’t much colder than the cold Pacific, to tell you the truth, though both are warming up rapidly, thank you very much Global Climate Change). Gloucester is kind of the ideal spot, I think. It has a lot of fishing history, and I have of course written several history-of-fishing books, poems, hymns, and ballets, so it’s right up my alley in that regard. It’s also a really important place in American art—both Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer, my fave artists, painted extensively in Gloucester, as any art nerd knows.
Williston: What was the best part of being in Massachusetts?
Brad: Reconnecting with EB and a couple of other Williston folks, including the ghost of Samuel Williston, who turned out to be haunting my Airbnb (what were the chances of that?!) I also hung out with some Massachusetts surfers (a hardy breed) and some insane bicyclists, which was tremendous fun. Incredible beaches, quaint-as-hell little towns, big-time cycling, sailing, and New England’s second best amateur saddle bronc riding—what’s better than the Massachusetts seashore in summer? I also loved the other actors in the play. Lindsay Crouse and I had worked together a million years ago both on stage in New York and in a movie, and we used to be neighbors when she lived in Los Angeles, so it was fun to work with her again.
Williston: What are you working on now, if you can say?
Brad: I’m directing HBO’s Veep [Brad’s wife is Julia Louis-Dreyfus], I’m writing and producing a TV show that will shoot soon (mostly in France), and I’m directing a movie in the spring, so it’s an embarrassment of riches—for the moment, anyway. As I say this, I am knocking on wood all around my office.