Cinema Arts Centre is about to say “Willkommen” to Joel Grey.
“I hear it’s delightful there,” says Grey about coming to the Huntington theater. “I love Long Island. I used to play Westbury a lot.”
On Thursday night, the singer-dancer-actor will be on hand for a screening of the 1972 film “Cabaret,” the Bob Fosse-directed musical set against the backdrop of 1930s Berlin during the rise of Nazism. The movie won eight Academy Awards, including one for Liza Minnelli’s performance as capricious nightclub singer Sally Bowles and another for Grey as the flamboyant Master of Ceremonies, a role he originated on Broadway in 1966.
Grey, 84, will also take part in a Q&A after the movie and then sign copies of his aptly titled 2016 memoir “Master of Ceremonies,” which came out in paperback this month. During a recent telephone conversation, Grey talked about his signature role — for which he also won a Tony Award — and what made him publicly come out as gay two years ago.
What is it about “Cabaret” that still strikes a chord with people?
The stage show is still running and touring all over the country. It’s got a connection with people in terms of the history and the loss and the cautionary tale that it really tells that speaks to people. Especially these days. And the audience has always been sort of titillated by the eccentricity and the naughtiness of Berlin in the ’30s. They get to go and watch it and then they get to go home and be clean.
You had an interesting inspiration for your character in the movie. He was based on a comic you had a dream about?
This was first for my character in the Broadway show. . . . I sort of modeled him after a fourth-rate comedian I saw when I was playing in nightclubs myself. I thought this guy was the worst, cheapest, lowest, most disgusting performer I’d ever seen. When I was looking to find the inner life of the MC, I remembered this guy, and I did a lot of cheap things that he did and it seemed to please [producer-director] Hal Prince and that was the way it ended up.
You also had a very good German accent in the movie. How did you master it?
I had a coach in Munich who was with me all the time. He really helped to fully understand what I was saying and the particulars. It’s like a Brooklyn accent as opposed to a New York accent. Berlin is sort of like the Brooklyn of Germany. It was something very specific that I hadn’t even considered when I was doing it on the stage.
What was the most memorable moment you had with Liza Minnelli when you were making the movie?
When we were doing “Money,” Bob Fosse wanted to see a rehearsal with props and costumes. . . . They got a tuxedo for me from stock, and that tuxedo had been worn by many German actors over the years. The European sensibility in terms of cleanliness and deodorant had no reality. So I put the jacket on, and it was fine, but my body heat brought all of these old guys back. So it was like Liza and I were working with five other men. It was challenging.
Did you expect to win the Oscar?
No, I was certain I wouldn’t. I was certain Al Pacino would win for “The Godfather.” Everyone thought he was the favorite, so it was a nice surprise.
Did you see Alan Cumming when he played the Master of Ceremonies on Broadway?
I did and he was wonderful. It was a totally different production, and he was a totally different MC with the same material.
Two years ago you opened up about your sexuality and said you were gay. Why did you wait so long?
I didn’t. I was out to my friends and family for about 15 years. But I hadn’t come out publicly because I didn’t see any point at that time. All of a sudden, with the Supreme Court judge decisions [on gay marriage] and what was happening in the world, I thought, if this could help anybody, any young person, it’s worth it.
WHAT “Cabaret” screening followed by interview and book signing with Joel Grey
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Thursday, Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington
INFO $59, includes a copy of Grey’s memoir (event is sold out, but check for last-minute availability), 631-423-7610, cinemaartscentre.org