John Larroquette is one of the busiest actors in television — “Night Court,” “The John Larroquette Show,” “Boston Legal,” and “The Librarians,” among others (earning five Emmy Awards) — but all that has kept him working on the West Coast.
So he jumped at the chance to star in John Guare’s new Off-Broadway play, “Nantucket Sleigh Ride,” which opens at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater on Monday, March 18. No, it’s not a cozy Christmas tale but an offbeat story set on Nantucket in the summer of 1975. The title refers to a whaling term describing how a harpooned whale could drag a ship of whalers for miles on a wild, thrashing ride. Here, a playwright-turned-stockbroker (Larroquette) finds himself on the island unwittingly enmeshed in intrigue involving, among other things, two weird kids, Roman Polanski, a giant lobster and murder.
Larroquette, 71, won a Tony for Broadway’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” He’ll soon be seen in an episode of “The Twilight Zone” (the new web series inspired by Rod Serling’s TV classic, debuting on CBS All Access on April 1). Larroquette and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Washington State, across the state line north of Portland, Oregon. He spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio by phone after a recent performance.
About that title — had you ever heard that phrase before? I’m a little rusty when it comes to 19th century whaling jargon.
No, I did not know the expression. Certainly, I do now.
Have you been to Nantucket?
I was on Martha’s Vineyard. But I don’t think I’ve been to Nantucket. I’m not an East Coast person, so I haven’t spent a huge amount of my life back here.
How would you describe John Guare’s plays? They’re realistic dramas but, somehow, something fantastical always happens.
He creates life in a way that’s identifiable, but maybe just a little off center, as it were. I saw his play “Six Degrees of Separation” when it was here [at Lincoln Center in 1990]. I’m attracted to the slightly surreal reality he creates.
Your character is writing a screenplay for a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion.” If you could star in a Hitchcock remake, which would it be?
Ummm (He pauses.) At my age, I’m not sure I can be in any, except maybe the James Mason role in “North by Northwest.” If I was a younger man, I’d probably still choose that, and play Cary Grant. (He chuckles.) Although it would be sort of a cartoon version of him. I loved that movie growing up. Also “Vertigo.”
I’m obsessed with “Rear Window.”
Yes. I’d be more apt for the Raymond Burr role than Jimmy Stewart in that one.
When I saw this play, I was struck by how special it is to see a show at a Lincoln Center theater, away from the chaos of Times Square and the Theater District. The Lincoln Center plaza is one of my favorite spots in New York.
I’m standing in it as we speak. I know what you mean.
The wide-openness, the fountain — it has an energy that’s unique. It’s sort of calming, too.
It is. I’m standing underneath the trees lined up here. It’s lovely. And I love this kind of weather. (It had just stopped raining.) Growing up in New Orleans, we certainly didn’t have the cold, but we had the wet. And where I live now in the Pacific Northwest, it’s like that all the time. So I’m very at home in this kind of weather. My wife and I met in L.A. in ’73, my career started, we had a family and stayed there. We moved to Idaho for a while, then moved back because of work. [Recently] we’ve been saying, look, we’re getting old — do we want to stay in L. A.? We both said “Absolutely not!” We’d always been attracted to the North. I found this acreage. It’s gorgeous. And we decided, why not?
Well, living outside L.A. hasn’t hurt your career any. You’re appearing in an upcoming episode of the new “Twilight Zone” series.
My character is the president of the United States who’s running for re-election and losing. It’s just a scene (in “The Wunderkind” episode, with “Harold and Kumar’s” John Cho). I was actually in the 1983 movie of “The Twilight Zone.” Now I can say I’ve done the “Twilight Zone” twice. I’m at the age where maybe I don’t have to work as much. [Although] I always feel if I’m not working I’m doing something wrong. Sometimes I’m like one of those dogs who chase that rabbit around the track. I don’t know who else is in the race. I just try to chase the rabbit till they tell me to stop. Then I go home.