I talked with Nick Wyman only minutes after his performance as President Lyndon Johnson in All the Way at a matinee on February 13th. We met in the lobby of the stunning Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida. I’d expected a panting, disheveled. wreck of a man, for he’d just delivered a smashing performance before an enthusiastic house and the role comes close to Hamlet in its demands. And Hamlet is a youngster; often the actor playing him is too.
Not the case here. He may have joined Equity in 1974, but a fresh-faced and eager Nick Wyman arrived, dealing deftly with a number of fans who’d just seen the play, and were hanging about hoping for a glimpse. They got more than that — Wyman was cordial and gracious, and chatted with each of them. When it came my turn, I was the happy recipient of a big hug which is a rare occurrence between an actor and a critic. But we go back, Wyman and I, for 28 years ago we were in a comedy together on Broadway. His warm hug reminded me of that word “community,” so often uttered when anyone in live theatre wins an award, for playing onstage together seems to bond actors – forever.
But what a joy it is to be able to write glowingly about the performance of someone I’ve admired in the past. We all have favorites anyway — I’m certain that if any of you bought seats to a play starring Shirley Booth or Angela Lansbury or Nathan Lane or anyone you truly admired, you’d always be willing to see them in almost anything — well, I hoped I’d enjoy Nick Wyman as LBJ in All the Way at Asolo Rep, and it turned out to be a happy occasion for me. Sometimes a good actor merely needs a great role in which he can “take stage” as any true star should. Sometimes an understudy gets to do this, and the few who see him or her are in for a treat. Sometimes the understudy may just keep the curtain up, but doesn’t have the “star quality” required. In any case, Mr. Wyman came through. He was prepared, he had the acting chops and by the performance’s final curtain, he owned the role.
Eventually we were able to find a quiet corner in which to talk.
Richard: What was it about the Presidency of Actors Equity, a job you held for five years, that appealed to you? It had to be a very different way of working than when you are onstage.
Nick: The service is what appealed to me. You reach a point where you ask yourself what you’re doing here, what is your purpose? I was aware that I always liked to entertain, to amuse, and acting was clearly the outlet for that. But I’m also a dad, and I love having the opportunity to guide and help shape my children. When the Equity election came along, I loved the idea of being useful to 50,000 people-that’s how many members we have nationally. It was a chance to give back, because this business has been very good to me, and here was a chance for me to say thanks by doing something.
Was it much of an adjustment for you to come back to the stage after five years of work in New York and all around the country on Equity’s behalf?
No, I was permitted to work during those years. I just had to carefully plan my time. But most importantly, as to why I was thrilled to be offered this production, it was because I’ve reached the stage in my life where I can be away from New York for a run such as this one — I’ll be in Florida for four months with this job, and I couldn’t do that in the past when I very much wanted to be with my children when they were growing up. Now our daughters Caitlin and Madeline are grown and established in their own careers and our son Tommy, who has Rubenstein-Taibi Syndrome, is now in a group home. My wife is an actress, and has spent years being a mother, and now that we are empty-nesters, she too can return to the theatre that she loves. And I can leave home for a job like this one.
This role – Lyndon Baines Johnson – did you get an offer for it right off, or did you have to work to get it?
The latter, absolutely. I had to hunt it down. Johnson is such a fascinating character. He’s got lots of character flaws, probably many that I share with him. But he’s always attracted me — I’ve played him twice before — in a musical at the Actors Studio and in a reading of a play — so I had some taste of the man — but this role as written is big and juicy and when I learned it was to be done here, I wrote the Artistic Director and mentioned that I’d be right to play the two dads in Ah,Wilderness! and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but I’d really like to play Johnson in All the Way. And he said he already had the two dads, but hadn’t yet cast the Johnson role, so he set up an appointment for me with the director, I auditioned for her- and I got the job!
What are your future plans?
I have an offer but I cannot discuss it yet. And there is a possibility that I will return to the Asolo next season.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I heard from a different source that the offer that isn’t official yet includes the possibility of his wife playing with him. She is Beth McDonald and they met in 1978 when he was playing Lennie and she was Curley’s wife in Of Mice and Men in Pittsburgh. He has said “As I broke Beth’s neck eight times a week, we fell in love.” They were married a year later. There is nothing official about this deal, but let’s hope it happens, for they’d like nothing more than to play together again — after 38 years.
An actor’s life is an uneasy one. If Nick Wyman played All the Way in New York, he would attract the kind of attention that accrued to Barnard Hughes, the fine character actor who stumbled upon the title role in Da, managed to get it on in a showcase in New York at the Hudson Guild. There it found a producer who moved it to Broadway, where it and its brand new star were a great success. Mr. Hughes remained an above the title star for the rest of his illustrious career. That’s what I wish for Nick Wyman. But I don’t think he gives a fig for that kind of thinking. He’s just rollin’ along, singin’ his song, and right now very happy to be sharing his talents with the good folks who come to see his fine performance in Sarasota, Florida.
All the Way plays through April 9, 2016 at Asolo Repertory Theatre – 5555 North Tamiami Trail, in Sarasota, Florida. For tickets, call the box office at (941) 351-8000 or (800) 361-8388, or purchase them online.
Nick Wyman’s website.