If you’ve turned on a television any time in the last 15 years, chances are you know Zach Grenier. The talented character actor has appeared on everything from 24, Law & Order, HBO’s Deadwood and The Good Wife to films like Fight Club, Zodiac and the upcoming J. Edgar. Grenier is equally accomplished on stage. His Broadway credits include Mastergate, Voices in the Dark and a Tony-nominated turn as Ludwig van Beethoven in 33 Variations. Now Grenier is reuniting with his Man For All Seasons co-star Frank Langella in Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy, playing the target of Langella as a corrupt 1930s financier looking to save himself from disgrace at any price. Broadway.com chatted with Grenier about working with the legendary Langella, leaving Los Angeles and what makes New York actors so damn good on TV.
Did you know Man and Boy before you started working on it?
I knew of it, because a very dear friend played my role, Mark Herries, in London, but I first read it when they asked me to do a reading of it. Frank [Langella] asked me, ‘Well, which role would you like to do?” and I said, “I don’t care, I just want to do it!”
How do you like working with Frank Langella?
It’s an absolute picnic. We did A Man for All Seasons, which was this Aeschylean, lumbering event, and this is a much more delicate and complex process. It’s like we’re two farmers in the middle of a field and it’s very fertile ground.
Is this character fun to play?
It’s a blast. [Director] Maria [Aitken] is a real actors’ director, because she’s an actress. I don’t want to give anything away because of the plot twists, but we’re having a great time, especially now that we have the final character, the audience. They’re the ones who really teach you the play. Television tries to do it with focus groups, but in theater you’re very fortunate because you have the object of all this entertainment right there in front of you, telling you yes or no.
Is that what keeps you coming back to the theater?
I actually moved back from L.A. because I missed theater. My wife and I lived in the New York area for 18 years and then I got a TV series in L.A., and we fell in love with Pasadena and made a home there. Then I was asked to do Stuff Happens [as Dick Cheney] at the Public in 2006. That experience was just sensational, and I said, "I really would love to get back there," and it’s been great.
You’re still in TV of course, on The Good Wife. Is there a different vibe on the set of a show that casts a lot of theater actors?
I think it’s a good reason to do shows in New York, where you have this incredible group of hard-working, disciplined actors. In L.A. you have wonderful actors, but there’s just a je ne sais quoi about working on a Law & Order or The Good Wife. But at the same time the wonderful theatricality of David Milch and [HBO's] Deadwood was something that I don’t think I’m ever going to experience again.
So, no regrets about moving back east?
Oh, I’m Mr. Regrets. We both miss Pasadena terribly, but the most stressful things in life are death and moving. We may go bi-coastal some day, but we have the Bailey-Grenier home of geriatric animals right now so we can’t get itchy feet.
You were back in L.A. earlier this year, though, doing 33 Variations, right?
Yes, at the Ahmamson, and also a film with Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar. And on Mondays I was flying back to film The Good Wife. It was a wild time.
Playing Beethoven in 33 Variations must have been a great experience.
It was. I didn’t know what to think when they wanted to do it on Broadway with Jane Fonda, but then I got to know her and there was nothing “star” about her, ever. Her father [Henry Fonda] said the boards were sacred, and she hadn’t done theater in decades and felt she really needed to. It’s a beautiful play, and it was wonderful to work with Moises [Kaufman]. I’ve been very lucky with the people I’ve worked with in the past few years.
Including Clint Eastwood?
Just incredible. He’s another actors’ director, of course. He never liked it when they yelled “Action!” so he says, “Go.” He hated “Cut,” so he says, “OK, stop.” The atmosphere is like being in his basement rec room putting together a model airplane. It’s very conducive to really good work, and he gets the best out of people.
Will you be doing multiple projects again soon?
They’ve made noises about me doing another episode of Good Wife after opening, which would be great. They’re very respectful of Broadway curtain times, and it’s filmed in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where my mother sold magazine subscriptions in the 30s, so I love going there because I imagine her traipsing up and down in a 30s dress and overcoat, going from door to door.
That's too much!
I know. And my father was born and raised in the Bronx. He was the engineer at radio station WBNX, and my mother was the Polish radio announcer. That’s how they met.
How could such a New York kid ever move to California?
My family is out there too, actually. My grandfather was an art director. He established the first art department for William Fox, for Fox Films.
So in your family if you’d said, “I want to be a veterinarian” it would have raised more eyebrows than being an actor?
It’s funny you should say that, because I always wanted to be a vet. Ask anybody—when things were tough, I was always grumbling about going to veterinary school. I was grumbling about it when I turned 50, when I would have needed a class action suit to get in. Now I guess I’ll never be a veterinarian. Ah, well!