In 1972, Joel Grey got a precious gift plenty of Broadway stars never receive: His Tony-winning performance as the Emcee in Cabaret was preserved on film in Bob Fosse’s glossy big-screen adaptation of the Kander & Ebb musical. Not only that, but Grey took home one of the movie’s eight Oscars for his indelible characterization of the nasty star attraction at the Kit Kat Klub. Prepping to savor a 40th anniversary screening of the newly restored film on January 31 at the Ziegfeld Theatre, Grey took time to answer 10 random questions about Cabaret. (If you haven’t seen it, grab the new Blu-ray release on February 5!)
Choose three adjectives that best describe the Emcee.
Vicious, compelling and strange.
What qualities made Liza Minnelli an ideal Sally Bowles?
Her originality, her belief in what she was doing and her belief, as Sally Bowles, that she’s going to win. We know the truth—that she doesn’t.
What was your reaction the first time you saw the restored print of Cabaret?
It was beautiful. I hadn’t seen the film on a big screen in a long time, so I didn’t know that it had been in such poor repair. It looked shiny, fresh and wonderful.
You came to the film as a Tony winner for playing the Emcee. How was Bob Fosse’s approach different from Hal Prince on Broadway?
The approach was actually no different. The character was set on the stage, but there were different things for him to do in the film and a darker point of view I brought that seemed to work for Bob. Every number was restaged, so there was a reinvention in that way.
Do you have favorite moment in the film?
Not particularly. My favorite number is the Gorilla number [“If You Could See Her”].
Do your Tony and your Oscar talk to each other?
They do. They’re talking to each other every day, and you have no idea what that conversation is like.
What’s the craziest thing that happened while filming the movie?
Bob liked to rehearse with costumes. When we were working on “Money Money,” they hadn’t made my costume yet, so I needed a tailcoat. They brought me one from German stock, probably 50 years old; it had been worn by many, many, many, many Germans, long before anybody knew about roll-on deodorant. The jacket came in, I put it on, and the heat in my body seemed to bring alive a whole chorus of gentlemen that Liza and I would just as soon not have met.
What’s the best and worst thing about being so strongly identified with the role of the Emcee?
I don’t think there’s anything bad about it. It’s a character that doesn’t look like me, so I can walk down the street and get away from him; I don’t have to live with that. It’s very theatrical, and yet you just know he’s a sicko who lives in a terrible apartment, eats and drinks and does things with the girls of the Kit Kat Klub because he rules there.
Have you ever considered playing the Emcee again on stage?
No. I got an offer to do it in London a couple of years ago, and the director told me that I would have to be nude. So, no.
Do you think Cabaret feels different for someone seeing it today than it did in 1972?
I think it’s just as shocking today for somebody who has never seen it. People will see things in this movie that they have not seen before, and issues that kids today know nothing about.