For the last four decades, Peter Scolari has been a steady presence on the small screen as the instantly likable star of Newhart, Bosom Buddies, Goodtime Girls and tons more, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the Emmy winner gave Broadway a shot—and it’s a good thing he did! Scolari has spent the last three years treading the boards in Magic/Bird, Lucky Guy (with his Bosom Buddies co-star Tom Hanks) and now, Bronx Bombers, a love letter to the legendary New York Yankees. Scolari, a born and bred Yankees fan, chatted with Broadway.com about the “daunting” task of embodying baseball legend Yogi Berra, sharing the stage with his real-life wife Tracy Shayne and representing all the worried dads out there in HBO’s Girls.
This is your third Broadway season in a row—you must like it here!
Broadway has been very kind to me these last couple of years, and I’ve been equally lucky to be working on Girls in the same town. Nothing’s hipper than leaving the set of Girls in Brooklyn and having a teamster drop you off at your Broadway show. Aren’t I just a little diva darling?
Did playing Red Auerbach in Eric Simonson's basketball play Magic/Bird play a part in getting the role of Yogi?
There was certainly a connection, but I don't think [the producers] transited with me from Magic/Bird to Bronx Bombers because they thought I would do well in a sports play [laughs]. They did feel there was a connection to Red and Yogi—an iconic sports figure, but somebody who was, in the case of Yogi, profoundly kind, whereas Red was irascible, but softened throughout the course of the play. They called me a year ago and talked to me about playing Yogi on Broadway and I told them they were outright crazy, but I agreed to do a reading. I ended up being unavailable for the off-Broadway production, doing Lucky Guy and another play off-Broadway, but I became a believer in Bronx Bombers when I sat down with Eric a short six weeks ago. I said, “All right, I’ll give it a try.”
How did you work to create Yogi’s distinct way of speaking and walking?
The first thing you have to get when you play somebody iconic is you have to get lucky. More than anything else, you have to make a leap of faith and know that somewhere the net will appear and you’ll find your way. Yogi is so soft-spoken that you would never hear him in a theater beyond five rows of an audience, so I’ve created an artistic licensed version of Yogi that I can embrace, where I feel my authenticity is really at stake is in finding the heart and soul of the man. Meeting him during the World Series cemented it for me. He entered my soul he looked right through me. I knew then that I had a chance to do right by him.
Is it intimidating to think Yogi might be sitting in the audience one night?
I’m too old to be intimidated—I’ve been doing this for 39 years. So in my own way, I’m an old timer too. I’ve played some iconic characters, but they were not alive and around to come and see it. I just want it to mean as much to Yogi as it possibly can. So it’s daunting. Here I am, bragging about it not being intimidating, but as we talk about it, does get to be, just a little bit [laughs].
You and your wife Tracy are performing onstage together for the first time. How has the work-life balance been so far?
Well, she sleeps better than I do, and I envy her that. It’s wonderful for us though, because we really enjoy each other’s company. We’re together 24/7, and to be mutually challenged is wonderful.
She makes a very dangerous-looking entrance, does that moment scare you?
Yes, it does. She comes out of the sky—she’s 25 feet above the stage and nobody knows she’s up there. It took a lot of courage on her part and the support of the cast. She’s just killing it. She’s excelling in every way, as a power of example and as a team player and as an actress and a partner. I’m just crazy for her.
You got married during Lucky Guy and Tom Hanks made a toast that moved you to tears—do you consider him a friend ‘til the end?
Tommy is not a sentimental guy, that’s not his operating system. He’s funny and he’s loose and he’s got an incredible work ethic, but as a friend he’s a little close to the vest. He’s a family man and I’m the same way. So I was sort of caught off-guard by what he had to say at our wedding party. I probably will not recover from it anytime soon. It wasn’t out of character, it was just out of rhythm.
You gave a moving interview to Oprah: Where Are They Now about your struggles with bipolar disorder and drug addiction—what was it like pouring your heart out?
I didn’t like it. I would probably do the same thing all over again because I knew what I was walking into. But it’s hard stuff, to put yourself out there. I thought it was time to trust somebody in that situation, and it seemed timely, with things that are in my family, and my kids, my divorces and my, you know, issues. I haven’t seen the piece, I probably never will see it. I don’t like to talk about myself very much, but I didn’t want to give in to my shyness or my reticence to talk about things. I didn’t want to give in to that, so I did it.
In its third season, Girls is getting as much attention as ever—what’s your take on the show?
One of the major demographic shares of people who watch Girls are men in their fifties. Fathers watch it, maybe trying to figure out how to keep up with their 20-something daughters. Lena [Dunham]’s not making this stuff up. It’s a really blemished, truthful and sometimes very disturbing universe where these girls frolic. As a father in the universe—I have a daughter, and sons who are Lena’s age—the old fuddy-duddy that has some apartment rented in my head says, “I don’t want to see this, I don’t like this, I’m not happy about this.” And then the artist wakes up the next morning and says, “I’m so glad she made a show.”
See Scolari in Bronx Bombers, opening February 6 at Circle in the Square Theatre.