ultaviolet730: (Whispers made by groaty)
[personal profile] ultaviolet730
There were a couple of CM interviews in Irish papers over the weekend. I posted links on TWoP but one of the sites is paid, and BugMeNot.com apparently doesn't have logins, so for those who weren't able to see them, I'm cutting and pasting them here. CM's in fine form - funny and passionate and talkative. And I love how each interviewer, one male and one female, is smitten with him. Can you blame them?


Crossing another bridge

Christopher Meloni has put aside his TV cop hat to star in A View from the Bridge at the Gate Theatre, but even he's not sure why, he tells Arminta Wallace

Christopher Meloni prowls into the foyer of the Gresham Hotel, plonks his tightly rolled copy of the script of A View from the Bridge on a table, pounces on a menu and orders a sandwich and a sparkling mineral water. "It won't make me any smarter, that's for sure," he says. "But it might perk me up a bit . . ." It's almost seven in the evening, which means he has been rehearsing for the best part of nine hours - minus a half-hour for lunch - in the Gate Theatre's new production of Arthur Miller's play. "Boy, is it hard work," he says. "I mean, it's such a tightly-woven, specific, layered . . ."

I hear him talking, saying all the right things about the artistry of the piece, the intensity of the role, and so on and so forth. But - and I'm sorry to have to admit this - I'm not really listening. I'm too busy looking. Boy, am I looking. For years I've been watching Meloni on my television screen every Monday night in the TV cop show Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. And now here is Detective Elliot Stabler, good-guy TV cop extraordinaire, sitting right here, on a couch in the foyer of the Gresham Hotel. A total stranger; yet the voice, the facial expressions, the way he moves his head - all these gestures are, somehow, incredibly familiar. I blink and try to concentrate. "I haven't been on stage in a while," he is saying.

Now this I know about, because I've studied Meloni's biog - and it runs to a lot more pages than just seven seasons of Law and Order SVU. He has done a lot of telly and a fair few movies. He has played a fair few guys with names like Johnnie Marzzone and Bennetto Torello; he was in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Twelve Monkeys and Runaway Bride. In recent years he has been dipping a toe into the indie comedy area. He was, for instance, highly praised for his portrayal of a temperamental chef in Wet Hot American Summer, which was indie enough to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

But he doesn't get to do much theatre, does he? "No," he says. "After nine months of the SVU season - 15-hour days, every day - you're just . . ." He is silent for a moment. "You are," he says, after a pause, "more liquid than solid. You're done. They really have to pour you into a wheelbarrow and take you home and say, 'See you in three months'. And I had one day off; and now I'm here." He grins Elliot Stabler's boyish grin. "It feels like I'm in boot camp. I mean, it has been this" - he pauses just long enough to create another tense silence, then smiles Stabler's enigmatic smile - "this beautifully hellish experience."

OK. This Stabler thing has to stop. Concentrate. Arthur Miller. Tragedy set amid the working-class Italian-American community. A rough play, is it not? "Yeah - in every sense. Physically, mentally and emotionally. I've been waking up at night and reciting lines and stuff." So why is he doing it? "A mysterious man phoned my agent and said, 'we want to offer Christopher Meloni the role of Eddie Carbone in The Bridge in Dublin'." Another pause. "I thought it would be kind of interesting. No . . ." The pauses are getting longer. "I actually just had this conversation with my wife. I think it's gonna take me a year to give a truthful answer to that question - for now, I just know that it has something to do with a challenge. What kept going round in my head is that" - he quotes - "you have to suffer for your art". Is he serious? He certainly seems serious. In fact, he's coiled as tight as a spring, full of restless energy. I press on.

Now that he is back on stage, does he love it or hate it? "The reason why I hate working in theatre is the tedium of memorisation," he says. "But once that is done, then you feast on this never-ending meal. If you play it correctly, every night is fraught with very high stakes that are very difficult to find in everyday life. Then, what I hate - and love - about theatre is that the performance can be perfect one night and then miserable the next. The elusiveness of it."

SO HOW DOES Meloni see Eddie Carbone, a man who claims to be protecting the innocence of his niece while secretly harbouring what are, shall we say, not strictly avuncular intentions towards her?

"How do I see him? In a word?" He laughs an unnervingly mirthless laugh, then lapses into a silence so long I begin to worry I've seriously offended him. "OK, I'll say this," he finally says. "He's a man who lives in a world of honours and codes. Everybody goes through life believing they follow a structure, or strictures - and then all it takes is a deep passion beyond reason to cause you to break all these time-honoured, death-before-dishonour type codes. So then you wonder, is it just part of the human condition to be living a life of denial. Not expressing fully what you are, what you feel."

Denial, repression, then an explosion of passion. Much of the drama of A View from the Bridge hinges on the cultural conflict between the American branch of the Carbone family and the pair of Italian cousins who arrive as illegal immigrants - a conflict Meloni understands very well. He was born in Washington DC, but his ancestors hail from Genoa. "My parents grew up in that atmosphere," he says. "That you did things a certain way - and nobody ever stopped to question why, until the new generation comes along. See, I have kids, and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is, 'why?' Why?" Before I know it he has gone into character as Eddie, acting one of the central scenes in the play right at me. Which is beyond weird - Eddie on the sofa now, already?

The message, however, emerges loud and clear: this is a play with enormous contemporary resonance. "Oh, absolutely," says Meloni. "It's very much an 'us versus them' thing. And it has a lot to do with what's going on now with Muslim communities. You know, they come over and they stay with their own kind. Well, every generation of immigrants has done that. But then there's a question of how many of their customs are they allowed to bring with them - which calls into question who's right, or what's right. A question of the balance between 'us' and 'them'."

HIS SANDWICH ARRIVES. What is it, I ask. It looks like Thai curry-flavoured scrambled egg. "It's chicken," says Meloni, in a slightly miffed tone. "Do you want some?" I decline. Bad enough to be invading his snack space; I can't very well steal his food into the bargain. In any case, he has already eaten almost half of it and is busy making appreciative mmmm-ing noises. "This is so good," he says. "I'm impressed. Though with how I feel, it could have been a block of cement." With the effect it has on him, it might have been a plate of magic mushrooms. He puts his napkin down and sighs happily. He has visibly uncoiled. Right. Time to talk Elliot Stabler - not a man, I observe, that Eddie Carbone would go out to dinner with.

"Elliot?" Meloni laughs again, but now he sounds much more relaxed. "Nope. But I think Elliot Stabler would be familiar with these guys. He was brought up in Queens. He'd be familiar with this cast of characters. Elliot has a clear compass - his psychological problems are just different from Eddie's, that's all." But isn't Elliot the ultimate good guy? "Well, you know, he has this need for justice, so that he'll sometimes just" - Meloni pushes at a thread on the leg of his jeans, a tiny, obsessive-compulsive movement - "just to get the conviction, you know? If he can tip the scale a little bit he'll tip the scale."

But that's good - isn't it? "But then, you know," argues Meloni, "when is it bad? Where's the judgment about when it's fair to cross the line, and when it isn't? OK, if he hadn't crossed the line that 10-year-old would have been raped. But he did violate the guy's civil rights. It's the balance again, between the rights of the community and the rights of the criminal."

MELONI HAS JUST finished shooting the seventh season of Law and Order: SVU, which will be shown in the US this autumn. Has the character of Elliot changed as the seasons have passed? "Oh, yeah," says Meloni, nodding Elliot's sage nod. "Yeah. We got some fireworks for ya. Stay tuned. Actually," he adds, "and I can say this without trying to sell the show, this past season - the sixth - was our best, but the shows that we've just shot for season seven are better than that."

And how do they all get on - himself, Mariska Hargitay, Richard Belzer, Ice-T and the rest of the SVU cast? "Magnificently," he says. "For opening night I think Richard will be there. Mariska was going to be, but she has to go back to the States and do publicity. She still might fly back. And both producers are flying from LA. And two writers. It's really respectful, fun, professional - and what I mean by that is that everybody's always digging for the common good of the show, for ways to do it correctly; it's a great place to go to work."

Oh, good. So he's going to keep doing it, then? "Well, my contract is about up," he says. "Hmm. You know, I've been doing it a long time." Now this is not the ending I wanted for this particular scene. It's all very well for A View from the Bridge to end in tragedy, but SVU without Elliot? Eeek. Change the subject.

There is a somewhat intriguing item on Meloni's filmography. In fact, it's the first item on his filmography. Pretty Persuasion, it says. 2005. And then, "scenes deleted". What's that about? He's nodding vigorously. "Yeah," he says. "Those sons of bitches. I say that with love, naturally. I took off all last summer to do that. I read the script, loved the script, they wanted me for a role - and I couldn't do it because of a conflict. So I said, 'Give me this other role'. One scene. I loved it because it was a real skeezy guy, you know? And it was fun. Bad hair, bad moustache; the description was, I was 'a little troll'. I had 'em lift my desk up so it came to here" - he indicates chest level - "and I was, like, shining my shoes, size six shoes, real tiny.

"But they called and said - and, you know, I understood it - they said it 'broke the rhythm of the storyline'." He sniffs. "So that's the long version of what happened. The short version is, they cut me out. I'm still pissed off. And I understood it, the reason they gave. Well, either that, or I sucked." He leans back and grins broadly. "What did I tell ya? You have to suffer for your art."

A View from the Bridge opens at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, on August 1, with previews from July 28

From The Irish Times



A view from the hunk
N recent years, it has become all the rage amongst American TV stars to make a career detour onto the London stage. The likes of David Schwimmer and Brooke Shields have lead the stampede and helped the West End out of a lean period, while at the same time gaining for themselves a credibility that no amount of canned laughter could provide.

Sadly, Ireland seemed to enjoy no overspill of superstar invaders - but this summer, a Dublin theatre has finally lured one of the gods of the small screen to these shores. Christopher Meloni - the alpha-hunk from Law and Order SVU and Oz - will appear in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge at the Gate.

Clearly, the addition of a recognisable name to the cast was aboon for Michael Colgan and co, but what was in it for Meloni?Cash incentive?

"Are you kidding me?" Meloni splutters between mouthfuls of the chicken sandwich he's wolfing down during a break in rehearsals. "Trust me, buddy, it wasn't the money. You know, no matter what I say, the motivation is going to sound hokey, a little holier-than-thou even - but I did it for the love of the exploration.

"I was as exhausted as a motherf**ker. I got one day off after filming nine months of SVU [Luddites note, it stands for Special Victims Unit]. But you just don't turn your back on Arthur Miller and an opportunity like this. It's going to be painful - a huge challenge for me," he adds.

Painful, perhaps, because the stage brings up a welter of old memories for Meloni. That was where he started out 15 years ago, an impoverished actor in New York. "I was working part-time as a bouncer, performing in these stupid f**kin' plays with eight people on the stage and four people in the audience. I went hungry sometimes. It wasn't a whole lot of fun."

Weary of less-than-lucrative art house theatre, and just as tired of cracking heads together for $40 a night, Meloni found a more natural setting for his big muscles and megawatt smile in TV adverts.

"You name it, bro, I advertised it," he sighs. "Some of it was totally cheesy. I did this commercial in Germany for a washing machine repair guy. When the housewife takes the clothes out of the machine she goes: 'Aii, Schmutzraender!' [Oh no, stains!] And I look at her and repeat: 'Aii, Schmutzraender!' I went around Hamburg, trying to pick up chicks with this one lame phrase. Needless to say, I never got laid in Hamburg."

Even with a language barrier slowing him down, it's difficult to believe that Meloni would have trouble getting laid anywhere, anytime, and with anyone. Several female friends of mine swooned at the mere mention of his name, and one even considered asking me to bring along a photo of her in the hope of getting a date.

Get in line, I told her. If anyone was going to show this chiselled, gentle-yet-tough American around Dublin, it was me.

Thanks to his role as Keller - the bisexual murderer in Oz, the deeply homoerotic HBO drama - Meloni has developed into something of a sex symbol for gay men. Attitude magazine, the popular gay glossy mag, has featured him a few times; and in a knowing wink to his new fan base, he once staged a red carpet man-on-man snog with Oz co-star Lee Tergesen.

"It was the whole 'Tom of Finland' fantasy for gay men," he concedes. "But girls, guys . . . whatever. It's just nice that people are watching," he tells me. "Oz got me the gay guys and the fat girls [Keller married a 'well-built' lady in the series], and then on Law and Order I got the other girls."

Sadly, neither the girls nor the guys are really in with a shout. While he's bemused at the female attention and he'll laughingly concede that Tergesen was "an amazing kisser", Meloni has been happily married for 11 years - to Sherman Williams, a dead ringer for Sharon Stone.

The couple live in New York City and have two children, Sophia and Dante ("we wanted something Italian and cultured sounding"), both born to them by a surrogate mother. "We couldn't have kids the normal way. We both knew from day one that these were the steps we were going to take. We just didn't know with whom.

"We went online to surrogacy agencies. We interviewed lots of people - and I have to say, with all due respect, some of them were freaks. I was very leery of the process the whole way through."

But just as Chris and Sherman were getting frustrated with the search, fate intervened.

"There was a friend of ours who worked with a girl who had said she would consider being a surrogate. We met her and right away she was awesome. We were looking for someone who could take care of themselves and it was pretty clear she could.

"It still took over a year after we met her, because we failed to conceive on a couple of attempts. She hung in there for us. I was in the hospital for the births and it was the most amazing experience. Having kids has shown me that there is something more important in life than acting."

His family won't be joining him in Dublin until just before the play opens, and Meloni has been amusing himself between rehearsals in the meantime.

"My first thought when I came here was that I understood why there are so many great Irish writers - because there is something mystical in the air. There's always this cloudy, moody sky and it's challenging. I used to live in LA and it was the opposite of that- always so sunny, so saccharine, so bland."

In what might be a nod to Meloni's background, he tells me the Gate's emissaries put him up in "the Italian Quarter" on the banks of the Liffey. "So they knew that if I was going to steal, I'd be stealing from my own kind," he wryly reasons. (I didn't want to shatter his illusions of multi-ethnic Dublin by telling him the frescoes date back only as far as the Celtic Tiger.)

In A View From The Bridge, Meloni will play Eddie Carbone, an Italian-American, and he admits he will be drawing on his own childhood for the role. "I'm third-generation Italian, but I still have a strong sense of my heritage. There are certain Italianisms that ring very true in this play - the place of the man in the household, the idea of respect . . . of omerta.

"My grandfather was a doctor. If he went to make a house call, he commanded respect - even with the street toughs. I saw how his high-standing in the neighbourhood affected how we were all treated. Even now, I see my old grandmother - who is so frail she's practically pulling herself from appliance to appliance - is still cooking for him, because it's considered that's her job.

"In my parents' house it was more or less the same. It was the woman's job to take care of the kids. In my house, forget it! It's totally different. We eat out a few times a day."

As if to emphasise his Italian origin, Meloni's hands flail and eyes dance as he makes a point. There are long pauses between questions as he considers his response -but quite refreshingly, there is no carefully monitored PR gloss to his statements.

He will riff on any subject - from George Bush ("f**kin idiot") and Kyoto, to his own occasional inability to keep an erection at bay when in a sex scene with an actress. ("Some get offended," he hoots, as he recalls it. "They should consider it a compliment!")

He jokingly - and diplomatically - distances himself from the other American TV stars who are making a name for themselves on the stage. "This is Dublin, not London, goddammit. I'm a step ahead of 'em all. No, seriously, I had great faith in Irish actors, that they'd be hip to the whole theatre thing, and they are. I had no illusions of coming over here as some kind of big shot. It's been a learning experience for me too."

It seems there is more learning to do this sweltering afternoon as it's time for Meloni to return to the Gate for photos and yet more rehearsals.

We leave together and he gives me an arm wrestle of a handshake that like his TV alter egos seems manly, tough and ever so slightly erotic. As if reading my mind - and with the Dictaphone safely switched off - he turns to me with one last thought: "Tell the chick with the photo I said 'hi'."

Christopher Meloni will star as Eddie Carbone in 'A View From the Bridge' with John Kavanagh, Cathy Belton and Laura Murphy. It previews on Thursday, July 28 and opens on Tuesday, August 2. Tickets available from the Gate box office at (01) 8744045

Donal Lynch
Sunday Independent
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