By Melinda Loewenstein
NEW YORK (Backstage) - David Hyde Pierce, best known for his Emmy-winning role as neurotic shrink Dr. Niles Crane on "Frasier," will show a different side in the upcoming psychological thriller "The Perfect Host."
He plays a seemingly well-to-do, uptight suburban man set to be victimized by a criminal seeking refuge for the night. But Pierce's character has a dinner party to throw that night, and instead of playing hostage, he decides to play host -- and hostage taker. The film opens July 1 in Los Angeles and New York through Magnolia Pictures.
The actor is also venturing into directing. His first staging venture will be "It Shoulda Been You," a new musical starring Tyne Daly, set for the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, N.J., this fall.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH "THE PERFECT HOST"?
David Hyde Pierce: I think part of what drew me to it is that the character starts out in ways that are kind of similar to the way people are used to seeing me. But then what happens in the course of the movie allows me as an actor to move along with the character away from that way of people seeing me. And that's a great luxury because of course the flip side of the success of a long-running television show is people tend to see you only one way, so this is a nice opportunity for me to play off my more popular image.
YOU STARTED OUT STUDYING PIANO. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE YOU WANTED TO GO IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION?
Pierce: I loved music, but my real skill and a lot of the pleasure I got from it was as a performer, but not necessarily as a musician. I didn't really have the technique (and) I didn't have the interest. The discipline, the time, the solitude, the work required to really be a musician, I didn't have the drive to do that, whereas I could rehearse a play all day.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE MOST CHALLENGING ROLE YOU'VE PLAYED HAS BEEN?
Pierce: I just finished this stage production of "La Bete" by David Hirson. It was written entirely in rhyming couplets, set in the 1600s, and for large chunks of the play my character doesn't say a lot. (It's) tough because in a way nothing's been charted for you specifically by the playwright in the same way it would be if you had lines. So there's so much trial and error in the rehearsal process. You can have moments where you discover that you don't really know what this moment is about and the greatest way to find out is to turn to the other actors. Your reaction with them, your interaction with them, will tell you more than anything you try to figure out on your own.
YOU'RE MAKING YOUR DIRECTORIAL DEBUT IN THE FALL WITH "IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU." WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO TRY DIRECTING?
Pierce: People for years have said to me they thought I should direct. And I have never wanted to. I've always wanted to be onstage. And then this show, "It Shoulda Been You," came along. (It's) something that would attract me as an actor. I just finished "La Bete" and it was in every way different from anything I'd ever done before. So plays that were offered to me after that could be perfectly fine, but nothing came close to what that experience was and so I thought it was time to try a different direction. And at the exact time this piece came along in need of a director.
WHEN YOU'RE DIRECTING, DO YOU LOOK AT THE SHOW FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE THAN AS AN ACTOR?
Pierce: I think the reason people always said, "Oh, you should direct" is that as an actor, I tend to be someone who is very aware of the whole picture and how my character and the other characters fit into the storytelling. Now that I'm actually directing, I find that I look at theater completely differently. Kathleen Marshall, who directed the revival of "Anything Goes," and Rob Ashford, who directed the revival of "How to Succeed in Business," let me sit in on technical rehearsals for their shows as they were mounting them. I have been through many, many, many technical rehearsals in my life, but never sitting out front in the position of having to make them happen -- looking at things like lighting and set design, meeting with the designers and all that. It's stuff that I've been aware of and appreciated as an actor, but not as the guy who's going to shape the whole event.