There is almost nothing as satisfying in theatre, film, and television than watching a great character actor perform. They tread often in the background of a scene, stepping forward to lend moments of color, humor, and sheer pleasure to the proceedings. With a simple gesture and or inventive inflection, they can steal a moment. If it’s done right it looks easy – uncalculated, just someone behaving. If you know anything about acting and actors, there is nothing unplanned or easy about it.
The cast of The Second Mrs. Wilson is filled with these types of performers – supremely gifted, utterly nuanced, and completely in tune in the world of the play. Today, we come to celebrate and to get to know Nick Wyman, who plays Henry Cabot Lodge, President Woodrow Wilson’s nemesis in the Senate.
With a wave of his ever-present cigar while issuing a booming piece of rhetoric, Wyman creates a compelling and formidable antagonist. Lodge, his character, opposes Wilson’s single minded effort to establish a League of Nations because he believes it would damage America’s standing. Wilson felt that in order for the League to work properly, the United States had to make a military commitment in foreign conflicts. Lodge, a Republican who harbored presidential aspirations, believed that since only Congress can declare war, participating fully in the League would remove some of the United States inherent sovereignty. “Lodge is a Washington insider. He’s a very powerful man and very sure of who he is, with very strong believes,” Wyman said. “He’s a man of entitlement, the first man to get his Ph.D from Harvard.”
Wyman did some research on his role – not as much as playwright Joe DiPietro or fellow actor Harry Groener – but he did enough reading to know that Lodge was a brilliant and difficult man, and one whom Wilson simply loathed. And, the feeling was certainly mutual. “You have to play what’s on the page and what’s in the story,” Wyman said.
Sharing the stage with such stalwart, veteran actors like Margaret Colin as Edith, John Glover as Wilson, and with Fred Applegate, Groener, Steve Routman, and Stephen Barker Turner as the politicos enmeshed in the intrigue, has been an utter delight. The cast has made their own small community, something the theatre can provide that Wyman celebrates. Read his explanation of “Why I do Theatre” on the Actors’ Equity website to find out the strong role this sense of community has played in his career choice. It gives you more than just confidence. It’s the joy of playing with the best. They know their stuff so well, it’s just playing – you think ‘what am I going to get from Margaret tonight?’ It is a joy to be with these actors on stage and off,” he said.
He’s noticed that much of Long Wharf Theatre’s core audience – women of a certain age, as he puts it – derives tremendous delight in watching Margaret Colin put the misogynistic men of this world (Lodge included) firmly in their places. “The audience loves it,” he said.
Wyman doesn’t work out of town much anymore – he’s lucky that the bulk of his jobs are in New York City. He spent six years on Broadway as Thenardier in Les Miserables. If you’ve turned on your TV at some point in the past decade or so, you’ve seen Nick’s work. He’s battled Bruce Willis in Die Hard: With A Vengeance. “Making that was beyond fun. It was and remains the biggest movie roles I’ve had. They treated me like a prince. Remember, I was just another actor,” he said. He’s jousted with Steve Martin in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. He’s appeared on hit television shows as doctors and lawyers, as he says.
But one might argue that one of his more important role is one an audience doesn’t get to see. He is the president of the Actors Equity Association, a post he has held for the past five years. Wyman hopes that in this role, he can give a bit back to the other members of his profession, a difficult one under the best conditions. Being the union’s leader is a tough job. He’s in the midst of running for re-election. He’s been handling some major union concerns reverberating throughout the industry, while balance work on Mrs. Wilson. “I and the other people in the cast are lucky to make our livings as actors. But most actors put together their lives and careers as actors as a mosaic … we are all trying to put together enough money to make ends meet while getting enough work as actors to satisfy ourselves,” Wyman said. “(Serving as president) has been very gratifying. Very challenging, but very gratifying.”
– Steve Scarpa