“A Steady Rain” runs Sept. 18 to Oct. 11 on the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage. For ages 18 and up.
THERE’S A METHOD to the madness in which Jeff Perry’s engulfed.
You take each role’s expectations in stride, he says. And you practice what you preach.
Though most acclaimed among the masses for playing sinister White House Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene on the ABC series “Scandal,” Perry, 60, has carved out a distinguished niche for himself as a theatrical savant.
His reputation as a co-founder and acting coach at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, which he helped create in 1974, precedes him as the Alliance Theatre presents his directorial staging of the Chicago-set police thriller A Steady Rain.
A few hours before taping the first scenes of “Scandal’s” fifth season on an L.A. soundstage, Perry peeled back the layers of his upbringing in the Windy City as well as his advocacy and aspirations for the craft of acting.
QUESTION: Have you spent time in Atlanta before this?
PERRY: I know I’ve been in the airport often, changing flights. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever stepped foot on the streets. Either way, I feel like an excited rookie working there.
Q: How do your deep roots in Chicago influence this staging of A Steady Rain?
PERRY: I hope positively. I was drawn to the playwright’s perspective about the region and the fabric of these characters. Like most great stories, there are specific pressures that any of us can empathize with. I suppose my background helped to impress upon me the authenticity of these two Chicago police officers’ lives.
Q: Cubs or White Sox?
PERRY: Cubs. I grew up in the Northern suburbs, so that was my team even though my dad was from the South Side.
Q: Deep dish or thin crust?
PERRY: Not to be sacrilegious, but I love my thin, crunchy crust pizza. I won’t turn down a deep dish. But I prefer the thin.
Q: What’s the difference between the gratification you get from directing and teaching, and the satisfaction of starring in a hit film or TV series?
PERRY: Honestly, they feed off each other in ways that are completely mundane and in other ways mysterious. I find myself thinking of things I tell my students to do and then think, ‘You fool, just do it yourself.’ There’s a beautiful synergy between the two.
Q: People say you’re very good at both. Why is that, do you think?
PERRY: Because I paid them all off! I hope if people feel that way they know I love doing it and I’m trying to get better at it. If you don’t get better at your craft with people like I’ve been lucky enough to be around for 40 years, you should probably pick up another line of work.
Q: What do you do to ease the pressure and refresh yourself for more work?
PERRY: I was just Googling things about the L.A. Clippers. My dad turned me into a basketball nut. That’s one of my main relaxing passions. Watching basketball.
Q: With so much media scrutiny on police conduct these days, how does this version of A Steady Rain have to adapt to public perceptions?
PERRY: You have to honor the circumstances that it was written in. Even though it’s a very different decade and there were no cellphones capturing every event, the difference in time really melts away. During a cataclysmic summer two cops who had a deep, deep, deep love and friendship for each other – due to circumstances not and of their own making – had some really bad luck come their way. The media jumps on the situation immediately, and it has gigantic reverberations. It’s just an earlier dynamic of the same thing.
Q: In a dialogue-heavy play like this, do you want your actors to treat it like a waltz or a sparring session every night?
PERRY: Those aren’t mutually exclusive. I love the range. It has some of the grace and, God knows, it has some of the violence.
Q: If you could play one of the roles in A Steady Rain, which would you choose??
PERRY: Uh … I think I’d choose Denny. It’s a bit more challenging. The Alpha-male Italian hothead is different by far from my own makeup.
Q: In a nutshell, what’s your advice to aspiring actors?
PERRY: Figure out how to keep the love for your profession alive.
Q: What do you still have left to accomplish?
PERRY: I’m still curious. I love learning. I fell in love with theater when I was 19 and saw two geniuses in their 80s star in No Man’s Land [John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson]. You should be able to do that until they lay you to rest. I’m just trying to keep my memory and health intact. Every new play, every new episode of ‘Scandal’ makes me happy. I get a kick out of the art form.
A. Scott Walton writes about sports, entertainment, travel, lifestyle and fashion for print and digital publications nationwide. He was born in South Bend, Ind., educated at Vanderbilt University and spent 15 years on staff at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.