Tate Donovan landed his first major film credit alongside John Cryer and Demi Moore in the 1984 comedy No Small Affair. He followed the introduction up with larger roles in Space Camp, Clean and Sober and Memphis Belle. Off those successes, Donovan co-starred in his first leading role with Sandra Bullock in Love Potion No. 9, and has built a career that has kept him busily bouncing between films such as Swordfish and The Pacifier and TV stints on Friends, Ally McBeal, The OC and Damages. In June, he follows up his 2010 Broadway run on the Southie based drama Good People with something that he tongue and check considers contemporary.
“It’s a common theme, 13th Century Ecclesiastical politics,” said Donovan of The Medieval Play by Ken Lonergan.
Centering on the politics of the church, the production takes a Monty Python posture. “Like other farces, the more things change the more they stay the same. So even though we’re talking about the papacy moving from France to Rome, we could just as easily be talking about Obama vs. Mitt Romney,” said Donovan who plays a Knight.
But while the jousting will be kept to a minimum, the rigors definitely take him back to the time period. “Let me tell you something, it’s intense. It’s so hard to move and do anything in armor. It gets super hot and a lot times we have our masks down. You can’t see anything, and you can’t hear anything,” he laments.
Not nearly as comfortable as a TV set, the rewards provide the payback. “The stage is definitely the place to be. Never boring, you get to build the character from A to B, while film and TV is more about the director, the writer, etc,” says Donovan.
The omission of the fourth wall then provides a refuge that actors revel in. “The audience is like the third person in the scene, and every night it’s different,” says Donovan.
Donovan translates for the layman. “You really get a sense of how they are following the story. This makes things that much more exciting. It also keeps you on your toes because just when you think you’ve got a funny scene down, something changes and you don’t get a laugh for three weeks. It leaves you wondering what the hell is going on and trying to figure out how to get it back,” he says.
Of course, when the loss occurs as the critic from the New York Times readies his reaction, the actor is the one who misses a beat. “One night, I pick Ben Bradlee out of the crowd. He just looked at me and then looked down at his note pad and started writing. It’s an actor’s worst nightmare,” Donovan reveals.
As for things going askew, the cast must be able to think on their feet. “Say you drop a line or have to get across certain information, you have to make a quick decision on whether the audience really needs it and how to fit it back in, he says.
That is unless your mistake arises alongside the direct descendants of the bard. “I think the British are less comfortable with the American style of going with the flow. One time as an ash tray was left off as a prop, Judy Dench had no place to flick her ashes. The whole scene came grinding to a halt. So I came up and dropped a tea cup on the table for her. She lost the ashes, got back in the game and then gave the greatest performance of all time,” jokes Donovan.
All in a day’s work – especially from the audience’s perspective. “It’s amazing to me how the audience doesn’t pick up on it. They think everything that happens is supposed to happen,” says Donovan.
On the other hand, being drowned in a toilet bowl was not how he thought he’d meet his end on the hit show Damages. “I was so bummed. What a crappy way to die. It was the worst death of all time, he says. “I thought they must really hate me or something.”
Campbell Scott delivering the immersion, he must have enjoyed having the upper head. “I think it was more like, I can’t believe I got to do this to this guy, says Donovan. “No matter, I really loved being on that show.”
Nonetheless, Donovan probably falls in as one of those actors whose face isn’t as recognizable as his name. On the down side, less projects become available, but his face definitely opens up plenty of tables at crowded restaurants.
Either way, Donovan is left in a place where he’s thrilled if some knows his name, while the acting jobs are always there. “I can’t complain,” he concludes.