| May 2, 2017 | People
John O’Hurley’s charisma and that voice might have him best remembered for his role as J. Peterman on Seinfeld, but these days he keeps busy playing Billy Flynn in the touring production of Chicago, now at the Providence Performing Arts Center through May 7. The host of The National Dog Show Presented by Purina on NBC Thanksgiving Day and winner of Dancing with the Stars talked to us about his role in Chicago and his ideal day in Boston (hint: it includes the Red Sox).
Tell us more about your approach in playing Billy Flynn in Chicago. How is this different than other roles you've done?
John O'Hurley: Billy Flynn has a peculiar paternal quality. I'm the only actor who seems to understand that. He shields the girl he is defending with his life... but then promptly discards her for the next case on the docket. I have played this character more than any other (although some will say I have lived "J. Peterman" for 15 years). But every night is different for me. I begin each show with a prayer that I recite just before I set foot onstage, "God, let me be surprised." That's it. It frees me to genuinely look into each actor's eyes, listen to what they're saying and respond honestly. So I know what I'm going to say, I just don't know why I'm going to say it yet... Every night I find some surprise, so the role is at least 1,500 times richer than when I began playing Billy Flynn on Broadway eleven years ago.
What is your ideal day in Boston?
JO: Everything in Boston for me revolves around Legal Seafoods and the Boston Red Sox. I met Roger Berkowitz in 1998, when he hosted my "Seinfeld Finale" in Boston. I was seduced by the Legal Clam Chowder, and they have owned me ever since. I also saw the last two seasons of Ted Williams at Fenway as a child. I continue my BoSox fanaticism to this day. I watch all 162 games Red Sox games on my cellphone backstage without fail. So my ideal day in Boston is sitting in Tom Werner's box at Fenway with my 89-year old Dad, wife, and 10 year-old son...with a bowl of Legal Chowder in my lap. I'm a simple man...
Where do you see this Red Sox season going?
JO: The elusive "spark" has not shown up at Fenway yet. On paper, one of the best offense/defense lineups in baseball. A blue ribbon pitching staff, with Sale putting up Pedro-like numbers every game, but still getting tagged with a loss or no decision. Benintendi maybe the most important young player since Tony Conigliaro in the Sixties. The "Killer B's" own the outfield. But the "spark" is still missing ... perhaps the Boys of Summer are, in fact, a warm weather team.
Do you still hit the dance floor after your Dancing with the Stars win?
JO: I was great at every dance style that didn't end in a vowel... Foxtrot, Waltz, and Quick Step. But my tight little New England Country Club hips couldn't wiggle their way through the Samba, Rhumba, Tango, etc. But I had the time of my life. Dancing With The Stars was nine-parts Marine boot camp and one-part cocktail party. And I still dance in Chicago every night.
You wrote a poem that was turned into a children's book and play. Do you see yourself doing more of this type of writing?
JO: I have written three books, all best sellers. The last, The Perfect Dog, was my only children's book is now a funny and touching children's musical. I love writing. I am currently touring my one-man show that I wrote, A Man With Standards, a memoir show combined with the songs of the Great American Songbook. And I just started on another to debut in 2018. I'm back and forth between composing and writing for stage and hardcover. I have quite a few examples of each left in me.... because I still have the wide-eyed imagination of a three-year-old.
Photography by NBC Photo (with dog); Steve Surfman (headshot)
July 17, 2017