Many children dream of performing exciting occupations when they grow-up; baseball player, cowboy, astronaut, just to name a few. Its rare ,though, to actually find someone who failed in one fantasy job only to fall back on an equally alluring profession. Yet, such is the case for Loudon Wainwright III, a man who couldnt cut it as an actor, so he had to fall back on his day job as a musician (wholl be plying his trade in a co-headlining show with Leon Redbone at the Birchmere this Monday, October 15).
In the late 60s, I attended the drama school of what was then known as Carnegie Tech, now known as Carnegie-Mellon, in Pittsburgh, said Wainwright in a recent telephone interview. Weve had some pretty famous alumni of that program Ted Danson, Albert Brooks, producer Steven Bochco. But, not me. I dropped out after about a year and a half to focus on my music.
On this particular Saturday morning, Wainwright was driving through the autumn foliage of Westchester County, N.Y., on his way to perform a show with his daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche, who was in the car with him. Its an area the singer-songwriter knows well, having grown up in the nearby town of Bedford, the son of Loudon Wainwright Jr., a well-known Life magazine writer/editor. However, the folk artist, whose only mainstream success was found with the 1972 novelty song Dead Skunk (in the Middle of the Road), pulled up stakes from the region six years ago to head to California, in pursuit of that original first love acting.
Does he miss being on the East Coast?
Have you ever been to Los Angeles? he replied. Then you know the answer. But, you know, thats where the work is. L.A. is a marketplace, and the weather isnt too bad either.
His transition to the left side of the U.S. was made easier thanks in large part to writer-director Judd Apatow, who grew up in Long Island, a fan of Wainwrights appearances on the 70s talk-show circuit stops like Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. When Judd was developing the treatment for the short-lived FOX sitcom Undeclared, he only had one person in mind to play the loony, lonely, and somewhat dysfunctional father Hal Karp.
Judd had me out, we did lunch and talked over the part. I auditioned a bit to make sure I could play Hal, and the rest is history.
That history includes small roles in Apatows breakthrough big screen summer comedies The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, a film where Wainwright co-wrote the soundtrack, released under the title Strange Weirdos, with producer Joe Henry.
Loudon wants to make one thing perfectly clear though. He is no actor. Not yet anyway.
No, I consider myself a person who lives with music who occasionally lands an acting job. If that were all I had to fall back on, Id probably need to be a waiter. The real secret to acting is finding an acting job.
All shows are at 7:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted. Tickets available at all Ticketmaster outlets, or contact The Birchmere at 703-549-7500 or visit www.Birchmere.com.