Jim Beaver Waxes Poetic on Theatre West & His Path Leading to THE NIGHT FORLORN


Gil Kaan

Gil Kaan

Writer, Registered Critic


Many will recognize Jim Beaver as Whitney Ellsworth in the 2004-2006 hit TV series Deadwood, and now currently on your television screens as Bobby Singer in Supernatural. Jim will be appearing sans TV screen and on stage at his theatre home base Theatre West in THE NIGHT FORLORN opening March 16, 2018. An consistently busy actor/writer/film historian, Jim made some time to answer a few of my inquisitive inquiries on his long and rewarding history with Theatre West.
Thank you Jim for agreeing to this interview.
You have a 30-years-plus working relationship with Theatre West. How did that initially come about?
In 1984, actress Karen Kondazian brought my play VERDIGRIS to Theatre West's artistic director Clyde Ventura, and together they produced its world premiere in 1985. I've been a part of Theatre West ever since.
So, did Steve Nevil and THE NIGHT FORLORN come to Theatre West? Or did Theatre West seek this project out?
Steve is, like me, a longtime member of the company, and THE NIGHT FORLORN was developed in our writers workshop. In recent years, there's been a competition among members for scripts to put up in full productions, and THE NIGHT FORLORN is the most recent selection in that competition. So although there are elements of truth in both questions, the real truth is that the play grew directly from Steve in his already-existing membership in the company.
Have you worked with any of THE NIGHT FORLORN talents before? Are some members of Theatre West?
Everyone associated with the production is a member of Theatre West. J. Downing is friend of many years, a magnificent actor whom, although we've been in some of the same movies, I've never worked with directly. I appeared briefly in actress Leslie Caveny's play IMPACT THIS! a few years ago, and got to rough her up as my sister in Fionnula Flanagan's production of Brian Friel's THE FREEDOM OF THE CITY a few years before that. My director, Arden Teresa Lewis, and I appeared together in GOOD in the ‘90s, and she produced the 30th anniversary revival of my play VERDIGRIS in 2015. But my longest association in this play is with Tom Allard, who plays Chris. We go back to a production of KING LEAR in college together in 1972. He's my closest friend, and we've worked together on many projects. He directed me at Theatre West in Ken Jenkins's CHUG and in my own plays SIDEKICK and SEMPER FI. He also shot me with a gun the size of his leg on an episode of Reasonable Doubts.
How would you compare the character that you play in THE NIGHT FORLORN with VERDIGRIS' Jockey Fielding, Shelby Parlow on Justified, or Bobby Singer on Supernatural? Do you think any of these four would get together for a drink at a neighborhood saloon?
Perce, my character in THE NIGHT FORLORN, is of a type with those other characters, in that he's rural, folksy, prickly, gruff but lovable, and doesn't mind a drink. And yeah, he'd get together with those other guys at a bar. But five'll get you ten, he'd end up stuck with the tab.
How does a son of a Texan preacher get interested film history?
Same way the son of anybody does, I guess — watching a ton of movies growing up. I got hooked in my teens on John Wayne movies, and then on the movies of some of the people who were in John Wayne movies, and then on the movies of some of the people who were in THEIR movies, and pretty soon, I realized that I loved everything about movies. I began collecting information on movies and the people who made them, and eventually came to feel I was particularly good at researching this kind of history. I loved it, and while I got sort of sidetracked MAKING movies, I still love digging into the history of the art form and writing about the people who left their marks on that history.
What sparked your interest in researching John Garfield and television's original Superman George Reeves, amongst your many other subjects?
I've collected books on actors since my teens, and in college, under the false impression that there was a lot of money lying around for people who wrote books about movies, I thought I'd give one a shot. I made a list of actors I admired on whom there weren't any books, and Garfield stood out for a lot of reasons, not least of which was that he didn't make that many movies and I thought (again erroneously) that it would be a quick job and a quick buck. Neither turned out to be true. Later, as a film critic and feature writer for Films in Review magazine, I was assigned an article on George Reeves, which piqued my interest and led to a decades-long job of researching a book on his life and untimely death. In his case, I was particularly interested in writing about someone who became very famous without the concomitant power that often comes with stardom, someone who got what he wanted without it being particularly satisfying at all.
Any fond memories of times you spent with Theatre West founder, the late Betty Garrett?
Betty Garrett, who was among the first people involved in what became Theatre West, was simply one of the finest people I have ever known. Her professionalism, unmatched, was combined with a glowing, generous, perpetually optimistic personality. I loved her dearly. She was the first person to play the lead in my play VERDIGRIS, in a staged reading prior to its original production (when the part was taken over by the amazing Anne Haney), and she was a wise and giving mentor not just to me, but to everyone she encountered in our company and, I'm sure, elsewhere. Her son Andrew Parks originated the other leading role in VERDIGRIS and remains one of my inner circle of deepest friendships. Betty was also very helpful to me in researching my book on George Reeves, as she knew many of the people who were part of his story. I miss her intensely.
You have used Kickstarter for your 2015 production of VERDIGRIS and GoFundME is linked on the Theatre West website. Any helpful tips for using either one of these money-raising websites?
The biggest lesson I learned from my crowdfunding experiences was to get the assistance of someone who is well-versed in the process. Anyone can start a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. It takes knowledge and insight and wisdom, as well as IMMENSE energy and determination, to actually succeed in one. We used the services of one of my former Deadwood colleagues, actress Leah Cevoli, who has made a companion career for herself as a consultant on crowdfunding. Without her guidance, I absolutely doubt our campaigns would have been successful.
 You published your memoir Life's That Way in April 2009. Are you working on a Part 2?
Life's That Way was a memoir of a particular and difficult year of my life, and it came into being as a real-time outlet for the feelings I had at the time the events were happening. Thus it had a particular urgency and impetus. I'm frequently asked about another volume of autobiography, and I very much like the idea, as one thing I discovered while writing Life's That Way is that I'm not too bad at telling stories from life and making some sense of them. But I don't have the same urgency pushing me toward such a project. I'd love to write another volume, but with career, a teen-aged daughter, and the Reeves book and a novel currently in progress, I'm having trouble setting aside the time for such a book. I want to. If I can stick around long enough, I think it will happen.
What would you say was your oddest odd job before making your living writing and acting - being a Frito-Lay corn chip dough mixer, a film cleaner at a 16mm film rental firm, or a amusement park stuntman at Oklahoma City's Frontier City?
The jobs you mention were perhaps a little unusual, but not terribly odd, at least in my estimation. Probably the wackiest was a job I had working for a paraplegic woman while I was in college. She was completely physically helpless, yet she ran her house and the lives of everyone who set foot in it like a field marshal. It was an absolutely crazy, remarkable experience for me, and it became the basis of my play VERDIGRIS.
Which do you prefer - seeing your written work performed onstage? Or you yourself performing on stage?
That's a tough question. I very much treasure (most of) the times I've seen my own work performed. There is no feeling on earth like seeing one's own words enlivened and invigorated in performance. At the same time, nothing gives me greater public pleasure than acting. Writing has often been an excuse to get myself into situations where people might decide to let me act. Fortunately, a lot of what I've written has been material I could play myself. VERDIGRIS has a role I long wanted to do, but I grew too old to play it. But in the recent revival, I was able to play an older role I'd never given much thought to, and it was a joy. I don't always write for myself, but sometimes I've been able to play writer AND actor on the same production, and that really can't be beat.
What playwrights did you grow up admiring and want to emulate?
My playwriting gods are William Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill, and Tennessee Williams. If my work resembles any of theirs in any fashion, it's probably Williams. VERDIGRIS was very much influenced by THE GLASS MENAGERIE. But I don't think I really write much like any of them. Who does? But they are the ones who shaped my ideas of the theatre, of what a play could do, of the power and insight possible on the stage. As a playwright, they are with me every day when I write. My one regret as an actor is that I've never had a chance to do O'Neill. I want a Larry Slade or a James Tyrone Sr. before I shuffle off this mortal coil!
Any immediate projects coming up for Jim Beaver you can share?
THE NIGHT FORLORN, of course, takes up much of my time through April 22. I'm busy in film and television, with my ongoing parts on Netflix's The Ranch and the CW's loooooooong-running hit Supernatural. I'm hoping for a play in New York before long. That's about it. Ask me again tomorrow. The phone keeps ringing. I'm a lucky boy.
Thank you again, Jim. I look forward to seeing you in THE NIGHT FORLORN.
For ticket availability and show schedule through April 22, 2018; log onto www.theatrewest.org