Lee Wilkof was born and raised in Canton, Ohio and attended The University of Cincinnati. He originated the roles of Sam Byck in Assassins and Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, later earning a Tony Award nomination for the 2000 revival of Kiss Me, Kate. Lee appeared as The Wizard in the San Francisco production of Wicked, a role in which he previously played on the First National Tour of the show, and has appeared in numerous television series (Ally McBeal, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The West Wing, Hart to Hart among many others) and films ( School Of Rock, Private Parts, The Grey Zone, This Boy's Life). Lee currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, painter Connie Grappo, and their dog Floyd. Their daughter Perrie, a pastry chef, currently resides in Columbus, Ohio.
Please visit www.kickstartLee.com to learn about Lee's latest project "No Pay Nudity"
What is "No Pay Nudity" about?
No Pay Nudity is about Lester Rosenthal, aka Lawrence Rose, middle-aged actor living in New York City. Divorced, and estranged from his daughter and his father, he’s almost finished, both financially and emotionally. He relies on the support of his other actor friends, Herschel, Andrea, and Stephen who face down their own demons with lots of hope, a little alcohol, and tons of humor. On the verge of packing it all in, Lester returns to his hometown in Ohio to play The Fool in King Lear where he reconnects with himself and what’s important to him as a son, a dad, a friend, and an actor.
Why did you decide to make this film?
I decided to make the film because it's a story I know about. Part of it is my desire for an audience to see beyond celebrity and stardom which has poisoned our culture. But what really motivated me was coming to terms myself with what defines success. Winston Churchill defined success as "moving from one disappointment to the next without losing enthusiasm."
What was the casting process like?
My casting process was calling up my friends, or if I didn't know a particular actor, finding someone who did and sending the script to them. Whenever we went through an agent, we never heard from them again. A film like ours, with a small budget has no incentive for an agent. But if we got the script into the actor's hand, they always responded positively, always with tremendous enthusiasm, because actors relate to our script, regardless of where they are in their careers. Because it's about yearning. All actors yearn. Everybody yearns.
Why did you choose Kickstarter to finance the film?
I hired a lawyer, created an LLC, and put together a business plan hoping to get investors for our film. Frankly, very few folks responded. Maybe because I'm a first time director. Kickstarter was getting a lot of attention and i like the idea of it, and decided to try it that way. I'm deep into it, and find it an emotional roller coaster, but incredibly exhilarating, and am extremely moved by friends' and strangers' incredible generosity.
How will your background as an actor help you as a director for "No Pay Nudity"?
I've been on film sets, and television sets for nearly 40 years. I'm comfortable in that environment. I am extremely collaborative and realize i have serious limitations when it comes to the technical aspects of filmmaking. So I will rely on a strong crew. But i feel very comfortable talking to actors and have fairly good communication skills. That's where my experience as an actor will be very valuable.
Has Broadway changed over the years?
Broadway has changed along with our culture. Spectacle shows are more popular. And a show without a "star" is almost unheard of. Often these stars come from television or film, and often these stars have very little stage experience. That's the biggest change I've seen. Also audiences have changed. Theater to a lot of people is like a trip to Disneyland. It changes my experience as an actor acting for them.
If you could play any role what would it be?
Specifically I have always wanted to play Tevye in Fiddler on The Roof. Also would like to play Willy Lowman in Death of a Salesman. Love playing lowlifes, hillbillies, outlaws. People on the fringes. love that.
Do you have any advice for aspiring actors or directors?
To the aspiring actor I suggest if one is doing it to become a "star" that's a mistake. Becoming an actor is a process. It deserves work and paying dues and training and then practice. I cant' speak to aspiring directors except to probably do that for the right reasons, because you want to tell a story. It's not about "you," it's about the audience either as an actor or a director.
Do you have any favorite independent films?
I love so many independent films…a few come to mind…Welcome to The Dollhouse, Mean Streets, Stranger Than Paradise…so many directors of note in the late 20th century Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, Todd Solondz, Quentin Tarentino…their early films were independent. Incredibly vital, brave, and unique. I will steal from them if I am fortunate enough to make No Pay, Nudity. I'm not ashamed to admit it.
Thank you Lee for doing this interview. I wish you all the best with "No Pay Nudity" and future projects.