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Phil Johnson's acting bucket list

Craig Noel Award-winning actor shares his dream roles.

Phil Johnson - Image by Carmen Ridenoure
Phil Johnson
The Man Who Came to Dinner at Coronado Playhouse

I’m asking veteran local actors to name five dream roles and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers — even some choices that might seem outside the box.

“I have to really love what I’m doing to do it. And I realize that I have to do the parts that scare me in some way because finally that is so much of what it’s about. Facing it. That’s where the thrills are.”

“I have so many bucket list roles I’d have to be as old as Mother Teresa to get them done. I’m not sure she ever acted though. Whittling them down…”

1.) Rickey Roma, Glengarry Glen Ross, by David Mamet. Smooth-talking, ruthless Alpha male in a Chicago real estate office exploits other’s weaknesses. “I have to play him, someone who’s so opposite from what I’ve played for years now, someone with little conscience, absolute focus and maximum drive. I really like the idea of playing a devil, and smooth.”

2.) Garry Essendine, Present Laughter. Noel Coward wrote the play “with the sensible object of providing me with a bravura part” — i.e. Essendine, a successful actor in light comedies about to turn 40 and beginning to resist it. “Garry’s a flat-out, crazed, self-indulgent artist that I’d love to tackle. He sets the world spinning to his own little orbit. And who is funnier, more verbally precise, or has more style than Noel Coward?”

She-Rantulas from Outer Space in 3D! at Diversionary Theatre

3.) Max Bialystock, The Producers, by Mel Brooks. “The funniest musical ever. Playing Max, or even subtler, the Sid Caesar role in Little Me (in the 1962 Broadway production, Caesar played all the leading lady’s husbands and lovers). “I’d love to throw myself at THAT comic tour de force and see who comes out alive! And certainly Pseudolus in Forum, because I love that guy who sets things in motion. But wait! I’m supposed to be whittling here!!!”

4.) Scrooge. “I will play him one day. I played the Grinch for a week as an understudy at the Globe (he’s the same guy with a similar story) and I found so much in him that is much of me — the cranky old man who wants a second chance but doesn’t know it.”

5.) Brian, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1967), by Peter Nichols. Brian and Sheila’s daughter has cerebral palsy and cannot communicate. Caring for her 24/7 has taken a severe (possibly suicidal) toll on the marriage. “Brian: somebody who uses his humor against that desperation — that’s a jump off a cliff for me!”

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Phil Johnson - Image by Carmen Ridenoure
Phil Johnson
The Man Who Came to Dinner at Coronado Playhouse

I’m asking veteran local actors to name five dream roles and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers — even some choices that might seem outside the box.

“I have to really love what I’m doing to do it. And I realize that I have to do the parts that scare me in some way because finally that is so much of what it’s about. Facing it. That’s where the thrills are.”

“I have so many bucket list roles I’d have to be as old as Mother Teresa to get them done. I’m not sure she ever acted though. Whittling them down…”

1.) Rickey Roma, Glengarry Glen Ross, by David Mamet. Smooth-talking, ruthless Alpha male in a Chicago real estate office exploits other’s weaknesses. “I have to play him, someone who’s so opposite from what I’ve played for years now, someone with little conscience, absolute focus and maximum drive. I really like the idea of playing a devil, and smooth.”

2.) Garry Essendine, Present Laughter. Noel Coward wrote the play “with the sensible object of providing me with a bravura part” — i.e. Essendine, a successful actor in light comedies about to turn 40 and beginning to resist it. “Garry’s a flat-out, crazed, self-indulgent artist that I’d love to tackle. He sets the world spinning to his own little orbit. And who is funnier, more verbally precise, or has more style than Noel Coward?”

She-Rantulas from Outer Space in 3D! at Diversionary Theatre

3.) Max Bialystock, The Producers, by Mel Brooks. “The funniest musical ever. Playing Max, or even subtler, the Sid Caesar role in Little Me (in the 1962 Broadway production, Caesar played all the leading lady’s husbands and lovers). “I’d love to throw myself at THAT comic tour de force and see who comes out alive! And certainly Pseudolus in Forum, because I love that guy who sets things in motion. But wait! I’m supposed to be whittling here!!!”

4.) Scrooge. “I will play him one day. I played the Grinch for a week as an understudy at the Globe (he’s the same guy with a similar story) and I found so much in him that is much of me — the cranky old man who wants a second chance but doesn’t know it.”

5.) Brian, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1967), by Peter Nichols. Brian and Sheila’s daughter has cerebral palsy and cannot communicate. Caring for her 24/7 has taken a severe (possibly suicidal) toll on the marriage. “Brian: somebody who uses his humor against that desperation — that’s a jump off a cliff for me!”

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