Q & A: John Stamos: “I still want to get out there and do something that’s challenging and original”
It’s hard to believe that John Stamos has been around for 30 years. How many actors have had a hugely successful career like his? He started out on General Hospital, then Full House, ER and has done a handful of Broadway shows. He even says that his career “baffles” him.
Tonight, he’s starring on Law & Order: SVU where he plays a seemingly normal baby-loving man with a secret – he’s managed to father dozens of children (I’m not giving anything away). It’s a different role for Stamos, who has made a career out of playing affable characters. But as SVU executive producer Neal Baer said, it was that quality that made him want Stamos for the part.
I participated in a conference call with Stamos and Bear where they talked about how John was cast, his long career and his stint on Glee.
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
Can you tell us about your role and what attracted you to the part?
John Stamos: Basically what, you know, what attracted me to this and also what scared – first of all scared the hell out of me about playing this, he’s a sexual – he’s a reproductive abuser. And, you know, it’s really unlike any character I’ve ever seen or read anywhere.
And I just found it so fascinating. I mean at the time when they asked me to do it by, you know, again like it scared the hell out of me because it was funny, the day they sent this I was planning – I have an organization called Project (Huddle) which is the – about baby abandonment and this, you know, prevention of it.
And I said I can’t do this role. I mean this makes no sense for someone like me.
I think what happens is you get so caught up in being a celebrity these days. And, you know, it kind of, you know, and you forget why you’re a celebrity. And it’s really because you’re an actor.
And, you know, roles like this that scare you is really what you should – where I should be going with my career.
And so I jumped at the chance. And I think it’s really one of the best things I’ve ever done on television.
What was it like for you to step into such a long running show and fit in with another established show that you were never a part of before?
John Stamos: Well, you know, it seems like I’ve done that quite a bit over the last few years, you know, with ER and, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of guest spots Entourage and Glee. So it’s – so there’s always an extra challenge in it. But, you know the benefit is that the shows are up and going in they’re running well.
And there’s not really a lot to learn. I mean of these shows work at a different pace and at different energy.
And this particular one, I mean these guys were pros. And again I did some of my favorite work on the show because of how good (Christian Musgar). I mean I really had a, you know – and, you know, and writing, you know.
Neal, when you were going through the casting process, what was it about John that made you want to hire him?
Neal Baer: Well we didn’t really select him in the sense that we wrote it with him and mind hoping that he would do it which we often do.
And so because we sort of – we really had in mind the character and the person we wanted to play this because we wanted someone who was completely charming, affable, very handsome, had a way with women that people could really, you know, connect to.
And yet there was this side of him that was unexpected. And we liked that as well because we wanted to, you know, see him in the light may be that he hasn’t been in on other shows.
And so we often write the shows with people in mind. And sometimes we’re really lucky to get those actors.
But it also helps us kind of create the part because we just knew that this character had to be charming and handsome. So if he was kind of like, you know, evil and nefarious then it wouldn’t have worked. So it just we’re so happy he did it because it was – it would have gone out of as well we need a John Stamos most type for this part.
John Stamos: You know, I’ve been caught up the last few years and really trying to please the audience, you know, always. And I think some of my most successful stuff was when I was taking chances and when I was fearless. I felt that I had that more when I was younger.
I remember leaving Full House and I went into right on to Broadway. And I actually remember doing Cabaret and people were walking out of the theater because they wanted to see Uncle Jesse.
And I remember talking to Sam Mendes about, you know, I’m doing something wrong. I have to please these people. He said no, you’re doing something right. I mean if you’re really, you know, digging in playing the truth of this character.
And that’s why roles like this and SVU have scared me over the last few years and I found myself doing some safe stuff.
And recently I’ve kind of stopped. I’ve turned down a bunch of roles that I thought people would like to see me in and thought that I should get involved with in television. And I’ve been actually just waiting for role like this to come around. So I, you know, again I, you know, I jumped at it.
John, you’re a guy that’s worked really hard in the business. How does this show and working with Neal give you more self-confidence as an actor?
John Stamos: You know, I think just working with really good people, you know, really smart people.
I think my adult career kind of started on ER, you know, where I was kind of thrown in – it sort of felt like the same situation. I was, you know, working with, you know, fine actors and really good writing, established show. So you kind of have to, you know you have to – but certainly how to do on ER and on SVU, really there were a lot of similarities where you have to rise to the occasion there because they’re bringing their A work.
Marsha and Chris were – I did a scene with Chris that was I think one of the favorite scenes I’ve ever done. It was like just playing cat and mouse. And this guy was throwing hard balls at me the whole scene. And, you know, I really had to be on my toes. So I – it did kind of spit me out as a more confident actor I think.
You started on daytime. What’s your take about the recent losses of soaps and what that medium gave you as a young actor?
John Stamos: Well, you know, if it wasn’t for General Hospital I wouldn’t be talking to you on this phone right now. I give a lot of credit to that show.
You know it really prepared me. And not even knowing as much – not even forecasting the way television has turned into – I mean, you know basically nighttime television works about as – not as fast but, you know, we have to work so – as Neal knows with the budgets and, you know, we have to shoot so much in one day.
And I remember doing General Hospital it was 90 pages a day, you know which I had 30 of those sometimes.
You know, you really – so I learned a tremendous amount. And it wasn’t just a springboard but it was a base of, you know, it was acting 101. I mean you really had to come and bring a lot of different emotions and a lot of, you know, a lot fast, you know, which really prepared me for television.
But and I think it’s really sad obviously, you know, for everything that it did for me — the training, the launch that it gave me. It’s sad to think that there’s not some other guys out there like me that’s going to get a shot on a soap opera, you know?
I just saw Demi Moore the other night. We talked about General Hospital for 45 minutes and just raved how much we loved it and good – the good memories we had from it.
John, your recent appearance on Glee – did it run a little bit shorter than you thought?
John Stamos: You know, I didn’t – you know I went into that, you know, because I love the show and I love Ryan Murphy. And I would’ve been happy with, you know, one episode.
I mean I got do four I think which is more than, you know, most people get to do.
So no I mean it was, you know it was everything that I would want it to. I made great friends. I had a great time.
It was challenging too, you know, to dip in again like being put on a show that’s up and running and to be around such talented people. You really have to rise to the occasion.
And they do – you know they work very fast on that show. That show is a miracle. I mean I watched it before and I’ve been in the middle of it and I still don’t know how they do it. I still don’t understand how they get the quality that they do each week and the messages.
You know it’s an absolute – it’s magical what they do and that show. It’s magic I think. And I was really – I’m really grateful to be part of it in any, you know, one line of four episodes is, you know, it was great.
You have done so much. You’ve done the soap operas. You’ve done comedy, now drama, Broadway. What’s next?
John Stamos: You know, when I started that show and through my earlier career I felt a lot – I felt fearless, you know? And over the years you get so caught up in yourself.
And again, you know I’m flattered but, you know, you become such a celebrity. It’s very difficult to draw the line between celebrity and actor. I mean you get caught up in just Twitter and Facebook and the Internet that what everybody says. And you want to please everybody.
And, you know, and lately it’s funny. You’ll hear my name on TV shows or movie references and I mean so many people come up and say reference about the what was in the stepbrothers, you know.
So you’ve really got to – I really have to pull the brakes back and go whoa, you know, I really have to combat that with, you know, with taking chances again and being fearless. I really miss that.
So that’s kind of where I’m at right now in my career. I’ve turned down a lot of stuff. I’m waiting for something that feels, you know, challenging in television.
And that’s tough because like you said, I haven’t done a lot of it. But right now I’m at that place in my life where I’ve been many times in my career where I’ve no idea what I’m doing tomorrow.
And it’s the most frightening and exhilarating moment that I’ve had a long time. So I’m waiting to be scared and challenged and I’m going to jump at the opportunity.
Is there anything that’s off the table for you? I know you mentioned being fearless but is there any role that you absolutely will refuse to take?
John Stamos: Replacing anyone on a sitcom. Read between those lines.
You said earlier that you had reservations about the role initially. Why take chances now at this point in your career?
John Stamos: Well, you know, I could either way. You know, I could – I’m at the place where I’m, you know, I’m looking at almost 30 years.
I was – you know, here’s get ready to drop a name. But I was at a party the other night and the great George Clooney came up to me and he said God he said, you know, we’re still around. There’s not many of us that have, you know, made it this long.
And first of all to be even, you know, in the same category as him which I’m not was very flattering of him to say.
But it’s true. You know, for all intents and purposes I should be long gone by now.
So I think because I’ve taken some chances or tried to get back to my roots I go to the theater quite a bit or I mean I do theater quite a bit so around.
But I think that – I think, you know, I could take the easy way out. I could jump on a sitcom tomorrow. And, you know, at some point maybe I will again. But I think I’ve got one more fight in me. I think I still have some energy. I still want to get out there and do something that’s challenging and original.
I think there’s some incredible writing in television now. Everybody’s going into television. So I feel if I’m patient, you know, I sat out for the pilot season. I just feel if I’m patient I think that’s going to come around for me.
And again, I guess to answer your question I feel I have one more fight in me before I sort of, you know, just kind of be put out to pasture and, you know, maybe go do a – not that there’s anything wrong with it but, you know, just jump on a family sitcom again like Full House or something like.
How have you managed to stay relevant after 25 years?
John Stamos: Well that’s a good question. I mean it baffles me. I mean I think, you know, doing some of these popular shows have been good for me, certainly Entourage, certainly Glee.
Again at the same time I think that’s the answer. Hopefully, you know, I try to stay relative that way.
You know, a couple weeks ago I was, you know, on tour with the Beach Boys who have been around for 50 years which is maybe not the most, you know, finger on the pulse thing happening now.
But at the same time I did a music video for a band called Low which is a really cool independent Indy band that, you know, is about as, you know, gritty and raw and fresh as I could do. So I try to do those kinds of things I guess.
John, how does wardrobe play a part in the portrayal of a character?
John Stamos: You know, I mean a lot of times you’ll find the character with the wardrobe. This guy was, you know, wearing suits and dressed nice. So, it was completely different than what I’ve done before but…
Neal Baer: Good suits. I hope – I think they gave you good suits right?
John Stamos: I had good suits on my show.
Neal Baer: Good.
John Stamos: I tried to steal them Neal…
Neal Baer: Yes you looked good.
John Stamos: …and they wouldn’t let me take them. I tried to take one.