INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS
STORY BY ANDREA RAYMER
Josh Stamberg has found his dream job. After a long career in theater and television he has hit the jackpot with his role on Showtime’s The Affair. Here he tells Imagista about his passion for entertainment and the excitement and optimism that he finds in acting.
Imagista: How did you first get into acting?
Josh Stamberg: My mom and dad were always very interested in the arts. My mom went to High School of Music and Art in New York and was the first woman to anchor a national news program for National Public Radio, so I grew up in DC and got dragged to every cultural event imaginable, a lot of which were theater. It was All My Sons by Arthur Miller that got me interested in theater and drew me to the stage. That production was so remarkable and made such an impact on me at a young age – I think I was probably 11. I just thought, that is what I want to do.
My parents really encouraged it. I went to a tiny school in Washington DC where everybody did everything. It wasn’t just Nerds and Cool Kids. I could do sports and theater and musicals – there was no stigma about it. It was something I came to and, as an only child, a big part of it was the family it provided me with. It just felt like a place where I could express myself and it was safe and really fun.
Imagista: What is your favorite thing about acting that keeps you excited about it?
JS: There is always a sense of optimism about it. There is certainly emotional digging and sort of reflecting where I am as a person onto a character in a story. I think the optimism comes from that there are always new stories. There are, of course, the classics that I am interested in applying myself to, but there is a sense that there is always something else to say, think about, and express. I have a pretty curious nature and it just seems like a pretty good fit. Even when you are getting some tough blows and rejections, there is always a sense that there is something else that is coming.
The act itself is something I love as well. Just doing it, applying yourself, the discipline of showing up every day for a job with a group of people and not disappointing yourself or anyone else and striving. That excites me. Also the notion of working with other really talented artists, and not just actors; there’s the directors, writers, and designers. There is something collaborative about this industry that is so endlessly appealing.
Imagista: Is there anyone that you have worked with in particular that you really admire or that you are really inspired by?
JS: I have been really fortunate to work with a lot of incredible artists. The thing about the theater is there is this cross-generational thing that happens where you get to be in a rehearsal room for weeks with people who have been doing this longer than me and are better and have great stories to tell. I do a lot of work with LA Theater Works, which is like theater for the radio. We do new plays and old plays and everything. Recently we did Glengarry Glen Ross and my friend, Eric Simonson, directed it. It was Joe Mantegna, Richard Dreyfuss, and Richard Schiff, all these guys that have been doing this forever, real Broadway heavyweights. That’s definitely the sort of room you want to be the kid in. I got to sit in a room with these guys and hear them share their experiences. Every job has a version of that. You come across really remarkable people in any field, but there is something much more social about acting.
Imagista: Is there anyone that you would kill to work with that you haven’t worked with before?
JS: There are a few people, mostly directors, that I would love to work with someday. Paul Thomas Anderson, I think, is one of the most creative directors around. The Coen brothers – I love the type of storytelling they do. I love Alejandro González Iñárritu and what his movies are becoming.
There are a few of actors that I would really like to toe up with that I see doing really interesting things like Tom Hardy and Chiwatel Ejiofor. And working with Dominic West and Maura Tierney on The Affair isn’t bad. It’s amazing to have a couple of those people in my world right now. I have known Maura for a long time and have worked with her in the past, but it is great to have her as a scene partner and a really collaborative friendship.
Imagista: Your biggest project right now is “The Affair.” Tell me about what it’s like working on that show?
JS: It’s dreadful… Just kidding. It’s one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had, to be honest. It makes me so incredibly happy and proud, which is something I don’t feel like I have been able to say in a long time.
The writing is really enticing and challenging. You get stuck in a lot of circumstances in TV where the actors have to lift the writing up, and I feel like I have to elevate myself to reach the level of the writing. That is a really good thing; you don’t get that a lot. You get that maybe with Shakespeare or other really great theater or in a great film, too. This job is special. The writing is good, the leadership is strong, and it is a really gifted group of actors who get along. The crew is very engaged and we all enjoy each other’s company.
This job is pretty close to perfection for me, and a lot of that has to do with this role in particular. I am really having fun with my role; it has taken a very Iago-esque turn that show runner Sarah Treem laid out for me at the beginning of the season. I was really hopeful about it, but you never really know if those sorts of things will come to fruition, especially on a show like this with so many mouths to feed. I love working in New York as well. That alone makes me very happy; everything else on top of it makes me feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.
Imagista: Tell me a bit of how this role came about for you. You started out as a recurring character and now you are a series regular with some major storylines going on. How did that progress?
JS: Yeah, this was the type of story that I always heard about happening to other people, but it had certainly never happened to me. With big roles I get, it is usually through the back door like this, but it has never worked out too well. I was in New York working on a different TV show and my manager told me that I should audition for this show that he had been hearing really great things about. He sent me some audition sides to see what the role was like since the script wasn’t available. I read the first scene in the first episode that my character was in where he sort of has a breakdown about the state of his marriage and how much he misses his kids after a night of hard partying. You don’t really get scenes like that very often where the character is so dimensional off the bat.
I got hired to do that episode after a really great audition process with Carl Franklin and staff writer, Dan Lefranc, who really pushed me – which doesn’t happen too often in an audition. Normally you walk in with your own ideas and they say yes or no and maybe give some suggestions, but they really rehearsed me and let me play.
During that first episode I really hit it off with Dominic West. We really connected and talked about what their back-story might be. We are supposed to be playing best friends. Something special really happened and I think a lot of people noticed. I think Sarah Treem must have already had the idea that she wanted to use my character more, but a lot of the time you hear ‘recurring character’ and think, “I’m never going to see you again”. In this case it all really worked out. I did three episodes in the first seasons and I got an offer to do a different show, but I told my manager to call and make sure that there were no big plans with my character on The Affair before taking that one. He really didn’t like the idea, but I loved the job so much that I wanted to make sure. Fortunately, Sarah did have plans for me and put together a little reel of my scenes from the first season and sent it to Showtime to get them to hire me for the next season. It was really one of the best moments I have had in my career.
Imagista: That’s incredible. It seems like all the stars aligned perfectly.
JS: They did! And I kept waiting in my cynical actor way for the other shoe to drop and it to fall apart or turn out to be a mistake or something.
Imagista: If you weren’t an actor what do you think you would be doing?
JS: I was raised by people whose careers were really about service. My dad was a civil servant and worked for the State Department and my mom was in public radio. I think I would be doing something more socially-minded that would probably involve a lot of travel or different cultures – maybe some version of teaching – either that or I would just be a bank robber.
Imagista: What’s next for you? Do you have anything coming up that is particularly exciting?
JS: I have been working with my writing partner for the past two years on a tiny movie that we want to make about Echo Park and gentrification. Our jumping off points were Chinatown and The Long Goodbye. It is kind of a neo-noir thriller in a way.
Before that I am going to do one of these radio plays that I mentioned with LA Theater Works. We are doing American Buffalo, which is one of the first plays that I saw when I got out of drama school and is one of my favorites. And hopefully behind that I will do season 3 of The Affair.