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Following a Dream

Peter Gallagher on Life as an Actor



Broadway, film, and TV actor Peter Gallagher splits his time between the West coast and New Milford.

Photo by Andrew Brucker

If the talented Peter Gallagher ever decides to give up acting, he can have great success as a mimic. During our interview he channeled Cary Grant, Anthony Hopkins, George Grizzard, and Jack Lemmon without missing a beat. But it all began with Dean Martin. “I used to do Dean Martin imitations when I was a little boy,” Gallagher explains. “I was crazy about him. I’d have to sit through the “Lawrence Welk Show” with my parents and then he would come on. I thought I was fantastic and that maybe I could make this a career.”

Along with his Dean Martin, Gallagher also does a mean cockney accent, which is what got him his role in a high school production of “The Fantasticks.” He felt he had found his calling.

“It was the beginning of my exposure to a world I could disappear into and not have to be me anymore. It never occurred to me that I could make a living as an actor.” And indeed he has. After graduating from Tufts University where he was active in theater, Gallagher headed to New York City, where he knew absolutely no one and began going to open calls.

“My first audition was for Grease. They wanted me to do a ‘50s song, so I chose “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.” The casting director said it was beautiful and that’s all I needed to hear,” recalls Gallagher. And he got the part. Gallagher also appeared in Hair and then began his movie career, starring as a ‘50s-era pop singer in The Idolmaker. But Broadway beckoned and he went back to the Great White Way for a role in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. He has since gone on to appear in a string of successful shows from Long Day’s Journey into Night, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Featured Actor in a play; Guys and Dolls, which garnered him a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Musical; Pal Joey; Noises Off; and On the Twentieth Century.

He is one of those rare actors who wins accolades not only for his stage work but also for his work in movies and television. In the former he excelled in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, The Player, and American Beauty, to name but a few of his films. As for television, Gallagher has appeared in “The Good Wife,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “The O.C.”, which ran for four years. Now he has captured Jane Fonda’s heart (and ours) in “Grace and Frankie.”

“I am enjoying the roles and work I’ve been doing,” he says, “but the business has changed. Because of the Internet we have the capacity to find out so much, there is little curiosity left. The New York actor used to be a highly regarded commodity. With the advent of reality television there doesn’t seem to be as much regard for what we do and that it is a craft. But that hasn’t dampened my love of acting.”

In his down time (not that he has much), Gallagher divides his time between the west coast and New Milford. “It was a total accident that we found this house in Connecticut,” says Gallagher. “We were about to close on a house in Rhinebeck on top of a mountain, but the seller never showed up. So we drove from there and decided to give Connecticut another try. The first place we saw was exactly what we were dreaming of. We didn’t know a soul, but it didn’t matter. I have a studio where I can rehearse and work out. I love going to Lake Waramaug and having Sunday dinner on our porch. I love the animals, even the bears. I have a workshop where I fix little things and make six trips to Home Depot. I just enjoy this perfect little corner of the world.”

 

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