EXCLUSIVE: How 'Taxi' Informed Danny DeVito's Tony-Nominated Broadway Debut

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It may seem odd that
an actor as firmly associated with New Yawk as Danny DeVito would wait till his
early 70s to make his Broadway debut, in this year’s revival of Arthur Miller’s The
Price
. Mind you, DeVito -- who’s actually a Jersey boy, born in Neptune
Township and raised in Asbury Park -- initially prepared for a stage career,
graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and performing at major
regionals and off-Broadway before landing the TV role, as dispatcher Louie De
Palma on Taxi, that made him a star.

“I’d come close to
doing Broadway a couple of times a while ago, but it didn’t work out,” says
DeVito. “As an actor, you go where the work is” -- and DeVito’s had no
shortage, between his seemingly endless film credits (as a producer and director
as well) and his numerous television projects, among them the long-running FX
series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. (“We’re taking a year
off,” DeVito says, “but we’ll probably do three more seasons.”)

But then “the right
play came along at the right time,” and DeVito couldn’t say no. As a result, he
earned his first Tony Award nomination -- for performance by an actor
in a featured role in a play -- his first time at bat. “Can you imagine that? I
have to say, I feel so cool.”

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Though not one of Miller’s
more iconic plays, The Price taps into themes and concerns
prominent in the playwright’s catalog, as well as his personal experience
living through the Depression. The Roundabout Theatre Company production that
featured DeVito also cast Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub as estranged
middle-aged brothers Victor and Walter Franz, who are meeting to sell contents
of their old family home’s attic before the brownstone that housed it is torn
down. DeVito played Gregory Solomon, their furniture dealer, a man in his late
80s who delightfully eats a hardboiled egg in the first act.

“The other
characters do most of the heavy lifting,” DeVito says, praising Ruffalo,
Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht, who plays Victor’s wife, Esther. “The only dilemma
I face, really, is whether I’ll stay alive long enough to sell the furniture.”

Joan Marcus

DeVito had not seen
or read the play before it was sent to him by Steppenwolf Theatre Company
founding member Terry Kinney, who directed the Roundabout revival. “I’d seen
Terry’s work at Steppenwolf, and I know the Roundabout is a cool place to work.
There was that, and the opportunity to slip into the wonderful intensity of
this play, of the words in Arthur Miller’s head. And every night you’re working
with a different audience, and that’s one of the elements that informs every
performance.”

DeVito notes that
back when he was working on Taxi, “We shot in front of a live
audience, on Friday nights. We were shooting for the cameras, but we’d usually
do the first act all the way through, so it was like doing a one-act play. That
experience was informed by the off- and off-off-Broadway theater I did before Taxi,
and now my experience on Taxi has informed what I’ve done on
Broadway.”

The veteran actor,
whose last theater gig was a revival of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys in
London (2012) and Los Angeles (2013), has loved spending time in New York: “I
go back and forth, but I have a place here, and I love being here.” With The
Price
 wrapped, DeVito will next head back across the pond to shoot
Disney’s live-action adaptation of Dumbo, helmed by Tim Burton, who
previously directed DeVito in Batman Returns and Big
Fish
. “I play Medici, the guy who owns the circus where Dumbo goes,” says
DeVito. “Disney loves this project -- we all do, and Tim’s going to do a great
job, as always. It’s always something unique with him.”

DeVito won’t miss
the Tonys, though. He’ll attend with daughter Lucy, a rising actress who
has collaborated on a few projects with her dad. “Last year we did a short film
called Curmudgeons, based on a play that Lucy took me to see.” The
younger DeVito is also active in theater; she’s currently appearing in a series
of new one-act plays produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre, based in midtown
Manhattan. “It’s a great source of material and talent,” the proud father says
of the company.

DeVito would like to
eventually return to the stage himself. “Of course, you have to keep in mind
that the last plays I’ve done at this point were written by Neil Simon and
Arthur Miller. So I’ve set the bar pretty high for myself.”

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