Walking With the Talking Man in New York

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io: Did going back to the beach and seeing the changes ease the regret? Having known the moment for what it was, with no chance of reenactment?

SG: Shrinkage of time is so enormous once you age. At 50 I realized that I am closer to the end -- in years. Whereas at 23 you might fantasize that you are close to the end through some freak disease, you also realize you have a lot of time, chance-wise. Statistically, I don't have time. My father lived to be 80 -- I don't expect to. By writing, I think I'm wearing myself to a frazzle.
[He proceeds on a tangent about losing his sweater and sunglasses on American Eagle, when a drunk young man next to us on a park bench asks Gray if he wants him to "kick their ass." Gray replies that the drunk guy already has his day cut out for him.]

io: If someone who didn't know you asked you what you do, how would you answer?

SG: Well, the best definition I ever heard was way back when I was performing Sex and Death at Age Fourteen. There was a little girl, 10 years old, hanging around and I asked her, "What are you doing here?" She said her dad told her to come and see the talking man. This, in our culture, is rare -- the fact that I'm reflective is an odd thing.

I was deeply moved because Steven had allowed me to show my sadness, which is my bottom line. Enormous amounts of sadness that I don't allow myself to show in my work.

io: How does your perception of yourself while performing differ from what you see when you watch yourself on video?

SG: What surprises me is when people say, "In his droll, slow, understated way, Spalding Gray proceeds to make us laugh." I hear myself as quite charismatic and highly charged. I think I'm very animated and rapid-fire in my material. When critics perceive me as a laid-back New Englander I'm always surprised. I certainly feel as if I've come off a manic attack when I finish a monologue.
[The drunk young man says he's a security guard for Tower records and asks if Gray wants anything from the store. Gray says, "No thanks -- I'm all full up," and gives the man an autograph. The drunk man asks him if he wants a beer. "No, thanks, I don't drink before 5, because once I start ..."]

io: In the wake of episodes like that one, do you ever fear losing your obscurity and becoming mainstream?

SG: I think that I'm going to be not-quite-mainstream for the rest of my life. I've always said that if I woke up and found myself on the cover of Time, I would know I was in the wrong country.
I try to keep my identity as what I call "horizontal celebrity" and not get kicked upstairs [on the celebrity ladder]. I was working on a Paul Mazurski film and Paul rushed into my dressing room and said, "I know! You should star in the John Cheever story." And I said, "You got it, Paul. And you'll direct it and raise money for a movie based on a bisexual alcoholic writer played by Spalding Gray. That really captures the imagination of the American public." In the meantime, you've got these John Travolta types bringing down the stage. Because that's what the American public wants: ethnic, non-reflective, sexually clear absolutes. No one is trying to figure out how to package me. I've enjoyed my eccentric castings. I stretch between two Dalis -- the Dali Lama and Dolly Parton.

io: You seem to attract strangeness [the drunk guy has just strongly encouraged Gray to handle his retractable billy club].

SG: I suppose so. I have a tendency to not like being bored. I dramatize and complicate my life. In Norman Mailer's interview with Madonna in Esquire, he said one of the reasons for infidelity is wanting to feel like a different person. I think that's the way people are with me; the reason for people's multifaceted responses to me. I am available to people. I take the subways. I still walk on the streets and fortunately don't get inundated with recognition. I have a lack of boundaries, an availability and a kind of everyman stance. Some people find it hard to believe that I am going to be on their subway car, because most people want their celebrities to be in stretch limos in an untouchable place. I think of America as a pagan country, and the gods and goddesses are the Hollywood stars. I like to think I defy all that and refuse to be kicked upstairs. And I feel the audience likes all that, except I have no power over that and they could drop me at any minute.

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