- 06 Feb 18
Ahead of an appearance at the Galways Arts Festival, Hot Press met the actor to talk Frasier, Ireland, and ditching a secure job for acting.
You know him as the crotchety dad from Frasier. But John Mahoney is also a distinguished theatre actor whose career has followed a singular trajectory.
John Mahoney may be best known for his role as Kelsey Grammer’s on-screen father in the multi-award winning sitcom Frasier, but the Chicago-based actor is a seasoned star of the stage, a member of the legendary Steppenwolf Theatre Company and also has numerous silver-screen credits to his name including two Coen Brothers outings; Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy and global smash coming-of-age film Reality Bites.
Mahoney is currently preparing for his fifth visit to the Galway Arts Festival where he will take the lead role in Bruce Graham’s The Outgoing Tide which tells the story of a family coming to terms with unforeseen circumstances. He’s brimming with enthusiasm about his return to the City of the Tribes.
“I’m so looking forward to coming back to Galway with this play,” he says. “It’s beautifully written and tells a great story. It’s actually a very Irish play although the playwright is American. When I say Irish I mean it’s about a very dark subject but is so side-splittingly funny at times! It reminds me of Irish drama in general in that way, right in the middle of a laugh you start to cry and right in the middle of a sob you start to laugh.”
Mahoney, who left Manchester to move to the US when he was 19, started his acting career relatively late in life, at age 37. He gave up his secure job writing for a medical journal to pursue his dream.
“When I look back on it I don’t know how I ever had the nerve, I was never that ballsy if you’ll excuse the expression,” he laughs. “I guess I was at such a point in my life where I was thinking, if I have to do this one more day I’ll have to kill myself. I had had enough of writing about cataracts and haemorrhoids!”
David Mamet gave Mahoney his first break casting him in The Water Engine and the rest is history; he has never been out of work since. Despite the variety of roles under his belt, does it ever frustrate him he is best-known for his Frasier role?
“No it doesn’t and the people who cast me never seem to let it bother them either, I have never been typecast,” he states. “I loved every minute of Frasier and I’m very proud of it.”
Mahoney stays in touch with all former cast members and is even godfather to Jane Leeves’ (who played Daphne) son.
Although working in movies does not afford the same closeness, Mahoney has fond memories of his numerous big-screen projects and particularly his work with the Coen Brothers.
“I love Joel and Ethan,” he smiles. “It’s funny because they look so counter-culture, like hippies or laidback California dudes, but they’re really professional. It’s also great fun to work with them, you get to have a lot of input and they’re also really enjoyable to hang out with.”
Another career highlight is his part in zeitgeist-grabbing youth flick Reality Bites directed by an old friend of his, Ben Stiller.
“Ben and I go back a long way, he was my son on Broadway for a year when we did The House Of Blue Leaves, I think he was only 16 or 17 at the time” says Mahoney. “We also did a lot of shorts together. One was a take-off of The Color Of Money except with bowling instead of pool, I was Paul Newman and he was Tom Cruise!”
Since Frasier, Mahoney has been a regular on TV screens and recently starred opposite Gabriel Byrne in In Treatment.
“Gabriel was a prince,” remembers Mahoney. “I was doing Conor McPherson’s Seafarer at the time at Steppenwolf and at the weekends I was flying to New York to film In Treatment. I remember him asking how I was managing the accent and he offered to put down some material on tape for me. I was delighted! So he took the script and did about eight pages. I guarded that with my life, it was a real treasure!”