Philip Bosco is one of the most industrious actors in New York. He never stops working. When we met, he had recently returned from making the movie of Mark Medoff's play Children of a Lesser God with Bill Hurt in Canada. He had just completed six days' work playing a judge on The Guiding Light, and he was about to go into rehearsal for a short-lived Off-Broadway comedy called Be Good to Me. Earlier in the afternoon, he had driven in from his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, for a meeting with Robert De Niro, who was trying to cast a production of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. He described De Niro as "a very short guy with a ponytail": "It was nice talking to him. My kids said, 'Daddy, bring him home to dinner.' "
What do you do when you're not working?
I have a big family -- seven kids -- and we have a pretty good-sized house which requires constant upkeep. But I'm almost always working. I worked at the Repertory Theater at Lincoln Center for seven years when Jules Irving was in charge. When he left, the theater closed, and I was out of work for the first time in a long time, for eighteen months. This was 1973. My wife then went to work for the first time as a waitress. She really kept us together.
I got very desperate. I did some outrageous stuff to try to make money. I sold magazines over the telephone, which is the most degrading thing to do. Have you ever done anything like that? It's not like going up to the door and ringing the buzzer. You call up and give this prepared speech. It's very dishonest. They had these sponsoring organizations who actually got a very tiny part of the money. If you sign up for a subscription for $20, they might get a quarter. You knew that, and you had to give this performance. It was loathsome.
What made you want to be an actor in the first place?
The first time I can remember acting was when I was in eighth grade, and I was in some dumb play. I have this clear image of being twelve years old and people saying, "Oh, you were so good." I must have gotten the idea then that I'm good at this. Why else would I have continued? Nobody in my family was in the theater. I certainly didn't do it for money, because I never made any money until three years ago. I started making a few dollars because I did some movies. Up until that time, I was working myself to the bone, working virtually fifty weeks a year, and the most I made would be $35,000.
What kept you doing it?
It's difficult to put into words. It pleases me to do it, and I really need it as a way of expressing myself. I like it principally because I like language -- that's why I enjoy doing Shaw or Shakespeare. It's very satisfying to wrap yourself around those words.
When you decided to be a professional actor, was it obvious you would move to New York?
Sooner or later. But even before I went to college, I was absolutely fascinated with the theater. I would come to New York all the time and go to plays. The first play I ever saw was in 1944-the original
Arsenic and Old Lace at the Hudson Theater on Forty-fourth Street. That same week I saw
Angel Street with Vincent Price and Judith Evelyn and Leo G. Carroll. I'd hang around stage doors. I was absolutely enthralled by the theater. I went to see Ingrid Bergman in Maxwell Anderson's
Joan of Lorraine, one of the first things she did when she came over here onstage. I went to a matinee -- I'll never forget it. There were so many fans hanging around, they blocked the whole street, and Bergman couldn't get out the door to go to lunch. Finally the management came out and made a speech saying, "Miss Bergman has agreed to meet you all in the theater." They opened the doors, we went in, Bergman came out onstage in a beautiful robe and made a little speech saying, "You're lovely but I really must go to dinner. But I'll talk to you for a few moments if you have any questions." People were screaming, bringing up flowers and shit, it was great. It was from that point on that I really got caught up in the theater. One of the high points of my life was when the Old Vic came over after the war with Olivier and Richardson. They did
Oedipus Rex, and Richardson played Falstaff. I was only fifteen, sixteen. I was on top of the world.
Was your decision to work in the theater in New York related to having a family and settling down in New Jersey?
Somewhat. But another factor was as important as any of the others. Until recently, I was afflicted with a kind of panic disorder -- I was a classic agoraphobic. I couldn't travel, which inhibited almost any film work. I couldn't get to certain areas in the city. I couldn't go in elevators. I've had this since I was nineteen. When my wife and I first met, she didn't know about it -- I had a macho image to uphold! I couldn't let on that I had any weaknesses, particularly a weakness that seems so childish to other people. When I unburdened myself of the shame, people were very understanding. I then adopted an attitude in my professional life where my agent would outline it beforehand -- "Phil can't do such and such, do you still want to see him?" I've met a lot of directors in lobbies.
I don't anymore, thank God. I'm now on medication under a doctor's care, which allows me to do things I couldn't do before. Even if I didn't have this problem, I would have stayed in New York. This made it easier because I couldn't leave if I wanted to.
in the Act: New York Actors Face to Face (photo by Susan