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The Time Between

Armed with his usual positive outlook on life, actor Michael Nouri heads for Broadway.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Linda Evangelista, Autumn 95

(continued from page 3)

He began to land roles on television series. He played Giorgio Bellancini on CBS's "Beacon Hill" and Steve Kaslo in the CBS soap opera "Search for Tomorrow." He was Dracula in the NBC "Cliff Hangers" serial "The Curse of Dracula" in 1979, Salvatore "Lucky" Luciano in NBC's "The Gangster Chronicles" in 1981, Joe Rohner in producer Steven Bochco's "The Bay City Blues" in 1983. And in the movies, of course, also in 1983, there was Flashdance.

Now he is back on Broadway in a leading role for the first time in more than two decades. And he is starring in a show that he believes is more than a musical; it also has, he says, "a potential for healing."

"What we're really dealing with is the issue of homophobia," he says. "My character is someone who is dead sure of what his reality is. He is high machismo, he disdains homosexuality and homosexuals, and suddenly he finds himself enamored of, and then head over heels in love with, someone whose sexual identity is, to say the least, ambiguous. The show is an example of that old adage: First you make 'em laugh, and then, while their mouths are open, you pop in the pill of truth. The pill is really a mirror for us, a mirror in which we can look at our prejudices, our homophobia."

Providing a mirror on society is a prime function of the arts, he says. "We always need mirrors to see ourselves, and to me that's what the arts are about. Politics does not give us a really objective reflection of who we are. Neither, in my opinion, does organized religion, though perhaps that's its intention. It's the arts that does it."

When Nouri looks in his own personal mirror, he says, he is very much aware that the part of his life that occurs when he is not on stage or screen is considerably more important than the time he spends before the public. "It's the times in between, the commas, that count," he says. "It's the pauses that create the literature. They are as much a part of the literature as the thought behind a written line. In Asian art, in any art, the space between the colors is profoundly important. In speech, the space between the spoken words is the breath, the breath of life. That is the foundation of everything."

One way he occupies himself is as an ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He began that work 10 years ago when his wife (they are now separated) came down with the disease, and he continues to devote time to the cause. "I work as a spokesman, and I try to increase people's awareness," he says. "I just do what I can."

Over the past three years, he was a regular on the CBS sitcom "Love and War." "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done," he says. "I lucked into working with a very talented cast and great writers and producers like Diane English. I learned a great deal, but it scared the hell out of me. It's creating a play in five days. For some actors it may be easy, but for me it was very tough."

Performing, he says, is also very tough. "There are problems in any career, but as long as your self-esteem is intact you can say you'll ride it out. But when your self-esteem is affected and you're doubting yourself, things can be difficult. An actor is his own product. He or she is the marketable product. And your self-esteem is always affected. It can go both ways. It can be deflated or it can be overinflated. Both are losing propositions."

In the past, he says, he "spent a lot of time doubting, doubting, giving myself a lot of dumb information. And that was a voice that did not serve me well." But things have changed, he says. "Through growing, and through being with loving, supportive friends, I came to understand that I could have whatever I wanted."

He laughs, and points to the Montecristo No. 2 that he had returned to the table and that has been resting there, patiently awaiting the proper moment. He picks it up again. "Like a great Cuban cigar," he says.

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