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Stage Struck

A funny thing happened on Tony winner Jerry Zak's way to med school: he became a Broadway director.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Sylvester Stallone, Mar/Apr 98

(continued from page 3)

He laughs. Enough criticism. "On the other hand," he says, "there were actors on the set, Robert DeNiro and Gwen Verdon and Leonardo DiCaprio, who would have done anything, who would have tried anything, who worked as a team from the start--who didn't have a vested interest in being smarter than me."

In the end, though, he says, the family became a happy one. "I think everyone in the movie was proud of it and proud of their performances. Diane was grateful for the collaboration, and Meryl was, too."

He says he would like to do another movie--"as long as the material is good and I get a chance to get better at it. Though I must admit that when I was in the middle of Marvin's Room, if you had asked me that question I would have laughed in your face."

When he is not in a theater or on a movie set, Zaks can often be found on a golf course. He is an inveterate duffer. "Golf is a little like directing," he says. "Every situation is different. You think your experience with the first 15 minutes of a play or the first 15 holes on the course has prepared you for the next one. But it hasn't. And you have to deal with it. You have to ask yourself if you're a big fraud for even thinking you ever knew anything about it--the theater or the game. And you say, 'Why am I wasting my time hitting this stupid little ball?' But you go on."

Just as he loves the collaboration of the theater, he says, he loves the camaraderie on the golf course. "When I play with friends the laughs are so intense. I love the idea, the challenge, of having to stay focused, of playing a game that punishes you over and over for working much harder than you need to work. I shoot in the 90s, with the feeling that with a little bit more finesse or concentration I should be shooting in the 80s. It's such a hard game. Like directing."

One thing he loves to do on a golf course is smoke a cigar. "It probably ruins my game," he says. "I'm more worried about losing my cigar than about hitting the ball properly. Which is not good. But there's something about being on a golf course with a couple of friends and lighting up a cigar that can't be beat."

He is a recent but enthusiastic convert to the world of the big smoke. "It gives me so much comfort," he says. "It started barely six months ago. I was in London directing Smokey Joe's Cafe, and I was wandering through a fashionable department store with a friend when I came upon the cigar department. I tried one--a Romeo y Julieta--and really enjoyed it. From that moment on I became a regular at the London cigar shops and began trying all their Cuban cigars."

Havanas are his cigar of choice. "I don't enjoy smoking anything that isn't a Cuban; there's just something heavier, more substantial, about the way they taste, the way they burn. The intense flavor, the spices, the hint of coffee or chocolate or whatever, just comes through better. You really feel like you're smoking a cigar. And I think there's a psychological lift in knowing you're smoking something that comes from the place that does it best."

Among the Havanas, he prefers Cohiba Robustos. "I love the robusto shape. And they're really the state of the art. Though I also enjoy the H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 and the Bolivar Royal Corona, and lately I've been trying and liking the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2, which is a little fuller."

For Zaks, smoking a cigar is "like being with a friend. I love one at the end of the day, about 10:30 at night, when the kids are asleep. I just go outside my building and wander up and down the block." He and his wife, Jill, live on Manhattan's Upper West Side with their daughters, Emma, 15, and Hannah, 9. "And I enjoy having a cigar in my hand when I'm sitting here in my office reading a script. And letting it go out and then relighting it. I smoke them right down to the end. They've become a part of me."

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