(photo courtesy of Eric &
the Curtis Armstrong Web Site)
This interview took place over the telephone on April 22, 2002. Due to its length, it is being presented in two parts. Participating in the conversation were both of the site editors, (Diane and me--Cindy).
Mr. Armstrong was a delight to talk to--very friendly and warm, and we discovered he was bright, articulate, and personable. We hope some of that comes through in this discussion. Nearly all of the questions posted here centered around his work on "Moonlighting." The day after our telephone interview we sent Mr. Armstrong follow-up email thanking him for his time. His response brought a smile to both our faces, and we just have to share part of it with all of you here. He wrote, "The interview was great fun for me---it was nice to remember all the good things!" Thank you to Mr. Armstrong, it was really nice hearing all the good things and being able to share them with all of the fans. ~~ Cindy and Diane
Interview conducted by Cindy Klauss & Diane Hopkins, All Rights Reserved
April 22, 2002
Us: Can you give a little bit of the background on how you got cast as Herbert Viola?
Curtis: Well, it was...this was in 80...87, 86 I guess. Around September I think, and I had been out of work for a year, and I was sort of desperate, and the money was getting very low, and I still had an apartment back in New York at that point, and I was thinking about leaving Los Angeles, and going back to New York where I had started, and everything had just dried up, and then one day I had 3 auditions in a day, which has never happened since. One of them was for "Moonlighting," which was a show that I'd never seen, although I'd had people tell me that I needed to see it. I knew two people who were fans of the show, and they said: "Oh, you've got to see it, you've just got to see it," but I'd had never seen it. I went to the audition; I went to all 3 auditions, and "Moonlighting" was the one that I figured I would definitely not get because although it was not a series regular role at that point, I had been told that it was somebody's love interest, and I'd never been anybody's love interest. So I knew, well as soon as they take a look at me, they'll just say, "this was a mistake." So I went, and auditioned for all 3 of them. And the "Moonlighting" one I was called back. It may have been I was called back that evening. I can't remember now, but it was a very abrupt, sudden thing. When I went in the 2nd time, I was reading for everybody, all of them were there. It looked like the Last Supper.
Curtis: Glenn in the middle, Jay Daniel at the side and Chick Eglee, and all of the writer producers who were on the show at that point. Reno and Osbourne and so on. And Roger Director, who created the character of Viola. So I did the audition, and something else happened, which had never happened, and has never happened since, when I finished the scene, Glenn just turned, and looked up both sides of the table, and everybody was sort of smiling at him, and he said, "Okay, I'd like you to have the part."
Curtis: And no one has ever offered me a part in the room. It doesn't happen, and there were still a couple of guys they were seeing out in the lobby. So they had to take me to a different room until they saw those guys, and then...
Us: That must have been a good feeling.
Curtis: So that was it.
Us: That's a wild story!
Curtis: It was weird. I mean only because those sorts of things had never happened before and as I said, it has never happened since.
Us: For the character of Herbert Viola, was the time frame determined at that point or was it going to be open-ended?
Curtis: They probably knew it was, but they didn't tell me that. As I remember the episodes, which I have not seen since it aired. But as I remember it was sort of one of those things that could have stood alone if it was necessary. In fact, I don't believe that I'm even in the episode which followed, which I seem to remember was "Big Man on Mulberry Street," one of their big ones, and then they brought me in for the next one, which was "It's a Wonderful Job."
Us: So did you get to put a lot of your own ideas into the character?
Curtis: No. It was, especially with Glenn it was, but even after Glenn left, there were very strict rules on the set from the beginning about improv'ing lines. It was frowned on, and even Bruce and Cybill would have to call Glenn if they came up with something on the set, to pass it by Glenn before they could do it, and that was them. So you know it was very, very carefully done. Glenn had a real vision. And every script while he was there, and I guess from what I understand from listening to the conversation that he and Bruce have on the Pilot DVD, I guess he was more involved subsequently even after he left than I knew. Every page would go through his typewriter after it had been written.
Curtis: Yes, a show written by one of the other people would be rewritten by him, and that was one of the things that drove everybody crazy because while it was great writing, sometimes it was so last minute, the changes were so last minute, that you had to be really facile and learn to do it quickly because if you didn't, well, I mean you had to. There was no other option. You had to learn the lines very, very quickly. I remember, I don't remember when, or if it was when Glenn was there or not, but I do remember one episode where we were shooting a master of the scene in Blue Moon, and we had just finished the master, and pages came down for the scene that we had just shot.
Us: Oh no!
Curtis: So we had to re-shoot. And we didn't re-shoot the master. We had to shoot different lines in the close ups and the overs than we had done in the master.
Us: And how did they pull that off?
Us: It sounds like a really talented group of people, but certainly a challenging show.
Curtis: Yeah well, and you know the weight of the show was on Bruce and Cybill's shoulders, and I think it would have worn out anybody, but particularly people as volatile as they could be, it was even more difficult. But you know you can't blame them for the exhaustion that they felt over a period of years. You know this was a show that had just three people in it for the first year and a half. That was it. It was just the three of them.
Us: And it's an hour show too, which makes it even harder.
Curtis: I mean look at any hour long show that you have now; you have large casts. And even your half hour shows are just populated with people...Look at Ally McBeal. Everybody's talking about "Ally McBeal" now cause it's ending, and you know "Ally McBeal"--well look at all those people.
Us: (Chuckling) Oh yeah, there's 12, or so of them, maybe more.
Curtis: Yes, and you know "Moonlighting" was something that was being done primarily with two people.
Us: So, we have to ask you the obligatory do you have a favorite episode question...
Us: I was just going to ask you that. I thought it was.
Curtis: Yeah, it was. It was shot over Christmas, and so they were on holiday. Well, they were always on holiday for Miss Dipesto episodes. But they would always shoot usually a beginning scene, so that people wouldn't get pissed cause they weren't in it. They would shoot like bookend scenes, so that you would at least see them a little bit, but that episode was the only one where that didn't happen.
Us: Tell us about working with Allyce.
Us: I'm sure!!
Us: And that came from your influence?
Us: That was a great scene.
Curtis: I remember having a lot of fun with Allyce then. Even earlier, we did a Dipesto episode. The first Dipesto episode that I was in was the one in the Haunted House and that was really fun. We're in this haunted house, and it was the first time Allyce and I had worked together extensively, and at that point like I said, it was still fun, and she actually told me during the shoot there; I remember we were sitting on the stairs inside while they were setting up, and she told me that she was pregnant with her son, and I've always remembered that because it was like ...you know, actors tend to look for that type of thing. When you start working with somebody, there's an exchange of some kind of confidence. It's like an early date with somebody that you're getting really interested in, and you start talking about yourself, and you start saying things, which are just outrageously intimate. Because you know you're going to get intimate ultimately, and actors do that not to become physically intimate, but as a way to get into each other's heads, and she let down her own guard at that point, and told me that she was pregnant. She hadn't told anyone connected except maybe Glenn, and that started our friendship off.
Us: So you really bonded there.
Curtis: Yeah, we did.
END OF PART ONE
Now Online Part II
Or read about Bert Viola, Curtis' character
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