Inc. staff writer Patrick Sauer asks actor Frederick Weller about his role as John Williamson in Glengarry Glen Ross set to open on Broadway on May 1, 2005.
The youngest cast member may not be a household name yet, but he is well known by theater buffs having starred as the redneck relief pitcher Shane Mungit in the Tony Award winning play Take Me Out, also directed by Joe Mantello. Other credits include Edward Albee's Peter and Jerry and the stage and screen version of Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things.
Q: A lot of salespeople look to Glengarry as kind of an inspiration, does that surprise you?
Weller: I'm sure most are familiar with the movie version, but no it doesn't surprise me at all. People like to see accurate representations of their work. There's a lot of truth in the Alec Baldwin "Always be Closing" scene, which is quoted most often. I love that speech he gives, but I wonder how many people who quote it realize that it was added to the movie and isn't in the play.
Q: You play the office manager, do you have any office experience?
Weller: I have an in-law in insurance sales who I've been pestering with questions. He says the office was similar to the one in Glengarry, just larger. The cold-calling was the same, the "Always Be Closing" principle was taught to them. And there was an office manager like my character whose job it was to control the leads. The office manager is usually not the best salesman, nor the worst, more middle-of-the-road. They are given the job because they are reliable, but the great salesmen are out where they're most useful. So the guy in charge is a mediocre salesman and that's significant to the relationship with the rest of the office.
Q: Do you have to approach Williamson as separate from the salesmen, the "company man" as it were?
Weller: Mamet is careful to point out that Williamson is doing what everyone else is trying to do, feed his family. The bottom line is there are no bad guys. They're just ruled by the law of the jungle. These salesmen are archetypes of every human being who has to pay the bills. I think Mamet would say that everyone is a salesman. Glengarry is the rawest illustration of that dynamic.
Q: What is the challenge you face in undertaking Glengarry?
Weller: It's got a lyrical quality to it. You can't paraphrase it. As with Shakespeare, if you just get the words right, to a certain extent, it will work, but the best Mamet actors are the ones who make it seem natural. The movie version is as good as you'll see because the actors honor the cadence while making it authentic. I've seen it so many times I almost have it memorized. It's a hard play to screw up, especially with this cast, so one of my biggest apprehensions is overconfidence. I'm afraid to let my guard down.
Q: Why have salesmen been so important to the 20th century stage?
Weller: It's just two plays, though, right? I like the fact that anyone who writes a play about salesmen is stepping into the ring with Arthur Miller. Only Mamet has successfully done it. Both are about the struggle of man, the ultimate timeless theme. In Death of A Salesmen, Willy Loman dies in the end and his struggle, even with the suicide, was noble. In Glengarry, the character of George Aaronow*, rolls up his sleeves and goes back to work. Yes, he still has to engage in the grind, but there is something redemptive that he survived because he is a just man. He's not Roma and will never be the top man, but he kept his principles. I love Aaronow's last line, "Oh, God, I hate this job." But he's got the job.