The Five-Minute Interview: Actor Robert Prosky

Posted: July 2, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Actor Robert Prosky and his wife, Ida, were on the Fairfax Campus last week to finalize arrangements for turning his papers over to the University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.

Prosky, who is best-known for his role as Sgt. Jablonski on the television series “Hill Street Blues,” considers Washington, D.C., his home. He has appeared in more than 200 plays on Broadway and in regional theater, 37 films, and numerous television shows, including playing Kirstie Alley’s dad on an episode of “Cheers” and in the series “Veronica’s Closet.”

He has been nominated for two Tony Awards for his work on Broadway in “A Walk in the Woods” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.” He has won the Outer Critics Circle award for his work in “A Walk in the Woods” and a Helen Hayes Award for his role in Arthur Miller’s “Price,” a production at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, where he has had a relationship spanning more than 35 years.

Robert Prosky
Creative Services photo

So far, Special Collections and Archives has received archival materials such as letters, photographs, scripts and memorabilia relating to Prosky’s career.

Was there anything in the collection that was difficult to give away?

Robert Prosky: Actually no, I wanted it to be some place that was permanent. I hope it will be interesting because it is the history of an actor who has been in the business for a long time and who is not a star name. Most people know my face, but most don’t know my name. I’m not Tom Cruise or Robert Redford, but I have been an actor who has done just about everything an American actor can do. And I have prevailed through it all. I raised a family, tried to lead a normal life. And that family is still close together. I think that is somewhat unique. It is possible that other people, particularly younger actors who are facing these things themselves, would be interested in that.

The archives from Arena Stage are one of the theatrical collections in the Special Collections and Archives here. Is that why you chose Mason?

RP: Even though we’ve moved all over the place, Washington, D.C., has always been our base. We met here, we were married here, our children were born here. And it seemed more appropriate to have it here.

Is there anything that is not in the archive that you will send in the future?

RP: Yes, there are a number of things. In fact I gave [the University Libraries] a photograph of what we have referred to as my “wall of shame,” which are awards, photographs, statues and crystal things. But I like to have it around as long as I’m around.

There’s only one thing that we are holding back, which is an original Hirschfeld that was made of me when I did “Glengarry Glen Ross” on Broadway. And I’m sure one of our sons would like it. To be drawn by [Al] Hirschfeld is sort of a status symbol for actors. Actors even have a name for it — have you been Hirschfelded?

I believe I’ve seen the one. It was in an Arena Stage program.

RP: That’s the one that we own. There are also two from “A Walk in the Woods” — one of me with Sam Waterston, another of me alone.

Ida Prosky: I think he liked Bob’s eyebrows.

Of all the things you’ve done, what are you most proud of?

RP: Surviving. That’s not as flip as it seems. I give talks to young actors, and it’s a very difficult profession. You must learn how to survive economically, professionally, artistically, and to make all those things work is difficult. And to make it even more difficult — and yet more satisfying and useful to the art — is to do it as a member of your own family because that’s the source from which you draw, your life, your life experience.

I guess on stage [I’m proud of my work as] Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.” My first film, “Thief,” is one of the ones that I think is best. Most of the time, I forget them.

IP: I think you liked doing “Our Town” because you had a different take on the Stage Manager every time. [The Stage Manager was Prosky’s first role in high school. He reprised the role with Arena Stage’s tour of the USSR in 1973.]

RP: Yes, but I don’t want to do him again. But I’ve got ideas for doing him again.

Each time you played the role you did it a little differently?

RP: Hopefully. Because I had progressed as an actor, and I don’t want to do the same thing I did before. First of all, it’s a bore. What an actor does, a good actor, is to create not a character, but a human being, a person, out of his own life experience. Now we understand that human being we create little enough, and we understand ourselves even less. And, from my point of view, anybody who does not accept how complex that it is, is not really an actor.

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