Interview with Phil Korth (2011)

Phil Korth is a recent graduate of UCONN’s MFA program in Acting. He most recently appeared in Urinetown and Pride and Prejudice.

LRR: When did you start writing?

I really started writing in seventh grade and eighth grade.

LRR: Any particular reason?

Specifically, I had an assignment. We had read “Summer of  My German Soldier” and we had to write chapter 22 (there were 21 chapters). I did this assignment and didn’t think anything of it, I just did it, but my teacher loved it and had me read it in front of the class [laughs]. From there I started writing. And then in eighth grade I had the best teacher, and still the best teacher I have ever had. She really just believed in me.

LRR: When did acting come into the picture?

Acting came in about the same time. It came sort of by chance. My best friend at the time convinced me to sign up for Drama Club with him.

LRR: It always starts with Drama Club.

Right? [laughs]

And in fact it was because of Kelly Madison, who I had a crush on forever.  I wasn’t going to do it and he said “Kelly’s in it.” That made me do it. And Kelly is still acting too actually.

There was a fairly sizable group of us, all friends from junior high school through high school. And then we had a great  theater teacher in high school that really encouraged all of us (in Jenison, Michigan). So there is still a whole group of us who are all pursuing it professionally.

LRR: Do you have a specific acting method?

I like to work physically and to find, through rehearsal, how a character moves. I have a good time doing silly characters.

LRR: Do you prefer comedic over dramatic?

I don’t know about that. But I certainly do like being able to take on somebody who is not myself.

LRR: Do you have a specific role that you have enjoyed playing the most?

Probably one of my favorite ones, the one I always look back on, is Richard the Lionheart in The Lion in Winter. It’s such a good play and it’s such a good part. I would love to be able to do it again sometime. I did that in undergrad and I’ve learned a lot since then. But that’s a character that I always come back to that I just loved performing.

LRR: Did your experience in the Marines affect your creative process?

Absolutely. I don’t think there is a single creative thing that I do that isn’t influenced by that. I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t done it. And the thing is, I didn’t come from a military family. I was the first person in two generations to go into the military since WWII and the first marine so my parents were kind of shocked when I told them that I wanted to enlist.

LRR: Is November specifically based off of those real life experiences?

Yeah. November is kind of a reflection of the day in November that I enlisted. You go to the Military Entrance Processing Station and you get a physical and you eventually sign your paperwork and take your oath. That was such a defining moment – that moment separates everything that came before and everything that came after. It was a tremendous amount of work and it was tough at times.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a great experience – even going over there twice.

It originated out of an assignment. We were given the first lines of another poem. So it just grew out of that. Usually my poems kind of fell out of me almost in finished form. I would write them in one sitting and make very few changes.

LRR: What is your dream role?

There are a lot of roles through high school and college that I would have loved to play but I’m too old for them now. But I always wanted to play Eugene in Brighton Beach Memoirs. It’s just such a funny play. I am far too old for him, he’s like 15. But I also always wanted to play Hally in Master Harold… and the Boys.  But he’s seventeen so I am beyond that now too.

We’ve been doing a lot of classical stuff here so I’m looking forward to getting back to more contemporary plays. I think eventually I’d like to get into film. I haven’t had much opportunity to get into that yet.

LRR: How did you end up at UCONN?

I graduated from Western Michigan University in 2007. And then I had a year when I wasn’t in school . We had a wonderful chairwoman of the theater department there who wanted to see me go to graduate school. By that point, because of the Marines, it had taken me seven years to graduate. It was five years of actual school because I double majored in acting and creative writing. So I was kind of done with school. But she funded the $100 registration fee for URTAs, so I ended up going to URTA’s and auditioned for a bunch of schools, and UCONN recruited me from there. Within those few weeks I went from being done with school to planning on coming here in the fall of 2008.

LRR: What’s next, what are your future plans?

I have no idea. I have my possessions down to as small a collection as possible and I plan on getting in the car and going. All nine of the graduate actors are going to NY to showcase scenes for agents and casting directors. So hopefully we’ll get jobs out of that.

I always figured that I’ll just keep on writing no matter where I am.

I have also not ruled out the possibility of going to school again for creative writing. I’ve always kind of felt that I am a writer first. I’m not terribly extroverted. I think that’s why I like writing. I can think through everything. So I certainly don’t imagine that I’ll ever stop writing.

FAVE FIVE

1) Favorite team?

Detroit Lions

2) Favorite movie?

The Life Aquatic. Right now. It’ll probably be something different tomorrow or in a couple of hours.

3) Favorite word?

The most recent one that I just wrote down is not a very good one but it’s Boche – a French derogatory word for the Germans. I’m writing my one foray into novel writing right now,  set during the French Resistance in WWII and I stumbled across that word on the internet. I wrote down, “Gotta make sure that you use boche.”

4) Best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

I saw a show with Brian Cox and I got to meet him afterwards. He’s a really good Scottish actor whose had a very long career. He simply said, about us going into business here in a couple of weeks, that it’s very hard but to have faith. That was good to hear. I don’t know what else you can tell somebody. I don’t think anything worth doing is ever easy.

5) Taken from James Lipton’s set of interview questions (inspired by Bernard Pivot)  in Inside the Actors Studio.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

I think I’d want to know that everything was going to be okay down here. One of my favorite quotes is, (I think Martin Luther King said it), “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”  I think that is true. That our society and the world is always moving towards that way and it may take a long time for us all to reach it, and maybe we never do. But I think we are always moving closer and closer. It can be so rough hearing over and over the all of the terrible things that go on in the world but these struggles are leading somewhere. And people that are doing things for selfish reasons or out of cruelty will hopefully be changed or people will come to realize that that’s not the way that we have to behave. Kurt Vonnegut, probably my favorite writer of all time, says that we have to be nice to each other. That’s the only rule. And I really agree with that. So that’s what I’d want to know. That everything is going to be okay down here.

 

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