Raise Your Hand If You’re Invulnerable!: An Interview with Harry Groener

Tanya R. Cochran

While Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured many superb "Big Bads", Season 3's Mayor Richard Wilkins is not merely among the most remarkable on Buffy but among the most memorable in TV history. We talk at length with the man who brought the Mayor to life, Harry Groener.

On Monday, January 24, 2011, I had the privilege of spending some phone-time with Harry Groener. A versatile and seasoned actor, Groener may best be known to the “Spotlight on Joss Whedon” readers as the third-season Buffy the Vampire Slayer antagonist Mayor Richard Wilkins, a frontrunner for the Buffy fan’s favorite villain. Yet Groener has been acting for decades, commanding both screen and stage. In the following interview, Groener answers questions about what it means to be honored by his peers and remain rooted in the theatre, what it was like to work with Whedon and Buffy actors Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku, what constitutes a healthy actor/fan relationship, and what he’s excited about concerning his latest project.

PopMatters: First and foremost, congratulations on the Ovation Award for Equivocation. After quite a few prestigious nominations -- including nominations for several American Theatre Wing Tony Awards® -- over your career, what does this particular award mean to you? How does it feel to be recognized in this way?

Harry Groener: It’s recognition by the community of my work, and it means a lot because of the play itself. I love the play, and I adore Bill Cain who wrote it. The experience was a very meaningful one for me, so it meant a lot that [my role in Equivocation] was the one that was pulled out and was recognized. It’s always good when your peers in the community recognize you for your work. It makes you feel good! And it is good to be nominated. People make fun of saying that, but it is, in fact, true. Somebody has to win because that’s the contest, right? Those are the rules. But in truth -- and this is the way I felt about the other nominations -- the fact that you are singled out as one of the few for that season does mean a lot to me. Winning is the icing, the recognition of it, the acknowledgment of it. It means a lot.

PM: I know that you and your wife Dawn Didawick are among the founding members of the Antaeus Company in North Hollywood, California, and that the theatre’s mission includes helping actor-members stay grounded and rejuvenated, mentoring each other, and reaching out to the community. As a teacher myself, I’m interested in the teaching roles you have taken on in the company (or on the sets of your various projects) and what you enjoy most about teaching others -- actors or community members -- your craft.

HG: Well, this is funny because I’ve been asked if I wanted to teach. At the moment, what I enjoy doing are the question and answer sessions with the younger actors, as opposed to master classes. Going in and working on scene work... I still have a reluctance to do any of that, only because I feel that I’m still working it out myself so I don’t know that I’m... I don’t want to say “qualified” because I think there is a certain qualification that I have to give out information. But as far as being in a classroom situation, I’m a little uncomfortable with that at the moment. I might not be later on. But I’m not uncomfortable in the question and answer format. I know that benefited us greatly when I was [a student] at the University of Washington and we had actors come in. We would pump them for information and get as much as we could about what it was like “out there". And I liked that. It opens up all kinds of subjects. And if that leads to some demonstration, that’s one thing... but it’s that type of work that I enjoy. As far as [The Antaeus Company’s] concerned, I’ve done some of that. We’re very involved and we have a wonderful outreach program and we go out to schools. Our company does mainly classical plays, so we try to bring those plays to a younger audience and try to help build [the art] because we’re losing that audience to computers and other media. We have to try to find a way to bring them into the theatre, and I enjoy that. In fact, many people in the company enjoy that. We have a lot of good teachers in the company, many who teach Shakespeare classes and all kinds of other things...

Dear reader:

Joss Whedon’s importance in contemporary pop culture can hardly be overstated, but there has never been a book providing a comprehensive survey and analysis of his career as a whole -- until now. Published to coincide with Whedon’s blockbuster movie The Avengers, Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters (May 2012) covers every aspect of his work, through insightful essays and in-depth interviews with key figures in the ‘Whedonverse’. This article, along with previously unpublished material, can be read in its entirety in this book.

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