John O'Hurley is the unofficial seventh most interesting man in the world. We know this because the "Seinfeld" actor cleverly surmises that little-known fact on his Twitter bio. (I always know if someone has a healthy sense of humor based on what they say about themselves in 140 characters or less via their Twitter account "bio.")
So if John O'Hurley, 60, is the seventh, then his alter-ego -- J. Peterman -- can't be far behind. There are few second-banana sitcom characters that deserve to have a spin-off series, but this is one that should have been a slam-dunk! It didn't happen (is it ever too late?) so The Huffington Post posed that very possibility to the actor who played Elaine Benes' (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) boss to find out if that was even close to happening.
The talented, debonair actor talked to us about his 34-year career, including his stint on Broadway and with the touring company of "Chicago;" how he ended up on the first season of DWTS; one of his favorite episodes of "Seinfeld;" his ex-wife sitting in on the panel of "To Tell The Truth," and, well, why he almost turned down the role of a lifetime -- J. Peterman (and what was the method behind the madness of that J. Peterman persona?).
I love your Twitter handle. It's so cute that you call yourself the seventh most interesting man in the world. Who are the first six?
I don't have six people. I figure there are only six people having a better day than I am. (Laughs)
Okay. That works.
I'm an eternal optimist.
Before I saw you in "Chicago" I actually had no idea you had such an incredible singing voice. Was there any time in your early career, maybe in your teens or your early twenties, that you wanted to be Elvis? You're very handsome and you have a beautiful singing voice.
You're very kind. No, I don't think I had the rock and roll bones within me. When I was 16, I was part of the worst rock and roll band ever assembled.
What was it called?
It was called The Whiskey Rebellion. We only booked one job and it was my junior high school graduation dance.
So you never wanted to be that breakout singer early in your career?
I'm sure I wanted to be, but it just wasn't going to happen for me. I'll tell you a very interesting story. I grew up wanting to be an actor from the age of three, and all parts of entertainment were included in that. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, in a sense of disgust I would put my hands on my hips and I would point towards the black and white television in the corner of the room and I would say, 'Well I am an actor so that's what I'm going to be.' The fact that they didn't recognize that was obviously a source of consternation to me.
I grew up thinking of myself as an actor. I was in all the skits and the talent shows, and I would organize some of them in my early years in school. When I think I was 12 or 13-years-old I was singing one day and a friend of mine said I had the worst voice he had ever heard and it shut me up because I was afraid I was hearing something that everybody else didn't, or they were hearing something that I didn't, and I didn't sing again. It really took the music program in college to get in there and drag my voice kicking and screaming from me.
That was probably someone who was just jealous of your looks and your talent.
You can call it what you will but it underscores what I always feel about as you mature with your sense of who you are, is that passion can be destroyed.
That's a great observation, because it is very hard for anyone to pick themselves up after a crushing putdown from someone.
Especially about something as tenuous as singing, because no one ever hears their real voice. The first time I heard my voice on a tape recorder when I was a little kid, I just ... I said, 'That can't be my voice.' You hear a different voice than what you're actually projecting. You have the perfect audio system inside of your body to resonate everything, but that is not what's bouncing off the walls and people are hearing. You have to become friends with that voice that you actually use from the other
I read that you've done over a thousand performances in "Chicago." I'm not an actress, but I can't imagine doing eight shows a week, traveling from city to city. Does that ever get old or do you get recharged in every city?
More to the latter. I really enjoy touring for the good and for the bad. It gives me an opening night and a closing night every week, and for an actor that's a lot of fun. It's kind of a short-term gratification, because you get this quick opening and then you get the sadness of the closing night and having to pack up and move on.
I'm going to switch gears just a moment. I saw in an interview you gave that you almost turned down the part of J. Peterman on "Seinfeld" because you said the script just didn't read funny.
I [almost] turned it down because I had my own series cancelled the day before they called me to read for the part. It was called "A Whole New Ballgame"on ABC. I had already gotten a call from Larry David's casting office to come over the next day because they had this role that they wanted me to chew up and spit out called J. Peterman.
Originally I said no because I was licking my wounds after having my series cancelled and I didn't want to go guest star on somebody else's. The next morning my manager called me up and said just go blow it out of your system and have fun with it. So when I got over to "Seinfeld," they didn't have the full script assembled. All they had was about half of it, and then they had a copy of the J. Peterman monologue which they gave me to read. They said they just wanted the character to sound the way a catalog is written, as though these long Hemingway adventure stories are just tripping off of his tongue.
What I meant about it didn't read funny is when we did the table read for the first episode there were no jokes in it, and I said, 'This is not funny.' I [thought], 'This is the number one show on television? They just cancelled my series and this is the number one show on television?' I was kind of scratching my head. I didn't realize that "Seinfeld" doesn't read funny, it plays funny. It involves the performances of the cast to take something like that and make it funny. Most of it is just simply observational. It takes the comedic abilities of the cast to make it funny in terms of moment-to-moment comic experience.
Writers can write a script with a character on paper, but it takes the actor to make that character come to life. When you saw that character -- J. Peterman -- on the page, what was your inspiration for him?
When they gave me the catalog and the script and these long kind of ridiculous monologues, it struck me as a little bit of a forties radio drama combined with a little bit of a bad Charles Kuralt. That was kind of the genesis of the character. He was this kind of poetic adventurer and a legend in his own mind. Over the arch of the character for the four seasons that I was there, the character to the writers just became more and more absurd and they had more fun with him. He became more of kind of a corporate Mr. Magoo. Everything he said just came out with a sense of lunacy to it.
We all get in a bad mood every now and then, so when your wife gets in a bad mood do you ever bring out the J. Peterman voice to make her laugh?
My wife is never in a bad mood. Believe it or not, we've been married for ten years as of last August and we have never had to raise our voices to each other. She is the most balanced, happy individual I've ever met in my life.
Your portrayal of J. Peterman is brilliant. There are not many sitcoms that deserve a spin-off but there should have been a spin-off of J. Peterman. Was that ever close to happening?
There was a lot of discussion about the spin-offs, but Jerry and the gang and Larry [David] were very adamant about the fact that most spin-offs kind of cheapen the product, the syndication product that they had.
Why did you leave the show?
The show ended.
OK, that's embarrassing. I knew that. (Laughs)
I was there at the last episode.
That's right. You were there '95 through '98 when it ended. That was a good reason to leave. I think I watched every episode but my brain has obviously been on hiatus since 1998.
(Laughs) Listen, I would have still shown up out of force of habit. I remember Jerry calling the day that the series ended and that was the day I was signing the papers on my brand new house, my first house in L.A. I was thinking to myself: They'll never find his body. (Laughs) I remember being in the parking lot on one of the electronic appliance stores in L.A. when I got the news that they were canceling the show and I had just bought a refrigerator.
What's your personal favorite "Seinfeld" episode that you were in?
There were many shows that had great Peterman monologues in them and those were favorites of mine just for those moments because the monologues were the most fun. I would say my favorite episode is the Frogger episode where George had the top score on the Frogger video game and was trying to preserve it, even though the pizza place it was in would have to move it across the street. That was the same episode that they had the wedding cake episode where Elaine stole a priceless piece of wedding cake from my refrigerator and tried to replace it with a two dollar slice of Entenmann's. She received her punishment gastrointestinal.
That was a great episode! You were on the very first "Dancing with the Stars" show in 2005. How did you get that gig and are you surprised it's been on the air for 10 years?
I'll answer the last part first. I'm not surprised because the first time the people from ABC took me out to lunch and said we really want you to be on this dance show -- this is how difficult it was for them to assemble a cast [back then]. They took me out to lunch to try to talk me into being on the show. At the end of lunch, I said, 'Sure, I'll be glad to host it.' They said, 'No, we want you to do it.' I said, 'No, I'd like to host it.' They said, 'No, we have a host. We want you to be in it.' They showed me the tapes. It was "Come Dance with Me" in London, the British series and I thought it had all the elements of a hit to me. It's live, it's costumes, it's dancing as well, and it had the celebrity factor. Also at the time I said, 'I'm almost 50-years-old and I don't know how to ballroom dance.' So I said yes.
Kelly Monaco won but then you won the dance off. That's the only time they had a dance off, which I thought worked well at that time. Did you feel vindicated after you won the dance off?
I had a lot of fun with the whole thing. I felt vindicated because we raised an incredible amount of money for charity that week. In addition to our salaries, they kicked in $150,000 apiece for our charities. I put mine towards my charity, which was Golfers Against Cancer.
I loved you on "Family Feud" and "To Tell the Truth." "To Tell the Truth" was a great classic show from way back when and your version was on for a couple of years (2000-2002).
Of all the jobs I've ever had in entertainment, that was my favorite.
Bryan Cranston ( "Breaking Bad") and Eva LaRue ("CSI: Miami") were part of your guest panel, right?
I had Eva on occasionally. Yes. I had Bryan on. Meshach Taylor was the first seat, Paula Poundstone was the second seat. Those were permanent. Then the third and fourth seats rotated.
I didn't know until I did the research on you that Eva was your ex-wife. I think it's wonderful that you put your ex-wife on that show!
Yeah, Eva and I are still good friends. Love never dissipates. It just changes shape, that's all.
That's so sweet! Do you have a "Family Feud" favorite moment?
Yes. Two guys came up for the face off and the question was 'Name a classic film that begins with the letter C.' You'd say Casablanca or Citizen Kane, and they were all up there on the board. One guy hits the buzzer, looks me in the eye and says, Seabiscuit.
What's on your career bucket list now?
I just finished a six-week stint on Broadway with the show. I'll finish up the tour in March. I'm sure there will be another tour next year and, God willing, I'll probably be part of that as well. Bryan Cranston and I have a new series that we are circling the wagons on right now. It's a comedy. I'll be starring in it and Bryan will be producing. We're getting that ready to film. I have a new game show that is in development right now. I have a movie in Greece that I'm filming this spring. I've got a bunch of offers to do things this summer, and that's the bucket right now.
Follow John O'Hurley on Twitter: @ImJohnOHurley
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