FILM

Stephen Tobolowsky
25th Anniversary Screening & Conversation 
‘Groundhog Day’
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
468360697_1280x720.jpg

On Monday 9 April actor Stephen Tobolowsky, Ned Ryerson in classic 90s comedy Groundhog Day will join Trevor Albert - Producer, John Bailey - Cinematographer, Danny Rubin - Writer & Pembroke J. Herring - Editor in the 25th Anniversary Screening at Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theatre moderated by Nia Vardalos.

Ahead of the 25th Anniversary Screening of Groundhog Day tNC spoke with Stephen Tobolowsky ahead of tonigths screening.

Hi Stephen thanks for talking to tNC, are you excited for this weekend screening of Groundhog Day at Samuel Goldwyn Theatre?

I’m not sure “excited” is the right word. I am happy, proud, honored, and I get free parking. I guess “excited” is the right word.

With this being 25th Anniversary of Groundhog Day are you looking forward to watching it with a cinema audience?

I hadn’t thought about that until you brought it up. The cinema audience is the most knowledgeable. They can also be the hardest to please. Now I am more “excited.”

What does it mean for you to see that Groundhog Day still hold the publics attention?

There are many reasons why the movie endures. It is entertaining. It is poignant. It deals with profound themes with comedy. Not easy to do. And here is one I just thought of: Groundhog Day was shot in the winter. Everyone is wearing hats, scarves, and coats so it is hard for the movie to look dated style-wise. It appears as timeless as its themes.

Do you get nerves ahead of a screening like this?

No. After 25 years the film speaks for itself.

What was it about your character Ned that spoke to you as an actor?

Ned was a great part on the page. He is funny and “adds spice to the stew”, as Harold Ramis used to say. I loved how huge the character was. Absolutely off the charts - but sweet. I think an actor looks for a key in any role that sets him free. For me, it was the size.

8bae8d80-e893-0133-f16a-0aacbc4f5d01.png

 "Watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy."

Did you ever imagine 'Ned Ryerson' would become so iconic? 

No. You never imagine a film you are working on will become a classic. I have a theory as to why the part worked so well in the film – besides the laughs. It is in the structure of the script. Before Phil Connors meets Ned, Phil is the antagonist of the film. After he meets Ned, he is the protagonist. That switch is never underlined, but we feel it. 

How soon after the films release did members of the public start quoting your lines from Groundhog Day?

Certainly, after the first year, I heard, “Watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy” and “It’s like Groundhog Day!”  Curiously, I often heard these phrases used on news programs referring to some inefficiency in the government. 

What is unique about the Groundhog quotes – what I have never seen in my life – is when people say, “It’s like Groundhog Day!” they are referring to an endlessly repeating event – which has nothing to do with the REAL Groundhog Day! I can’t think of another case where popular culture has completely replaced reality. 

Is your role as Ned the most likely film character you've played that people recognise you for?

Ned is still number one. People come up to me everywhere and say, “’Bing!’ Does anyone say that to ya?” And I reply, “Only every day.” At my grocery store, Jack Barker from Silicon Valley is at the top. In fact, the nerd crush people have on that show makes it a little risky for me to buy ice cream. In the last year, a new character is charging up the rankings - Dr. Berkowitz on One Day at a Time on Netflix. Great show.

reporter-chat-stephen-tobolowsky-1.jpg

As an actor with hundreds of credits does that bother you or is it something you're OK with?

 

I love it. Especially if it is for a good show, like Jack on Silicon Valley or Principal Ball on The Goldbergs, or Dr. B. on One Day at a Time. However, the staying power of Groundhog Day in the public’s consciousness is amazing. It didn’t win an Academy Award, but time has given the film notoriety that few achieve. 

What was your favourite scene to film in Groundhog Day?

 

Scene of mine?  Bill punching me out. Hilarious. But in the movie, The broken pencil on the radio that is unbroken in the morning. It is a perfect moment. Always gives me chills.

 

Number two is Andie reaching over Bill to turn off the radio – again – perfect. 

You've also know for your short film work, notably 'Father Jon' Peggy Rajski' Oscar Winning film 'Trevor', what was it about this character that connected with you?

 

I loved TrevorPeggy Rajski is a wonderful director. I play a priest explaining sex to a teenage boy. That right there is hilarious. I think the part reminded me of my childhood in Texas where any talk of sex was very awkward. 

 

I had no idea the perks of being a priest! We couldn’t afford private dressing rooms. I think there was one trailer where we all took turns changing. Then, we stood around outside on the street waiting to shoot. I was so popular. People came up to me and asked me for advice, offered me free donuts, called me Father! I got into character very quickly. 

Does it surprise you that many of your films are now cult classics?

Yes. And television shows – like Deadwood and Glee. Most projects come and go. We hope audiences will enjoy them. We hope they will get recognized as special and endure. Most vanish. Even the good ones vanish. I have been in many shows that people remember fondly. 

"I think the part reminded me of my childhood in Texas where any talk of sex was very awkward."

As an actor, your range is amazing with films and characters like Charles in Where The Day Takes You, Dr. Werner Brandes in Sneakers to Max Applewhite Radioland Murders always different, did have you always intended to be as flexible as an actor?

I came from the theater where “being flexible” is at the core of everything we do. It is why we became actors. In theater, no one is typecast. That term doesn’t even exist.

Do you think this has stopped you being typecast?

I’m not sure if my flexibility or coincidence was the reason I avoided typecasting. I think Alan Parker is responsible for my range of roles in film. He cast me in Mississippi Burning at the beginning of my career. No one knew me. The script was kept secret. No one knew if it was comedy or drama. But - if you were cast by Alan Parker, it was the seal of approval. Before we shot that film, several other directors cast me in projects based on the AlanComedyParker factor. Two were comedies. One was a musical. One was an action film. Everything came out at the same time. I was everywhere – but no one could “type” me. Mr. Parker gave me an enormous gift.

What is the most memorable character you've played?

Ned. They have even made a tie tack with Ned on it.

Do you have a favourite film?

Groundhog Day. It’s hard to beat. Funny. Wise. Timeless.

Last weekend Steve Bochco passed what was your experience working with him on Murder One?

Steve was one of those people that changed the world – the entertainment world. He took familiar genres and remade them into something we had never seen before. He took stock characters and gave them a shocking new reality. He never tried to be popular. He always aimed for quality.

And finally, what do you hope people take away from your work?

I hope I gave people some good memories. An unexpected laugh when you’re stuck in traffic. I did a play on Broadway, Mornings at Seven. One night after the show, an older couple from Pennsylvania came to the stage door and said to me, “You reminded us what it felt like when we were first in love.” That is about as good as it gets.  When you are an actor you don’t save lives, or put out fires, or build cities. We just make the reason why we do those things a little more enjoyable.