A GoPride Interview

David Pevsner

Hometown boy makes good: Scrooge and Marley's David Pevsner

Thu. November 29, 2012  by Gregg Shapiro

I've had my dark void-y times and it made me see him as more than just a mean, cranky antagonist.
David Pevsner
I first met out actor David Pevsner when we were both "theatre jocks" at Niles East High School in Skokie, Illinois. We didn't have a Gay/Straight Alliance way back when, so the theater department served that purpose. Since that time, it's been a delight to watch his professional career take off as it has. From appearances in the off-Broadway hit Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly to his own original theatrical creations, such as writing songs for Naked Boys Singing (including "Perky Little Porn Star") as well as roles on television and in movies. David was recently seen portraying Elizabeth Taylor's doctor in the Lifetime movie Liz and Dick. For his first lead role in a feature film, he takes on one of the most reviled but redeemed characters in literature, Ebenezer Scrooge in Scrooge & Marley (scroogeandmarleymovie.com), a contemporary gay retelling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. (Scrooge & Marley makes its Chicago theatrical debut Nov. 29-Dec. 6 at the Music Box Theater on Southport and returns to Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center on State, Dec. 21, 22 and 27.)

Gregg Shapiro: What was it that drew you to the role of Scrooge in Scrooge & Marley?

David Pevsner: At first, I saw the opportunity to work in Chicago. My family's still here and I thought it would be great to spend time.As far as the role, I never thought of myself as the guy to play a typical Ebenezer Scrooge, but I loved the take on the character here, and I could really identify.He's built this whole world for himself that has no real connection to anyone or anything except business, yet in his earlier incarnation, we see him so full of love and wonder.How he gets back to connecting on a human level is the story here, and I found it so relatable. I've had my dark void-y times and it made me see him as more than just a mean, cranky antagonist. I love him throughout, because even at his meanest, he's still sort of witty.

GS: How do you think people will react to this variation in the treatment of the classic Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" story?

DP: I hope they take it to heart. It's a "gay" film in that a lot of the stock Dickens characters are in a gay context, but the feelings of family and inclusion and self-esteem and love are so universal. It's sort of the family Christmas film for the gays and their friends and family. There's another fun gay Christmas film that was directed by my friend Rob Williams (director of a film I appeared in, Role/Play), called Make the Yuletide Gay. Scrooge & Marley has an entirely different feel. Why can't we have two perennials? It would be so great if this could be a film that people revisit every year, like Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life. Shooting it, it certainly felt that way. It was shot with such heart and goodwill, and our directors Richard Knight Jr. and Peter Neville were terrific –supportive, funny, smart, direct, always with an eye to make us look good; a pleasure all the way around.

GS: The cast of Scrooge & Marley includes out actors including Bruce Vilanch and Richard Ganoung. What was it like to work with them on this project?

DP: What a great group. I already knew Bruce from writing Naked Boys Singing and I see him in L.A. a lot. I didn't know David Moretti or Ronnie Kroell from L.A., but we certainly are in the same circles and we had a ball together here. I only knew Richard based on his work and he is a total sweetheart and a wonderful scene partner – all the gays were! That means you too, Megan Cavanaugh, and the honorary gay, Rusty Schwimmer! The whole cast was so wonderful, mostly great Chicago-based actors who really stepped up to the plate and made me keep up. I would list them here, but they were all, to a man (and woman) fantastic.

GS: Scrooge & Marley is a Christmas movie. Were you raised in a secular Jewish household with a tree at Christmastime or in a more traditionally Jewish home?

DP: I'm Jewish and was raised as such in Skokie – Hebrew school, Bar Mitzvah, all of it. We did go to (the) Sauganash (neighborhood) to look at the Christmas lights, but we never had a tree. Every year I campaigned for a "Chanukah Bush," but that was NEVER gonna happen! Face it, Chanukah is menorahs, dreidels, potato pancakes, and dirge-like songs, while Christmas is lighted trees, sugar cookies, decorated houses, and caroling. We Jews got the short end of the celebratory stick [laughs].

GS: Do you have a favorite holiday-themed movie?

DP: I love It's a Wonderful Life but as a little boy, my fave was Shirley Temple's Heidi. I can imitate her calling for her grandfather, played by Jean Hersholt. "Grandfeather! Grandfeather! [laughs]"

GS: What did it mean to you to make a movie in your hometown?

DP: So nice. The six degrees thing was working overtime -- actors knowing folks I went to high school with or family members, plus I got to see my best girlfriend of almost 50 years and my high school drama teacher, besides getting to see my folks and my sister. I'd love to do a play there again. Chicago has some great actors and a bunch were in the film. I felt lucky to share the screen with them.

GS: You are an actor who balances a film and television acting career with one on the stage. Do you have a preference for stage or screen?

DP: I really enjoy playing a great role. Luckily, I'm getting more substantial stuff in films these days, and it's so damn fun. They say there's no such thing as small roles, only small actors, but girl, I've done the small roles and still do on TV, and I like the big roles better [laughs]! I was shooting a short film recently that called on everything I have as an actor, including a fight scene, and I just thought, it doesn't get better than this. Oh wait, that one was unpaid; still, a ball. As far as I'm concerned, it's the role, not the medium.

GS: What is next for you, David?

DP: I wrote a new one man musical called Musical Comedy Whore, a sequel of sorts to my last show that I did at the Bailiwick (in Chicago) a few years ago called To Bitter and Back. I'm working on getting that up. I'm also touring with the production of Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi that we've done all over the world, but now we're taking it to cities that we feel really need to hear the message of the play. Along with showing Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption, the documentary that was produced about us, we will perform the show as a part of the "I Am Love" campaign to help fight the bullying epidemic. Film-wise, besides Scrooge & Marley," I have a couple of scenes in the Lindsay Lohan/ Elizabeth Taylor biopic on Lifetime (Liz and Dick), I play James Deans' acting teacher (based on James Whitmore) in a film called Joshua Tree 1951: A Portrait of James Dean that's out on the festival circuit, and later this year I'm in a sci-fi/romance film called Love and Teleportation, as well as a bunch of short films for festivals, one of which, Coach, was directed by Sam Raimi's son, Lorne (who was) so fantastic to work with. I've had a very busy and creative couple of years, and I'm so grateful to get to be an artist full time.

Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.