LATER (TV program - NBC) with guest host Peri Gilpin February 26, 1999
(Peri wore a black dress and black high heels.)
PG: My guest tonight is not only a good friend, but a very funny and talented actor, who's won two Emmys for his role as Niles Crane on "Frasier", which can be seen here on NBC every Thursday night. Take a look.
(Clip of Niles and Roz in Cafe Nervosa after Roz finds out his love for Daphne in "Decoys")
PG: Please welcome David Hyde Pierce.
(Audience cheers, David hugs Peri, they sit down. An unshaven David was wearing dark gray pants, a black shirt, black blazer and brown shoes.)
PG: I'm so glad you came. Thank you.
DHP: Who let you host a show?
PG: I know. Isn't it sad?
DHP: No, it's wonderful. You're great, you're great. You look gorgeous.
PG: Well, thank you. So do you, I like your furry...
DHP: (rubbing his cheek) Thank you. Yes, week off. Had a week off, didn't have to shave.
PG: Hey! You weren't at the TV Guide Awards yesterday either. I have an excuse, I was here doing this. Where were you?
DHP: I was actually sick. I was going to go. They had the first annual TV Guide awards last night. Which was a big deal. And Kelsey and his wife Camille were there, and Jane Leeves. The lovely and talented Jane Leeves and her husband were there. And we weren't. But we won anyway, so...
PG: We did.
PG: Yeah! Thanks to me! (audience cheers)
PG: So David I know that you weren't feeling well and I really, really appreciate you coming. So... I wanted to ask you to describe in your own words...
DHP: Yes, Peri.
PG: ... Mr. Niles Crane.
DHP: Oh. Well, he's really good looking.
PG: Gorgeous. (audience cheers ,someone whistles)
DHP: Thank you. Thanks Mom. He's a... well... he's an interesting guy. He's a little bit... oh what's the word?...stuck up.
PG: A little.
PG: Did you know people like that? Or have you ever...
DHP: Huh? Oh! No, I think... I mean I don't think anyone is as stuck up and kind of weird as he is. I think, you know that he's like, from another planet that way. But certain... I think he kind of is an exaggeration of qualities that everybody has. Like everyone, you know, wants to be respected and sort of be the best at what they do. He's just insane about it. He's also...
PG: Perfect. He wants to be perfect.
DHP: He wants to be perfect and on some level thinks he is.
PG: And I have to say, knowing you as well as I do, you are his polar opposite.
DHP: Thank you so much (trying to decide if he's been insulted or not, audience laughs) You know I wasn't feeling well, but now that I'm here...
PG: Are you starting to feel a little sick?
DHP: I'm feeling a little worse, yeah. No.
PG: Well do... how do you think... do you think Niles is going to be OK without Maris?
DHP: Well, Maris is such a bitch! (everyone laughs) I mean, she's...
PG: He needs to be OK with Maris.
DHP: Oh man, she is a terrifying, terrifying scary lady.
PG: Do you think "Frasier" is going to be OK without Maris? The show?
DHP: Well, she'll... I think she'll still be around. I don't think, you know, like a bad penny or a... or a... you know, a social disease she's just hard to get rid of. (audience laughs)
PG: What do you... when you...
DHP: I say both of those from experience.
PG: Oh, really. You never told me that!
DHP: I've never had a bad penny. (audience laughs)
PG: (laughing) Do you... who's your... if you could cast her, who's your dream casting?
DHP: Oh boy. That one's gone, you know it's weird, it's evolved over the seasons because (turns to audience) Maris is this character, I don't know if you know... that is described but never seen on the show. You get little awful, awful tidbits of her, moment by moment, episode by episode. And originally I thought Valerie Mahaffey, this wonderful actress who had played my wife on another show. She was on "Northern Exposure". She played a hypochondriac on "Northern Exposure". And in the early years of "Frasier" I thought "Well, she'd be perfect." And then it rapidly became clear that no human being could actually play this woman. And I finally figured out that the mother alien in, like, the second "Alien" movie (audience laughs) is a little nice, but otherwise she... she would be perfect. She would be perfect.
PG: That's great. I always thought Iman.
DHP: Well, that was always your idea. Because everyone has their own image of what Maris would look like. And we were talking about "Well, what would fool people?" from all the... the way she's been described and I thought Roseanne and you thought Iman, the model.
DHP: The model. Well, listen, we're go to a commercial but we'll be right back with David Hyde Pierce.
(Clip from "The Powers That Be" . David trying to hang himself with a curtain pull. Everyone laughs, audience cheers.)
PG: Now that was the clip from "The Powers That Be".
DHP: "The Powers That Be", my first and only other sitcom. It was, Norman Lear who created "All In The Family" and all those great shows, created this political satire of Washington. And... David Crane and Marta Kauffman who created "Friends" were creators of the show as well. I played a suicidal congressman. Before they were popular.
PG: Right! (everyone laughs)
PG: We can only hope.
DHP: Yeah, right. Um, and it was a great show, a lot of people who were... Peter MacNichol, Holland Taylor, a lot of great actors on it. It tanked. Went off the air.
PG: Why do you think? I mean, that year was an election year...
DHP: It was just too good. (audience laughs) It was... no, it was one of those ones that was so good that people just couldn't bear to watch it. Because... (audience laughs) it made their lives seem so insignificant. I don't know. You know, you never know. But that's the thing about television, except with "Frasier". That show, "Powers That Be" had some of the best actors in the business, terrific writers, the people who did "Friends" and...
PG: A great premise.
DHP: A great premise, interesting characters and yet, somehow, it didn't come together. You never know why, it's just the mystery of why sometimes life sucks. But...
PG: Well, we're happy. I mean with "Frasier".
DHP: I'm really happy because it, first of all, freed me up to be available for "Frasier"...
PG: And didn't Sheila Guthrie the casting director see this tape?
DHP: Sheila Guthrie and Jeff Greenberg who cast "Frasier", when they were first coming up with idea for "Frasier", there was no brother. And she brought in a tape from "The Powers That Be" to the casting people and said "Look, I don't know if you're going to have a brother, but this guy kind of looks like Kelsey. And he can hang himself on the curtains if he doesn't work out." (audience laughs) So... so that was it. They brought me in and I met with them and then that led to...
PG: And Niles was born...
DHP:...being on "Later" with you.
PG: Oh boy, you worked your way right to the middle.
DHP: Now, now, to the very top. To the very top.
PG: Well, listen, before you did TV, you were actually doing a lot of Broadway and a lot of theater back in New York.
PG: And I know your first, you went to Yale, but your first Broadway show was...
DHP: Was called "Beyond Therapy".
DHP: And it was, it was a very funny play (audience clapping) you know that play? Is there an "applause" sign or do you actually know the play?
PG: No, they know the play.
DHP: Oh, that's cool. Chris Durang, one of the best playwrights we have, very funny play about crazy people. John Lithgow, you know, from "Third Rock From The Sun", Dianne Wiest, um, who else? Kate MacGregor Stuart, a lot of great actors and it was my first professional job and it was on Broadway. And it was a hoot.
PG: And that is hard stuff. That Chris Durang... that's not easy.
DHP: He's the... yeah, I mean, he's so smart if you just do it right. But also the great thing about that was, it closed in a week.
PG: (laughing) Oh.
DHP: No. But, I was working with such good people, it was my first job. I loved them so much, I loved that experience so much. That I was hooked and it didn't matter to me that, in fact, the critics, you know, panned it. And it closed.
PG: I didn't realize that. I thought it was a big hit.
DHP: Yeah, it was also my time experiencing that thing which happens in theater where in previews, you have two weeks of previews, and the audiences are in hysterics. And they're going crazy and they're loving it. Old, old women beating themselves to death over the... (everyone laughs) in a good way! These really, really sort of raunchy blue scenes that we had. But they loved it. And then the reviews came out were, like, the New York Times said "Well, this isn't very good." and the next performance people just sat there. And that's just the power of the press.
PG: Well, you didn't start out acting though, right?
PG: You went to Yale to...
DHP: I started out as a music major.
DHP: I went to, I used to...
PG: A pianist?
DHP: Careful. (audience laughs) I was a big, big pianist. (everyone laughs) And not only that, I was an organist. (audience reaction)
PG: He does, he wears a T-shirt that says the, what is it? The who?
DHP: The American Guild of Organists. Yeah, I was an organist. I played the spleen. (audience laughs)
PG: So were they not real encouraging about you growing up to be a piano player?
DHP: My folks?
PG: No, your school.
DHP: Because I was pretty much grown up when I went to college. (audience laughs) But um, no, they said... I came from a small town and I was one of the best piano and organ players in the small town. And then I went to Yale and said "I think I'm going to be a concert pianist," and they said, "Well, we think you're not. We think you're out of your mind." So I sort of shifted, and I'd always acted for fun. When I was in elementary school I used to write little plays for my friends and me to perform.
PG: What was the first one? Do you remember?
DHP: Yeah. I used to do... I was obsessed with Julius Caesar. Because...
PG: Of course...
DHP: Yeah. I know, I have Niles' childhood...
PG: ...most children are.
DHP: I'm like Niles, it's so upsetting when I go back over...oh my God. I found, I was going through my parents estate and found those old films you know, super 8 films that had been shot when I was a kid. And there was this one scene of me and my dad playing football in the back yard. And first of all, it was completely humiliating and secondly it was like watching Niles. I'm there, he would throw the ball and it would hit me in the head (audience laughs) or he would throw the ball and I would miss it and he would throw it again and miss it. And the most horrifying part was, one time he threw the ball and I caught it, and the look of shock on his face (everyone laughs) was so devastating. So anyway...
PG: Oh, so ok, after you left Yale and caught the football...
DHP: Didn't get a football scholarship, did not become a concert pianist.
PG: You went to New York
DHP: I went to New York, yeah.
PG: And you did "Beyond Therapy".
DHP: Well, yeah, the first thing I did was, I went to New York, it was the fall after I graduated from college and I needed to get a job. So I signed on as temporary Christmas help at Bloomingdales, selling neckties. (makes face, audience laughs)
PG: Is that where you got the inspiration for your suicidal congressman?
DHP: That's right, that's...oh man, It was the worst. It was just...I'm a terrible salesperson. I hate, you know, making people buy things that they shouldn't want. It was, Ronald Reagan was president, so jellybean ties, jellybean neckties were the thing at Christmas. And I had to try to persuade people, to buy jellybean neckties.
PG: Did they have jellybeans on them?
DHP: Yeah, it was pictures of...it was like not actual jellybeans. It was illustrations of jellybeans. It was a nightmare.
PG: Oh, it sounds like it.
DHP: Also selling ties at Christmas time, it's the last refuge of really desperate people.
DHP: A lot of them from New Jersey coming in and just... (audience laughs) And the tie counter is like, it's like the front line of the war and oh, it was awful.
PG: Well, did you do a play during that time called "Summer"? Or right after "Beyond Therapy"?
DHP: (laughing) Oh, I hate you! I hate you.
PG: Why? Why?
DHP: I did do a play.
PG: I heard it was really good. You were hot.
DHP: Oh yes. I did a... I got a lot of really bad acting out of my system when I was in New York. (audience laughs) I swear. Because I didn't go to drama school, which is where most people get that out of their system. Well, I was smart, went to New York so that everyone could see it and like, write reviews about it. And I did this play called "Summer" where... it took place in the former Yugoslavia. I spent a lot of it running around in a bathing suit. With this wonderful... (audience laughs) Yeah... No, no, and it was New York in the winter, I didn't look good. And it was... (audience laughs) wonderful actress Caitlin Clark. Oh! I even...I went to one of those, they had those electric things, they sell them now but they had clinics... (laughing) I haven't told you this. To, uh, electrically stimulate your ab-muscles so that I would have stomach muscles, which I didn't have and oddly enough, you can't get them in a week. I found that out. (audience laughs) And I did this play and this was one... it was a hard play to do and I was so not equipped to do it. And I got a review that is so bad to this day I haven't read it. But I was working with this wonderful actress named Caitlin Clark. And there we were running around in our bathing suits. And Ed Herman, who is a terrific actor and a real, sort of, mentor of mine, wrote me a condolence note after the New York Times review came out. Frank Rich wrote the review. And I had never read this review but in his note he said "Well, Dear David, I'm sorry about the review but if you're going to mutter your lines, what better place to do it then into Caitlin's breasts." (audience laughs) So that's all I know about the review and that was, I figured, the good part. So, uh, those were the bad years.
PG: Well. I wish I could have seen it.
DHP: Yeah, well...
PG: So do you have any plans to return to Broadway? (David mumbles into his hands, audience laughs). Would you like to go back to Broadway?
DHP: I would love to go back to Broadway. I mean, you know...well, you were in New York last year doing a play. Which was great.
PG: Yeah, off Broadway, for two days.
DHP: Yeah, yeah, well...
PG: On that note, we'll go to commercial. (everyone laughs) Don't go away, more with David when "Later" returns.
(Clip of David on Celebrity Jeopardy.)
PG: Welcome back to "Later", I'm Peri Gilpin here with David Hyde Pierce, and you thought was funny didn't you?
DHP: Yes, it's very important to maintain your dignity on Jeopardy.
PG: But you won!
DHP: I did. I won that round. I did not...it was Celebrity Jeopardy. I lost the tournament because Norman Schwartzkopf, General Norman Schwartzkopf scored more points than I did.
PG: Oh you just let him win didn't you?
DHP: No. Well, I figured, you know, I didn't want him driving a tank through my house.
PG: No kidding! So you studied really hard for that didn't you.
DHP: Yes, yes.
PG: You looked so smart when you were on there Celebrity Jeopardy. And you look so stupid on this next tape coming up from Saturday Night Live. (everyone laughs)
DHP (laughing): Ohhh!
(Clip of David's intro song from Saturday Night Live, everyone laughs and cheers)
PG: Oh, David you're adorable. And you were great.
DHP: It makes me long for the days when they didn't have video tape.
PG: Doesn't it?
DHP: Oh man!
PG: No, you were wonderful in that.
DHP: That was actually fun, hosting Saturday Night Live is a cool gig.
PG: It must be nerve wracking.
DHP: It is. I'll tell you the scariest part, there are these two doors that you walk out of at the back of the set. And there's a stage manager there and you can't hear anything because the band is playing. And they're reading off the list of credits, you know like, Saturday Night Live! Starring...and you can't hear any of that, you just hear this loud band, and he's standing there and he's got one hand on the list of all their names. Going down, down, down, down and the very last thing is "And your host for tonight, David Hyde Pierce". He gets down there, boom, finger's on the name and he points like this (points with other hand) and you push those doors open and you realize you're now live in front of 80 gazillion people. And, it's just... I don't know, it's something... Whenever I hear the music from that show I have a flashback of it. It's like a sense memory of the nerves and everything, and sweating. But, I also had a great time.
PG: What was your first movie audition?
DHP: Well, the first one was this movie called, uh, what was it? Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep...
PG: "Falling In Love".
DHP: "Falling In Love". And I auditioned for the part of clerk at Bloomingdales, interestingly. (audience laughs) They had seen my work. I had one line, it was "Cash or charge?". (audience laughs) So I went into the audition. Lou Grossberg was the director and I sat down and said "Nice to meet you," and said (clearing throat) "Cash or charge?". (audience laughs) And he looked at the casting director and said "Is that it?" and she said "Yes, that's the part." And he said "Oh, well have him read something else." So I read, you know like, Robert DeNiro's part or something like that. And they turned out...they changed the part to a woman. (audience laughs)
PG: We're going to take a commercial break.
PG: We'll be right back with David. Don't go away.
(David kissing his way up Peri's arm, suddenly realizes they are on camera.)
PG: Oh, welcome back. (breathless voice)Thank you, David.
DHP: You're welcome.
PG: Tell...what's your new movie?
DHP: My new movie? Oh! I have a new movie coming out, it's coming out in the fall. And it's called "Isn't She Great" and it is really funny. It's Bette Midler, Nathan Lane, John Cleese, Stockard Channing. And uh...and the guy who wrote "In And Out", Paul Rudnick, wrote the script. It's a biography of this author Jacqueline Susann. But it's hysterical. I just finished doing a looping on it and saw some scenes. It's really wonderful.
PG: I can't wait.
DHP: Yeah, it should be good.
PG: Cannot wait. Well, I have to say good night.
DHP: Oh, where are you going?
PG: But I'll miss you.
DHP: Oh, it's over?
PG: Yeah. It's over.
PG: I'll see you tomorrow at work.
DHP: Oh, I know.
PG: I know. (both sound very enthusiastic, everyone laughs) My thanks to David. And I'm Peri. And I'll catch you Later.
(This transcript is courtesy of Tané who transcribed the interview and Lana who has allowed me to post it on my website.)