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The Scarlet Pimpernel : Broadway's Most Intriguing Musical.

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Interview with James Hindman

Jim joined the cast of The Scarlet Pimpernel in January, `99 when he replaced Ken Land as Ben. In addition to his on-stage duties, Jim's quite a writer on the side. He's written the books for a few small-scale musicals, and a cabaret show that was produced in the summer of `98. We talked a bit about his writing, and of course, his experiences with SP.

NR: Where did you grow up?

JH: In Mount Clemens, Michigan, which is a suburb of Detroit. It's a little tiny town. There were about 300 or so in my graduating class in high school.

NR: That's not that tiny.

JH: No, I guess it isn't really, but the town was really small and a lot of people from different towns went to the high school. I always wanted to act. One day I missed the bus to go home, and I tried to call my mom but she couldn't pick me up. This girl said, "I have to paint some sets for the school play. If you'll wait for me, my mom's going to pick me up." I said, "How long?" and she said, "About an hour." So, I went down where they were painting the sets and the drama teacher asked me if I wanted to help. I said, "Sure" and started painting. It was some melodrama - I think I was painting a tombstone. She said, "Would you help backstage to hold up the tombstone?" and I said, "OK" and did that. Then she said, "A toy soldier just quit from the Christmas pageant. Would you be a toy soldier?" I said, "OK" and that's how I got my start.

NR: Did you go to college for theater?

JH: Um hmm. For one year I went to Eastern Michigan University. Then a casting director came from New York to my college and did a master class. I asked him about schools in New York and he hooked me up with the Neighborhood Playhouse. The next year I went to the Neighborhood Playhouse and studied.

NR: And you've been here ever since?

JH: Yeah.

NR: That's terrific. How long did it take to get what you considered a "real job?"

JH: You know, I was really lucky at first. I was getting soap operas and I got this little Off Broadway show, but you weren't allowed to be in a play while you were in school. I just kept my mouth shut while I was doing it. It was only a couple of weeks because it was mostly in the summer. Then it was about three or four years where I was not doing a lot. I finally got my Equity Card and I thought when I got my first summer stock job at Kansas City Starlight, "Oh, this is it. I've made it. I'll never have to wait tables again." Haha! Six weeks later I was saying, "What will you have with the Chardonnay?"

NR: That's hard. It's a tough life.

JH: I still have my waiter's vest and the tie. It's sort of like good luck. I'm afraid that if I throw them out, then I'll have to do it again.

NR: I remember when I asked Doug Storm what he wanted to do in the future and he said, "Not ask someone how they want their fish."

JH: Well, luckily, I don't have to worry about that anymore.

NR: You have your writing too. Which came first, the writing or the acting?

JH: I started writing before I was acting in high school. I started writing and I was such a bad speller. Of course, they didn't have computers back then with spell check. I was such a bad speller that I was too afraid to write - I was too intimidated. I would get As on the ideas, but I was such a bad speller. Then I later found out that a lot of great writers are awful spellers and nobody cares. Isn't that funny? It really stifled me for so long. When I was doing the revival of Merrily We Roll Along, I was working with Cass Morgan and she was writing. Between scenes we would write and encourage each other. Her play is getting produced now. That's what got me started.

NR: Let's talk about Pimpernel a bit. Has Ben changed with the new version?

JH: Yeah.

NR: How did the downsizing affect you?

JH: The energy...we are a group of friends - the six guys, or nine that there were. In any group, there's always someone who's the funny one, or someone who always figures out the check when the bill comes when you're all out having dinner, and somebody else always makes the plane reservations or the dinner reservations. Then if that person isn't there, somebody else is the funny person, or is the person that's always late. So it changed in that way. The dynamic of the people had to change. I used to feel as Ben in the old one (SP2), I was much more happy-go-lucky. I think all these people have a character flaw that they overcome, and as an actor you have to find what your character flaw is. I think in SP2, Ben was happy-go-lucky. Everything was a joke. He never took anything seriously and for the first time in his life, he has to take something seriously. Otherwise he would make jokes about it and say, "Let's not think about it" and just go on. In this one, I wanted to make him more like Felix Unger in The Odd Couple in that he's more "anal" and doesn't like change. That's his character flaw - he doesn't want anything to change. So, when anything changes or doesn't go as planned, he gets upset and it makes him nervous. So that makes me jumpier now. I guess that's it. Doing all of this is so out of his realm of reality.

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Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.

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