David Hyde Pierce: Perfectly Pierce
“My life is an open book, but don’t expect me to read it to you,” David Hyde Pierce famously quipped in an interview while starring as Frasier’s prissily neurotic Dr. Niles Crane, a role that earned him a record 11 consecutive Emmy nominations and four wins. That private library card expired in 2007, when Pierce began speaking publicly about his longtime partner, Brian Hargrove, whom he married in California during the brief window in 2008 before Proposition 8 passed. Although the Tony-winning Broadway performer can’t reveal much about his character in Nick Tomnay’s The Perfect Host, in theaters July 1, he graciously opens the door on a discussion about not overdoing gay press, not pleasing everyone, and not singing with Helen Reddy.
Advocate.com: In The Perfect Host you star as Warwick, a Los Angeles bachelor who unwittingly invites in a dangerous criminal as he makes preparations to host a dinner party. Because of the various twists involved, it’s a challenging film to talk about beyond that. How are you handling that in interviews?
David Hyde Pierce: It’s tricky. I have to put a lot of faith in the interviewer that they won’t publish stuff that gives too much away. Even though I know that people talk about everything anyway with the Internet, I still like to hold on to the possibility of surprise.
Suffice it to say, Warwick is a nutjob — and certainly unlike any character you’ve played before. Were you actively trying to play against type?
I don’t know about that, but I’m just not interested when people send me scripts that are similar to stuff I’ve already done — especially the kind of character that I played for years on Frasier. Because that character was so much in the public eye, that’s the kind of character I get sent a lot; frankly, the writing is usually nowhere near as good as it was on Frasier, so there’s not much motivation to do them. With this film, I loved the script, the story, the twists, the suspense, and all that, and the character was really a feast for an actor. And not only is he very different, so I get to do different things, but also he starts out not all that different, so it lures the audience into thinking, Oh, right, we’ve seen this guy before. Maybe that’s part of the fun of having me play the part.
Your writer and director, Nick Tomnay, doesn’t have a lot of experience as a filmmaker. As an established actor, do you see that as a risk?
I have to take that on a case-by-case basis. In this situation, he’d also made a short film called The Host, on which The Perfect Host is based, so I got to see that as an example of his work. Yes, this is actually his first feature film, but even in that short I could see that he’s very assured and a great stylist with a wonderful sense of humor. He’s able to do both dark and funny at the same time, and that gave me great confidence in him. Plus we met a couple of times before my agreeing to do the movie, and we really hit it off. I respect him and like him a lot.
How did you perceive the response from the gay community after you came out?
It was a little bit of a shock at first, but it was amazing the array of reactions I got from the gay community. Some people were very supportive, some people said that I had been outed, some people said it was about time, some people said it was too late, and some people just said, “Who cares?” That’s when I realized that you have to do it for yourself, because you can’t please everyone.
What advice would you give you an actor on the fence about coming out?
I would advise anyone not to come out immediately, but whenever you’re ready and feel safe that you can, you’ll be glad you did. However it ended up happening for me, because I was completely honest and because I did come out — even though I resisted that phrase for so many years — I feel I’m a better person, and I’m better able to do everything I do both in my private life and in my professional life.
Since you began speaking publicly about your partner and your marriage — notably as a guest on The View — have you felt pressure from gay rights groups or from gay people in general to be a mouthpiece for the community?
I’ve spoken out about marriage because I believe in it. It’s very personal for me, and I’ve been very lucky to be a part of that. I’ve worked with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for as long as I’ve been an actor. So no, I don’t feel pressured. I feel like I’m able to do what I always would’ve done. I just try to stand up for what I believe in.
Your name was repeatedly brought up after last year’s controversial Newsweek article, which sparked a debate about whether gay actors couldn’t convincingly play straight roles. I kept expecting you to sound off on the subject at some point, but you never did.
I thought it was stupid and didn’t deserve much time. I talk about what’s important to me, and that was just ridiculous.
On a lighter note, it was recently reported that filmmaker David Wain is planning a prequel to Wet Hot American Summer, in which you starred as a kooky astrophysics professor. Would you participate?
I love David, and I think he’s quite talented, so I’d be happy to work with him anytime.
You’ll make your directorial debut this fall with It Shoulda Been You, a new musical cowritten by your husband, at New Jersey’s George Street Playhouse. Tyne Daly, Edward Hibbert, and Harriet Harris are set to star. Are you nervous? Do you know what you’re getting into?
I am not nervous because I don’t know what I’m getting into. But I have a great cast, I have wonderful designers, and it’s a really beautiful show, so I’m excited. I just hope I don’t screw it up.