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Photo courtesy of Scott Cohen

‘The Girls on the Bus’ Star Scott Cohen Talks Bertolt Brecht Plays, Joining the Circus and Why He Decided to Start Coaching

Scott Cohen is always in demand. He has been working regularly for more than three decades and is one of those actors who you have seen over and over again, in shows like Billions, The Equalizer, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Americans and The Good Wife, just to name a recent few. We worked together back in 2003, in an indie called Knots, which for some reason is not even available to stream anywhere. That’s a shame, because he is tremendous in the film, leading an ensemble that includes John Stamos, Annabeth Gish and Paulina Porizkova.

Currently, he is appearing in the MAX series The Girls on the Bus and stars in the new indie flick The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed, which hits theaters April 26. While he continues to act, he is also launching a coaching career, which he hopes will help younger actors better understand the craft. He spoke to us from his home in upstate New York, where he was recovering from minor surgery (don’t worry, he’s fine).

How did you start acting in the first place?

I started acting in high school. A guy who had graduated from my high school came back to direct a Bertolt Brecht play, and I auditioned for it. He cast me as the MC, who didn’t have that many lines in the play, but I read through it and thought to myself, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if all the projections that are done in Brechtian plays, that the MC is voicing the projection, so there’s a narration through the entire play?” I pitched this to him and he loved it, so I ended up having an enormous amount of dialogue. I had the most wonderful costume, top hat and tails, spotlight, and it was the beginning of like, “Wow, I enjoy this.” Both the idea of expressing myself in a dramatic way and also the beginning of realizing, “Oh, I have some kind of control or ability to create my own path. I can have an idea, I can express it, and it can be heard.”

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around doing a Brecht play in high school.

I don’t know. He just had an idea, and whoever was in charge of the drama program said “sure.” I mean, it worked. Also, this was 1976. But that’s where it all started. I never really thought about it as a career until I was in college and studying with this guy who ran a theatre company called Playback Theater, which was a psycho-dramatic, therapeutic, but entertaining form of improvisation. He taught this class on clowning, and I fell in love with the idea of it. I developed a character, and then went off and applied and got into circuses. I worked at Big Apple Circus and others and did that for a number of years as I was going to college. Also, I kept working with Playback and kind of fell into the drama program. I never auditioned for it, I just started taking classes, and then all of a sudden, I was graduating with a theater degree and loving it, but then realized, “Oh, I have to figure out what comes next.” I mean, I watched movies and loved movies, but it wasn’t like I wanted to be a movie star. I saw theater and drama as a way to express what I thought was happening in the world around me.

I never knew that you were a clown. Something I’ve always wondered. How do you fit so many guys into the car?

(Laughs) Yeah, I was more like Emmett Kelly. I was more of a solo clown. Never went into a Volkswagen.

Seems a missed opportunity, but whatever. Anyway, after college, you ended up in New York?

I studied with a guy named Bob Modica for years. That’s where I met [my wife] Ana, and I would say, at least once a week we have a conversation about Bob and what he taught us. He didn’t just teach us acting. He taught us about life and what it means to be an artist.

It’s been 21 years since we made that movie together, and it seems like you’ve been working pretty much nonstop ever since.

I would say that’s accurate. I think I’ve been pretty lucky. I would like it to be a lot more than it is, but everybody does. I’d like there to be a fatter bank account, but I feel like I’ve been working pretty consistently since, I’d say 1988. I’ve done commercials and movies and TV and plays, and when you’re going through it it’s hard to think of it that way, but I’m starting to coach, and going back through all my stuff, oh my God, there’s so much. It’s insane. I try not to look back that much because I feel like the best is forward. The best is out there. Hopefully, I’ll do that until the day I die.

I’m curious about your decision to coach. I remember working with you, and while others in the cast tended to be, I don’t want to say limited, but certainly had their specific lane, your approach was much more craft-driven.

Yeah, totally. I feel like that is how I come to it. Teaching-wise, there’s a population of young actors who focus on celebrity, which I think is a big problem.

I’ve gotten to experience these cathartic moments in my life and my career, being on stage or being in a film, getting something, understanding something, discovering something. It’s rare, it doesn’t happen in every single TV show or every single movie, but sometimes you get to have this incredible epiphany. I’ve experienced those moments, and I think that’s what feeds the artistic journey. It’s something that I want to imbue in another generation, that this is what to strive for.

How do you boil that down into its most basic sense?

To me, it’s all about the discovery. It’s that moment, in a scene, in a class, in a movie, in a TV show, if you can have that emotional experience, you’re getting closer and closer to a character, and all of a sudden, it’s no longer you, it’s the character that you’re developing. That is, I think, one of the greatest feelings in the world. It feels like you’re floating on air. It’s literally like you’re dreaming. You’re just living this whole other existence. If you’re not striving for that, then I think something’s wrong.

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