Entertainment

NEWMAN!: The @Seinfeld2000 Wayne Knight Interview

The actor who played Newman on "Seinfeld" speaks with the universe's authority on all things Seinfeld."

by @Seinfeld2000
Aug 6 2015, 4:00am

The Wayne Knight Rises. Image by the author.

Hey whats up! This is @seinfeld2000 and honestly, my whole thing is that on social media i just focus on what seinfeld would be like if it still was today. im trying to get to the bottom of it. does that make sense?

so it was simply an honor for me to interview Wayne Knight. Not only becase he played Newman on seinfeld, like umm are you kidding me, but also cause his acting career game strong af. ill wait while u click on this link to his IMDB. u back? ya. Basic Instinct. Jurasic Park. JFK. Space Jam. Who ran the 90s? Wayne

If youre wondering what hes up to now, relax because i am literaly about to tell you: he is currently in the show The Exes on TV Land. The series started on Wednesday November 30 2011 and now in its fourth season. epsodes air Wednesdays at 11 PM ET/PT, why not check it out? Knight stars along side Kristen Johnston with whom he was in 3rd Rock From the Sun (u forgot about that rite) and then when they were casting for the show, the producers must have went "unlike TLC we do want Scrubs" and threw the gawd donald faison in to the mix. it is a breezy traditional multi cam sitcom that harken back to the time when seinfeld still on TV

Next up, Wayne is heading back to film with a role in the new Coen Brothers movie Hail Ceasar! Im not seeing that on IMDB so i think thats breaking news and the mods and/or admin there might want to update his page after they read this. also he talked excluisve to me about what he thinks of the potential Space Jam sequal with Lebron james everybody was buzzing about on facebook and the latest streaming apps like periscope and TIDAL

we talked about so much stuff, like i really went full Barbra Walters on (Lil) Wayne Knight. At one point he said he was a private eye back in the day. Now look i have to take that with a sprinkle of salt bc he said it DIRECTLY after saying he has fabricated stories in the past (not to mention he might have been fucking w me bc my life is devoted to imagening scenarios just like Newman playing a private investigator) but then again he sounded sincere on the phone & his story was fairly detailed and i also looked it up and the LA times reported this as well in 1993 so i guess it checks out??

Look. i like to "goof around " a lot on social media. But when youre talking to a screen & stage legend like Wayne Knight who is ENSCONSED in the seinfeld universe and emblazoned in popular cutlure, its time to get serious. im glad i did bc the result is honestly one of the best interviews in journalism history. Lets go

VICE: Hey wayne!! I was really relieved when you didnt die last year
Wayne Knight: You know, I was rather relieved myself. It's an odd one. But the only thing it did to me was increase my Twitter following. Apart from that, I think I'm much the same.

how did you first find out you passed away?
I saw it online. Luckily I was able to go on to Twitter and disappoint everyone and announce that I had not passed away. I just noticed all these like RIPs, and "We'll miss you," and all this kind of stuff. It was a little premature, but nice. And then I realized that I had died. And I know that some people many times have thought my career was dead, but I've never had anyone think that I personally was dead before. So it was kind of a shock.

Frankly, I was underwhelmed. I expected more. And now of course now when I do kick, no one's going to believe it.

"There was a part in the play of a socially retarded, very corpulent 16-year-old with pimples all over his face and thick glasses who was riding a tricycle. And I said, 'Oh shit, I can do that.'"

Having worked with Larry David, were you surprised he was going to do eight shows a week on broadway in Fish in the dark?
Yes! I had no idea—but then again, writing is work. So I guess he does like work. Most actors don't like unemployment, but they don't like work. The reason why you become an actor is to avoid work, and then you realize that you're not going to be working very much, and then you get really upset. It's an odd conundrum. I go back and do Broadway and stage on a regular basis when I can. And although it is the most taxing in some ways, it's also the most rewarding. There's something magical about sharing your breath with people watching you do a show and getting prepared for it and walking in to the theater each night and hearing the clamor of the audience walking in, the curtain going up. It is a different kettle of fish than television or film.

What was your first role on broadway?
I was 23, I had seen a gone to see a play, Gemini, on Broadway at what was then the Little Theatre, it's now the Helen Hayes. And there was a part in the play of a socially retarded, very corpulent 16-year-old with pimples all over his face and thick glasses who was riding a tricycle. And I said, "Oh shit, I can do that." There was something about him because he was so totally outside of the world of everybody else that there was something bizarrely endearing about him at the same time. And he was fascinated with subway trains. I had no agent. I had just kind of come in town, and I assembled my resume and picture and walked down the alleyway to the stage door, knocked on the door, asked the doorman for the stage manager, handed him my picture and resume and said, "If you're ever replacing for the role of Herschel, I'd like to be seen." And, you know, what a joke. But some six months later, they called me in and I got it. Cold. Without any representation. It was just unreasonable hopefulness that I could do that. And I did. I was in that play for three years.

Gemini's playbill, courtesy of Wayne Knight

That's basically where I learned how to act. You learn so much from classes and your preconceived notions, but getting on the stage, especially in this comedy, which was operatic in its scope and also very very meticulous in terms of its timing. You had to have really good comic timing to get the laughs. There were certain runs in it that required you to be spot-on, farce-like, in terms of when the door opens and when you speak and stuff like that. It was quite a master class in acting. I thought that I was going to just—once I got on Broadway, I thought, Well, that's that. I'm just gonna ascend into the heavens. It'll be one job after another. And the show came to an end and I didn't work again for like two, three years! 'Cause I was a young character actor and I was in this odd makeup. So it was the beginning of a process. But everybody, all my actor friends, we'd all come to New York. I went to the University of Georgia and a bunch of friends came with me, and we all had an apartment on the West Side that we called New Georgia and I was the first one to break out. And so everybody celebrated that, and I got my first credit card and I wrote down that I had worked 50 weeks that previous year as an actor, and that [was] an amazing thing.

Wikipedia says you "performed street magic for a period of time" during those days. ok is that like–
No! I don't know who put that in Wikipedia, but it's totally not true.

"He says, 'They like hiring actors. Because they're usually intelligent, conversant, they can play different parts, and they have no scruples.'"

Its weirdly specific for a made up fact
For the longest time, I would plant odd things and see where they would wind up. Like, I had an interview for NBC once where I said that I was learning how to fly fixed-wing aircraft. And I wasn't. But I loved to see how it turns up, for years and years and years it turns up in different places, where people just kind of boilerplate their shit; they don't even check. I didn't perform street magic. Let me see if there's anything similar. No. But I did work for five years as a private investigator.

for real?
Yeah. While in New York, I worked as a private eye, and while working in that capacity, I got a series in London, which was three Americans and three Brits doing a sketch-comedy show. I did two seasons of that and after each season of it, I would come back, and go back to work as a private eye. My dad had a big work ethic, and I didn't feel good about being on unemployment. So I was waiting tables like everybody else when I first started. And I had a friend who said, "Well, I've got a job that you might be interested in." I go, "Yeah? What's that?" And he goes, "I'm a private investigator." I go, "What? You don't have any police background. Were you trained for this?" "No." How did you get hired? He says, "Well, they like hiring actors. Because they're usually intelligent, conversant, they can play different parts, and they have no scruples."

Knight in '3rd Rock from the Sun.' Photo courtesy of Wayne Knight

What stuff were you investigating?
I did all kinds of things, from background investigations on people trying to get employed, to following people who were infidelitous. I [did] some stuff in venture capital. The most interesting stuff was where I was talking to admirals and heads of industry about people doing recombinant DNA work. And so I would just add a couple of phrases like, "As you know, this was tried before at AMGen and really it didn't work very well," and [they'd say] "Well, that's true but..." and they would go on and I'd write down what they were saying as if I knew what they were talking about.

Right now myself and a writing partner are working on doing a treatment of this period in my life. But now I've aged enough that I can play the guy who trained me, as opposed to myself. The idea of young actors being hired by a private investigator. We had a whole bunch of people who were young actors with fake names. My nom de guerre was Bill Monty. Which was my father's first name and my mother's maiden name. So if anytime anyone said, "Who are you?" you wouldn't forget. And a call would come into the place, you know, "Is anybody here Bill Monty today?" Yes, I am. I am." And you would write up cases like, "Under a suitable pretext, we learned..." Which means, "While lying my ass off and misrepresenting myself, I discovered..."

I mean it really does sound like a show.
I've been working on it for a long time. In terms of the people who were there, we had an amazing assemblage of people. My first trip to Los Angeles was [this work]. We had two people staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I was training somebody in Brentwood. It wasn't as an actor—it was as a private eye.

So you went from being a private eye to going on to all these iconic films from the 80s and 90s, im talking about Dirty Dancing, JFK, Basic Instinct, Jurasic park
Ironically, Seinfeld ended all that. It practically obliterated my film career in some ways, because by being on something that iconic and being that known for that character, it made it much more difficult as a character actor to disappear into film. It's the kind of Superman conundrum where George Reeves after doing Superman is in From Here to Eternity and when he comes on screen, everybody goes "Hey, that's Superman." So that's kind of true with Newman. I'm in the next Coen brothers film, Hail Ceasar!, and I'm very happy that I'm back to disappearing into film, which is hard because Seinfeld kind of refuses to die. It just goes on and on and on. And it's a very rare thing when you have a job that you're known for among one generation after another after another. I mean, people are not allowed to forget.

"I know that some people many times have thought my career was dead, but I've never had anyone think that I personally was dead before."

Yeah there isnt really a sitcom that has sustained for so long. why is that
First of all, it was a damned good show. And it was also very iconoclastic and bizarre in the sense that it was depicting people, New Yorkers especially, more as they are than as they wish they were. A lot of comedy and a lot of TV is wish fulfillment where you'll see families and hugs and lessons and idealized people. And there was nobody idealized on Seinfeld. They were all venal, selfish, self-absorbed, and crazy. And they were wonderfully recognizable because of that. They were like real people. In some ways, it's like why is Donald Trump doing well as a candidate. You just don't see that kind of shit! They usually clean those people up. There's something to be said for... like the term "sponge-worthy." When are you going to hear that?

Newman's greatest hits. Composite by the author

what can you say about this Coan brothers movie?
I can't tell you very much because we basically sign nondisclosure agreements on Coen brothers's stuff until they're released. They're very close-to-the-vest about that. But it's similar in some ways to what I did in Jurassic in the sense that I kick off a sequence of events that carries on throughout the film. I can't really say what I'm doing, but I'm walking around in a toga.

What are your memories of when u get directed by Oliver stone on JFK
Well, I'd done a very small thing in Born on the Fourth of July as well prior to JFK. I remember I was doing a play at Lincoln Center: Measure for Measure. And the casting directors at Lincoln Center were also casting this piece for Oliver. They needed this character, and I was auditioning for the part. They said to me, "Whatever you do, don't do anything 'actory.' He hates 'actory.'" And I'm like... "The fuck? What does that mean? Does he expect me to walk in and go, 'Howwwwww do you do?'" But, I went in and he was kind of like, not looking at me, and, you know. I don't know what Oliver is like now, but when I worked with him, he was in his surly, frighten-you-to-death period. I was just generally frightened of him. So the experience was a combination of elements. I was down in New Orleans, it was incredibly hot, it was like July. He had all these people who were the real people from the JFK assassination. We're doing stuff about Clay Shaw and Jim Garrison. I met Jim Garrison, and Jim Garrison's very old at the time and not well. And there was a bible of source material, so that you were inundated with it.

"I think Spielberg had seen me staring, salivating, and sweating while looking up someone's dress and thought, 'What if that were a dinosaur? Yes.'"

What was fascinating to me was that I've always been a JFK-conspiracy enthusiast because I was confirmed in the Catholic church on November 22, 1963, and the day that he was shot, and I was living in a small town in Georgia and the Monseigneur came to the town and said, "I'm not coming back to this town. Let's do this." We were like, "The President's been shot!" He was like, "So what? Let's go." We did the confirmation and we had a little party afterwards and we're all sitting there with the television on looking at Walter Cronkite, tearing and somber. It had a big effect on my life because I grew up Catholic and he was the first Catholic president. And after the Cuban Missile Crisis, I'd written him a letter saying "Thank you for saving my life" or something like that. And I'd gotten the letter back from Ted Sorensen saying, "The President has read your letter and hopes you have a continuing interest in public service." So I was really very attached to the Kennedys.

Composite by the author

lol and then like a year later youre shooting "magic loogie" on seinfeld
Yes, which is because one of the writers on the show was also a Kennedy-conspiracy enthusiast and had seen me in the movie and was like, "That's you! That's you!" And I went, "Yeah." And I played a character named Numa in the movie. So I did the re-enactment of that scene, "back and to the left" with Gary Grubbs in the movie, and Gary Grubbs had the same height relationship to me that Michael Richards had to me. And we reenacted that scene with the second spitter, and it's just like some kind of bizarre turn of events.

thats so meta
Before the word meta was even coined!

Composite by the author

Didnt this happen to you again with Basic Instict and seinfeld
Yes. We're the doing the investigation of the mail fraud, and [Jerry's] got a cold coke that he's holding and I'm lusting for it and licking my lips.

Who knew that this relatively small part in Basic Instinct, because it was in the trailer, because I was in that magical scene, would be more pivotal than almost anything I'd done? It's like, there wasn't much there, but I was the guy who was there at the moment. But I went in to audition for Paul Verhoeven, and he's a strange man who had a video camera up to his eye when you walked in the door. And he's like, [speaking in a Dutch accent] "Sit over here, over here, over here." OK... "All right now you're looking, you're looking, you're looking... All right now maybe you do like a lick. Do a little lick of the lips." And I go, OK. I do the lick. And he goes, "Maybe you do another lick. Maybe go lick, lick..." I do two. "Maybe you do a third lick, maybe you go lick, lick, lick." And I do lick, lick, lick, and he goes, "No, that's too many licks." It got cut down to two licks... That wasn't even acting. I was projectile sweating on my own.

"People ask me, 'Did you play any basketball with [Michael Jordan]?' I wouldn't even touch a basketball next to those guys. Are you kidding me? If they passed it to me, I would walk away. I didn't want to be seen touching it."

Jurasic Park is back with Jurasic world and its a box-office smash again. When you were working on the movie did you expect that it was going to be just such an internationel block buster?
I think that that's really the reason why people know me, because the things I've been involved in have been so successful. I mean, Seinfeld the number-one television show and Jurassic the number-one film, and then I'm hanging out with Michael Jordan. It's just a weird... I just travel in good circles, I suppose. But when I got that picture, it was bizarre. I didn't audition for it. It was just offered to me. I think Spielberg had seen me staring, salivating, and sweating while looking up someone's dress and thought, "What if that were a dinosaur? Yes."

I flew to Hawaii to start the filming on that, and I never met Spielberg until my first day of shooting. So we're in Kawaii, and they take me by truck up this road, which was muddy, and it's been raining because it's the rainiest place in all of the world, and we were pulling down this road and there were big trucks, rainmaking trucks and tanker-trucks and four-bangers and five-bangers and six-bangers and trailers, and we pull up at the base of the gate of Jurassic Park, this giant gate. And at the base of the gate is Spielberg. And I got out and walked to him and said, "I hope I'm the guy you wanted." And he says, "You're the guy."

Image by the author

What do you think of these rumors that are swirling every which way of maybe a possible new Space Jam except with Lebron James now
Yeah, but I mean, look. Lebron did so well in Trainwreck, one would think that he would do something other than Space Jam. Who knows. But I'm sure Warner Brothers would love for him to do it. Somebody put on Twitter, "You can't have another Space Jam without Wayne Knight." And I was like, "I'll bet you can!"

LMAO I think that was me
Doing that film was such a bizarre experience. Because it was green screen—the entire film was green screen with very few locations. And you've got people in green ninja suits who are crawling around on their knees replicating cartoon characters, and there's not an actor for miles around. There's not a set. There's not a prop. You're just acting against a vacuum. And then the only actors you get to talk to are basketball players. It's the strangest fricking gig ever.

What did you think of MJ as an actor?
I have no idea! I knew that as a physical specimen, I thought that he was the most incredible human being I'd ever seen. He had, like, muscles inside of muscles. In his calf, he had kind of like a "sproing" muscle. Where he would leap and then—sproing!—and he could go flying. And he was working out at the same time, 'cause they built him a gym, and he had all these guys coming in and going one-on-one with him and playing full-court basketball with him. And then you've got him and Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing and Muggsy Bogues and all these people hanging out, and it's just the weirdest... Here I am, this short, fat character actor who's not really the most athletically inclined person that you would imagine.

People ask me, "Did you play any basketball with him?" I wouldn't even touch a basketball next to those guys. Are you kidding me? If they passed it to me, I would walk away. I didn't want to be seen touching it.

Composite via the author

What was your life like at the height of seinfeld's popularity? Was it just an onslaught of people yelling "HELLO NEWMAN" the moment you stepped out of the door?
I honestly think that it's more prevalent now than it was when the show was on the air originally.

its acumulated or whatever
Yeah. Because now you've got grandparents, parents, and kids, all of whom have discovered the show on their own time. I got fan mail from Yemen. You know? Like... Yemen. What the fuck are you doing watching the show in Yemen? And everybody who comes up to me with the "Hello Newman" or whatever, still believes that no one else has ever said it. Or they'll say, "You must hate this, but..."

"I think what I find is the most fun is, you take a trait of your own that you don't like and magnify it by ten."

What was your experience back then working with larry david, what sort of notes would he give you esp. when u were first starting
Larry would say things like [speaking in a perfect Larry voice]... "No." And you go, "Oh... OK." Larry is actually very friendly, but I didn't know it. Because he was so intimidating to me. And everyone says, "Why were you intimidated by Larry?" I don't know. He's laconic and easygoing, but doesn't suffer fools lightly and knows exactly what he wants. So my job was to just try not to screw up. Because we would come to the table and what you were reading was so funny, and you knew that what you were doing—it was very similar to doing a Broadway opening every time you were doing a show. The guest stars were top-notch, the writing was top-notch, everybody on the show was top-notch. So I think that at that stage in my life, I was just trying not to blow it. And also, I was second-tier. Everybody calls Murray the K the fifth Beatle because he was in a room with the other four. But he wasn't. And that's similar to me. There was proximity, but there wasn't equivalence. And I didn't really know when I was gonna be used, and I didn't really have... I mean, it was an interesting experience.

Image courtesy of the author

You had a smaller role than the main cast but did so much with it. How did you develop all the mannerisms and sounds and quirks that just made that character Newman
I think what I find is the most fun is, you take a trait of your own that you don't like and magnify it by ten. So if you have any pomposity, you magnify the pomposity by ten. Magnify the insecurity by ten. And if you're trying to be erudite because you're afraid that you're getting a word wrong, you magnify that by ten. And then gradually your character becomes a quilt of all these insecurities. And because he's so insecure, he's simultaneously off-putting and lovable. Because you know that it's not coming from a place of malice, it's coming from fear.

If Seinfeld was still on TV today what do you think it would be like
It is! What are you talking about! Have you not gone to Hulu! It's still on! That's the only problem!

k. thanks for doing this interview man
I hope people will give the Exes a chance to take a look at it. Because being on TV Land is an odd experience. People still don't know what it is.

They started making original programs a few years ago right?
It's been about five years. They started with Hot in Cleveland, and they were going to do multi-camera sitcoms and revive the multi-camera sitcom to fit in their reruns and sitcoms. Now they're into a sort of a single-camera thing. They've changed the management of the network, so I don't know what happens to us. I sometimes feel like we're the last rock 'n' roll song on the station that's going country. But it's a nice place to work in the sense that there is much less interference on the network level than there would be at one of the big networks, in terms of micromanaging, so that's cool. But I wish they did a little bit more promotion. Nonetheless, I enjoy doing it. And I'm leaving it up to you to make sure that I can continue to do it.

Oh no!
If something should happen to the show I will blame you personally.

thats a lot of pressure wayne
I just want you to know.

The Exes airs Wednesdays at 11 PM on TV Land.

Follow @Seinfeld2000 on Twitter.