Marin IJ

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Marin Profile: Terry McGovern, one-man entertainment industry

By Rick Polito, IJ reporter

Beret swept back in aerodynamic profile, eyes intent behind wire-framed glasses, the man in the front row with the pen and the notepad hangs on every gesture, tuned to every rhythm and glance.
The scene runs on emotion, a slice from "On Golden Pond." The two actors in the Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn roles are anxious about nailing those emotions.
And the man in the front row with the pen and the notepad is helping them do it.
" Give yourself some action. Start to walk the stage," he shouts to Royanne Francis, before telling Steve North, "I want you to allow us to be worried about you. I want you to not do so much work for us.
" Let's do it again," the man with the notepad announces. The actors find their places, their lines. They begin.
The man with the notepad stops them three beats into the scene. He has a suggestion ...

The man the beret, notepad and exacting eye is Terry McGovern, a radio personality-turned actor-turned-dad-turned-voice artist. And the space where the actors come to work, and sometimes play, is the Marin Actors Workshop.
McGovern says he's always been an actor. That's why he's a teacher
" It made me really want to teach," McGovern says of his career in film, TV and commercials. The 62-year-old Kentfield dad made enough money to call acting "a living," and he spent a fair amount of the money he made on acting classes. He came to like the give-and-play of the acting workshop almost as much as he liked the acting itself.
" You make them see what their shortcomings are and what their strengths are.
He's not dealing with producers and casting agents. He's working with actors. They want it to happen.
" Once you just give people permission, it's amazing what they will do," McGovern says.

Robbie Robertson is wearing a ridiculous apron and washing the same dishes over and over again in a plastic tub as the 15 or so other thespian hopefuls look on. The scene is from "My Man Godfrey," and Robertson's Godfrey is concentrating hard on the nuances, and the dishes. His co-star, Hande Gokhas, has more room to move and she takes advantage of it.
McGovern looks on. He scratches in his notepad. His eyes dart. But he sits on his hands. Robertson is finishes the dishes and calls "scene."
McGovern is on his feet in the instant. He has ideas, suggestions. He doesn't want Robertson to "look down so much." He's playing to the audience, not the dishes. He wants more flair from Gokhas. "She's a young, beautiful, rich smart-ass," McGovern says of Gokhas' character.
But with the ideas, with the suggestions, McGovern doesn't stop to filter his enthusiasm. "I can't wait to see it again next week," he exclaims.

McGovern doesn't claim he was born an actor. But he'd have to confess to being an extrovert. He did the school play thing at St. Mary's of the Mount while growing up in Pittsburgh, but it was in radio that he found his first stage. He had the overnight shift at KDKA in Pittsburgh and free reign on the microphone. Radio was instant freedom. "I was just a blue-collar kid," McGovern recalls. "They offered me more money than my father was making."
Radio helped him move about, learn his way around a microphone and master a control of the voice that he banks on as a voice artist for video games and animation.
But radio also became too small a stage.
The back of his mind was brimming with ideas. "The acting was always there," he says.
When he arrived in Los Angeles at age 30, he came to act.

The three women in the ubiquitous white plastic chairs are having a lot of fun with "The First Wives Club." Molly McCarthy's delivery on a plastic surgery barb draws a laugh from the whole room, none louder than McGovern's.
By the time the three women are finished, the actors in their own white plastic chairs are applauding loudly. The applause has little time to die before McGovern is on his feet holding the stopwatch that's looped around his neck. "Eight minutes, 23," he calls out. "We need to cut a minute and a half off that." The workshop is preparing for a showcase performance, and fitting in all the scenes and actors is a challenge.

But on this night, time is the least of his concerns. He wants to help Mary Bell "feel real." "Look for what is not like you in the character. That's where the fun is. That's where you get to lose yourself." He wants to help McCarthy, who says she didn't "feel solid." She needs to throttle her expressions back.
" Even Russian judges would give you an 8." McGovern tells her. "I'm looking for 6.5."

McGovern came to Los Angeles with a briefcase of skills. And he used them. He appeared on TV, in commercials. He did voice work for animation - he was a voice in a Jetsons renaissance from the early 1980s. His resume lists small roles but steady work in films such as "American Graffiti" and "The Incredible Shrinking Woman," and voice work on animated shows such as "Duck Tales," "Transformers" and a reincarnation of "Mighty Mouse."
Much of the work now is voices for video games. McGovern has voiced everything from Imperial stormtroopers in the "Star Wars" universe to Professor PAC in "Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness." They may not be meaty roles but they draw on every bit of delivery he's been honing for decades. "You don't have to get into a lot of substance but you have to use a lot of technique," McGovern says. "You have to nail it."
Marin turns out to be a good place to be for the video game work. McGovern works with SEGA, Electronic Arts and Leap Frog, all companies with a Bay Area presence. "I'm better off here as a voice actor than if I lived in Burbank," he notes.
He'd moved around enough in radio. For McGovern, who came to fatherhood relatively late with two adopted sons he's raised with his wife of 38 years, settling in Marin has been an opportunity. "I just wanted to get my kids raised in one house, he says.
But McGovern worries. Even the voice work is moving to Canada, following the films and TV shows on their trek north. And now big name actors are splashing into the video game waters.
" I'd like to kill Danny DeVito," he jokes.

The scene is from "The Subject was Roses." Robertson is back under the stage lights, this time with Susan Donnelly. The content is gut-wrenching. The actors are giving it their best.
When the dialogue is finished and Robertson calls "scene," McGovern steps into their space. He wants Robertson to use his hands. "American actors, they're all amputees," he declares. He wants Donnelly to slump more in her chair. Donnelly says she would "never" sit that way. "This is not you," McGovern reminds her.
And then he turns to Robertson. Robertson's character is a sleaze. He wants Robertson to be the same. "I need you to play that heel," McGovern pleads.
" Give me some slime!"

The teaching is a kind of acting itself. McGovern has to admit he is performing. The actors in his workshop know it. They're learning by watching. They see all the tools that McGovern has crafted. "You may not be up (on stage) that night," says John Clevenger, "but you still wouldn't want to miss a class."
Most of the actors have day jobs. John Reuscher has had his for a long time. The Novato resident is a financial planner. He was a drama major in college, but he "had to make a living." The acting is more about living than making a living. "Now my kids are grown and I'm back doing what I enjoy doing," he says.
Scott Weiss, a manufacturer's representative in Santa Rosa, has much the same story. "I've been putting it off for 20 years," he says. But Weiss gets more than acting tips from McGovern's workshop. "This is thinly veiled psychoanalysis," Weiss notes.
McGovern's work helps the actors think about how they interact with the world in ways that go beyond their minutes on the stage. Lola Maloney, another actor, says, "He knows what they need to do to challenge themselves."
McGovern wants the class to be more than group therapy. Acting is hard work and it should lead to paying work. The Marin Actors Workshop is "not a casting service," but McGovern's charges are showing up in independent films and commercials. "The agenda is to get you up and running," he notes. The upcoming showcase performances are part of that. "I've got agents coming," he says excitedly.
The buzz of acting, the younger actors and people returning to the craft are part of what keeps McGovern inspired. He keeps a studio in his house to record the grind of auditions for voice work, but the excitement in the classes can feel more tangible.
Teaching acting can be as exciting as acting itself. McGovern hauls his players across the boards two nights a week at the West End Playhouse. "It's a workout," he says. "It's three very intense hours.
" You're asking people to make fools of themselves."

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