Thursday, July 30, 2009

David Hyde Pierce: guest blogger

This Friday’s question comes from reader Alyson:

I recently rewatched Frasier - great show, even better than I remembered. I'm curious about the fencing scene in "An Affair to Forget" from season 2. Awhile back, you wrote a nice post about Jane Leeves and how she learned how to shoot pool for an episode. So my question is: We all know David Hyde Pierce is a great physical comedian. Did he learn how to fence for that episode, did he already know, or was he just winging it?

Not knowing the answer to this I asked someone who does – David Hyde Pierce. Alyson, here is his response:

As I recall, the writers asked me about my fencing experience before they wrote the episode. I’d been trained in stage combat by a guy named B.H. Barry, and I’d done two big sword fights for B.H., one in Cyrano and one in Kevin Kline’s Hamlet. ( In each case I both fought with and understudied the lead, which meant I had to learn both sides of the fight So, theoretically I could challenge myself to a duel and lose.) Coincidentally the actor who played Maris’ fencing instructor had also trained with B.H., so since we spoke the same language fencing-wise, we were able to learn a fairly elaborate fight in a relatively short time.

Hope that’s helpful. Happy Summer,
Dhp

Many thanks to David Hyde Pierce along with David Lee.

The episode was directed by Philip Charles MacKenzie and the script by Anne Flett-Giordano & Chuck Ranberg won the Emmy that year for writing, beating out the more famous “Matchmaker” episode.

Here’s the actual scene. What’s your question?

30 comments:

Diane said...

What a scene! And if I may, I'd like to take this opportunity to say how much I also enjoyed Mr. Pierce's work on stage in Curtains.

Melody said...

My very favorite David Hyde Pierce scene in Frazier was the show where he is getting ready for a date and everything goes wrong. It was one of the funniest performances I've ever seen and he didn't say anything.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

And if I may, I'd like to take this opportunity to say how much I also enjoyed Mr. Pierce's work on stage in Curtains.

I shall follow by saying it was an immense honor to spot him at the last Barbara Streisand tour date at Staples Center in November 2006. We sat behind her stage entrance, against a backdrop erected, as they were filming the show for possible DVD use, but I think they showed some of it on CBS months ago.

There was him, Barry Manilow, Tom Hanks, and countless other Hollywood luminaries. I don't know if he saw that far back, the looking-like-total-crazy person pointing excitedly and handing his sister the binoculars, but it was more incredible than any other star sighting I had in Los Angeles over these past 6 years, which have been very few. But at least the quality remained high.

D. McEwan said...

Gadzooks! Zounds! I saw Kevin Kline's HAMLET rather a long while back (though not so long ago that Kline was actually young enough for the role. Poor Hamlet. Has any other college-age prince ever been played by so MANY middle-aged men?), and I'd forgotten DHP was in it. On the other hand, I've not forgotten his performance in Terrence McNally's IT'S ONLY A PLAY. Great fun. DHP, you are a God!

I was accidentally stabbed in the face by a foil when a comic stage duel went horribly wrong in a production of TWELFTH NIGHT I was in back in 1973. The doctor told me that I'd come with in half an inch of losing my left eye.

And after I'd screamed, grabbed my face, and fallen to the stage, no one could get a laugh for the rest of the performance. (I finished the performance before going to the hospital.) The director told me that she was sitting in the back row when it happened, and when she gasped out "OH NO!" she was shushed by the stranger seated beside her, who I guess thought it was part of the play.

It left me with a sword phobia. The production was so good (it was terrific in fact) that it was remounted with most of the same cast a year later, and I found myself playing that scene again. When one night the actor who's sloppiness had injured me made THE EXACT SAME ERROR (He was a most careless performer physically, who would "get lost" in his character, and forget how to do his rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed business) I found myself offstage with no memory of leaving the stage. One instant I was onstage, the next off, with no intervening time. Witnesses in the audience told me I had "fled the stage."

21 years later I was cast as the ghost of John Barrymore in Paul Rudnick's wonderful play I HATE HAMLET. Act One concluded with a lengthy comic sword duel, during which I had not only to fence with Barrymore's famous nonchalant charm and panache, but deliver verbal gags, drink, fence while seated at one point, fence while looking away, while climbing up on top of furniture, leaping off said furniture, and performing some other simple stunts, all with my lingering sword phobia, and zero fencing training at the start of rehearsals.

I spent more time rehearsing that duel than all the rest of the play. It was a hell of a lot of hard work to make it look effortless and fun, and for me to look like Barrymore enjoying himself, instead of like me being terrified.

It must have worked though, because I won two awards for the role, and none of the award-givers knew my bloody history with the blade.

(I learned years later that the actor whose sloppiness and lack-of-discipline had resulted in my wound suffered a calamity, and lost both of his legs at the knees. Being suitably saddened by this takes effort.)

Sherry Siegel said...

David Hyde Pierce is amazing! (As are you, Ken.) Yes, the scene where Niles gets ready for a date, sets his pants on fire, sets the sofa on fire, passes out a few times, etc. has to be one of the best of all time. Whenever I see it I'm surprised (and grateful) that the Powers that Be agreed to have such a long scene without dialogue in a 30-minute sitcom. I wonder if you had to fight for that?
In any case, David Hyde Pierce and Ken Levine, just wonderful. Thank you!

benson said...

DHP is a gifted physical comedian. One of my favorite scenes is where he's trying to scatter an aunt's ashes and can't get the urn open (in "Martin does it his way"). But also the quiet moments of pain in the years of pining for Daphne were wonderful performances, too.

Thank you for the entertainment.

Roger Owen Green said...

The DHP pants on fire scene was the single funniest bit sans dialogue I ever saw on TV.

Gridlock said...

Coincidentally I watched Frasier for the first time in a while yesterday, it was the episode where Daphne relates her nude sunbathing tale and DHP's exit stage left was a great testimony to his physical humour ability.

That getting-ready-for-a-date scene is a true classic though, seasons and seasons of angst and yearning poured into that most deliciously nervous of activities, the first date prep.

Roll on "Niles", the world's most successful spin-off of a spin-off :D

Sebastian said...

Best... Guestblogger... Ever!

jose said...

After a late night in the writer's, about how much turnaround time would you guys get before having to come back for the next work day?


- Jose

Joe Janes said...

Thanks for giving us some background on this scene. I concur with others that Niles trying to iron his pants is comedy perfection. I often use it in writing classes as a prime example of a "Simple, But Impossible Task" scene. Can you give us some insight into the development of that scene. What the heck did it look like on paper and how well did it go over at the table read? Did it change much going from page to camera? Thanks!

D. McEwan said...

I think my favorite DHP scene in Frasier is the episode where Marty plays gay only to find himself set up with Brian Bedford, so he passes Niles off as his boyfriend. I had taped it since I was out during the broadcast. I had to run Niles's scene three times before I could move on because his takes were so hilarious.

One of the funniest things I ever heard him say was on Letterman once. DHP had been on a vacation, and he told Letterman he'd gone to a nude beach, and his dick (he used a different term of course) had gotten sunburned because he couldn't figure out a way to put sunscreen lotion on it without getting arrested.

My late mother was a huge DHP fan, and when I showed her the clip of DHP telling that story, I thought she would explode. She laughed so hard she couldn't breathe.

jbryant said...

DHP is a genius.

Doug: You are the last person on earth I'd expect to have "sword phobia," if you know what I mean. :)

Rimshot.

kyle said...

When and where was the link to ask our question? That totally sucks... Tremendous Frasier and DHP fan, and was interested to know what HIS favorite episode was...

Mine was SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMEONE BLUE 2-PARTER when Niles finally goes for broke and confesses his love for Daphne on the eve of her wedding...

What was ya'lls favorite??

Lairbo said...

You (David Hyde Pierce, Ken Levine, several others) may already know that in his comedy screenwriting workshop, Robert McKee uses Niles' Date prep/Ironing Fire scene as an example of exceedingly well done physical comedy from someone better known for his verbal comedic skills.

Also, I recently enjoyed DHP in Accent on Youth.

Anonymous said...

Funny that Sherry should use the phrase "the powers that be" in her comment. I remember seeing David Hyde Pierce on the TV series "The Powers That Be" (John Forsythe was in it) playing a constantly suicidal character, and I remember then how hysterical he was, and thinking he was far too talented for that short-lived show.

SharoneRosen said...

Brilliant! Kudos all around!!! Sherry Spiegle mentioned "the Powers that Be." I thought you were going to say something about the sitcom of that name that DHP was in before Frazier. It was a good show, but he was a stand-out in it!!!!

Doug, sword play.. who knew?

WV:Tablexci- beneath the table cloth groping in a public place

Alyson said...

Hey, awesome! Thanks for answering my question! I totally wasn't expecting an answer straight from the source. What a great way to start the day. Thanks, Ken!

Edward Copeland said...

Is this also where we ask our questions for future answers? (I've been reading awhile, but haven't really asked.) Where oh where has Cheers gone? It used to be pervasive in syndication and on TVLand and was one of my favorite pieces of television comfort food. Now, it seems to have vanished, at least from my television universe. I could go on a rant about how TVLand has destroyed itself, but I'll refrain. I'd just like to have Cheers reruns back, especially when I can't get to sleep easily and want to find something worth watching.

Michael Green said...

My wife and I also saw DHP in "Spamalot," and whether or not he realized it--he probably did--in the opening scene as a guard he did one of the great Stan Laurel impressions ever.

I will always think of the episode in which Frasier has sex with the station manager, it goes out over the air, and Niles crashes his Mercedes Benz. The scene is classic for the take, followed by the air bag opening and they go to commercial with him flailing behind the wheel. I also think the tango episode was incredible. And I'll say a word for the episode in which Niles misses Maris and gets a dog, a whippet, and Frasier and Marty insist that it looks like Maris. When Niles denies it, they put a fez on the dog's head and the way DHP said, "Oh ... my ... God!" was priceless. As was so much of what they did on that show.

Kevin M said...

The other thing I like about the fencing scene is the hilarious three way translation from English to Spanish to German and then back.

I have another Fraiser question. In the gag scenes that run with the credits, did the writers provide dialog, or did they just outline the gag and let the actors provide their own dialog?

Linda said...

I very rarely buy TV series on DVD because of the cost involved relative to the time spent watching the series. But I am acquiring "Frasier" (rather slowly - up to season 4 right now) even though I watch it on Lifetime. It is brilliantly written and performed. I put it in the class with "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and there is no higher praise I can give.

I'm an opera lover and the numerous opera references (and skewering of opera fans) are hilarious. The Metropolitan Opera's website has a posting area called Standing Room and not too long ago a bunch of us had a thread dedicated to "Frazier's" operaisms.

samuelsmiller said...

Thanks DHP! What a cool answer to the question.

The script for this episode is in the collected FRASIER script book available in book stores. It's a joy to read, especially with all the foreign language jokes. I'd be interested in any analysis of the script about why it works so well.

Jen - Script Supervisor said...

I still remember a gag from "The Powers That Be" where DHP's character, gets up on a bench, puts the drapery pull cord around his neck and jumps to hang himself ... and the curtains opened.

DC Man said...

Thanks for posting this scene. It's my favorite of the series!

A_Homer said...

I don't know if this is where to post questions or not for DHP - but I would like to ask about how the overall acting style was conceived -- especially Frasier and Niles, whose dialogs would often develop into something more full-body, slapstick, stage-like (almost over-the-top) in expression. I appreciated the range on Frasier, including the delivery of good set-ups or punch-lines like so many sitcoms do. So was this shift to a more 'stage-like' style between Frasier and Niles arrived at as the actors developed their characters and repartee, or was it included in the concept from the beginning?

Andy Ihnatko said...

Is there a special vibe to choosing the final episode of a season? Or is it generally just another episode on the production schedule? I've seen the "end on a summer cliffhanger" kind, the "we better cover our butts in case the show's canceled" kind, and then there's my favorite...the kind where it seems like the producers want to sum up what that season was all about.

("Frasier"'s first-season ender remains one of my fave episodes of TV. A half hour as Frasier orbits the question "Are you happy?", with every other character dips in and out.)

M.A.Peel said...

My favorite episode of all-time is Room Service (where Niles sleeps with Lilith). I love it all--particularly that the titles cards echo O'Neill plays--but especially the way DHP says "We're an odd little family aren't we."

Louise said...

"An Affair to Forget" is an absolute classic and an episode our family return to again and again. Wonderful physical comedy from David Hyde Pierce and some unforgettable lines.

Niles: "En garde!"

Frasier: "Oh yes, Niles, that's just what we need, a fourth language!"

Thanks so much to David for answering the fencing question. Loved you in "Curtains" and that funny and wistful gem "Accent on Youth".

Alice said...

¿Irresistible? Says Frasier

I'm still laughing, OMG