Sometimes doing an interview can be a more informative experience than I realize. When I interviewed Steppenwolf ensemble member and out gay actor K. Todd Freeman, I brought him a copy of the Oct. 1, 2003 issue of Windy City Times, so that he could read some of my interviews. When he saw the photo of Meshell Ndegeocello on the cover and I mentioned that I had interviewed her, he talked about how much he liked her music. He also told me that Ndegeocello appeared with him in the Wim Wenders movie The End Of Violence. I love when I learn something new.
Below are some of the other things I learned from Mr. Freeman.
Gregg Shapiro: At the center of Topdog/Underdog is the complicated relationship between two brothers. Do you have any siblings?
K. Todd Freeman: I have two older sisters.
GS: How do you get along with them?
KTF: We get along fine.
GS: I'm asking because I was trying to imagine how someone who was an only child would be able to understand the complexities of a relationship such as the one between Booth and Lincoln.
KTF: You have to know siblings. It could be played, but you have to know siblings.
GS: Like many siblings, Booth and Lincoln have differing versions of childhood memories. Do you find that your childhood memories are in alignment with those of your sisters or that you have your own?
KTF: I think it's both. I think that there are some memories that are shared exactly and then I think that there are some memories that are skewed from what you wanted to believe and what you were allowed to know at the time, depending on how old you are and what was involved and your interpretation of events. I think it's fifty-fifty.
GS: The subject of names comes up in the play when Lincoln tells Booth that they named them as a joke. As an actor and someone whose name is your calling card, do you use your birth name or have you taken a stage name?
KTF: This is my real name. I had to use my middle name because there was another Kenneth Freeman in the union before I joined. It's still the name I was born with. I haven't adopted another persona with K. Todd.
GS: While watching Topdog/Underdog, I noticed some of the audience members following Lincoln and Booth's hands when they were tossing the cards in the Three Card Monty, and their heads were moving with your hands like they were mesmerized. Have you ever been caught up in a game of Three-Card Monty?
KTF: I used to live in New York and those guys were around Times Square years ago. I would watch them, but I never played because I knew better than to actually play. I was here doing a play a few months agoit was July 4thand I was on the train going up north. Some guys came on board with bottle caps and a pea, and they were doing that. It was kind of shocking that they got everybody on the train playing and giving them money and thinking that they could win. I only had one stop to go from where they got on and I just sat hating that I had to get off because I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe that people were buying into it! I was like, 'Oh my God, you idiots!' They were just laying out money almost immediately. I see it all the time. These guys make a lot of money.
GS: What kind of pressure does it put on you, as an actor, when you are stepping into a role in a play that was honored with something as prestigious as a Pulitzer Prize? Does that turn things up a notch?
KTF: Yes and no. I can't necessarily say it does. A lot of times you do plays that are new. A lot of times you might do Shakespeare, which has been done a billion times before and has a lot going behind it. This play is hot right now. Everyone is doing it all over the country and it's got a lot of word of mouth. I don't think it's any different than doing Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, because everyone wants to see how you're going to do that. There are pressuresslightly differentbut they're all sort of the same pressures that you get.
GS: Would you rather be the person who originates a role?
KTF: I love doing new plays. I love being the first one to do that sort of thing. And yet again, I love recreating something to see what else I can bring ( to it ) . It's six of one, half dozen of the other. But, I do love doing new playsthat's probably my favorite thing.
GS: In addition to your stage work, you also have an impressive film and television resume'. Are there any upcoming roles that we should be watching for?
KTF: Not that's coming out now. It's been a while since I've been in L.A. I've been doing a lot of theater. Everything that I've done is out of the can now ( laughs ) .
GS: Which presents more of a challenge for you as a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble: being African-American or being openly gay?
KTF: The gay thing doesn't matter. As far as being African-American, it's just finding roles and projects to be in.
Topdog/Underdog, thru Nov. 2, Steppenwolf, ( 312 ) 335-1650.