Actor Robert Joy returns to his roots, reuniting with Greg Malone and Andy Jones to take on the delectable role of Tartuffe, revealing the draw of this city while reflecting on the comedic ties that forever bind him to this place.
Robert Joy casually slips into a chair in the upper lobby of the Arts and Culture Centre. Obviously feeling at home, he runs his fingers through his hair and chuckles when an earlier film role is brought back to the forefront; Desperately Seeking Susan.
“The ’80s; that’s a while ago,” he says smiling widely, reflecting on his early encounters with the Material Girl herself, Madonna. “She wasn’t a huge deal then. When we shot the movie she’d only had one song on the radio at the time. Holiday I think, but by the time the movie came out she had a couple of hits. It was amazing to shoot that movie in the midst of her ascension to stardom. The star of the movie was not Madonna. The star of the movie was Patricia Arquette. But by the time the movie was being released it was called the Madonna movie.”
Madonna and Joy travelled back and forth to the set together, he recalls. “It wasn’t a big budget movie, so we’d be picked up in this station wagon. I’d be picked up on 44th Street and then we’d pick up Madonna at the Apple Health Club on 56th Street and then we’d go shoot the Magic Club scenes which we shot up in Harlem. There was no diva then.”
But Joy has worked with the best in the business. In Fallen, Joy acted alongside Denzel Washington, Donald Sutherland, James Gandolfini, and John Goodman. In 2005, he had a lead role as the simple-minded sharpshooter Charlie Houx in George A. Romero’s zombie movie Land of the Dead. His role in Ragtime saw him share screen time with James Cagney, Mandy Patinkin, Debbie Allen, and Samuel L. Jackson, to name a few.
Nice to Come Home
‘‘My commercial film career started with a film with Burt Lancaster which was like I was reaching back to the mega stars of my parent’s generation; like James Cagney. I just couldn’t believe I was having these opportunities let alone I was getting to act with these people in the same scene.”
While Joy’s home is now in L.A., his theatre work brings him to New York more often, though a yearly visit back to this province is always a must. Joy says while it’s always nice to come home, the real attraction is the work, like his current role in Andy Jones’ adaptation of Tartuffe.
‘‘The draw of coming here is usually the excitement of the work. I don’t come back just to be here, though this place is a big draw as St. John’s is my favourite city in the world and Newfoundland and Labrador my favourite region in the world. But the work gets me back here. A role like this, in Tartuffe, in Andy Jones’ adaptation, is an opportunity I wouldn’t get anywhere else. And I get a chance to perform, in person, for people from my home. I’ve done a lot of theatre since the end of CSI New York and I love it but the frustration is it doesn’t reach family and friends. That’s an extra appeal in doing theatre here.”
Joy ponders how things have changed over the course of his career and how his CODCO roots helped.
“The business of acting these days is different. My days of acting here in Newfoundland helped me tremendously because I had a perspective on it where I felt like I didn’t need the structure of New York to prosper. I already approached New York with a certain amount of confidence. But then I was very lucky. I went to New York with a job. In the current climate in the acting world, if you stay here, and work with the most creative people who are here, and create your own content, because of the Internet, you have an opportunity to have control and you can get that feeling of; I’m in charge of my destiny. Then, if you do go and plug yourself in to a much bigger corporate model you won’t be as intimidated. From holding auditions to getting behind the camera, you wear many hats. You understand better the context. You know how it feels. You don’t feel intimidated.”
Speaking of intimidation, sitting next to Dr Sid Hammerback of CSI New York fame is a little off-putting. He laughs. “What a great role. What a great opportunity. It was the longest running role I’d ever done and it was life changing for me. And not just because I got to do my work for a much larger audience all around the world but for much more practical reasons, namely financial. I was able to save enough so that now I can do the work I want to do instead of thinking; I have to take this role, or that role, because I need to. It’s for the love.”
Which brings us back to Tartuffe and being reunited with Andy and Greg Malone. “It is fabulous to work together again. I haven’t been on stage with Greg for maybe 40 years. Andy will be coming on the tour with us. The whole idea that I’ll be travelling around on this bus with Andy and Greg and all these new friends is heavenly and it does feel like we are reaching back to a certain energy that we brought to our comedy back then.”
Out On A Limb
Does Joy realize the comedic impact CODCO had? He shakes his head. We’re from a long line of comedians who came before, he shares. “It didn’t feel like we were the first to do anything because there were the likes of Ted Russell and a long tradition of comedy in Newfoundland and the sense of humour goes back to those rhyming recitations and songs. Look at Johnny Burke and the Kelligrews Soiree. Those things were funny and we tapped into that and we had a willingness to go right out on a limb to be funny.”
Back 45 years or so ago, something extraordinary was happening. “Figgy Duff was part of it. The Mummers were part of it. CODCO was part of it. In the early ’70s, there was a sense of a whole generation shaking off a feeling of being Canada’s poor relation and we shook off a feeling of being condescended to. Because we felt, or I felt at the time, that we were in a unique position globally. We could take influences from everywhere. We were growing up reading Russian novels and American novels and listening to British comedy and we were not trapped in any particular cubby-hole. It’s extraordinary. When you go to New York, it’s limited and has it’s own cubby-hole. We were not limited. There were no expectations. We could be anything. We had the best of everything. There’s a certain arrogance to that; we said, let’s be bold and see what happens. And we were encouraged. It’s very gratifying. I don’t take credit for anything, but there was a tradition we jumped off from and we now have a very strong entertainment culture here and everyone in Canada knows it.”
Joy is thrilled to be taking Tartuffe across the island, though he admits he wishes the scope was larger.
“I wish the tour were longer. We are putting off a real exciting show and I’d like to take it across the whole country. And take it beyond because the themes in this show are so universal and when we light the Newfoundland fire under these themes we are making something that I think is world class and anyone anywhere in the world where religion is a big deal and people would be willing to look at the comedic side of it would think it would be great.”
Off to Washington
When Joy is finished with his Newfoundland work, he heads off to Washington, D.C. to act in Hamlet, something he’s looking forward to. He’s also excited for the upcoming release of another film he acted in that was shot here, Crown and Anchor staring Michael Rowe, best known for his portrayal of DC Comics’ antihero Deadshot. “This province has given me my start really, and it keeps giving. It’s a very exciting place to say you’re from and to keep returning to.”
‘Tartuffe’ is directed by Jillian Keiley and tours areas of the province from until October 14. For more visit artsandculturecentre.com.