JANUARY 31, 2016 LAST UPDATED: SUNDAY, JANUARY 31, 2016, 1:21 AM
BY ROBERT FELDBERG
RECORD COLUMNIST |
Tony-winning actor Robert Sean Leonard is experiencing not one, but two homecomings.
The more literal is his return from California – where he played Dr. James Wilson in eight seasons of “House” — to Ridgewood, where he was raised.
“My brother, who’s a cop in Ho-Ho-Kus, called about two years ago to tell me that he heard that this lovely old Victorian house near where we grew up was for sale. So I just called the owners, cold, and asked if they were thinking of moving,” Leonard said, with a brief look of mortification on his face as he recalled his audacity. “They said they weren’t, but I told them that if they ever did want to sell, to give me a call.”
A year ago they did, and last month Leonard, his wife Gabriella and their two daughters, Eleanor, 7, and Claudia, 3, moved in.
In the midst of unpacking boxes, though, Leonard was often absent, because of his other homecoming – his first role on the New York stage since returning from Los Angeles.
He’s appearing in “Prodigal Son,” which was written and is being directed by John Patrick Shanley, the author of “Doubt.” Now in previews, the drama opens Feb. 9 at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s off-Broadway space at the New York City Center.
With a kind of full-circle neatness, Leonard, whose breakout role was a prep-school student in the 1989 film “Dead Poets Society,” portrays a prep-school teacher in the play, which is based on Shanley’s own experience as a working-class Bronx boy attending a New England private school.
“I was told that Shanley was interested in me,” Leonard said. “I read the script and I liked it; it’s a very unique play, very surprising. Kind of like a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode.”
Leonard, who started out as a child actor, is known for his enthusiasm for stage acting, and he’s built an impressive list of Broadway successes.
He made his debut replacing Matthew Broderick in Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” and his subsequent plays have included “Arcadia,” “The Iceman Cometh,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and “The Invention of Love,” for which he won his Tony. During a break from “House,” he came to New York to do “Born Yesterday.”
Many of the plays he’s done, on Broadway and elsewhere, are revivals of classics, which, he said, made “Prodigal Son” a different kind of challenge.
“Working with an author who’s breathing is an unusual experience for me,” he said,
At 46, Leonard still has an enormously engaging boy-next-door quality. He’s unstintingly praising of other actors, enthusiastic, good-humored and unassuming — he kept apologizing for being late for our interview at the theater (he hadn’t seen the message moving the start time up a half-hour), and he good-naturedly posed for a photographer right after walking in, without even a glance at a mirror.