A conversation with actor

A&E: So what is Nero up to now?

MAURY CHAYKIN: Well, two of the episodes are entitled Wolfe Goes Out, which is most uncharacteristic for this man because he's agoraphobic -- which means that he's afraid to go out. The reasons for him going out are most interesting. First, his orchids are dying, because his orchid man is out and can not take care of them. Wolfe is absolutely passionate about his orchids, so it's really the only thing that would actually get him to leave his home.
Second, what gets him out is the possibility that Archie claims that he's getting married, that he's going to be quitting his job and leaving. To me, this is most upsetting and disturbing. So Wolfe disguises himself as Santa Claus at the engagement party, just to see who this woman is, who has lassoed Archie into marrying him.

A&E: So is there another crime in the making there?

MC: Well, of course, a person dies. Batch of cyanide poisoning in his Pernod [French liquor].

A&E: Describe the relationship between Nero and Archie. Why do you think it would be so upsetting for Nero to lose Archie?

MC: It's very much a codependent relationship between them. I think it would be very difficult for Wolfe to adjust to being without Archie, not to have someone to abuse, not to have someone to care for him. I think he cares for a few people, and they are the people in his home, who he makes part of his life. But he's paying all of them, they're all employees. I think there's love there, but it's not demonstrative at all.

A&E: Does your approach differ in any way, now that Nero Wolfe is a series, as opposed to a two-hour movie?

MC: Oh, it's very different. We had a few months prep time for Golden Spiders, the A&E movie we did last year. There's time to really scrutinize and familiarize ourselves with the scripts. Once you get into a series situation, it goes from one episode to another. Sometimes you don't even have the next script until a few days before you start shooting it. For the amount of dialogue and complexity of the language of my character -- and Archie has voluminous amounts of dialogue as well -- it's very onerous.

A&E: Nero is a very singular character, very eccentric. Where did you come up with this guy?

MC: Well, Rex Stout came up with him. I don't think this character is very close to me other than the fact that he's stubborn, crotchety, and brilliant. Verbose I'm not. That's the main challenge because, other than in interviews, I'm a person of few words.

A&E: What is it like working with Tim Hutton? You have worked with Tim as an actor, and now as a director. What's that like?

MC: Well, he's very mean to me. Very dismissive and cool and cruel. (Laughs) No, Tim is amazing. I don't know how he's doing it. He just has an enormous amount of positive energy and intelligence he brings to his directing and his acting at the same time. Honestly, I'm in awe of what he's doing. We have to get along very well, and we do. Thank God, because otherwise it would be kind of a difficult situation. I have a tremendous amount of respect for his talent as an actor and now as a director. It's amazing.

A&E: With the new series, there's the opportunity for the characters to evolve. Are there aspects to the character that you now feel more free to bring along?

MC: Well, particularly with Wolfe going out, because it reveals his passion— when he's in the office and solving murders and stuff like that, that is not his passion. To support his lifestyle, he must make a living. He makes very high fees. This whole detective thing is a talent that he has that he capitalizes on to make money to support his lifestyle. He would prefer to spend time with his orchids all day, and to read books and eat.

A&E: What makes him such a good detective?

MC: I guess his observation of men. And he relies a lot on Archie (Laughs) for his observations on women. After interviewing a woman, Nero has absolutely no concept of whether to trust her or not, and he implicitly mistrusts women because they are subject to the whim of their emotion, which is most uncomfortable to him. When he's in the presence of a woman, he's very, very nervous that she's going to start crying or becoming emotional. He can't deal with it.

A&E: What have you found is the most challenging or difficult thing about coming back to the character?

MC: I'll tell you, the most challenging thing for me is the language, because it's like no one I've ever heard speak.

A&E: And the most rewarding?

MC: I'm sure when you speak to Tim, he'll tell you that one of the things that's most satisfying and exciting to him too, is the crew and the repertory company of actors that we have developed over the last few months. Some of the finest actors in the U.S. and in North America are in each episode, and playing different roles. It's wonderful. They have an opportunity to morph into completely different actors every week. - Nero Wolfe

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