I knew character-actor extraordinaire Peter Gerety from his Baltimore days playing Detective Stu Gharty on the final two seasons of NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" (my all-time favorite TV show). Since "Homicide" went off the air in 1999, he's put together an incredible resume and has worked with virtually everyone in the biz in such movies as "Flight," "Syriana," "War of the Worlds," "Charlie Wilson's War," even "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." On TV, he's had recurring roles in everything from "The Wire" to "Ray Donovan."
His latest part is a rare leading role in "Working Man," now available on video on demand (VOD) and DVD. In it, Gerety plays Allery Parkes, a factory worker who continues to show up and do his job even after his beloved factory closes. For Allery, his job is his identity and the factory has been his escape from a terrible tragedy years earlier. His dogged determination to stay on the job inspires his co-workers, but confounds his wife (Talia Shire).
I won't spoil the ending. But I will say "Working Man" is a poignant, moving slow burn of a drama. And at age 80, the never-stop-working Gerety merges with his character in a way rarely seen on screen these days. It's a master class in acting. I hope you give his big performance in this small film a look-see. Before you do, please give my below interview with Peter Gerety a read:
TEDDY DURGIN: Peter, it's wonderful to see you in a lead role. I think it's a really strong piece of work. Did writer-director Robert Jury write Allery with you in mind, or did you have some serious competition for this great part?
PETER GERETY: You know, I don't know the answer to that question! You'll have to ask Bob Jury if there were other actors up for it. He once told me I was his first choice, but I think he was just being nice.
TD: Well, he made a great choice. You and Allery have had such different lives, but in what way did you identify with him?
PG: For one thing, I grew up in a real blue-collar, working class town. Providence, Rhode Island. Not just when I was growing up but when I returned to Providence -- as a young, 24-year-old actor who had gone to New York, but returned to work at [Trinity Repertory Company Theatre] for 17 years -- I was very aware of Providence being a town that had lost its economic engine. It had been a manufacturing town before I was born back in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. I think its textile industry was the first to go. Factory after factory went down South. When I was older, I became aware of the local jewelry industry that started shutting down.
My dad was a hard-working man who'd been in the Army during World War II. He was a blue-collar, working-class guy. I became very aware early on of the sense of foreboding that comes when jobs are threatened. It's like when you're on the ocean and you can see a tidal wave coming from a long way away. And there's this sense that you're going to get hit with it, it just hasn't happened yet. In Providence every couple of years, another factory would close. So, there was this fear that, "Maybe we're next." I think this feeling is in the movie that Robert Jury created. It's a fictitious town, but I think it strikes a lot of people that that community is like their community.
TD: Oh, for sure. And that's what makes "Working Man" SO timely a release for the times we're living in now, wouldn't you agree? People's livelihoods are being threatened across multiple industries, not just manufacturing.
PG: Right! "Am I going to be next?" And it's not just about paying the mortgage and putting food on the table. It's about "What is my sense of self? What is my identity? Who am I if I can't work?"
TD: A lot of people back in January never envisioned feeling that way.
PG: I was working back in January. I was working for Tom Fontana, who was the show-runner for "Homicide." I was guest-starring on his latest show, "City on the Hill," and I did one episode … the last episode, in fact. And I talked to Tom, and he said, "There's a good chance you'll be back in the next season." Well … there is no next season now! This is something I've done all of my life. My first acting job as a child was 1953.
PG: By 1960, I was a professional actor and I got really lucky. I was in the right place at the right time, and I became one of the most employed actors in America. I just never stopped. From 1962 on, I've just never been out of a job, which is rare, rare, rare. I did theatre for 25 years before I ever did a film. And I've just done nothing but work, all of my life. Then, suddenly we're in January 2020. And now we're in June, and I haven't worked at all! What the Hell do I do now?! And if I'm not working and I don't have an answer to "What the Hell do I do now?" then ... "Who am I?"
TD: Well, let me take you away from 2020 and back to 1976. You're in a movie theater along with the rest of the world watching Rocky Balboa fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. And you're seeing Talia Shire as Rocky Balboa's wife. Now, let's come back to 2019 and you're making a movie where--
PG: Where now she's MY wife!
TD: Yeah! Does that enter into your mind at all? How do you process something like that?
PG: I saw "Rocky." But I also saw "The Godfather!" And that series was like a lesson in acting and gorgeous writing. I'll watch that any day of the week. I never get tired of it. Other than every once in a while I see "The Godfather" on TV and I see Talia and I go, "Oh my God!" it's not something I think about. When we were working together, I never thought of that stuff once. That's because we had so much to talk about, and she's so much fun. She's endlessly fun and dear and smart as Hell.
There's a moment in "Working Man" where Billy Brown's character invites us over for dinner. So, we go over and Talia's character, Iola, is shy and nervous. She's like, "I don't know this guy. And my mother always told me not to trust people with beards!"
TD: Your next line is killer.
PG: Yeah. Five second pause, and then I ask, "What about Jesus?" It's not a knee-slapper, but it just amused Talia and me to no end. We were waiting out there for Bob to call "Action!" and that door to open and I noticed Talia suddenly seemed really nervous. And I asked, "Are you OK?" And she said, "Peter, I'm terrified. Every time just before the camera starts rolling, I'm terrified!" And I said, "Oh my God, Talia ... so am I!" It's true. All my life. Years of acting on stage before a single film -- and I've since done something like 70 movies and over 100 television episodes -- and every time before the camera goes on, I'm still scared to death! It was just wonderful that Talia was, too. And I know for me and for her, we both use that sense of nervousness or terror or whatever you want to call it to motor our performances. And you know what? In this case, that's what both our characters would be feeling, too.
TD: It's a movie where you do really come to root for this couple. And late in the film, to see them dancing again with each other ... it's quite charming.
PG: Let me tell you a quick story. Early in the film, there's a scene where Iola tells a neighbor that, back in the day, I used to be quite a dancer, that I had the moves, and she did not have the moves. Before we started filming, I'm at my home in upstate New York and I went to this little dance studio and I asked the dance teacher, "Could you just teach me a couple of moves?" So, he did.
Months later, we're filming that scene. I've had two back operations and my right hip has been replaced. It's now titanium. So I have a lot of balance issues. We get on the dance floor. And I now have the moves, right? This guy taught me a couple of moves in his studio. Talia does not have moves. She's not a good dancer. But she has balance! So, in that little movie moment of dance, you see that we're laughing. That's not Allery and Iola. That's Peter and Talia. We're laughing because I'm telling her what step we're going to do next ... and she's holding me up!
TD: How wonderful! Well, Peter, I am originally from Baltimore. So, I can't let you go without asking you at least one question about "Homicide: Life on the Street." It's my favorite all-time TV show. But it was heavy. Do you have any light or funny memories?
PG: I remember we were filming this one car chase scene. The bad guys were in a red truck, I think, and you know parts of Baltimore city -- I think we somewhere close to Fells Point -- have these old, narrow streets. And people still park on both sides of those streets. So, we filmed this chase down one of these streets ... and it was THE slowest car chase ever! [laughing] I think we maybe got up to 15 miles per hour!
TD: But I bet it looked great in the editing.
PG: Oh, "Homicide" always looked great in the editing!view sample | contact
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