Mad Men actor gets theatre legs back at Belfry

What: Speed-the-Plow

Where: Belfry Theatre

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When: Opens tonight, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $23 to $48 (250 385 6815 or


Mad Men actor Brian Markinson says his Belfry Theatre debut has been a challenge.

It’s partly because his role is an unusually long one. And it’s partly because he hasn’t been on stage in five years.

In David Mamet’s 1988 play Speed-the-Plow, he plays Bobby Gould, a Hollywood movie honcho. In typical Mamet fashion, the satire yanks the audience through the underbelly of the American Dream. The would-be film moguls in Speed-the-Plow are desperate to succeed — but at what price?

Many attending the Belfry Theatre’s production (co-starring Vincent Gale and Celine Stubel) will recognize Markinson from his TV turns as Mad Men’s Dr. Arnold Rosen. He played a surgeon who buddied up with Don Draper — even though the caddish ad-man was covertly cavorting with his wife.

Brooklyn-born Markinson’s resumé also includes playing police chief Bill Jacobs on Da Vinci’s Inquest, appearing in Charlie Wilson’s War and playing roles in three Woody Allen flicks.

The 54-year-old maintains a booming television and film career. He has done plenty of theatre in the past, too. However, Markinson said a busy schedule kept him away from the stage for years.

At the Belfry, he’s getting his theatre legs back. The role is a real marathon. The character of Bobby Gould — whom Mamet takes for a mind-roasting psychological ride — is on stage the entire play.

Markinson’s friend Richard Schiff played the part last year, co-starring in a London revival of Speed-the-Plow with Lindsay Lohan.

“He told me it’s a bear of a run. You don’t leave the stage. It’s a big trek,” said Markinson, interviewed this week in the Belfry’s green room. “You really have to stay alive and breathe for 90 minutes. Which is a challenge.”

Still, the actor — an ebullient and energetic fellow — said he’s loving his return to theatre.

“If I could make the money in theatre I make doing TV and film, I would never do TV and film again.”

He’s pleased to be reunited with Gale, who helped him gain entry into Vancouver’s theatre scene after Markinson moved there with his family in 1999 (their collaborations include a Vancouver Playhouse production of Sam Shepard’s True West). As for Stubel, Markinson said: “I think she’s incredible.”

He graduated in 1983 from New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he met his wife. Markinson’s father (a chemical engineer) was a sales manager who sold high-altitude test chambers. His mother dreamed of being an actor, but never realized her ambition.

One of Markinson’s most memorable moments was trying out for Mad Men, an immensely popular series (an indication of its success: the sight of Don Draper regularly swigging Canadian Club was sufficient to rocket the brand’s sales).

Markinson said he auditioned for creator Matthew Weiner via Skype in an unorthodox outfit. He wore a jacket and tie ... but little else.

“I was in my kitchen wearing, basically, no pants,” he said.

“It empowered me a bit to know that was sort of putting one over on ‘the man.’ ”

Weiner was familiar with Markinson’s work from his roles in the Woody Allen films Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Small Time Crooks (2000) and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001).

Markinson said his audition for Sweet and Lowdown was also memorable. He was summoned to Allen’s offices on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Ahead of him was the actor Anthony LaPaglia, who entered the director’s room, then reappeared in the lobby 90 seconds later.

“I said: ‘How did that go?’ He said: ‘I haven’t the slightest.’ ” (In fact, LaPaglia did win a part in the film.)

Then it was Markinson’s turn.

“He said: ‘Brian, hi, hi, hi. I saw your tape. It was very promising, but I’d like to hear your voice.’ As I read, he’s walking around the room, in and out of shadows, literally going like this,” said Markinson, showing how Allen framed his fingers to replicate a camera’s viewfinder.

Five minutes later, it was over. Markinson, too, had passed the audition.

When it comes to directing, Allen is renowned for being economical with his remarks to actors. That said, Markinson does recall getting a few tips.

“He’d say: ‘Brian, that was great. But take the air out of it because the audience is composed largely of narcoleptics.’ That meant pick up the pace,” said the actor with a laugh.

“Or he’d say: ‘You know what was wrong with that take? Everything. So let’s do it again.’ ”

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