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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Among America's most loved Broadway musicals, "Guys and Dolls" is right up there at the top. It's a Depression-era Manhattan tale of wise guys and the women who love them. The story revolves around Nathan Detroit, a fast-talking, down on his luck gambler who runs the oldest established, permanent floating craps game in New York. It's a role that's attracted some of Broadway's biggest stars: Nathan Lane.

(Soundbite of song, "Sue Me")

Mr. NATHAN LANE (Actor): (as Nathan Detroit) (singing) Call a lawyer and sue me, sue me, what can you do me?

NORRIS: Robert Guillaume.

(Soundbite of song, "Sue Me")

Mr. ROBERT GUILLAUME (Actor): (as Nathan Detroit) (singing) Give a holler and hate me, hate me, go ahead hate me…

NORRIS: And of course, Frank Sinatra.

(Soundbite of song, "Sue Me")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA (Actor) (as Nathan Detroit) (singing) All right already, I'm just a no goodnick, all right already, it's true. So new. So sue me, sue me, what can you do me?

NORRIS: Broadway's love affair with "Guys and Dolls" continues this spring with the new revival at the Nederlander Theatre and this time the character actor Oliver Platt is stepping into the lead role.

(Soundbite of song, "Sue Me")

Mr. OLIVER PLATT (Actor): (as Nathan Detroit) (singing) Call a lawyer and sue me, sue me, what can you do me? I love you.

NORRIS: Platt made his name in Hollywood with film as varied as "Flatliners" and "Frost/Nixon," and on TV in series like "Nip/Tuck." We sat down with Platt in his cramped dressing room after a matinee performance. Platt says he purposely avoided studying how other actors had played Nathan Detroit.

Mr. PLATT: That's precisely the kind of actor I'm not. I assiduously avoid, you know, anything like that, so I mean, if I walk into a room and you know my kids - my kids love the movie of "Guys and Dolls" and I've never seen it. I've just…

NORRIS: You really have never seen Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando…

Mr. PLATT: Never seen it. No.

NORRIS: … never seen it? Really?

Mr. PLATT: And now I really want to, you know, and I can't wait until this is all over to watch it but I'm just - it's not just for very simple reasons, you don't - you know, you want to kind of want do your own thing and figure out your own - because stuff can sneak in and when you don't even know what's happening, you know.

NORRIS: But you were you aware, certainly, that other people were going to compare your performance or at least think about the previous Nathan Detroits…

Mr. PLATT: All the greater reason to try and protect my own take on it.

(Soundbite of movie, "Guys and Dolls")

Unidentified Group (Actors): (Singing) If we only had a lousy little grand, we could be a millionaire, that's good old reliable Nathan, Nathan, Nathan, Nathan Detroit. If the size of your bundle you want to increase, He'll arrange that you go broke in quiet and peace. In a hideout provided by Nathan…

NORRIS: There's something wonderful about the Damon Runyon's dialogue.

Mr. PLATT: Yeah.

NORRIS: And "Guys and Dolls" is based on Damon Runyon's short stories.

Mr. PLATT: Right.

NORRIS: Do you find yourself even when you're off stage, talking to your wife, talking to your kids, slipping into this kind of dialogue?

Mr. PLATT: I've been talking - it's funny - somebody just said that the other day - one of our - my wife said you know what's remarkable about the Runyon is how this guy from Kansas essentially came along and essentially created this New Yorkese, you know this patois, profoundly influential in terms of - I mean I realized my grandfather, you know, sounded like Damon Runyon in terms of like the use of the present tense, the long, you know, the sensationally endless run-on sentences with all the dependent clauses and this and that and the other thing, and I just marveled at how influential this guy was who wasn't even a New Yorker.

NORRIS: So when you are slipping into the Runyonesque dialogue, when does that happen?

Mr. PLATT: I don't know. It's unconscious. It happens, you know - I think it's really smart to leave your work behind if you can.

NORRIS: Can you do that still?

Mr. PLATT: I think you can try and it's healthy to try because, you know, eight times a week is a lot, so you need to save the "Guys and Dolls" for when you're doing the "Guys and Dolls."

NORRIS: When they approached you about this role, what was your reaction?

Mr. PLATT: A strange mixture of, you know, terror and delight. You know, God knows its one of the great American musicals. And that's both a wonderful thing and a very daunting thing, you know, because there's all sorts of famous productions that have come before and - but you know, you also think boy, the reason it's a classic, is that it can hold up to a lot of different interpretations and you know - but it's not easy. This hasn't been easy - very challenging, I mean, all I would say is get too cute or ironic with this material at your absolute peril because that's part of the appeal of like, you know, of doing a classic in a way is you can say, oh I've, you know, I'm going to - I'm going to do my thing and you've got to be very careful about doing your thing with this, with this material.

NORRIS: That must be difficult for you because you, in acting for films, if I understand, do a lot of improvisational work, I mean, there's a lot of experimentation you try - something with one take try it again with another take.

Mr. PLATT: Yeah, I think that the - that medium is very much more given over to that and I find myself drawn to people who like to work that way. But then that's also part of the challenge of doing a classic is that you can't do that, so you have to use - you have to utilize - because in a weird way that's almost a lazy man's - you know, oh I can't make this work, I'll change it, you know, you can't do it that with this material, so you need to really harness all of your - lay out like a different part and activate a different part of your imagination and you know your instrument, if you will.

NORRIS: And how does the character that you're playing evolve - I'm wondering who is the Nathan Detroit that you met on the script when you first started to rehearse for this play and who did he become in the course of rehearsal?

Mr. PLATT: Well, you know he became less ornate and less silly and hopefully more of just a truthful creation. It's so easy to go, you know, musical comedy, "Guys and Dolls," da da da da da - just kidding folks, you know what I mean? But the beauty of this material is that that these stories are - I mean, Nathan Detroit to me and what I connect to him about, you know, today this is a guy who, you know, they won't take his marker any more, you know what I mean? They're not taking his check.

NORRIS: There are a lot of people are like that now and they...

Mr. PLATT: A lot of people are that way now in New York City and in this country. And this is a guy who is trying to make ends meet, you know, he's trying to - he's trying to - he's a striver you know, he's a classic American - he's just like an honest American trying to work, as far as he's concerned, you know. But the point is he's just trying to make ends meet, and he's having a hard time. But it's - I think it's a richer, it's a richer experience than people anticipate for precisely the reasons that you're talking about.

NORRIS: Oliver Platt thank you so much for spending time with us, for letting us spend time with you in your dressing room.

Mr. PLATT: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

NORRIS: Oliver Platt stars as Nathan Detroit in the newest Broadway revival of "Guys and Dolls." And to hear Nathan Detroit's overtime go to our Web site npr.org.

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