John O’Hurley Talks Playing J. Peterman on ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Fantasticks’ [VIDEO EXCLUSIVE]
John O’Hurley walks briskly into the office from the cold New York air. Luckily, he was keeping warm in his sophisticated blue peacoat. Fans of the iconic sitcom Seinfeld will remember the eccentric, and prose-prone J. Peterman, a parody of real-life J. Peterman Company founder, John Peterman. O’Hurley, who currently plays El Gallo in an off-Broadway revival of The Fantasticks, sat down with uInterview to talk about playing the offbeat character.
JOHN O’HURLEY ON SEINFELD’S J. PETERMAN [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO]
O’Hurley revealed his J. Peterman initially had nothing to do with the actual person. In fact, he hadn’t even met him until long after he began the role. “They [casting] handed me a J. Peterman catalog and they said, “We just want him to sound the way the catalog is written,” he said. “And so this prose is just dripping off his tongue. With a size, a price, and an availability for each.” Looking at the catalog, O’Hurley recalled finding the overall concept bizarre, which featured several watercolor drawings of products and elaborate stories written in “Hemingway” style. “There was a story that went along with it, but it was like you were climbing K2 in your Oxford button down, you know, it was just really, really strange.”
The actor ultimately settled on an impression that was a blend between 1940s radio hosts and a “bad Charles Kuralt.”‘He was a legend in his own mind,” O’Hurley joked. Somewhat ironically, the actor now serves on the board of directors for the very same company he parodied.
O’Hurley also had the opportunity as J. Peterman to work alongside comedy greats Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. On Seinfeld, he referred to the show creator as just another guy from the neighborhood. “Jerry [Seinfeld] would just sit in the background with his hands in his pockets, or a bowl of cereal in his hands, and he would always look like a tourist on set,” O’Hurley said.”He was very gracious in terms of creating an atmosphere where everybody felt comfortable, to explore, and to create…so it was always a safe place to perform.”
JOHN O’HURLEY ON JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS
Of course, O’Hurley spent a great deal of time with Dreyfus, whose character Elaine worked for J. Peterman and frequently landed herself in hot water with her bizarre boss. “It was kind of a surreal version of Lou Grant [Ed Asner] and Mary Tyler Moore,” he joked. “She [Elaine] was always the consummate victim in the workplace, and Peterman showed absolutely no sensitivity to anything else other than the legend in his own mind.” O’Hurley gushed about Dreyfus, recalling her comedic skills both through dialogue and physicality. “She’s [Julia Louis-Dreyfus] one of the most…I can’t say I’ve worked with a funnier comedian in my career,” he said. “Not only from the standpoint of what she can do with what she says, but the way she commits her entire body to the joke.”
Besides acting on stage, which O’Hurley does often, his voice is likely familiar to fans of Fineas & Ferb and Spongebob Squarepants; he voices King Neptune on the latter. “I try to fill up my menu of children’s programming as much as I can because I believe in it so strongly, and like to have good stuff for kids to watch.”
Catch O’Hurley on a limited run with The Fantastiks off-Broadway through Jan. 1.
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