The forthcoming play, Lombardi, will begin previews Sept. 23 at Circle in the Square Theatre in advance of its Oct. 21 opening. One of the key factors in the play is the great level of detail that goes into each actor's role. As Director Thomas Kail said recently, "We just want to get it right."
However, for all that realism, the one character who pulls all the powerful personalities together isn't real at all. He is the only fictional character in the play, a young journalist from New Jersey named Michael McCormick, who is dispatched to Green Bay by the now-defunct, but then very popular Look Magazine to write a profile on the coach and those around him. It is Michael who the audience will learn from and who will be able to extract the stories from Vince, Marie and the three players, and who will ultimately weave it all together.
The job of bringing Michael to life falls to New Yorker Keith Nobbs. A young veteran actor of both television and the theater, Nobbs is a diehard Knicks and tennis fan who has thrown himself into the role of sportswriter to bring Michael to life and unite the characters. You can see young Michael on the Lombardi website in a new commercial and learn more about the play at lombardibroadway.com. We caught up with Nobbs this week to understand more about the role and the value it brings to the show.
PRC: The young journalist of today is certainly different from a person starting out in the 1960s; how does one prepare for such a role?
Nobbs: My character, Michael McCormick, is a sports journalist for LOOK magazine in 1965. It helped a lot to read some of the great older sports writers: Grantland Rice, W.C. Heinz, Tim Cohane and Ring Lardner. They wrote in a style that had a poetic, mythic element to it -- the metaphor of sport-a-man-challenging-man (and himself) was very clear in their pieces. That helped give me a sense of the kind of writer my character would have been.
PRC: You are the only fictional character in the play, but arguably the character who pulls all the strong personalities together. How does it feel to be on stage with the Lombardi family and three iconic players?
Nobbs: The play by Eric Simonson is based on an incredible book called When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss. Both David and Eric made sure that all the facts checked out so what we are given on stage is an artist's best interpretation of history as it actually happened. My character gets to witness what happens when Lombardi the coach comes home and becomes Vince the husband/father. Watching Dan Lauria and Judith Light (who play Vince and Marie Lombardi) play this beautiful, human relationship is like a scene study class for me.
PRC: What can Michael McCormick do or say to young people looking to work as journalists today? Are there common lessons?
Nobbs: David Maraniss gave me a great piece of advice as a journalist: Never sit down with a subject of yours until you know more about that person than he knows about himself. Michael is a character who is trying to tell the truth with compassion. It seems to me, a lot of present day journalism is much more interested in the "what" of a story and less interested in the "why" and "how." I think we need writers who have the empathetic curiosity to ask the "why" and "how."
PRC: We understand that you are quite a hoops fan. How would Michael feel about covering the Knicks and Nets here in New York today?
Nobbs: Michael would say it's been a long, dark path. But we've been earning up some good karma so let's hope payday comes soon. Let's go Amar'e!! (That's me- not Michael).
PRC: Any favorite players or games you remember growing up?
Nobbs: I moved to New York from Houston during the '94 finals between the Knicks and the Rockets. That team -- Ewing, Starks -- that's how I like to remember the Knicks. Ahh memories..
PRC: Dan Lauria has talked about this play being one that inspires people to be the best they can be. How can Michael achieve that for those seeing the play?
Nobbs: Michael is a writer who doesn't quite know where he stands. His father was a sports writer and he followed in his dad's footsteps even though they didn't have the best relationship. Vince pushes Michael -- as Vince did with all his players -- to be the best he can be. Michael at first only hears criticism (the voice of his father) but then stands up for himself and finds himself throughout the play. He is the only character in the play that transforms himself -- and it is because of Vince. So many people thought Vince was merciless but all he really wanted was for each person to reach his potential.
PRC: Have you met or spoken with many journalists?
Nobbs: It's been great to meet writers who are working in this field presently- David of course, and Richard Sandomir from the New York Times. Bob Ahrens who runs the Fordham University sports radio station. All of the sports writers I've noticed have a great sense of history and the legacies of the past. When they get going talking about a game or a player, I see the kid in each of them come out.
PRC: Do you have any favorite sports writers and do you follow the local sports scene today?
Nobbs: I like Mike Lupica from the Daily News. He writes a series of young adult sports books that are great, The Comeback Kids series. I do a lot of audiobook recordings, and I've actually done a few of his.
PRC: You went to LaGuardia High School. Did you play sports at all, and if so which sports?
Nobbs: LaGuardia, the High School of Performing Arts here in New York, was not, as you can imagine, the most sports-focused school. It's not because the students were not so inclined but with academics and studio classes, there just wasn't a lot of extra time. I do remember us having a pretty fearsome bowling team. Oh yeah. Watch out.
PRC: What is the single biggest thing you have learned about the Lombardi story thus far?
Nobbs: The cost of that drive. The play looks at the man, his successes, his uplifting effect on other people, but it also looks clear-eyed at the cost of pushing yourself that hard. In many ways, Marie was left alone during football season to raise the kids. He barely ever made it to his son Vincent's games. Lombardi died at 57 from stomach cancer. So, on one hand an American icon. A hero. one of the most inspiring figures from the last century. On the other hand, you have a man who made mistakes and didn't know how or when to stop.
PRC: What have you drawn from other roles that help you create the Michael character?
Nobbs: Every character brings up experiences from your life that live in the person you are playing. One great actor said that "Acting is not about the courage to be the character, but the courage to let the character be you." It's all in there; it's our job just to get out of the way.