Talking relationships and acting with Peter Story of "Men Are from Mars ... "
Though the idea of adapting the enormously popular 1992 book "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" may seem like an obvious choice, translating a book of relationship advice into a coherent piece of quality entertainment can be a rough road (just ask the movie "He's Just Not That Into You").
Peter Story, however, thinks they've pulled it off. The actor stars in the adaptation – coming to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on Friday-Saturday, March 14-15 – which combines the book's sage advice with laughs, stand-up comedy-style personal anecdotes and helpful animation. Before he hits the stage, however, we talked to Story about putting on a one-man show, his own personal relationship advice and – on an almost completely random note – working with Quentin Tarantino.
OnMilwaukee.com: How do you prep for a one-man show like this?
Peter Story: Very carefully (laughs). I had a lot of help from my wife Megan, god bless her. It's very hard to do on your own because you need someone to test you. And so Megan took several weeks with me to hear me do versions of the show off and on until I got it in my head. It took several weeks to get the whole thing in my brain.
OMC: What was the hardest part in the script for you to memorize?
PS: Well, I think the hardest part was just the sheer volume of it. I looked back on my career and tried to figure out what's the longest I had talked without being interrupted, either by someone else or another character. The longest I had ever done anything was when I had done stand-up comedy for a little while, I had done a little over 20 minutes of stand-up comedy. That was the longest I had ever gone without stopping, and I was jumping from 20 minutes to two hours. So it was quite a big jump.
OMC: This is based on a book that, while very popular, it's not exactly story-driven. How did you guys derive a story from what is essentially a relationship advice book?
PS: What we did was we took my life, and we expanded it a lot. We use a lot of personal stories and personal examples to kind of guide some of the tenets of the book. It's reminiscent of the old Bill Cosby stand-up style, where it's a whole lot of telling stories about the family or things that have happened, and the humor comes out of that. But also, it's a way to fit in some messages from the book. So they all kind of meld together really well.
OMC: You play yourself in the show. Is it harder to play yourself or another character?
PS: I think they're both equally hard for different reasons. When you play yourself, you have to be a little more vulnerable because you're putting yourself out there for the masses to judge, to give you the thumbs up or thumbs down.
With playing a character, there's a lot more plates to spin, so to speak, while you're performing. You have to make sure that your character voice and your body movements and all of that stuff match up as well, which are things you don't really have to worry about when you're playing yourself. But then again, it's not as vulnerable because you're not putting your actual personality out there for the peanut gallery. So I would say that they're equally difficult for different reasons.
OMC: What is the number one piece of relationship advice you would give someone?
PS: I was telling someone about this the other day. I think that a relationship will survive much more smoothly when both people are willing to apologize. I find that so important for people, and it makes such a huge difference for the health of relationships when the partners are willing to be introspective enough to see when they have made a mistake. And then to have the bravery and the maturity to admit that.
I think if those partners can do that and forgive each other, the sky's the limit, because we're always going to make mistakes and fight. If anyone thinks a marriage or long-term relationship is a smooth road, then they are absolutely living in a fantasy land. It is hard, hard work, and there are ebbs and flows, good times and bad times. But in the bad times, if we can learn to not take things so personally and understand that we all make mistakes, you're looking a relationship that's really healthy and has a lot of longevity. That's where I'm coming from.
OMC: Sage advice.
PS: Right now, what we're talking about sounds like some kind of conference. The show feels very much like a stand-up comedy show. I worked very hard to do that, so when people come in, they laugh from the first line all the way to the last line. We sneak in a lot of the really great information from the book, but it's candy-coated with a lot of great jokes and funny stories.
Overall, it's been a wonderful experience to travel the country because I'll go out on stage, and I'll see a couple come in and sit in two seats next to each other, but they'll sit about as far apart from each other as they possibly can. And as the show goes on, I'll see a smile start, and I'll see them get a little bit closer. Then by the second act, the arm is around the shoulder and they're whispering things. I can literally see these relationships kind of transform before my eyes during the course of the show. And that's been really rewarding and really encouraging.
OMC: Now, if I may geek out for a moment, you were on the "CSI" episode that Quentin Tarantino directed. What was that experience like working with a legendary director like that?
PS: He was really interesting. He's a strange guy because he's totally a nerd, and he's totally comfortable with being a nerd. He's beyond just setting up a decent shot; he's also layering it with so many layers of people that he wants to tip his cap to. That's the one thing I really noticed about him when talking to him and talking to the crew: He's just as big of a fan and as big of a nerd about other directors as we are of him.
When we were shooting the scene in my trailer home or wherever my salty character was living, he had dressed the scene and dressed me so he could send homages to all of his favorite directors and inspirations. So on the wall behind me were posters of filmmakers and movies that he loved, and the t-shirt that he had me wear was a really famous Italian gore film director from the 1920s. And he was so adamant about me keeping my shirt stiff so that you could see the image of the director when they shot it.
He picked me out of an audition tape because it was an audition tape I went the extra mile for. It was supposed to be a guy who's in a trailer that gets broken into by the SWAT team, so I got in costume. I wore a wifebeater and stained it, wore a pair of crappy shorts, got some Lays potato chips, lit the scene and got my buddies to get several laser pointers and point that at my body so it looked like I had a bunch of laser sights on me. I just went the extra mile to get his attention, and it worked. He told the casting director to tell me, "Tell Peter Story that kid's got balls."
He cast me off the tape, and I got to fly up there, spend a whole day with him and had a blast. I consider myself very fortunate.
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