Mark Metcalf has made a lot of friends since moving to Milwaukee about eight years ago. But even the people he's never met feel like they've known him for years.
Metcalf, 61, is co-owner of Libby Montana, a family restaurant and indoor volleyball facility he operates with his ex-wife, Libby, at 5616 W. Donges Bay Rd. in Thiensville.
In addition to his culinary career, Metcalf is a working actor recognizable to millions for his work as the sadistic ROTC officer Douglas C. Neidermeyer in "Animal House," the self-absorbed, small-time conductor known as "The Maestro" on "Seinfeld" and "The Master" from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Metcalf, who lives in Bayside with his son, Julius, still acts in small films and local theater productions, talks about movies as a regular guest on "The Bob and Brian Morning Show" on WHQG (102.9 FM) and now writes about films as a correspondent for OnMilwaukee.com.
We sat down with Metcalf on a recent afternoon at Libby Montana for this Milwaukee Talks interview:
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you come to own Libby Montana?
Mark Metcalf: I wanted to get out of L.A. The woman I was married to at the time, she was from here. I wanted to go to Montana. We compromised -- we did what she wanted to do. That's how marriages work. Yes, dear.
OMC: So, you started running the restaurant as soon as you got here?
MM: Yes. We wanted to do a place Downtown and we wanted to call it Montana, but we couldn't find a landlord that could get a place ready for us. This place was available for sale. We needed cash flow right away. We needed to go. This place was ready and it didn't need much changing, just a lot of cleaning.
OMC: When did you take over?
MM: It was Nov. 29, 2000. We wanted to be Downtown. We wanted to go upscale. This place, where it is, you can't do upscale. There are a lot of families. It's a family restaurant. We've got the three heated sand volleyball courts. It was a good fit.
OMC: Do you still operate the restaurant with your ex-wife?
MM: We're still in business together. She runs it. I'm just the kissable lips, as (actor / writer / director) Jonathan West said.
OMC: Are you still involved in acting?
MM: I act a lot at First Stage Children's Theater. This fall, I'm doing a play called "Gossamer," which was written by Lois Lowry. I've worked for Milwaukee Shakespeare. I've worked for Bialystock & Bloom. I'll work for anybody. I love to do plays.
OMC: Have you done any movie or TV work since "Seinfeld" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer?"
MM: Not too much. They called me and asked me to come back for about two years after we came out here. I didn't figure they'd stop quite as quickly as they did. They don't call anymore. I did "Angel" in 2001 and 2002.
I've done almost a movie a year here -- local, low-budget, independent movies that tend to be slasher movies that nobody will ever see except in Korea and Argentina, where they do snuff films.
I'm also heavily involved with the Milwaukee International Film Festival and promoting that. I produce a short film every year for them based on a screenplay written by a high school kid in a program that I developed called The Student Screenwriting Competition. We teach kids how to write screenplays, pick the best one out of 40 and make the film of it. I do a lot of work to promote that.
MM: I think it's going to be big. They passed this great tax incentive law for film companies, where you get a 25 percent rebate on every dollar spent here. The Johnny Depp -- Michael Mann "Dillinger" movie, I think they're going to drop $19 million here. It's going to be big.
It's going to be big for promoting people from Hollywood and New York coming here to make movies, but it's also going to be good for developing the local filmmaking scene.
OMC: How is the local scene?
MM: There are a lot of good filmmakers here. One of the things I do at Milwaukee International Film Festival is help promote the Midwest Filmmaker competition, where we do a cash prize. I funded it the first year; it's for films made by Midwesterners in the Midwest or with people. We're trying to develop Milwaukee as the Fresh Coast, as (mayor) Tom Barrett calls it.
OMC: You're recognized for your roles in "Animal House" and "Seinfeld." What's the typical response you get from people who come in here who don't know that you own the restaurant?
MM: Most people who come here know that I'm around. When people didn't, a lot of times they would come in and see the pictures and they wouldn't believe it. They'd say, "No! You're not him." Once in awhile, people will say, "You know, you look a lot like the guy who played Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and I just say, "I am."
OMC: How many people recognize you from "Animal House" as opposed to "The Maestro?"
MM: It's probably about 50-50, Neidermeyer and "The Maestro."
OMC: Does it bother you?
MM: It doesn't bother me if they call me "Maestro." That's OK. But there is one name ... I can hardly say it. There is a guy who comes in about once a month and he'll come up behind me and say "Hi, Bob Cobb." (The Maestro's name on "Seinfeld). I still flinch. I don't like it.
MM: I was neither a fan nor a foe. I never have watched much TV. I had seen it. I knew it existed. It was a big hit, so I was aware of it. But, the people who watch it know every episode. They know it the way they know "Animal House." They know all the lines. I don't know all the lines. I never watch the show. I just know my own (episode).
OMC: It's interesting how people can associate an actor with one small role like that.
MM: For us (actors), we do it and we do the next job. And then you do the next job after that.
OMC: Do you keep in contact with any of your "Animal House" co-stars?
MM: Some of them. I don't see them a lot, but once in awhile. We're actually doing a reunion in Chicago this weekend; they're going to screen the movie at the Hollywood Boulevard Cinema in Woodbridge. Karen Allen is going to be there. Stephen Furst, who played Flounder, is going to be there. Martha Smith, who played Babs is going to be there. Otis Day is going to be there. His real name is DeWayne Jessie, but he had it changed to Otis Day.
OMC: And, he's still singing "Shout!"
MM: He's still singing it. When it was used in the movie, he lip-synced. Someone else sang.
OMC: Do you a lot of reunion offers?
MM: A few. We did a similar thing last year in Indianapolis. The 25th anniversary was five years ago. Everybody got together -- everybody who was still alive -- got together in Hollywood. They closed Hollywood Boulevard. They did a parade. They had a guy in a silver helmet on a white horse and a guy who looked like Belushi in the Deathmobile.
OMC: Does that kind of stuff ever get tiresome?
MM: It gets tiresome if you do too much of it. I haven't done that much of it. I've exploited Neidermeyer a lot to put fannies in the seats here at the restaurant.
OMC: What's the worst thing you've ever done?
MM: The worst thing I ever did was when I first got here, the people who do the Fourth of July parade in Cedarburg, the Hickory Street people, asked me, "Will you wear the uniform and march in the parade?" I said, "No. I'm an actor. I'm not a clown. I don't do that stuff." So they asked me to be in the parade and I thought it would be good for the restaurant.
So, I went up there and they said, "We know you won't wear the uniform, but would you wear these?" And, they gave me a pair of American flag boxer shorts and they gave me a helmet that they put tin foil over to make it silver. And they asked me to drive around on this lawn mower and there were five high school kids with T-shirts that say "ROTC" on them and hats and super-soaker squirt guns.
Well, I was there and I can't say "No" to anybody, so I did it. I ended up having fun. I'd see somebody in the crowd that I knew or someone that looked like they weren't having too much fun and I'd say "Get ‘em!" And the guys would go over there with their super-soakers and spray the people.
OMC: How does owning a restaurant in Mequon compare to being a Hollywood actor?
MM: There is absolutely no comparison. People ask me, "What are you doing here?" and I say I was misinformed. A woman told me she loved me and it turned out she was just kidding. Most actors start out their career busing tables. I'm doing it the other way around.