Like Billy Flynn, the character he plays in Chicago (Oct. 1-6, Overture Hall), John O'Hurley is known as a suave silver fox who razzle dazzles. Isthmus spoke to the actor, who Seinfeld fans know as Elaine Benes' eccentric boss J. Peterman, and discovered that being in a Broadway production is just one item on his to-do list.
Isthmus: As a kid, the acting bug bit you when you dressed in a swimsuit and goggles to "play" Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt. When did you figure out you could sing and dance?
O'Hurley: I just never knew I couldn't -- until I was 12 years old and someone told me I had about the worst voice they'd ever heard. So I stopped singing from then until about 17, when I started studying acting. But at the age of 3, I knew what I wanted to do.
How would you describe your Chicago character, Billy Flynn?
He's one of the most elegant leading men left in Broadway musicals. And I think he's one of the most complex characters you can play. I keep him and King Arthur (from Spam-a-lot) alive. They are the two characters I play. Billy's eloquent but also warm and witty. It's interesting to delve into him and find the little spots each night where you can throw out an ace.
You are probably best known as J. Peterman from TV's Seinfeld. But not many people know you are now co-owner of Peterman's company.
The year after Seinfeld ended the real J. Peterman Company developed some financial difficulties. John Peterman called me up and said, "We're going to put the company back together again, and would you like to join us?" I've been part-owner of the company since 1999. From time to time, I even put items in the catalog from my travels.
Interesting. Like what?
Wine. Wine accessories. Antique golf clubs from Scotland.
Peterman must've loved your portrayal of him.
He and I were joined at the wrists and ankles there for the last four seasons of Seinfeld. Pretty much everyone equated me with Peterman. We'd walk down the street together and people would be screaming, "Hey, Peterman!" and they weren't talking to him. It's one of the great acts of identity theft.
Madison audiences would also be interested to know you co-founded a clean, green energy company called Energy, Inc.
Privately I'm a venture capitalist. I look for small companies with great ideas. This one has one of the most profoundly culture-changing technologies. It can take any form of waste and process that waste without burning it, in a zero-emission environment, and produce energy with that.
You also compose, play piano, golf, write all kinds of books, and are a committed philanthropist. Is there anything you can't do?
Ski. I broke my leg the first time down the hill at 11 years old, and I've never been back.