date published: June 16, 2008

5 questions with...

Ken HowardKen Howard
by Josh B. Wardrop

Veteran actor Ken Howard is known for his work on Broadway and television (“The White Shadow,” “Crossing Jordan”). This month, the native New Yorker returns to his frequent stomping grounds here in the Hub as he portrays noted Massachusetts political figure Tip O’Neill in New Repertory Theatre’s new one-man production, According to Tip.

Q: How did you get involved with According to Tip?
The script came to me about three years ago, and I was interested. The project was ready to go but fell apart at the last moment—as frequently happens in this business. The door was left open, though, and here we are—in an election year, no less—and able to get it onstage at last.

Q: This isn’t your first go-round playing a politician onstage, is it?
No, it’s not. I played Thomas Jefferson in 1776 on Broadway, and I did a disastrous musical in 1976 called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I played multiple presidents—with multiple wigs—and it just went downhill fast (laughs). But I did it in order to work with Leonard Bernstein, so it was worth it.

Q: What was it about Tip O’Neill that interested you as an actor?
He was practically a folk hero to a lot of people. He had great insight as a politician, tempered with great warmth and that Irish wit—which (playwright) Dick Flavin has captured beautifully.

Q: You’ve spent a lot of time in this area—as a college student, a performer, even teaching at Harvard. What draws you to the Boston area so often?
Boston has this great social mix—it’s a city of doormen and professors. It’s got a sense of humor I’ve always been comfortable with, and a charm and history that make it the closest thing we have to a European city.

Q: Do people still ask you about “The White Shadow” after all these years?
All the time. My favorite thing is when guys of a certain age—I’d say early 40s—see me in public, and just greet me with “Hi, Coach!”