5 Questions: Malachy Cleary

Malachy Cleary in an episode of "Manifest" (NBC)

Malachy Cleary in an episode of "Manifest" (NBC)

Malachy Cleary, of Cold Spring, is a longtime actor whose recent roles have included Grandpa Steve Stone on the NBC/Netflix series Manifest.

How did you get into acting?
My father was a teacher at my grammar school, St. David’s, on East 89th Street in New York City. He had actor friends and loved acting and directing, but only at the amateur level. I was shy, and he got me into acting to get me out of my shell. In fifth or sixth grade, I was in The Devil and Daniel Webster, then did all the school plays. I decided to make acting my life. My dad was like, “Oh no, what’ve I done to my son?” When he retired, he pursued acting as well, but unfortunately became ill and died just as he was getting started. 

Besides Manifest, what have been some memorable roles?
I was an understudy to Paul Newman in the Broadway production of Our Town and a stand-in for him in the Showtime production; he came up behind me once and said, “I’m not that short!” On Boardwalk Empire, I played President Warren Harding; I actually looked like him. I was Thad McCone in an episode of The Sopranos. I play Richard in Gabriel’s Redemption, a new Passionflix production directed by Tosca Musk, Elon’s sister. And we did great work locally a number of years ago with World’s End Theatre and Gordon Stewart, the founder of this paper.

Like many actors, have you done odd jobs between gigs?
Oh, yes. I was a doorman at 944 Fifth Ave. for three-and-a-half years, on and off. I worked three years as a tender for divers working on piers in Bayonne and Newark. I briefly waited tables; I was horrible. I bartended, did catering, painted apartments. Even fairly recently, when things went south, I did landscaping. Lately, I’ve been getting by with acting. We’re on strike now; the personal issue for me is making enough to qualify for union health insurance.

What does the public not understand about actors?
A lot of people think the minute you’re on TV, you’re rich. Those days are long gone and it’s getting even tougher to be a middle-class actor. I completely missed this, but back in the day you were paid scale (the minimum acting wage), then if you worked a bit, you’d have what was called your “quote,” then incremental increases every time you worked, $3,000 to $5,000, even for a relatively unknown actor. Not now. You can do well if you’re the star or a repeating guest star, but for rank-and-file actors, it’s pretty much workaday. 

What type of acting is most difficult?
Theater is by far the most work, memorizing lines, constantly performing, dealing with costumes. It’s blood, sweat and tears; there’s no second or third take. The Way of the World [by World’s End] was a monumental effort, getting the language down and being ready in two-and-a-half weeks. It’s the hardest, but I love theater; the biggest thrill is performing before a live audience. It’s fun doing film, but that can be somewhat sterile. TV commercials can be relatively easy, like when I worked with Cliff Robertson and John McEnroe. They were the center of the spot; I was just sort of around them. But if I served as the spokesman, they worked my butt off. I mean, 72 takes! You have to keep your cool, and at some point say: “I need a break.” I did commercials for years; that’s what kept me going. 

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