Emmy Winner Peter Scolari on the Challenges of His Role on HBO’s ‘Girls’

Tim Gray

Peter Scolari won his first Emmy on Sept. 10, as guest actor in a comedy for HBO’s “Girls.” Shortly before his win, he told Variety he loves working on the show but said it’s been challenging to portray the constant angst and frustration of Tad Horvath, the father to Lena Dunham’s character. “I had to relax to play somebody in such a challenged, non-winning state,” he said. Clearly, his hard work paid off. This was his fourth Emmy nomination; he earned three in the 1980s for “Newhart.” The actor is currently on Broadway in “Wicked.”

How did you learn of the nomination?

My manager called and said, “Congratulations.” I was about to film the series finale in season six of “Girls,” so I assumed he meant that.

Did you celebrate the nomination?

When you’re 35 and nominated for an Emmy, you give fist pumps and high fives. But at 60, I felt something closer to tears than to joy. I thought how lucky I was, and that I need to count my blessings. When I looked at the submissions, there were over 100 actors in my category. A large chunk of them delivered knockout performances. I’m very humbled by this.

“Girls” has taken you in a new direction.

In many ways it’s a new career — not as a situation-comedy actor, but as a single-camera actor in what turned out to be a young, hip, dangerous show. And there was a place for me there. Incredible. If we decline to become set in our ways, that’s good. But it doesn’t always feel good. It can be very challenging.

How is it playing Tad? 

They shocked me three years ago when they said, “We’re bringing Tad out of the closet.” I walked into all kinds of sensitivity. I’d never been the kind of actor who came home from work carrying the feelings of the character. My wife asked “What are you so sad about?” I said, “I don’t know. I’m working, I have a good relationship with my family, but I’m feeling upset and misunderstood and really hurt.” I realized it was Tad. This guy had carried tremendous angst and grief for the life he’d never led. He was saying “I’m not going to live a lie,” but things did not go his way. The writers really got at me in that fourth season. They forced my hand. I had to relax to do the work, to play somebody in such a challenged, “non-winning” state, and that continued in the fifth season. He didn’t have a winning moment until the end of season 5. With “Girls,” I have been able to plug into almost everything I’ve felt that’s personal and sensitive.

A few years ago, you appeared in too many “Girls” episodes to fit ATAS’ definition of a guest actor. This year, Peter MacNicol was disqualified because of that.

“Girls” has been such a great gig and I’d felt honored that the producers had always submitted me as a guest actor. And this year — Peter McNicol is my old buddy; I had guested on “Ally McBeal.” I was sorry to see him taking the hit on that particular rule.

Awards are always unpredictable.

I was in (the 2016 ABC miniseries) “Madoff,” directed by Raymond De Felitta. I found working with him an enlightenment; this guy taught me so much. I’m as proud of my work in “Madoff” as anything I’ve ever done. Richard Dreyfuss turned in a bravura performance. It went unnoticed. Emmys are gorgeous and fun, but with or without them, there is beautiful work out there.

Any advice for young actors?

I used to tell kids that if they can do anything else, they should do it; I felt almost a moral obligation. But I see in my children that if the work ethic is profound, you have to follow your dream. It will serve you well. Even if you never get your dream, or all the things you want, it will revitalize your character and help you, because you tried.

What you didn’t know about Peter Scolari:
Hidden talent: Juggling; Must-read book: “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Must-see play: “Family Furniture” by A.R. Gurney; TV fAVORITES: “Transparent,” “Peaky Blinders,” “Penny Dreadful,” “The Night Of.”

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