In the Wings: A Conversation with The Matter of Frank Schaefer Star Paul Kuhn

The Nova Scotia import on playing a "frock star," phony German accents, and that one time he pissed off Johnny Depp.

My name is … Paul Kuhn. The “u” in Kuhn is supposed to have an umlaut over it, but I think that is way too pretentious. The only way I would do that is if i could utter more than one phrase in German, which I cannot. I do speak modern Greek, though.

I am … happiest when I am designing/building a set. I love acting but my greatest love is designing and building for Curio Theatre. I am a rabid recycler. Don’t leave a piece of wood or steel on the street because it will be on a set at Curio.

How would you describe The Matter of Frank Schaefer in one sentence? Raised with evangelical homophobic principals, a United Methodist minister transforms himself into an advocate for the LGBTQ community and challenges the bigotry of his own Church in an ecclesiastical court.

What’s your favorite thing about playing Frank Schaefer? My favorite part is that I got to hang around this man for over a year. I have never had this much insight into a character I am playing.

What’s it like playing a real person, who’s actually alive to watch your performance? It’s actually quite a privilege. I was a bit of a skeptic coming in. I grew up distrusting officials of faith. After a year of being with him, I know he’s the real deal. I am proud to portray his heroic story especially with him in the audience. I don’t think I’ll ever be a Christian but I come to fully respect his cause.

What did you do to prepare for the role? Well, I started with the German accent and then I threw that away because it just came off as silly. Frank has been in the U.S. for over twenty years and much of his accent is gone. A revelation came when I realized he just really pronounces his consonants. Another thing was I lost 20 pounds by running and biking. I was just too overweight to portray this “frock star.” I’m still a bit pudgy but I think I’m acceptable.

What has the show taught you that you didn’t know before? My father was an organist in the Lutheran Church in Kitchener, Ontario (Canada) and he was kicked out because they found out he played jazz in the clubs. They called it “music of the whore houses.” My mother was physically hurt by a nun in Montreal when they learned that she was with a child out of wedlock. So we were raised to never trust or speak of religion in our house. This play has taught me that a lot of people of faith have really good intentions and are genuinely good people.

Paul Kuhn as the Rev. Frank Schaeffer. | Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Paul Kuhn as the Rev. Frank Schaeffer. | Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

This show has evolved as Frank’s story has progressed. What’s it been like working on a show like that? It has been terrifying and extraordinarily rewarding. This is my first experience with devising/creating a piece like this and it has been a nail biter. We open in Lebanon, Pa., next Friday and I just got the latest re-write last night. There may be changes before we open in Philadelphia. I understand this is the norm for shows of this nature but it is nerve-wracking and extremely exciting at the same time.

You studied acting at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. What brought you to Philly? I was celebrating the closing night of the Rocky Horror Show in Stephenville, Newfoundland with a former artistic director of the Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley, Pa.. He asked me to consider being a company member. I woke up the next day with the appropriate hangover, moved to Vancouver to make it big in the movies and found myself as a glorified extra in 21 Jump Street, MacGyver and The Fall Guy and rethought the offer to work at Hedgerow. I would spend the next 10 years inching my way closer to Philadelphia.

Why did you stay? I stayed because I met the love of my life, Gay Carducci. Otherwise I would be back in Nova Scotia probably working at a Tim Hortons.

My first stage kiss … My first stage kiss was with Alan Hume in Deathtrap with an amateur theatre company in Kentville, Nova Scotia. He didn’t shave. It hurt.

The first play I was in was … when I was in high school and played the Cowardly Lion. I was a hyper-nerd and wore a bow tie to school. I read Bert Lahr’s entire biography cover to cover at least four times to play the role. I nailed it. I haven’t acted better since. I’ve been chasing that performance for over 30 years. Thanks for bringing it up.

On opening nights I always … say I’m going to go out and get fellow actors very specific, unique gifts that will make “this” show memorable. Then I look at the clock and it’s already call time and I haven’t gotten a single opening night gift for anyone. So, every opening night I walk into the theatre full of guilt because I have never got an opening night gift for any of my fellow actors. Ever.

My surprising celebrity crush is … the late Robin Williams. I loved that man heart and soul. Even in his decrepit Disney days.

Poster art by Elizabeth Gallagher.

Poster art by Elizabeth Gallagher.

The most famous person I’ve ever met … I actually had a one-line scene with Johnny Depp in 21 Jump Street, which I can’t find anywhere so you’ll just have to trust me on this. I was playing a uniformed cop who had to drive the undercover Johnny Depp somewhere. Why he couldn’t drive himself I’ll never know but I’m sure after he encountered me he wished he had drove himself. They were setting up the lights and I was alone, in a car with him for a very long time. I hate silence. So I thought, I have to say something. I had what I thought was a great idea at the time. I thought I would make fun of people that kiss up to him. So I did an exaggerated impression of someone really kissing up to him and said, “how’s it goin, Johnny Depp.” I also did an awkward pistol-pointing-finger-pointing thing which I deeply regret. He told me to ‘F#$& off!’ I don’t blame him either. My attempt to impersonate an ass-kissing fan came off as a condescending dig replete with a sarcastic finger point. I would have told me to ‘F#$& off!’ too.

The last time I dined out in Philadelphia … was at Local 44 and I ate the Brussel sprouts. It was very yummy.

The best show I saw in Philly recently … was The Rape of Lucrece at the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective on Broad Street. It was a one-man with Dan Hodge. It was amazing.

What should we look out for you in next? I actually play middle-aged Ben Franklin on 6 ABC. We finished filming a few weeks ago and they haven’t decided the release date. I’m also going to play Roderigo in Othello at Curio.

The Matter of Frank Schaefer plays at Curio Theatre Company November 12th through December 6th. More information and tickets can be found here.