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By Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2003 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: February 26, 2003.
know the face. It is a tough-but-fair mug that has dissolved selflessly
into well over seventy roles in a film and television career that has lasted
about thirty years.
know the characters. He was Gus Moran, the goodhearted
but protective partner of Michael Douglas'
self-destructive cop in Basic Instinct. He was Cully, the violent redneck trucker
out to catch his cheating wife in Salems Lot.
Then there was Sgt. Max Greevey,
the first veteran detective on the TV series Law & Order.
He also played Hal Griffith, the experienced teacher who
helped Michelle Pfeiffer reach her students in Dangerous Minds.
There was also the boat
chief in Crimson Tide. What about Leo Lemke, Demi Moores husband and the
titular meat-carver in The Butchers Wife.
He portrayed Reg Duffy, Robert
DeNiros partner in City By The Sea. He also played John,
the bartender who serves his childhood buddies after they return from Viet
Nam in The Deer Hunter. He even did the
voice for editor-in-chief Perry White
in the Superman animated series. Currently he is Grizz, a good-but-flawed priest
in the acclaimed new dramatic
Hack. Grizz acts as a moral compass for his best
friend, a disgraced former cop who lost his badge, but cant stop
himself from helping people in need.
know the face. You know the characters. You may not know the name.
Dzundza wouldnt have it any other way. Hes an actor. He has no interest
in being a movie star.
Throughout the course of my life, Ive been blessed to work with extremely
talented people, Dzundza says. I just am grateful for every opportunity
to go to work. I dont really focus on celebrity status.
Dzundza originally took up acting for roughly the same reason that
all men make any life-changing decision
was the wish of a
a freshman in college, Dzundza recalls. I was in the orientation line,
getting my stuff, when a girl walked up to me and said YOU have to come and
audition for the play! If you dont, Im going to talk to your
professors and have you flunked out of school. I looked at her and I
said, oh my God, heres this gorgeous creature whos probably having these
romantic flings with professors and shes going to screw up my entire
education. I better go audition. It turns out she was the president of
the Stagers Society. I auditioned and got a part in the play. Then, I
fell in love with it.
even with her, though. She came in with her boyfriend one time to a
theatrical restaurant that was jam-packed, and I did that thing
Albert Finney does
stood up and I said THAT WOMAN HAS RUINED MY LIFE! Everybody looked at
her. She was all embarrassed. But, shes responsible. Its all her
Working his way through theater, soon Dzundza was getting guest starring
roles on TV series such as Starsky & Hutch, Kung Fu, The Waltons
and The Streets of San Francisco. Then, he
graduated to playing significant
parts in a series of films and TV movies like the ones
mentioned above, as well as Streamers, Skokie, The Lost Honor of
Kathryn Beck, Best Defense, No Mercy, One Police Plaza, No Way Out,
Instinct, Above Suspicion
The list goes on and on.
great, Dzundza says. "To expand and become so many different people
one of the pleasures of being able [to act]
Your experience is just
fabulous. I feel blessed.
Dzundzas first experience in a TV series was in the short-lived early 80s
sitcom Open All Night, where he starred as the owner of a 24-hour
convenience store. He didnt return to series television until 1990, but he
did it with a bang. He was the principal actor in a new police series
Law & Order. Dzundza played a no-nonsense veteran cop who was showing
the ropes to a younger, less-experienced partner, played by Chris Noth.
Dzundza decided to leave the show after just one season (the first of many
such cast turnovers on the long-lived series.) There were many reasons for
from the amount of work on the series to the fact that he was
being offered big movie roles. He doesnt regret
his choice at all, nor is he
surprised that the show has become such a venerable success.
absolutely did [sense it would be a big hit]. I felt that it was a plot-driven show...
There was a lot of interplay between Chris and I...
As the season went on, I saw that the stories were
I said no, this is not for me. This is not what I signed on to do. And, I
had to take care of my family, frankly, as well.
briefly returned to series TV in 1998s Must See TV sitcom
in which he played Christina Applegates father.
But the show was ill-conceived
and it was a bad fit for Dzundza, so he left at the end of first season.
Now, finally, he has found a
quality TV show in which he feels completely at home.
the story of Mike Olshansky (David Morse), a former Philadelphia policeman
who gets caught skimming some money from one of his busts. He is thrown off
the force, and thrown out of his house by his wife (Donna Murphy). To make
ends meet, he takes a job as a cab driver. Despite his imperfections,
the only life Olshansky has ever known was to protect and serve, and he finds
himself drawn into the problems of his fares. Soon
he is helping a Midwest father find
his runaway daughter and protecting a beautiful executive (Jennifer Esposito)
who is being harassed by a stalker.
Olshansky also tries to help an old girlfriend (Bebe
Neuwirth) find her schizophrenic sister (Martha Plimpton).
Another duty he takes on is delivering a
final message from a homeless man (John Heard) to his
estranged twin brother. Soon he
gains a reputation as an avenging angel in the streets.
Olshansky is aided by his former partner, Marcellus Washington (Andre Braugher)
partly because they are still friends, but mostly because
Marcellus feels guilty that Olshansky did not rat him out for
also taking some of the money.
Dzundza plays Father Tom Grizz Grzelak, Olshanskys oldest friend and
priest. Like Olshansky, Grizz is a flawed but basically good man.
He is a priest and a righteous person,
yet he will recognize
he has mortal weaknesses
like drinking and gambling. Grizz also has a girlfriend from his past
(Lindsey Crouse). When she shows up looking for advice, he realizes
he may not have even become a priest if
that relationship had turned out differently.
contradictions are what fascinate
Dzundza about the character.
think that its extremely human, he explains. None of us are saints. The
writers are writing human beings, and theyre writing about the human
condition and how difficult it is to function in that condition. I think
its one of the charms of the show, the idea of redemption and working
towards becoming better people, for everybody involved.
course, Dzundza draws on some
personal experiences in creating the character of Grizz. Well, certainly Im flawed, he says. So, we have that in common.
I think were different in that Grizz is probably a better guy
than I am. I have the human frailties that most of us have.
extraordinary thing about Hack is the level of acting skill
displayed on a weekly basis. This is a cast that is well known for their
attention to craft. Beyond Dzundzas long career, there is Morse.
still probably best known for playing Dr. Jack Boomer Morrison in the
acclaimed long-lived hospital drama St. Elsewhere.
He has also
appeared in a long line of films like The Green Mile, Proof of
Life, The Rock and The Crossing Guard. Andre Braugher was regularly called
the best actor on television during his tenure as Detective Frank Pembleton
on the astonishing crime drama Homicide: Life on
[Morse] is a very good actor, Dzundza agrees. And hes fun to play with.
Everybody involved with the show are serious adults. Everybody comes
prepared for work. It is a set that is not into ego. We just try to do the
best work possible and present that for our audience.
interesting thing about the structure of Hack is that, like The
Fugitive, although it has recurring characters and ongoing plotlines, the
guest stars determine the main thrust of most episodes. This helps to keep
the show fresh and branch out into all sorts of directions that a
self-contained series never gets to look at.
new story development gives the familiar characters a chance to express
their understanding about the human condition, Dzundza says. We did an
episode not too long ago where we dealt with capitol punishment. And I
thought in an extremely creative way.
In the episode, Gary Cole plays the
older brother of a convicted cop killer (Chad Lowe) due to be executed. As
retribution for Olshanskys part in getting his brother arrested, he decides
to kidnap the former cop. Cole
wants to force him to experience the same things his
brother is going through on his last day, to be finished off by the planned execution of Olshansky.
he was, all of the sudden coming off of one position, Dzundza continues,
and having to go through some of the inhumanity of what happens to a person
thats about to be executed. I thought that it brought it home in a very
creative way. Not just for the main character, but for all of us. I was
particularly moved by the acting, [which] was just sensational.
did another one, where Nick Mancuso came in and played a cop who was after bad
cops and it turns into an emotional situation
When the internal affairs
officers son is killed as an innocent bystander in a store hold up,
officer has to balance his strongly held belief in the letter of the law
with his urge for vengeance.
Dzundza recalls a discussion he once had with William J. Caunitz, a former
police officer who wrote the book, One Police Plaza. We were sitting in Montreal, and he said
to me, the line between a normal person and a criminal is so razor-thin
that you dont even know when you walk across it. And once you cross that
line, you can never come back to the other side. Certainly, Ive
experienced that to be true. This dichotomy
between good and evil
is what makes the series Hack so intriguing.
first TV series to be filmed completely in Philadelphia.
(Other recent Philadelphia-based series like Philly
and American Dreams film some exterior footage in the city, but
are mostly done on soundstages in California.) This decision was
made as an incentive to win over Morse
to return to series TV. Morse has commuted to Hollywood from his home in the
area for over a decade. But the city has become a character in the series
a complicated, sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrific, always alluring
force that mirrors the good and evil which occurs on its streets. Dzundza
wasnt too familiar with the city before being cast as Grizz, but now he is
shot all over the world, Dzundza says. I love Philadelphia. I was
shocked at what a great city this is. For me, it is the cats pajamas. I
love everything about it. I love where I live. I love the people. I have
been met with such kindness and affection here. Everywhere I go, I am
continually becoming more and more aware of what a wonderful place this is.
I just hope not too many people find out about it. Itll get so overcrowded
we wont be able to be here.
Like his earlier work in Law & Order and films,
much of Hack is filmed on location in the streets and buildings of Philadelphia
situation which Dzundza finds stimulating, and sometimes a little bit
more difficult to work on the streets and it is also very exciting to be
I find sometimes that it makes you prepare a little harder. If you
know youre going to be outside, you have to be a little bit more in tune,
so that you dont get distracted by whats going on and focus better. Its
really more of an issue for David than it is for me. I dont have to work
as many days. Hes constantly out there. To his credit, hes always so
well prepared. It is one of the great joys to be a supporting actor with a
star that has such a great work ethic. It is just a pleasure.
Dzundza has done screenwriting on his own and he
recognizes the hard work and dedication necessary for it. Because of that
and the respect he has for Hacks creators and writers, he
doesnt feel comfortable even contemplating potential storylines for Grizz.
I dont want to put out into the atmosphere any kind of point of view that
isnt one of service, Dzundza explains. Im here to serve. I was trained
as an actor to see the writer as the ultimate creator... and that primarily
what actors do is interpret. [We] are more craftsmen. Artistic craftsmen,
granted, but craftsmen
What theyre setting up, so far, has been right on
the money. Theyre moving at a pace that allows people to want more. I
think that theyre doing a good job. Ive got no complaints. Im
just ready to go wherever they send me. He laughs. I feel like a nuclear
missile. Point me in that direction, Ill go.
the end, Dzundza has one simple wish for his career. My concern has always
been that people who I portray, or the professions that I portray, are not
embarrassed by my portrayal of them. Whether theyre soldiers or policemen
or priests or doctors or lawyers
That whoever has that job wont say oh,
my God, whered they get this guy? Dzundza laughs.
in a nutshell, an actors greatest challenge?
Let us know what you think.
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