Stephen Colbert Aspires to Return to Acting, Cites Dream Role

Stephen Colbert closed out Los Angeles’ annual PaleyFest TV festival on Sunday afternoon, as he sat down for a conversation with comedian Ben Schwartz about his career and time at The Late Show desk.

During the wide-ranging chat inside the Dolby Theatre — which spanned from Colbert’s start in Chicago’s improv scene to his stint as a Sunday school teacher and his love of fantasy films — Schwartz asked the host if he would ever want to return to acting, which he went to school for.

“I was purely acting up until I had The Late Show,” Colbert recalled, as he had been in character on The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. “One of the weirdest things about taking the job is my manager, James “Babydoll” Dixon, when he said, ‘Hey, it’s you.’ And I went, ‘Me?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, do you want to do it?’ And I’m like, ‘James, I’m an actor.’ Like, if I do the show, it’s the first time in my life I wasn’t inhabiting a character all the time. And, he goes, ‘Yeah, you can be an actor any time, no one’s ever going to offer you this job again.’ And I went, ‘Oh that’s kind of true,’ then it seemed like an adventure to me.”

He continued that after nearly nine years in late night, “It has been an amazing adventure, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I was always an actor. And so in the back my head, I’m like, ‘Wonder if I’m ever going to do that again,’ because I did that for 30 years.”

Colbert revealed his dream role, but said, “I’m too old for the role that I’ve always wanted to play. I’m not like fishing for anybody to cast me, I can’t do it… I’ve always kind of wanted to play Richard Rich, who is like a protégé of Thomas Moore in A Man For All Seasons. Or now at my age, I might be able to play a character called The Common Man, who’s in the play, but not the movie. They always cut them out of the plays when they do it, but I don’t know why because I love it.”

The pair also discussed who Colbert goes to bounce off ideas — “if it’s really something that’s tricky, I’ll call Jon Stuart and my wife Evie. The number of times that both of them said, ‘No, don’t do that;’ if Evie goes no, I’m sure Jon’s gonna say no, that’s too far” — and his nightly pre-show ritual, which includes telling the same four jokes to the audience before the show starts to test the unity of the crowd and shaking everyone’s hands backstage.

He added that if they get the show written and rehearsed in time, “I DJ. We turn a little speaker on and I go, ‘Alright, what does everyone want to hear?’ We listen to music before I go on, because I have to make the turn from the writer/producer to performer… I’ve got to turn into that person who’s just there to embody it, and just be really much more in my body and not in my head. We’re doing a lot of Isley Brothers recently.”

Colbert also explained that what he likes about the job is “I love that idea that I’m throwing a party for people and I want to be the host, I want them to be comfortable. I have a bar back there, I rarely use it but I have a bar if somebody wants a cocktail.”

Schwartz additionally touched on the closeness of the current late night hosts, particularly in the wake of their Strike Force Five podcast, and how the “late night wars” seem to be a thing of the past.

“Everybody has their own reasons for how they feel about their job and competition, stuff like that. I don’t blame anybody, their feelings are valid, they’re their feelings, but I’ve always thought so few people know what it’s like to do this, wouldn’t I much rather meet Fallon at that secret back room that we know in Midtown and go have a drink? Which is what we do instead,” Colbert responded. “I’m lucky enough to have that with Jon Stewart, but I have that with any of them,” as he teasingly added, “except [John] Oliver.”

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