|Out-of-"Office" Replies: Creed Bratton, September 19 at the Adler Theatre|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Friday, 06 September 2013 06:00|
There are people who work in an office and dream of stardom. And then there’s Creed Bratton, who actually achieved stardom, and then went on to work in an office.
Of course, given that he wound up in the office of the Scranton, Pennsylvania-based paper-supply company Dunder Mifflin, this could hardly be considered a career demotion.
For nine seasons on the Emmy-winning sitcom The Office, Creed Bratton played ... well ... Creed Bratton, a fictionalized version of the man portraying him, and easily one of the most eccentric and reliably funny second bananas ever to grace the small screen. The Dunder Mifflin quality-assurance director from whom quality could never be assured, TV Creed could always be counted on to do or say something wholly unexpected and usually inappropriate, and if you asked 100 Office fans for their favorite line of Creed dialogue, chances are you’d get close to 100 different responses. (My personal pick: “The only difference between me and a homeless man is this job. I will do whatever it takes to survive. Like I did when I was a homeless man.”)
But as area audiences will discover with Bratton’s September 19 solo event at Davenport’s Adler Theatre, there’s a lot more to Bratton than his character’s comically faulty memory, his fondness for peach cobbler and mung beans, and his questionable gift for faking his own death.
“I’m not trying to equate myself with him or anything,” says Bratton during a recent phone interview, “but if Mark Twain was just kind of kibitzing and telling stories, and he was a rock star, that’s kind of what my show is.”
Those familiar with the 1960s music scene know that he isn’t kidding about that rock-star mention. A founding member of the folk group The Young Americans, Bratton, like his sitcom alter ego, was also a musician for the rock outfit The Grass Roots, which had iconic top-10 smashes with 1967’s “Let’s Live for Today” and 1968’s “Midnight Confessions,” with Bratton himself composing or co-writing additional hits including “Dinner for Eight,” “House of Stone,” and “No Exit.” (Bratton left the group in 1969.)
And in recent years, thanks to his television stardom, the singer/musician has again found himself a concert headliner, performing original compositions from his self-titled 2008 album and 2010’s Bounce Back, and currently touring in support of his digital and vinyl release Tell Me About It, described on Bratton’s Web site as “a three-act ‘audio-biography’ that tells his story through music.”
“The three acts,” says Bratton, “start when I didn’t have a pot to piss in, and then all the stuff that happened with The Grass Roots. You hear about a young kid thinking he’s on top of the world. Then there’s the second act – a fallow period of about 30 years where I couldn’t get arrested. And then there’s the re-birth with The Office and the jump-start of my career again.
“It’s a storytelling kind of thing,” he says of Tell Me About It and its accompanying tour. “My career has been up and down and up again. And most people seem to find the storytelling amusing.”
That seems completely understandable given the breadth of Bratton’s professional experiences over nearly half a century, as even his self-described “fallow period” found him appearing in such films and TV series as Mask, Heart Like a Wheel, Quincy M.E., and Eight Is Enough, and undertaking nearly every behind-the-scenes duty Hollywood had to offer.
“I was doing all kinds of jobs related to the film industry,” says Bratton. “I was a grip, I was a utility-cable second boom, I worked in the art department for a while, I did props, I worked for catering ... . I was around there doing this kind of stuff for years, you know. Just taking [acting] classes and watching actors and going, ‘Oh, I should be doing this ... .’”
It was while performing a small role for the Fox sitcom The Bernie Mac Show that Bratton made the acquaintance of Ken Kwapis, who would go on to direct both the pilot and series finale – plus a dozen additional episodes – for The Office.
“Ken came in to direct an episode of Bernie Mac,” says Bratton, “and he was a big Grass Roots fan, and we started talking about rock ’n’ roll. We really hit it off – he’s such a great guy and I instantly liked and trusted the man – and I heard he was doing the American version [of The Office].
“So he gave me his number, and I called him up, and I’d never ever done that before. Ever. I mean, you don’t do that – call up directors and look for jobs. But I told him I loved the British version and would love to come in and just get the chance to read for something. And he said, ‘Oh, Creed, we’ve already cast everything. We’re getting ready to start filming.’
“But then he said, ‘Hang on.’ He talked to [show creator] Greg Daniels, and called me back, and said, ‘I talked to Greg, and we’re gonna put you in the background. I told him you were a really interesting character. Like I told you, everything is cast, but we’re gonna do what we can to see if we can work you into this mix.’”
After a first season of six episodes spent in the background of scenes, Bratton finally, fully joined the mix with 2006’s “Halloween” episode, in which he was given his first lines of dialogue on the show – a six-and-a-half-page scene opposite Steve Carell.
“My bowels froze,” says Bratton about his reaction to receiving the script. “I got flop sweat. But I learned that scene backwards and forwards. Literally. I knew that scene. And then when I came in to shoot, first day, they said, ‘Okay, the script, yeah, we’ve made a lot of changes to it ... . Here’s the new script.’ On the day of shooting.”
Bratton laughs. “And I immediately dropped down in that cold fear again. But then I said, ‘Look, you can do this. You’ve been doing this for years.’ So I went in the other room, put my hands up, did a little prayer, basically, and went, ‘Okay. This is gonna be what it’s gonna be. Have some fun.’ And I walked in to shoot and started playing with Steve, just throwing the ball around, and he made it so easy ’cause he’s such a pro.”
And as his co-stars quickly realized, so was Bratton. “The day after it aired, I remember walking on the set, and all of a sudden I look up and there’s Rainn Wilson and John Krasinski. They’ve got big grins on their faces, and I thought, ‘What are these guys grinning about?’ And they both gave me a big hug, and one of them whispered in my ear, ‘You knocked it out of the park, buddy.’ And I swear I almost cried. I was just overwhelmed by that.
“And that was it,” he says. “Before I knew it, I was a season regular. And here I am.”
It was Bratton’s original inspiration to make his Office character a fictionalized version of himself. After appearing in the background of those first episodes, Bratton sent producers an audition tape modeled after the famed “talking head” sequences in which characters speak directly to the camera, and as the performer states, “I ad-libbed based on what would happen if rock-star Creed had stayed addled and drugged-out.
“So I played this character who has a blackout period, and ends up on a Greyhound bus, and wakes up in a dumpster in Scranton ... . And the week after I submitted it, I came back to work, and they walked in and said, ‘Wow, this is really funny stuff!’”
Bratton’s audition tape consequently led the show-runners to want to write specifically for this strange, unclassifiable figure known as Creed Bratton, oftentimes employing the actor’s own history and talents for script material – such as mentioning his tenure with the Grass Roots, and allowing Bratton to sing his own acoustic composition “All the Faces” in the series finale.
“Obviously, I’m not really that character,” he says with a laugh. “I’d be in jail. Figuratively and literally. [The series finale also finds Creed, after faking his death, arrested for stealing LSD from the military and trafficking in endangered-animal meats.] But sometimes you would think the writers were sneaking around behind you, you know? I mean, I don’t have an obsession with mung beans, but they did know that I eat all that crazy kind of stuff.
“And I have some great stories,” adds Bratton, teasing what Adler Theatre audiences will enjoy during his Davenport engagement. “About my life and acting and working with Lindsay Lohan ... . Oh my Lord. Yeah. I’ve got some stories.”
Creed Bratton performs at Davenport’s Adler Theatre (136 East Third Street) September 19 at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are available by calling (800)745-3000 or visiting AdlerTheatre.com.
For more information on Bratton, visit CreedBratton.com.
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