From Godspell to Alias, Canadian Victor Garber has had decades of success in all media, but he’s most proud of his family and relationships
My introduction to the two charitable causes that animate Canadian actor Victor Garber came about by accident.
I was thumbing through magazines in my doctor’s office and ventured upon an interview by writer Karen Doss Bowman with an actor whom I have admired for his versatility in serious drama, comedy and musicals: Victor Garber. What struck me was that he lost both parents to Alzheimer’s disease. In reading on, I saw that Garber, now 62, has had Juvenile Diabetes since age 13 and is as much of an advocate on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation as he is for Alzheimer’s research.
A lifelong love of the theatre began for Victor Garber in London, Ont. as a nine year-old when with diminutive steps he strode the boards of the Grand Theatre. He started with children's shows but, shortly after, it became apparent to his drama coaches that the young actor would do just fine in mainstage productions of the company.
“My parents were of Russian-Jewish descent.” Garber told me in a recent interview. “My mother Hope was a singer and had her own television show, At Home with Hope Garber, in London. She was a local celebrity who was supportive of my decision to pursue show business."
“As a Jewish parent, my father Joseph was a little less enthusiastic because he worried I wouldn’t be able to make a living. But I could count on him to send me a cheque when I was living on my own in Toronto.”
In 1964, when only 16 years old, Garber left his hometown and went to Toronto, to study acting in an intensive summer course at the University of Toronto's Hart House Theatre. There then began a detour from stage aspirations to a musical career with The Sugar Shoppe folk rock group, which recorded an album for Columbia Records and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. After Sugar Shoppe disbanded in 1972 he was cast as Jesus in a Toronto production of the off-Broadway musical Godspell, with its now-legendary cast that included Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Dave Thomas and Martin Short; the show's musical director was David Letterman’s music director Paul Shaffer. Garber’s impressive performance earned him the same role in the film version of the play, in 1973.
Garber’s Godspell performance catapulted him to a fruitful stage career in the U.S., where he became an accomplished and respected Broadway actor who garnered four Tony Nominations.
In reviewing Victor Garber’s career, from the lens of an inveterate theatregoer, I’m intrigued by the almost limitless array of roles he has played in all media: movies, theatre, TV, Direct TV and cable; high drama, comedy and musicals. Two roles pop into my head as mirror opposites: Christian, the fumbling young lover in Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac (in 1973) and president-elect John P. Wintergreen in the 2006 Encores production of the Gershwins’s Of Thee I Sing.
I asked him the first movie he can recall seeing.
“I remember seeing Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story as a kid. I thought Robert Wise’s direction and Jerome Robbins’s dance numbers were a glorious expression of what I wanted to do.”
And what was the first Broadway show?
“It was either Hair or Stephen Sondheim’s Follies in 1971. I loved Follies and its unusual and brilliant cast. I was young, and I sat in the front row, which I don't think is the best vantage point, but I just recall being blown away by it.”
A six-time Emmy Award-nominated actor, Garber became familiar to a new audience playing Jack Bristow, a double agent in the television series Alias (2001-2006). “You never know when you step into something what the outcome will be, of course, but I think it broke ground for television. They got Jennifer Garner, who became a huge star, and I think that's why the show stayed on the air for so long.”
Garber’s had an amazing run of co-stars in his career and the string continues. When Laura Linney returns in the Showtime’s The Big C on April 8, Garber is among the slate of guest stars for the upcoming third season, and he'll make his appearance during the opener.
As for Glenn Close, she returns as the steely malfeasance lawyer Patty Hewes on Damages. “I like the show, this being the final season,” says Garber. “As a guest, I’m glad to be in the company of such actors as Judd Hirsch and Janet McTeer. They don’t tell us in advance what will happen. It’s very well done and Glenn’s fantastic in it."
Garber will also be guesting on NBC’s new series “Smash, which premiered in February. It’s all about The Great White Way and Broadway backstage – something Garber knows all about.
Aside from his theatrical successes, Garber was asked, what is his proudest achievement?
“My relationships with my family and my friends. My companion Rainer Andreesen and I have been together almost 13 years in Greenwich Village. We both love New York.”
I hesitated to ask, but is he Jewish?
“No, but he is Canadian.”