5 Questions with Sal Viscuso

The veteran actor stars in A Steady Rain, the Guthrie’s latest show.

Actor Sal Viscuso plays Denny in the Guthrie’s production of A Steady Rain, a two-man play based loosely on the lives of the investigators who handled the Jeffrey Dahmer serial killings. Viscuso has acted in numerous stage, television, and film productions, including a recent role in the Shonda Rhimes series Scandal, but this is his first show at the Guthrie.

What has it been like working at the Guthrie?
I love Minneapolis; people there could not be any more loving and enthusiastic. Who would have thought that the guy with an afro running around UC Davis in bellbottom jeans would wind up on the stage of the Guthrie with Joe Dowling? I have dreamt of being on that stage in that sacred building for three decades. I hope I get to do it again before I die because I’m already 66 years old and I don’t know how many miles I got left. Scandal doesn’t fulfill me like a job like this does. No amount of editing and camerawork is going to cover up anything. I can’t say enough good about the place.

What is the most challenging part about playing this role?
Initially I was worried about how in the heck I was gonna learn all those words! I was terrified and obsessed about it. Then it started to get more specific about the actual storytelling and what it was doing to me. And I found myself breaking down in places. I would surprise myself, that it would move me. I realized that if I kept letting that happen, it would incapacitate me. You have to keep in control, you have to keep it in check. The most challenging part is being present every moment, because some of the play is narrative: I’m recounting to the audience what happened, but they have to believe that it’s happening right now today.

Both you and director Jeff Perry are involved with the television show Scandal. What’s it like to come from a television series like that to a show like this?
It required two different sets of skills. Shows are done in pieces, out of sequence, and you don’t really get a chance to bite off anything. When you get on that stage, you don’t see daylight until 92 minutes later. It’s like life or death. When I step on that stage, I don’t plan to take any prisoners. I love Shonda, and she has given me an amazing opportunity by writing a role for me on Scandal, but I haven’t gotten a chance yet to do on Scandal what I’ve done seven times a week on the Guthrie stage.

What has been the best/worst moment of putting this show together?
You have to own everything you do as Denny. You have to take full responsibility. That was the most difficult part. When I slow down and hear what I have to say, and the audience gasps, I know I just walked into hell and they witnessed it. And I hope I walk into hell every single night, and I don’t come out whole. Nobody is every going to be satisfied with their work. If they are, they’re amateurs. I will never be done trying to find Denny. I’m going to be trying to find him for the rest of my life.

What will the audience enjoy most about this play?
Well I really love the camaraderie. I kind of live a life of fantasy by playing this guy in the good moments. Working with Tommy Kelly and having him as a brother I never had is my favorite part. I brought him into the play, and he’s a great actor and a great guy. Playing his partner is my favorite part.