John Mahoney discusses ‘The Seafarer’

enter This article by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press on December 3, 2008.

When John Mahoney needed a refresher course on how to do a Dublin accent, he went straight to an expert — the acclaimed Irish actor Gabriel Byrne. Mahoney, the Oak Park actor best known for his role in the 1993-2004 sitcom “Frazier,” was working on his brogue for the new Colin McPherson play “The Seafarer,” which begins previews Thursday, Dec. 4, at Steppenwolf Theatre. And by a lucky coincidence, Mahoney is spending his Mondays and Tuesdays in New York acting alongside Byrne in season 2 of the HBO series “In Treatment.”

In between takes for the HBO show, Mahoney would chat with Byrne, a Dublin native, paying close attention to the lilt of his voice. Byrne even taped himself reading lines from Mahoney’s script of “The Seafarer.”

“Does it help!” Mahoney says.

Of course, it might also help that Mahoney grew up in England, and that he had a grandfather from Ireland. “I have a lot of Irish in me,” he says. But Mahoney deliberately lost his British accent when he moved to the United States as a young man.

This is Mahoney’s second time acting in a McPherson play directed by Randall Arney, after appearing in Arney’s production of “The Weir” at Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. In “The Seafarer,” Mahoney plays Richard, the cantankerous brother of Sharky (Francis Guinan), who receives a mysterious visit from a man (Tom Irwin) seeking payment on an old debt.

“The climax takes place during a card game, where the stranger tries to exact this debt that Sharkey owes him,” Mahoney says. “I’m a filthy old drunk, recently blind, chronically hung over. We’ve always had problems with each other, but underneath it all, we’re brothers and we’ll look out for each other. I’ll say terrible things about him, but I’ll kill anybody who says anything about him to me.”

It’s one of two McPherson plays the Steppenwolf is staging this season, following “Dublin Carol” starring William Petersen, which runs through Jan. 4.

Meanwhile, Mahoney’s playing a CEO going through therapy with Byrne’s psychiatrist character on “In Treatment,” which will air in the spring.

“I’ve been offered a few pilots for sitcoms, but I just don’t want to leave home again,” Mahoney says. “Mostly I’ve been on stage. It’s my first love. I don’t care if I ever go in front of a camera again, really. But I couldn’t turn ‘In Treatment’ because the script was too great.”