David Schwimmer (SoC ’88) Visits Northwestern

Northwestern University School of Communication alumnus and actor/director David Schwimmer visited campus as the 2013 Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Artist on May 20. He spoke with Tony Award-winning director and faculty member Anna D. Shapiro in front of a 350-member student audience. Photo by Justin Barbin (C11)

Northwestern University School of Communication alumnus and actor/director David Schwimmer visited campus as the 2013 Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Artist on May 20. He spoke with Tony Award-winning director and faculty member Anna D. Shapiro in front of a 350-member student audience. Photo by Justin Barbin (C11)

Story by Anne Li ’16

This past Monday, over 300 Northwestern University students flocked to a School of Communication-sponsored Question and Answer session with director, stage actor and Northwestern alumnus David Schwimmer.

Schwimmer is the School of Communication’s 2013 Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Artist and fielded questions in a packed Josephine Louis Theater with the Tony-award winning director, faculty member and friend Anna Shapiro.

But despite his best-known role as Dr. Ross Geller on the popular former television show Friends, he and Shapiro barely mentioned the show.

“Because my family was so strict, my friends were incredibly brilliant losers,” Schwimmer told the audience.

Thus began Schwimmer’s story, of a child of two lawyers who had no connections in the acting world. The closest contact Schwimmer had to a celebrity as a child was Nicholas Cage, who attended his high school and was three years older than him.

“He was Tony in West Side Story,” Schwimmer said, prompting laughs from the audience. “I was a Jet.”

When his parents required that Schwimmer go to college to find a career to fall back on “when” acting didn’t work out, Schwimmer decided on Northwestern University.

There, he flourished. He enjoyed classes on the history of Ancient Greece and philosophy. He used his Bar Mitzvah money to fund productions, and he and his friends eventually realized that, “With enough Chutzpah and determination, we can produce.”

And so, the spring of his graduation, Schwimmer and seven friends founded Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago.

Shapiro told Schwimmer that she always thought it was bizarre seeing Schwimmer on television because he was, deep down inside, a stage actor. And now, after his work on Friends, Schwimmer has returned to the stage as an actor and director.

“I love just being one of the many parts helping a director realize his vision. I want to kick ass for the director,” he said.

The road hasn’t been perfectly smooth, however. Schwimmer said often he is not cast because directors fear that he will project his Friends character onto the production.

“I’m at a place where I can’t be anonymous yet,” he said.

Despite that, Schwimmer focuses on the future, not the past (Shapiro lauded him to for being well-grounded, an unusual trait in actors, she said). He has a two-yearold daughter, and spoke briefly on parenting, saying that he would not allow his child “to enter that world” of Hollywood until she discovered who she was.

“I would never raise a daughter in Los Angeles. There’s so much pressure on appearance,” Schwimmer said. He clicked his tongue. “I’m like, ‘Not gonna happen.’”

Many students who attended the question and answer session came to see the Friends star. While they waited in the lobby before the talk, wait listed students waited anxiously and girls bearing tickets gasped when Schwimmer walked past them to enter the theater.

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