This weekend, John Stamos heads to New York to present at Sunday’s Tony Awards (CBS, 8 p.m.). This fall, he returns to Broadway, starring as Albert Peterson in the long-awaited revival of Bye Bye Birdie opposite Gina Gershon, who takes the role of Albert’s secretary, Rose Alvarez. (“It’s a sexier way to play Albert and Rosie,” Stamos says, “and there’s nothing wrong with that.” We concur.) Stamos phoned PopWatch to chat about filling Dick Van Dyke’s shoes, his upcoming dinner-and-a-show date night (with South Park cocreator Matt Stone), the truth behind that rumored ER spinoff, how exactly he’ll make winning a meet-and-greet with him in an online charity auction worth your while, and more…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the Tonys. You’re presenting two awards — best performance by a featured actor and actress in a musical. Who are you rooting for?
JOHN STAMOS: Well…I don’t know. That’d be bad for me to say, wouldn’t it? Hair, so far, is one of my favorite shows on Broadway this season. I will say that. I’m going again on Tuesday. I have date night with my friend Matt Stone. [Laughs] We’re going to dinner and the theater, just the two of us. He emailed me the other day. I said, “I can’t wait for our date!” His wife is staying at home. I’m not bringing a girl. So we have date night Tuesday, and we’re gonna go see naked people. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
Through Matt’s eyes. That’ll be great.
Yeah, right? As you can see from [South Park], both Matt and Trey, especially Trey, love musical theater.
Yeah. They’ll have to tell you. They are working on something.
Moving on to your show: What was your reaction when you were offered Albert in Bye Bye Birdie?
I think it’s an interesting casting idea to put me in the role. I used to get asked to play Conrad when I was younger. It’s exciting. The show has never been revived — ’61 was the last time it was done with Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera on Broadway. [The producers] were like, “Hey, you want to do this?” I’m like, “Let me see.” “They’re like, ‘It’s Bye Bye Birdie! You can’t say no!'” I wanted to read it and play around with it. And then I started realizing how important this show is to so many people. It’s one of the most licensed plays in schools and community theaters.
Oh, I did it in high school.
Everybody I’ve run into said, “‘I did it in high school. I played Kim.’ ‘I played Hugo.’ ‘I played Conrad.'” Everybody’s got some connection to this thing. We haven’t even started rehearsals yet, but I truly believe that for the time that we’re living in right now — where people need to go and be happy and just open their hearts and smile and laugh and sing along for a couple of hours — this is the perfect show. I know this sounds like the corniest tagline on the planet, I’m sorry, but it really does have something for everybody. We hired real high school kids, and Nolan Gerard Funk as Conrad. Then you have myself and Gina, so you hit that age and that great love story. And then you have Bill Irwin [Harry MacAfee] and Jayne Houdyshell [Mae Peterson]. Somebody can bring their parents and their kids.
What are you most looking forward to about the role?
It’s about becoming a man. I’m playing him younger than I am. He’s in his 30s. It’s a guy who’s got to come to terms with if you’re in love, be a man and step up to the plate — that’s basically Albert’s story. My personal challenge is to really build this character from his physicality up. A big part of this character will be how I move, and I’m working hard on that right now.
Dance lessons! Like I said, I haven’t even started rehearsals yet, but I’ve been dancing and singing here every day to get ready. This is a big shot for me. I’m putting every ounce of everything I have in this. If I could pick anything on the planet to do after the last three years on television [as Dr. Tony Gates on ER], it would be to go back to Broadway. [He’s appeared in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Cabaret, and NINE.] This really was my dream: Go back to Broadway. Originate a role. And find something that people really want to see at this time. Honestly, I just feel like this blessing dropped in my lap.
Since you brought up ER: Was there any truth to the rumors of you being offered a spinoff and opting out?
It wasn’t like they came to me and said, “Do you want to do this?” and I said no. That didn’t happen. But there was a lot of discussion about it. I think the main thing that stopped it before I said yes or no was that Michael Crichton had it in his deal that there would be no spinoffs of ER. So we would’ve had to have gotten around that first. I was kinda up for it, I loved working with those people, but John Wells and I talked about it and we never really figured out what the show could be. It was just time for all of us to do something new.
So if the story wasn’t coming to you, why force it?
That’s what John said. He goes, “It could come to me driving. It could come to me in the shower. Whatever, it just pops into my head. And it really hasn’t yet.” So to clear up those rumors, it was never, “John, here’s a spinoff” and me saying, “No, I’m not doing it.” It was much more gray than that.
I also read that you’re co-producing a movie version of TV’s The Jeffersons. Is that true, and what’s its status?
[Laughs] Yeah. I don’t know. Years ago, when I wasn’t working as much, I started this production company. I just did things that I wanted to do [ABC’s Beach Boys: An American Family miniseries, CBS’ Martin & Lewis movie]. I’ve always been a big fan of The Jeffersons, and we just got the rights. So it’s in development and we’re pitching it. It’s on a track, I guess. [Laughs] I don’t know. You know, I have 10 things like that going on. I’m working on Full House: The Movie. I want to do that.
Yeah. I want to do it like what they did with The Brady Bunch. Recast, I wouldn’t do it with us. That’s kind of in the works.
You’re also the national spokesman for Project Cuddle [a non-profit organization that rescues abandoned babies and coordinates adoptions for troubled pregnant women]. How did you get involved with that?
I’ve been involved for about five years. My sister was trying to help her friends adopt a kid, and she said to [Project Cuddle founder Debbe Magnusen, a friend of Stamos’ mother], “You know, if you help me out here, I’ll deliver my brother at one of your benefits.” [Laughs] So I guess I was just sort of pimped out at first to help someone get a kid. Naturally, I didn’t go blind. I wanted to find out everything about the organization before I showed up, and I found a saint of a woman saving babies out of her garage, basically. I got involved first because I believed in it, but I was like, Out of everything I’ve ever been asked to do, I know I can make my biggest mark with this because she had no national exposure at all. It was the most tangible thing — she’s saving babies! Who won’t do a story on that? So I just went out and publicized the hell out of it. Oprah found out about it and we did a huge thing on her show, every show. Now I’m at the point where not only am I trying to get the word out and doing whatever I can to raise money, but I’m also developing a movie about it at Lifetime, based on Debbe’s life.
There’s currently an online auction underway to benefit Project Cuddle, and one of the lots is two tickets to Bye Bye Birdie and a backstage meet-and-greet with you. How will you make it worth the winner’s money?
I will do the meet-and-greet naked…or in my underwear at least.
The bid just went up a few hundred dollars.
Before I started doing Broadway, one of the most exciting things to me was to walk out on that stage and look out at the audience. It’s still exciting. So I love taking people on tours of the stage ’cause they always freak out. That’s what this will include.