Tom’s Interview: Peter Berkrot recalls role in Caddyshack

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

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TOM WARD
TOMPWARD@SBCGLOBAL.NET
 
Peter Berkrot is an award winning Audiobook Narrator whose won 10 Earphone Awards for Excellence, been nominated for five Audie Awards (one solo, four multi-cast) and won two Audie Awards in 2016. His voice can be heard on television, radio, video games, documentaries and industrials.
In a career that has spanned four decades in the entertainment industry he’s been a prominent acting coach and a regular contributor to the award-winning news program Frontline produced by WGBH in Boston.
Peter served as director of narration for the Emmy-nominated The Truth About Cancer. Recently, I spoke with Berkrot who told me he started narrating audio books first for the Library of Congress in 2007.
Berkrot said, “In 2009, I did my first commercial audio book and I’ve been doing it full time ever since.”
Since that time Peter has voiced over 375 audiobooks and more than 200 for children.
As an actor some career highlights are Showtime’s Brotherhood, appearances on America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries. However, it’s his role in the comedy classic Caddyshack, his first film, that has endeared himself to fans around the world for the past 38 years. He played Angie D’Annunzio the smart ass middle brother to his fellow actor Scott Colomby’s character Tony.
TW:  How did you get your role in the film?
PB:  I was living in New York at the time working as a carpenter at the Berkshire Theater Festival in the summer of 1979 when I got casted. Actor Tom Hulse was doing a play there and we became good friends. He came up to me one day and told me he knew some people who were making a movie and would I be interested in auditioning? I told him of course as I had just turned 20. Tom( Hulse) had just come off of doing Animal House. He set up the audition for me through his manager. I asked him why did he think of me? He said they’re looking for a crazy, wacky kind of partying type of kid that they would like hanging around with and I thought you would fit in. So, in the audition I read a scene with Georgianne Walken that was ultimately cut from the movie. It was a very good scene and she seemed to like it. I had been in a million auditions before that as I first started auditioning at around 12. After that I went back to building scenery and then I got a call back a few weeks later. So I went back to the same casting office in New York and walked into the room and there was Harold Ramis, Doug Kenney and Brian- Doyle Murray sitting there. I didn’t know much about Harold at that moment, but I knew who Doug was. I kind of knew who Brian- Doyle was. Growing up I had been a huge fan of National Lampoon so I was kind of slightly agog.  I wasn’t nervous per-say, but there were voices in my head saying to be clever and funny. I did make them all laugh a couple of times, but I was in complete awe of Doug because he was a strong influence in terms of my sense of humor.
TW:  What did they tell you about the character you were playing?
PB:  My character was simply described as Angie the rat like D’Annunzio. They were still working on the script so I really had no lines at that point. They had this idea for 3 Italian brothers The youngest one named Joey was suppose to be 10 years old. He was the one that was supposed to do all the things I wound up doing. The pitchfork and swimming pool scenes and all that stuff was suppose to be this cute little kid.
TW:  Once you arrived on set in Florida what was your take on how things were going?
PB:  It’s hard to say as the whole process of making this movie was kind of ad-libbed. There were lines and then there were suggestions. For me with my theater and acting background improv was a natural way to work. I’ll give you an example about the time I was about to shoot the scene with Brian-Doyle Murray who played Lou. It was when he throws me against the wall and says, “What’s that sign say? No Fighting!” That was the line written in the script. So I’m walking around like an idiot making fun of myself saying no fighting. Brian walks up to me and says, “What’s your character like?” I told him he’s a smart ass. He walks over to the sign and says to me what does that sign say? I looked at the sign and said no bare feet. He said, “Exactly.” So the whole film was improv based on loose material. There really wasn’t too much rehearsal.
TW:  Is it true that the very first frame of footage shot on the film involved your character?
PB:  Yes, the very first day of shooting Bill(Murray) wasn’t there yet. They decided to get the caddy stuff done first. So the very first shot of the movie was me sitting on the edge of the caddyshack wall eating powdered doughnuts while this guy does this eccentric story about the Dalai Lama. He was a local actor from Florida and we shot it for like 3 or 4 hours and the gag was I’m eating these doughnuts while he’s telling me this odd story. Harold (Ramis) told me to keep eating the doughnuts and don’t swallow them. I sat there and stared at this crazy guy whose talking about the Dalai Lama and by the time he finished the 2 minute dialogue I had the equivalent of like 4 doughnuts in my mouth and I was covered head to toe in powdered sugar. When it was all said and done I thought that was funny. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when Bill came on the set a girl I knew named Lori who was an assistant editor came over to me and told me I’m not supposed to do this, but I want to show you something. She was being let go because of some disagreement with another editor so she wanted to show me the dailies I did in that scene because it was so funny. In the editing room she said they have to re-do the Dalai Lama scene. She told me to not worry they are going to do it with Bill Murray. They had to cut the original scenes we did because it didn’t work because of the other local actor, but they loved you. She showed me the footage of my scenes and it was hysterical. It was a cool thing that I got to see that. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was Bill’s very first scene in the film.
TW:  Tell me about your famous Dalai Lama scene with Bill Murray?
PB:  I was told to be on the set after lunch and I walk into the shack and there is Bill Murray holding this big rusty scythe. He starts swinging it near my face and I was so surprised I think it was pure panic or else I would have never spoken up. In retrospect I’m surprised I said anything, but I told him no way you’re going to stab me with that @#% thing. Then he says, “Ah alright on second thought” and then he picks up this pitchfork and the rest is history. During each take, Bill would try new things to keep it fresh and unpredictable. I remember at one point, I asked him to take it easy with the pitchfork because it hurt. He tells me, “Quit whining Berkrot!” That scene took about 7 hours to shoot. Harold was just learning the basics about directing so they did a master shot of the two of us. They re-did the whole scene a number of times with once over his shoulder and one over my shoulder with him looking at me. I think the reason I was giggling that you see in the movie and I found this out later in an acting class that made sense I wasn’t really good at anger. A couple of years later after I did the movie I was taking some advanced technique acting classes and realized that sometimes when I got nervous or angry I would giggle. So in a way I was suppressing much stronger emotions. So I think that was what was happening as I was laughing because I was really nervous. I wasn’t laughing because Bill was funny and I couldn’t keep a straight face. I had enough experience as a young actor back then to not break eye contact. I justified to
myself by not breaking eye contact as an actor by telling myself if I’m not careful he’s going to kill me. I do remember by the end of the day shooting that scene I looked like I had hives. My entire neck and chest were covered with spots where the pitchfork poked me. It was a heightened event as I’m having a scene with Bill Murray and I was totally aware of how cool it was while at the same time trying to maintain some sort of semblance of the character.
TW:  How many takes did it take for Michael O’keefe’s character (Danny Noonan) to make that winning putt for the caddy championship?
PB:  He did it the first time which was too bad. I was standing next to Ted Knight (Judge Smails) and he told me let’s do this thing where I grab you. We were good friends and we got along well. For that scene we had one rehearsal and he tells me I’m going to do this thing after you say “Noonan, Noonan” and I’m going to take your hat and pull it all the way down over your face and we can do a bit. I agreed that it sounded like fun so let’s do it. You can see it when you watch the film as he takes my hat and kind of pushes it down over my head, but it wasn’t far enough down for me to react to make that a moment. So we were going to do it again, but Michael holes the putt on the first time and Harold tells us we got it let’s move on. The swimming pool scenes took a total of 3 days. Some of us were really good at doing things because we weren’t thinking too much. A lot of us caddies were young and had done some acting and our instincts were good because a lot of the times we didn’t need to do many takes. I think the funny thing for a lot of them on set was when I get my bathing suit pulled off in the water. I backed up right into the camera and the camera guys came up out of the water spitting and laughing because they told me my ass is so big.
TW:  Where did you see the film when it came out and what were your impressions of it?
PB:  I knew the movie was opening in New York where I lived. I hadn’t gotten an invitation to the premiere and I was disturbed by that. I went over to Warner Bros studio which was located in Rockefeller Center and I went into their offices and told the people there that my tickets never arrived for the Caddyshack opening after I introduced myself. I just made up all that stuff on the spot. They apologized and felt so bad that they got me a couple of tickets. I did something I would have never had done if I knew better. So I invited this woman named Barbara Claman from IDC Casting after I just walked into her office and personally invited her to go to the movie with me. She was charmed by my naiveté’ and actually came to the event. I was super excited. I was wildly astonished that everything I did was in the movie.
The reason I got to do all the things I did in the movie was because they never found that 10 year old boy. The head of the teamsters there in Florida told the producers his daughter Minerva is Italian so they just gave her the part. They soon realized they couldn’t just have this girl get her bathing suit pulled off or throw her off a roof or stick a pitchfork in her. It was only a matter of serendipity that I would end up doing all the stuff in the movie that was supposed to be a different persons part. I felt bad for my fellow actors Hamilton Mitchell and Ann Ryerson who had much bigger parts than I did. A lot of scenes were axed when they started cutting the entire %#@& out of the movie and cut the entire plot which was about Danny, Tony and Maggie. I think they realized that while they set out to create this sweet movie about the caddies it just wasn’t as funny.
TW:  Did you keep anything from the movie?
PB:  I still have my Night Rider T-shirt which is ripped up pretty good. I’ve got the hat and bathing suit.
These days Peter lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts where he does his voice narrations for Audiobooks from the comforts of his home.
PB:  When I first got started doing voice work for Audible I would go to Newark where they were based. By 2010, the audio book industry was changing so drastically going from physical products to downloads. Producers and publishers wanted to save money by not having to hire out studios. They started relying on actors having their own studios. I went from doing 20 books a year in 2010 to doing 45 books in 2011 because I had my own home studio. I’ve done between 40 to 50 books a year since.
TW:  Tell me how you landed the job to narrate the new Caddyshack: The Making of a Cinderella Story book? 
PB:  It was a really unusual circumstance as the author Chris Nashawaty called me back in 2016 I guess to do an interview. I must have mentioned to him that if the book ever goes to audio to think of me because that’s what I’m doing. Then out of the blue back in March or April I got an e-mail saying they have a new book for me and it was the Making of Caddyshack book. I was mostly thrilled because I don’t get too jealous or envious because the audio book business is one of the most positive uplifting emotional things. The audio book community has some incredibly gifted, well rounded, intelligent and well read, funny and unnecessarily good looking people in it. No matter how much you want to do Stephen King or this or that one always feels positive when somebody gets a book you were up for. Books are like dead people there will always be enough to go around including the ones that came before. The point of all of this is I would have felt really awful if someone else got to narrate that particular book. That’s because I was in it and it was such a heightened event in my life.
TW:  Was your preparation different for this book than the others because you were a part of the story?
PB:  It’s no different than any other book as I read it first. What I thought was going to be just a lark and a lot of fun became a very emotional thing to me. It became like a movie within a movie in my mind. The more I described the events the more I relived certain things and found out new things I never knew. As a narrator here I was reading about myself at a time in my life when really everything was possible and the entire world was open to my little actor heart which was wide and excited as it could possibly be. The nostalgia took me back and made me feel very melancholy and old. At this moment I’ve done 375 books and a quarter or a third of those are non-fiction. I tend to approach non-fiction by listening to the voice of the author and read it for the tone and the quality of the author so I can embody his voice. Unless I’m doing a memoir say based in the south you tend to use your own voice because it’s the most authentic. In any book you look for those qualities of the author that are the most personal and the most passionate and you read it with that sense of spontaneity. I approached the Caddyshack book like I wasn’t in the movie and as kind of like an entertainment reporter fascinated by the people. Finding that natural voice for this book was pretty easy and seamless. It was only until I got to my own lines that things got interesting. My son lives at home with us and he’s one of my two engineers. Every time I did my own lines he would have to slow me down and tell me your rushing. I knew then what I was doing I was trying to sound like I do when I talk and I always talk fast. By doing that I was robbing myself of my quotes. I was almost self conscious in the moments when I was reading about myself. I had to pull back and treat me as I did everyone else.
TW:  How can someone hear your voice narration of the Caddyshack book?
PB:  Amazon owns Audible so go onto Amazon and type in my name and you’ll see my books along with sample five minute demos. Right now it’s only downloadable, but I got a strange e-mail from Audible asking me to do a couple of other corrections from what they said was the ‘brilliance’ version. I have a feeling that there may be a physical product for the Caddyshack book. B
Before ending my call with Peter I told him I thought it was pretty cool that he was the guy that was chosen to do the Caddyshack audio book especially because of his connection to the film. Berkrot agreed and then replied with perfect comedic timing the line that Bill Murray’s character said to him those many years ago “So I got that going for me…which is nice!”
Tom can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com

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