Volume 6, Number 3, 1997

Versatility marks actor's career

Bernie McInerney, AS '58, considers himself one of the lucky ones. He is an actor who's found steady work since his senior year at the University. Starring in such movies as Suspect and The American President, having a part in television's L.A. Law and performing on stage in plays like Arthur Miller's The American Clock, McInerney has survived the ups and downs of the business.

A die-hard Red Sox fan, McInerney likens his profession to his favorite sport. "It's like baseball. You have to keep your eye on the ball," he says.

And, that's what he's done, swinging at knuckle balls and curveballs and sliders, everything that comes at him. Through the years, there have been voice commercials, soap opera parts (he's currently Rex Whitmore on As the World Turns) and movies. He removed a bullet from Robert Redford in The Natural. He's played on Broadway in Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke. He has been Law and Order's Judge Callahan for seven years.

McInerney came to acting at a young age. He started by announcing the World Series defeat of the 1946 Boston Red Sox from his bicycle seat as he rode through his neighborhood. McInerney became a fan when his family traveled to visit relatives in Massachusetts for the summer, a trip that included a stop at Fenway Park.

He thought once he would become a sports announcer, but that was before he was "sucked into theatre, and then there was no turning back."

In 1958, as a member of E-52, the University's student-run theatre group, McInerney worked with Prof. C.R. Kase. The student group toured Army bases around the globe. McInerney saw Japan, Hawaii and Korea before returning to earn his degree in 1959.

From there, McInerney went to Catholic University to study theatre with Father Gilbert Hartke, who developed a touring company known as the National Players. McInerney made three U.S. tours with the company, performing in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Richard III and A Midsummer Night's Dream, plus the Greek tragedies, Orestia and Oedipus Rex. Back then, he had no idea of the curveballs the entertainment industry had in store for him.

"We always felt we'd be working on the stage forever, performing the great writers like Shakespeare, Moliere and Chekov," he says.

But, things have changed, and McInerney has changed with them, adding commercials, soap operas, television and movies to his resume.

Once upon a time, he sent out a photograph and a resume. Now, he sends a videotape to get auditions.

"A lot of the material is contemporary. I end up playing characters that are like me," he says. "Gone are the days of summer stock, where it didn't matter what you looked like when you played a character."

In television and movies, McInerney says, casting directors are looking for someone to bring a character to life.

"The higher up you get in the auditioning process, there is a culling process. They are looking for what you are like," he says. "Then, they want you to take the part and play it."

Through the years, McInerney says he's seen a number of failed careers. "Some of my friends got nothing, and some got tremendous things too soon and couldn't handle it. Some days, you think you'll never work again. But, there's always another job that comes along."

Resilience is the key, he says. And, McInerney keeps level by being busy.

"Rejection is not personal," he says. "It's only somebody's opinion."

Perhaps it's McInerney's background that prepared him for hard times. His passion for the Red Sox, the perennial losers, is part of what he calls his three-way suffering.

"I'm Irish, Catholic and a Red Sox fan. Those are three things that cannot be denied," he says. "I don't know why I am destined to suffer. I enjoy it."

At the same time, he also enjoys the good times.

"The great parts are the great experiences. They are the lights you keep inside until you get a great part again."

To him, those great parts have been Shakespeare's Richard III and Petruchio and George Bernard Shaw's characters. He also enjoyed playing the role in Suspect and the part in The American Clock.

Another great part of McInerney's life has been his family. He grew up in Delaware. His father, an auditor with the DuPont Co., died last year at the age of 91; his mother is 93. He lives in Rutherford, N.J., with his second wife, Leilani, and their son, Danny. Rutherford is just 25 minutes from New York City, and close enough to the airports that jet him to Hollywood.

Another son, Bernard, lives with his family in Virginia, and his daughter, Kathleen, is an actress living with her actor-husband in New York.

"I tried my best to discourage her," he says. "I'd take her backstage, show her auditions, show the dreary side of acting. But, she and her husband are both making their way. I offer advice. I tell them to keep swinging."

It's been a long season, with home runs and some strikeouts, but McInerney doesn't see himself slowing down.

"My father worked for DuPont, and he had to retire," McInerney says. "I don't have to retire. I can just continue on. There's no point in stopping as long as there's work."

Traveling with him will be his versatility, his resilience and the star-crossed Boston Red Sox.

"On my grave stone, it will read: 'Cause of death: Red Sox,'" he says.

-David G.W. Scott