Michael Kostroff (of 'The Wire' fame): "It's fun to play a terrible person."

By JENNIFER K. BAUER jkbauer@inland360.com

Michael Kostroff never planned to be a sleazy lawyer, or play one on TV, but it made him famous.

Kostroff is best known for his role as the shady gang attorney Maury Levy on the acclaimed HBO series, “The Wire.”

“I think I look like what people think a lawyer should look like,” said Kostroff in a phone interview from New York where he was playing another attorney for the season finale of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”

click to enlarge Michael Kostroff
Michael Kostroff

Kostroff, 53, grew up in New York where he aspired to a career in musical theater but found work in television. When he was 41, Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman cast him in the “The Producers” first national tour and he traveled the country playing Mr. Marks and, as an understudy, Max Bialystock. He wrote a book about the experience, “Letters from Backstage: The Adventures of a Touring Stage Actor,” which he will read and sign at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 2 at BookPeople of Moscow.

As a working actor Kostroff has appeared in a wide variety of TV shows, from soap operas to “ER,” “The West Wing,” “Sonny with a Chance” and “The Blacklist.” Constantly traveling between New York City and Los Angeles, he also stops in Moscow to spend time with his wife of three years, Jenny Kostroff, executive director of Heart of the Arts Inc., at the 1912 Center. The two met years ago when Jenny worked as the house manager for the San Jose Repertory Theatre and later reconnected.

“It’s an epic romantic tale with a lot of coincidences and chapters to it,” said Kostroff, who took time to answer questions from Inland 360. “When you find your person you have to make it work.”

360: When you were filming “The Wire” could you see from the inside what a critical success it would become?

Kostroff: “Not at all. When I first got on ‘The Wire,’ like any actor, I was happy to have a job. I don’t think any of us really grasped its specialness until the first season aired and then it was like this big ohhhhhh. As the fan base grew like wild fire it became even more clear. When people started calling it the best show ever on TV I felt more and more honored to be any part of it at all. Now, 10 years later, people are still discovering it for the first time. I loved my role. It’s fun to play a terrible person, it really is. People who know me know I’m a goofball in real life.”

360: You’ve played a lot of roles in many TV shows. Are you recognized in public and if so, what role do people most recognize you from?

Kostroff: “Almost every day. Either they can’t quite place me or ... they instinctively don’t like me and they don’t know why. New Yorkers aren’t shy about saying hello. My wife always laughs about this. They have a funny way of acknowledging you. One day a guy walked by and without breaking his stride he said, “Good actor, you.’ “People sometimes feel nervous. They don’t want to come up and bother actors, but how many jobs are there in the world where people come up to you and tell you, you do your job well? Usually it’s ‘The Wire’ but I just finished ‘The Blacklist’ and that’s a pretty highly watched show.”

360: Why did you decide to write a book about touring with “The Producers?”

Kostroff: “I’ve always been a very late bloomer. It took me awhile to get my career off the ground. The book is about how, at age 41, I booked the first national tour of ‘The Producers,’ a lifelong dream come true. ... There isn’t anything like that experience. There’s something about going from town to town six nights a week performing for a new group of strangers — to make them laugh, to make them cry. It’s really a joyful experience. It’s really a conversation. It’s just sort of magic. “When I went on the tour I wanted to bring all my friends with me. At every tour stop I wrote a rather involved account of, not just what the city was like, but what was going on in the show — the backstage mishaps, the strange hotels, the travel delays. ... I guess I told the stories in a literary way and people started to push me to get it published.”

If You Go

Who: Michael Kostroff reading from his book “Letters from Backstage: The Adventures of a Touring Stage Actor”

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, May 2 Where: BookPeople of Moscow, 521 S. Main St. Cost: Free

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