Now the star of the USA Network’s critically-acclaimed “Suits,” class of ‘90 alumnus Gabriel Macht once strolled the hallowed halls of Beverly. During high school, Macht was highly involved with the school’s performing arts program and recalls acting under the tutelage of longtime theatre teacher Joel Pressman. In an exclusive interview with Highlights, Macht reflects on his time at Beverly and how it influenced his professional acting career.
What are your favorite memories from Beverly?
There are a lot of memories I have from my time at Beverly. I remember on the first day of my senior year I got together with my buddy, Jon Song, and we were driving home after school considering giving one real ‘go’ at being the stereotypical ‘obnoxious…senior’ by teasing a freshman. We weren’t the type of guys to continue that sophomoric behavior but we thought we’d have a laugh by doing it just once on the first day of school to one kid. So, we saw this young kid on his bike riding beside us and as we drove up next to him, we started screaming and pointing at him, “Freshman, you freshman!” As we drove past him I see that he’s giving us the finger in my rearview mirror. We couldn’t believe the guts on this kid. We’re idling at the stop sign waiting for him and as he drives by us…he confronts us with, “I’m a sophomore!” Needless to say that’s as far as we were to being total jerks!
Who were your favorite teachers at Beverly?
Coach Newman was a favorite of mine. He seemed the most down to earth and I continue to connect with him every once in a while. I remember getting into a car accident on a weekend and he was there at the intersection, coincidentally. He stayed at the scene to make sure we were all right. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.
Do you remember performing under the direction of [drama teacher] Joel Pressman?
I performed in many of the school productions, including two musicals. I was chorus in “How To Succeed Without Really Trying” and again in “The Music Man.” Joel was always very specific about diction. He made sure we pronounced our consonants. He was also very good at waving his arms to the orchestra. He also had a great way of growing his beard. Seriously, though, he was very supportive of me in the chorus and when I played some bigger parts in the straight plays. I ran into him at the High Holidays a couple years ago and he was very friendly and very proud of where I’ve gone in my career. He was definitely influential in my early years of becoming an actor.
How would you describe yourself during your high school days?
I was an okay student. [I was] very active in baseball my freshman year although my coach, Vonzie Paysinger, put me on the bench for the better part of the season in order to play the sophomore and then I knew early on that I wanted to get into drama, so I had to decide whether to pursue baseball or acting. When the frosh/soph baseball lineup was called my sophomore year in front of the swim gym I happened to be hanging there. When Vonzie called my name and I told him and the rest of my team that I wasn’t playing that year, he replied, “GOOOOOOD!” That gave me a lot of confidence! (Not really). I started taking acting seriously then. I spent a lot of time going to see my pals play baseball, football and basketball when I wasn’t behind the scenes my sophomore year in the theater and then onstage my junior and senior years. I was involved with the Television and Radio classes with Dave Stiles. I went to the drama competitions where I directed and acted in scenes that won at the state championship. I was very active in school.
How actively involved were you in the Performing Arts Dept. at Beverly and what are your most vivid memories from performances and rehearsals?
I was very involved in the performing arts. I remember, I had landed the role of Cyrano de Bergerac my senior year while the teachers were on strike. My director and I had a discussion about not being prepared enough if she was on strike with the other teachers. She secretly crossed the line to direct me one-on-one so that our production would get on its feet if the teachers approved a deal. Fortunately, that happened and we were ready to perform. I fell in love with that play. I am so thankful she stuck with me through that tough time.
How did your time in performing arts at Beverly shape your acting career and/or inspire you to pursue acting professionally?
I wanted to be an actor from a very young age even before high school. I loved being in the drama department at Beverly and it really prepared me for the same discipline you need in [college] and in the professional world. [The summer entering my junior year] I went to a Carnegie Mellon Pre-College acting program and at the end of the six-week course I auditioned to get into Carnegie Mellon when it came time to go to college. I was one of six others who were accepted and the rest is history. I also felt that my time at Beverly gave me the opportunities to fail as an actor. It’s much harder to fail professionally than in school. Acting at Beverly helped [form] early foundation of my craft which continued to strengthen [during college].
How did you feel when you guest starred on “Beverly Hills, 90210,” which portrayed the high school that you graduated from?
When I saw what I did on “Beverly Hills, 90210” I wanted to throw in the towel. First of all, I looked like Fabio trying to sell butter. I was supposed to be the stuck up senior who wasn’t very sensitive to the handicapped cousin of Jennie Garth’s character. I tried playing my character as a nice caring guy. I was trying to play against the material. I think the best thing that came out of that project was that I got to play a character named Tal Weaver! Now, people have posted it on Youtube and it continues to haunt me. Talk about failing professionally. Oy! Thankfully, I got some more opportunities so as not to fully embarrass myself.