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The working actor's life: kung fu movie, chipmunk ears, and a trip to Siberia

Author's note: although I'd interviewed Tim before, this was the first time I heard about the kung-fu movie.

If you go to the theater frequently in Seattle, then you’ve seen Tim Hyland. He’s that quintessential working man actor who can fill any role with panache or pathos. Currently, he is playing Leo Herman, a desperate and needy clown in Herb Gardner’s One Thousand Clowns at Intiman. And, as Hyland plays him, chipmunk ears and all, he’s the guy who gets the biggest belly laughs at the end of evening.

With thirty credits at Bathhouse, twenty-one at SCT, and countless more around town, you're one of a handful of Seattle regulars on the stage. What does it take to make a living as an actor here?

I don't know. Being kind, being tolerable, and being lucky.

Your program bio lists a kung fu movie role. When did that happen and how was that as an acting experience?

I love having that on my resume. I did it in Vancouver B.C. in 1988. The director, Yuen Woo-Ping, was then a Hong Kong stuntman turned director. He later became famous as the fight choreographer of The Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Charlie's Angels. But in this low budget feature, I was cast as the drug dealer middleman who brings the people with the drugs to the buyers who turn out to be the CIA, the corrupt CIA. They kill most of us in a warehouse shootout.

I saw no written script, and the director spoke no English. He kept yelling "OKAY!" all the time when he was trying to say "action" and "cut." He just couldn't remember those directions in English.

My cohorts all got guns and were supposed to return fire when fired upon by the corrupt CIA. I was supposed to turn and run and get shot in the back. It was a lot of fun and really scary. It is available on DVD. In The Line of Duty IV. Look for it. It's awesome.

Now A Thousand Clowns does have a script. How did you react when you first read the play?

I identified with Murry's idealism about living his life on his own terms. I think it holds up as a terrific comedy. Herb Gardner had a wonderful sense of comic structure.

You've played everything from a horse (Into the West) to half an Irish village (Stones in His Pockets). How hard is it to play the bad actor/desperate clown that is Leo Herman in One Thousand Clowns?

Playing Leo Herman is so much fun. The hardest part is waiting so long to go on. I did have to be careful early on not to push too hard when playing a character who spends his life pushing too hard. But all in all, it is even more fun than it looks.

As Leo, you're offstage for much of your interaction with the main characters in One Thousand Clowns. Can you see them from wherever you are and how do you keep up the emotion in the dialogue when you're a voice on the speaker phone?

I can see them on a tiny black-and-white television screen. It is actually very freeing and fun to be backstage on a microphone. I can be as physically ridiculous as I want, and I think I'm probably pretty spazzy back there.

And how do you feel about Leo's chipmunk ears in the final scene?

A long time ago I heard a drag queen use the term "work the dress" meaning: let the costume do the work for you. When I was working as a carpenter, my mentor said, "Let the tool do the work." That is how I feel about the chipmunk ears, they do much of the work for me, and that makes my job easier.

Ever tempted to go elsewhere? Los Angeles or New York? What keeps you in Seattle?

I think that Los Angeles is a place that steal people's souls. And New York is too big for me. I've lived here for twenty years. I never expected to. I have simply never wanted to leave. We are a community, and that is most important to me.

What's your next gig?

I will chaperone eighteen Bainbridge High School kids to Siberia, so they can mentor Siberian orphans at a summer camp. You can find out more at Then I will return to Seattle to direct a play called Tryst at The Bathhouse Theatre for Seattle Public Theater. It opens October 2.

You’re also on the steering committee for 14/48, the world's quickest theater festival. Want to add something about that?

Last weekend in July, first weekend in August at On The Boards. It is more fun than grown-ups should be allowed to have. Come check it out.

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