Gary Busey Is Playing God. Seriously.
Describing an interview with Gary Busey is nearly impossible. On one hand, the experience is exactly what you might think: Frenetic. Unfocused. The works. His sentences are sprinkled with what he calls “Buseyisms”: acronyms he’s spelled out for decades that hint at his philosophy on life. B.I.B.L.E., for example, is “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” and partially the title of his memoir.
On the other hand, Mr. Busey, 75, still manages to surprise you. He came by The New York Times recently to discuss “Only Human,” a new Off Broadway musical in which Mr. Busey plays the role of God. The show, which begins previews Tuesday and opens Oct. 21 at Theater at St. Clements in Manhattan, is a contemporary workplace comedy featuring a showdown between Jesus and Lucifer, who battle over their new creation: Earth.
While this may seem like an odd fit, Mr. Busey said he hasn’t been as excited about a part since his Oscar-nominated title role in 1978’s “The Buddy Holly Story.” And why not? He has been a musician for decades, and counts several A-list musicians as friends, including Bonnie Raitt.
But Mr. Busey, who studied drama at Oklahoma State University, fell into acting and became a mainstay in television and film. Substance abuse and a serious motorcycle accident in 1988 derailed his life and career.
In the last 20 years, he’s received more attention for eccentric appearances on reality television shows like “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” In 2016, He did a two week stint in the Off Broadway murder mystery “Perfect Crime.”
Mr. Busey discussed the new show and, really, whatever else he wanted, alongside his fiancé, Steffanie Sampson. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve played so many roles in film and television. Why does God in particular hold such meaning for you?
O. K. On December 4, 1988, I went off a Harley-Davidson without a helmet. Hit my skull on the curb, split my skull off the side, knocked a hole that big, and I passed away after brain surgery and went to the other side. The spiritual realm. The supernatural, and was surrounded by angels. Angels were big balls of light. Not quite as big as a volleyball. They’re moving. They’re breathing. They’re shining. They’re all different colors. They were all around my essence.
And three of the angels — woop, woop, woop — came up to me, and I felt love, protection and trust like I have never felt on Earth. One of them talked to me in an androgynous voice and said, “What you’re doing is wonderful. You’re going in a great direction. But because of your responsibility to mankind, you need to look for help in the spiritual realm. You may come with us now, or you may return to your body and continue to your destiny. It’s your choice.”
Do you feel that you were destined for this role?
No, sorry. Destined.
I’m just kidding. I don’t know, but yes. Yes! I do know. Yes. Of course, yes. What happened, Jesse Murphy, the producer, he saw my book cover, and he saw the halo over my head. He said, “Ah ha! I found God.”
Is doing theater fun for you?
If you can’t enjoy something, why do it? I enjoy everything in life. My motto is giving love with fun. And the word fun — F.U.N. — stands for Finally Understanding Nothing. And that’s fine.
Give me a sense of how spiritual you are. Do you believe in God?
It’s not believing. It’s understanding the power that is here. The energy of the creator lives its essential point of existence. That’s where all life begins. And all life begins before time began. It’s a beautiful flow of loving energy that creates wonderful and beautiful things.
You live in Malibu. Do you like New York?
I love New York. Oh my gosh. I’ve been all around the world making movies and doing tours. This city is the city that never sleeps. When it does, it sleeps with its eyes open because you don’t know it’s asleep when it is.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I have some vitamins. Then I stretch. I put on a hearing aid. Put on my watch. This morning, I did great. You’ll be very happy to hear this. I took a shower. I got scrubbed down [points to Ms. Sampson]. Washed my own hair. All because I have a leader in my house that wears a dress and pants. Right there, Steffanie Sampson Busey.
What haven’t you done yet that you’d like to try?
Music. Producing and write. Do music with my friends. Release it. And also direct a movie. Me in it. Jake in it. My 48-year-old son who is doing great. Has been since he’s five. He played my son in “Straight Time” with Dustin Hoffman. No acting required.
Would you like to do more theater?
Oh yes. That’s how I started. I was playing football in high school, starting center. I was also very funny. Football team got together and said, “Busey, go out for the play.” I said, “What? I’m not doing that, man. I’d be a sissy.” “No, you’re funny. We dare you to go out for the play.” So I went out for the play. It was “South Pacific.” I got a part. People laughed at me. I loved it.
Are you nervous for previews?
The word nervous is not in my vocabulary.
Sopan Deb is a culture reporter, writing about the intersection of politics and culture, among other topics. He covered Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign for CBS News, and his work has appeared on NBC, Al Jazeera America and elsewhere. @sopandeb
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