Rob Lowe has played heroes and villains over the past four decades, in everything from sitcoms to dramas — "The West Wing," "Parks and Recreation," "St. Elmo's Fire" and "About Last Night" among them.
His current project is a one-man show, "Stories I Only Tell My Friends: LIVE!" coming to Durham Performing Arts Center on May 18, a behind-the-curtain look at a singularly quirky career.
Lowe has had a busy spring, starring in the CBS drama "Code Black" and appearing in "Super Troopers 2."
He took a few minutes from editing his upcoming remake of "The Bad Seed" to chat by phone. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
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Q: Your son went to Duke University here. What year did he graduate?
A: In 2016, and we were very lucky. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) spoke at his graduation, and it was the first time he'd ever done that, which I found shocking. I'm a huge Duke fan and always have been.
Q: So your Duke fandom led you to executive produce "I Hate Christian Laettner" for ESPN?
A: Well, I remember "The Shot," as everybody does. He's just such a fascinating character people love to hate, which is a mantle that Grayson Allen has taken a little bit recently. But between being a Duke fan, my "West Wing" character being a Duke alum and my son going there, it just kind of made sense.
Q: When you'd come here, what were your favorite spots to go around Durham?
A: You're gonna laugh, but I really loved going to the Waffle House — and I hear there's a brand new one closer to campus now! I definitely indulged in unhealthy, yummy eating there. And I loved the trails at Washington Duke Inn, so I'd do the Waffle House and then try to run it off. I loved going to Bulls games, too, got to throw out the first pitch there once. Duke Gardens, too. Just the whole place.
Q: How closely is "Stories I Only Tell My Friends" based on the book of the same name?
A: It's not, really. I wrote "Stories" and then "Love Life" two years later. People liked them and I liked writing them, too. So instead of writing a third book, I decided to write this one-man show with those two books as take-off point.
Q: Any stories from the show you'd like to tease out in advance?
A: Hey, I ask (Bruce) Springsteeen what he's gonna play, and he'll never tell me. That works great for Bruce, so I'll let it be a surprise. But as to what people can expect, I've been fortunate to witness a lot of very, very unique circumstances in terms of boots on the ground in Hollywood for almost 40 years. The backbone of the evening is behind the curtain in Hollywood, which is the extraordinary element.
There's also the relatable element of the same trials and tribulations everyone has with a family, as a husband, all that. So it's very human yet extraordinary, and above all very funny.
Q: What's your short answer when you're asked how to break into the business?
A: The long answer, you can learn from the show. It's a very long look at how an 8-year-old boy always knew what he wanted to do but lived in Dayton, Ohio — not exactly a hotbed of movie-making — and ended up with the career I've had. The real take-away is, there are no rules. That's the good part and also the bad part, that there's no road map.
Q: Are there any particular roles or films or shows people most want to talk about?
A: It's not just one, which is satisfying. For some it might be "The Outsiders" or "St. Elmo's Fire," "Parks and Rec," "West Wing." It's satisfying not to be known for just one or two things.
Q: That scene in "Bad Influence," where you walk away smirking, "Elvis has left the building," is amazing.
A: Thank you. That was an ad-lib! I love "Bad Influence." If I had to pick what I think are my best movies, that would be in the top two or three, along with "About Last Night." TV, it's certainly "West Wing," "Parks and Rec" and "Grinder."
Q: Speaking of "Parks and Recreation," where'd your Chris Traeger character's "literally" thing come from?
A: I never knew the answer to that until the day I wrapped for the last time. Mike Schur, the show's creator, gave me his handwritten notes from the first time we met and talked about what kind of character Chris Traeger would be. And written in his own hand was, "Says the word 'literally' all the time." So clearly that came from me, and Mike thought it was funny. And of course we leaned into it.
Q: People must come to you all the time demanding, "Say literally."
A: Yeah, and it's great. Are you kidding me? One of my greatest accomplishments was Merriam-Webster changing the definition of "literally" and citing my misuse of it as Chris Traeger.
Q: How would Sam Seaborn, your character from "The West Wing," handle doing communications for Donald Trump?
A: Oh, boy. I ... don't think he'd be a good fit. Not necessarily because of politics so much as his love of soaring rhetoric. "Rhetoric should raise the roof." Trump has strengths, but that's probably not one. Sam's one of those people who sees the good in everybody, and he had his illusions shattered all the time.
Everyone on "West Wing" was this bright-eyed optimist, but Sam took that to a new level. He would've found the good in everyone, even now, to the chagrin of his "West Wing" partners in crime.
What: Rob Lowe's "Stories I Only Tell My Friends: LIVE!"
When: 7:30 p.m. May 18
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham
Tickets: $35 and up
Info: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com