Andy: I’d love to hear you talk a bit about what you do now, and how you got there.
Charlie: I am currently and have been for the past 15 years at the Manhattan D.A.'s office. For the past two years I’ve been Deputy Chief of the Public Corruption Unit. I oversee a unit that investigates and prosecutes public officials: elected officials, public servants, judges, lawyers - anyone that has the public trust and is alleged to have engaged in corrupt activity. Before that, I worked in securities fraud for about five years, in our Major Economic Crimes Bureau. And prior to that I started like everybody starts in a trial bureau, where I spent five years prosecuting street crime: assaults, robberies, attempted murder. If you stay in the trial division you ultimately end up doing homicides, but I wanted to get more into the complex white collar stuff.
When I was a kid I wasn’t thinking how much I wanted to be a lawyer. It’s funny talking to a writer about this, as that was probably the thing that I grew up thinking I wanted to be. Unfortunately, it was more of a romantic aspiration with none of the discipline that you find out you really need to pursue that profession. So I ended up doing a lot of things. After college I went out to L.A., and I worked in the film industry as a visual effects coordinator for five years. And it was only after that experience that I decided that I wanted to go to law school, and that I wanted to come back to New York and work at the Manhattan D.A.’s Office. Luckily, I got that job.
A: That’s a big deal job.
Charlie: For me it was a big deal, because when I went to law school, I was naïve. I didn’t know about all this transactional stuff that people did when they became lawyers. I just thought from watching TV if you become a lawyer you go into litigation, you’re in court and you try cases. When I got to law school, I found out that I was one of the only fools that thought that was the right path to take, and everyone else was getting high paying jobs at the law firms doing the transactional work. I put all my eggs in one basket and was very fortunate to get hired by Robert Morgenthau, and make it back here.
What about you? I assume a lot of people reading this will know that you’re a pretty successful playwright here in the city. How did you come to that? Is that something you were fixated on when you were at Grace?
Andy: No, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. For a long time.
Charlie: In fourth grade, you didn’t know?
Andy: No, I didn’t know. I liked math a lot.
Charlie: I remember that.
Andy: Yes, but then we got into more complicated things, like geometry, and I realized that I had hit my peak in math.
Charlie: You peaked in Mr. Bender’s sixth grade class?
Andy: I might have. I might have peaked when I was 11, as far as math goes. I’ve always liked fiction, and in high school was trying write some fiction. And I was acting a little too, but I was pretty terrible at that. Then I wrote some stuff in college, saw a woman I really, really liked perform a monologue I wrote in front of a laughing audience, and I was hooked. Even when I was writing fiction, the characters were talking to each other, and I started with sound and language. Also I come from a family where there are a lot of stories. My mother grew up in the south, and that side of the family really influenced how I am as a writer.
So I started writing, gradually increasing seriousness as time went on. In my early thirties, I decided to go to graduate school at Brown University to study with Paula Vogel and Erin Cressida Wilson. That was a great opportunity, and since then, I’ve mostly been here in New York, writing plays, teaching at some universities, and doing a little bit of screenwriting, and translation. As a writer you have to do a lot of different things to get by. I see this with artist friends in other fields as well. We all are multidisciplinary because that’s what it requires. Of course the whole world seems to be heading this way. No one keeps the same job for fifty years anymore. Artists are the ultimate freelancers, which is enjoyable, if at times complicated.
Charlie: Actually I feel like a bit of a freak having had the same job for 15 years. And of course I grew up with an actress mother, as you know. Actors are the kings of dabbling in everything to get by. Like all artists, they're ready to do whatever they have to do, to continue doing what they love.
Andy: We were at Grace in the seventies and eighties. It was a very different time here in New York. How does the city feel different to you?
Charlie: The differences are huge. When I left the city in ‘86, moving down for my last years of high school to my dad's house in Baltimore, the city was in the throes of [the 1980s crime wave]. And when I came back after law school, the place was different. I remember going to your house in what they now call the East Village - what we called Alphabet City back then. And it could be a hairy experience sometimes. There was a lot of infrastructure in decay. Your family had a beautiful apartment - a huge apartment - but it was still sort of the frontier. Stuyvesant Town, where I grew up, has changed dramatically. You walk through there today and it's like a college campus. There were trees and grass back then, but the whole place hadn’t had the brushstroke of gentrification across it.
The reason that I was interested in being a district attorney, frankly, is that we grew up in a time when the city was pretty hectic especially for adolescent males. It was a lot of fun hanging out with our friends. We had this giant playground in Manhattan and we took full advantage of it, riding on our B.M.X. bikes all over downtown. But it was also the kind of place where crime was rampant. You would get on the train and there was always some sort of aggression happening. I had in the back my mind that I'd like to get involved in combatting that, because I love the city. And I wouldn't trade growing up here for anything. But the funny thing was, by the time I got back here, it was all fixed.