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F. Murray Abraham is game to play on 'Mythic Quest'

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There aren't many scenarios where it's OK to ridicule an 81-year-old, Oscar-winning actor. Making him play video games, though, seems to be one.

F. Murray Abraham, who stars as storyteller C.W. Longbottom on the AppleTV+ comedy "Mythic Quest," says he did his best to dive into the world of modern gaming. Abraham, who was born in Pittsburgh in 1939, has always enjoyed a rousing game of classic pinball or pachinko, but the TV show's cast and crew couldn't quite turn him into a gamer.

"They tried to teach me, and all they do is laugh at me," the longtime film and television actor told the Post-Gazette.

However, his gaming cluelessness turned out to be perfect for his character, who's also still learning the ropes of transitioning from the written word to digital storytelling.

"It allows people who don't know much about gaming into the show through me. Because they're as lost I am."

For the uninitiated, "Mythic Quest" is both the show's title and the name of a fictional massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMORPG, similar to "World of Warcraft." It's a workplace comedy that's just as much about the relationships between characters like creative director Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney) and lead engineer Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao) as it is about what it takes to maintain a game of this scale.

Season two of "Mythic Quest" will feature some shifting office dynamics as Ian and Poppy try to coexist as co-creative directors. Also, Abraham's C.W. will get some of his backstory filled in via flashbacks that he described as "very revealing."

This isn't the sort of project where one might expect to find a veteran film and movie actor. Though his career began in the 1970s, Abraham is probably best known for winning the 1985 best actor Academy Award for portraying Antonio Salieri in "Amadeus." He's had smaller roles in recent films "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Grand Budapest Hotel," and a recurring role as the enigmatic Dar Adal on Showtime's "Homeland."

Abraham finds the perception of him as a mostly serious, capital-A actor both baffling and amusing.

"About the first 15 years of my career were all comedy until I did 'Amadeus,' and suddenly I became a heavy," he said. "I prefer comedy, absolutely. And the idea that someone who had the idea of casting this character from a classical background in a gamer show is a brilliant concept. ... It really is a wonderful coming together of the two cultures."

Most people don't associate Abraham with Pittsburgh, which is fair considering that his family left when he was about 4 years old. He was mostly raised in El Paso, Texas, but his mother, one of 14 children, left him with cousins in places like Ford City and Punxsutawney.

He'd often visit the Pittsburgh area as a kid to visit family, he said. All these years later, he wanted to know if Kennywood was still a thing and if there were any Isaly's ice cream shops left. He also reminisced about Hill District jazz joints and barbecue and the stage work he did with Point Park University's Pittsburgh Playhouse.

As if to solidify his Pittsburgh bona fides, he blurted out unprompted: "Mister Rogers. What can I tell you?"

That's the sort of random aside you would expect from his "Mythic Quest" character, a constant source of laughs as he tries to learn the art of video-game storytelling. Abraham got a crash course on the industry when the show began.

"I've learned that it's probably one of the most dynamic world communication things happening in the world today," he said. "It's vast and immediate. That's what I think shocked me. This idea of mass communication is only talk until you actually make it function. That's what this does. It's the gathering of a whole world at one time, especially for the great big events."

Abraham is still not quite used to seeing his work appear on streaming services like AppleTV+.

"It's still hard to get adjusted to. It's OK, though, because it's another facet in this career of mine. And I imagine there's going to be something else new, maybe a robotic F. Murray Abraham creation. Nowadays it's all possible."

As much as pop culture fans might love to see what a mechanical F. Murray Abraham could do, the real thing is more interested in getting back onstage. He was about to start a play before the pandemic hit and said he misses an environment that's more tactile than, say, the pandemic special "Mythic Quest" put out in May 2020 featuring characters interacting via video-chat screens.

In the meantime, Abraham is proud that this show has injected a little joy into the lives of TV watchers while offering a fresh, humanistic take on the traditional office sitcom.

"People are so tired of this damn cloud we've been living under," he said. "It's time to have a good time and laugh."

 

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