On the phone to discuss his receiving the PlayMakers Distinguished Achievement Award at the Carolina Inn on Saturday, Feb. 12, David Hyde Pierce shows little of the stuffy, obtuse uptightness he became famous for over 11 seasons as Niles Crane on TV’s Frasier. But the character’s fierce intelligence is on display as the four-time Emmy winner rapturously discusses his first love—the stage.

Pierce, a Tony winner for 2007’s Curtains, first came to PlayMakers last year, when his longtime partner, UNC graduate Brian Hargrove (a long-time TV writer for such shows as Titus), was honored.

Since Frasier ended in 2004, Pierce has focused on the theater, headlining such productions as Monty Python’s Spamalot and more recently, David Hirson’s La Bête on Broadway. At this point in his career, he can afford to be choosy about his roles, taking on more eclectic projects at his leisure.

“To be able to choose what you want to do, and not have to worry about the economics of it, to take whatever’s offered, that’s a great luxury,” he says. “There’s also a great responsibility, I think, to yourself and your artistic life.”

Regional theater such as PlayMakers, Pierce says, “reminds me a lot of being in London—there, the audiences are constantly exposed to a wide range of plays. They’re not all good, but the audience starts to develop a wider idea of what a play is.

“That means the audience in the regions around the country can have more diverse tastes than audiences in the bigger cities, who get short bursts of shows that have been pre-selected, because we think they can make it through the gauntlet of fire that is commercial theater.”

Pierce bluntly answers “no” when asks if he’d like to do a TV series again, despite his respect for the medium.

“I don’t feel like I left anything undone doing Frasier. I loved that whole experience, it was fulfilling in every way, and after we filmed our last episode, I didn’t walk out of that soundstage thinking, ‘Oh, if only I’d had a chance to do something I didn’t get a chance to do with that fantastic company and that great writing.’ It would have to be something that really caught my eye and my ear about the writing of the character.

“The bottom line for me is the live audience. I love that connection, and it’s very difficult for me to give that up.”

Pierce’s upcoming work includes the independent film The Perfect Host and making his directorial debut on a stage production written by Hargrove.

We asked him if he had any advice for the production of Spamalot, scheduled to take place at DPAC in May. “I’m sure the actors know the material well already,” says Pierce, “but I can offer what Mike Nichols (the original director) told me—‘No matter how funny it gets, remember—it’s always very, very serious.’”

For more information on the PlayMakers Ball, including tickets and sponsorship, contact Lenore Field at 452-8417 or lenore.field@gmail.com, or visit www.playmakersrep.org.