Q&A with John Benjamin Hickey

"The Big C's" scene-stealing actor on almond butter, old-school workouts and '70s architecture.

On Showtime's popular series "The Big C," John Benjamin Hickey plays the anti-establishment Sean — who sits, paradoxically, on the fringes of sanity and at the show's moral center. We sat down with the Tony award-winning actor just before the hit show started shooting its third season. While Hickey has none of his character's misanthropic tendencies, he does share a penchant for speaking his mind, and is charmingly candid about everything from his morning oatmeal to society's obsession with tabloid TV. 

This week’s workout:
I’ve been doing a lot of burpees lately. I’m a big circuit guy, and my workouts tend to be old-school.

What we’d be surprised to find in his fridge:
Pickled okra. I grew up in Texas, and we have this thing about okra down there. I buy it from a great farmstand by my house.

Where he feels most at home:
At my place in Connecticut. It’s in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains with some of the most beautiful rolling hills and scenic landscape in the whole United States. My house is one of those great ‘70s designs with lots of angles and lots of glass, like in the movie The Ice Storm

Best insider tip he’s ever received:
A trainer once told me to never eat eggs before you work out. So in the morning I eat oatmeal with almonds, a banana and an English muffin with almond butter on it. I find that 45 minutes later, the oatmeal is giving me energy, but the protein in the almond butter is what pushes me through.

Three things still on his bucket list:
I’d love to direct a Tennessee Williams play, act in London and to travel to Africa, India and Rome. I’ve been a lot of places, but I can’t believe I haven’t done Rome yet. I’ll start there.

His style icons:
Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Bridges and Larry Kramer. The Boss and Jeff Bridges are masculine but they’re not macho; it’s very effortless, and it’s very cool. Larry Kramer, who wrote "The Normal Heart," and has been a political activist fighting for people with HIV, is a true American hero. He can also rock turquoise rings on every finger and a pair of suede overalls. 

His "healthy living" heroes:
Diana Nyad, the woman who tried to swim from Miami to Cuba. She’s 61. I don’t know that much about her, to be honest. But the thing I love about her is that to me she personifies the zen notion that it’s not about the finish, it’s about the journey there. I think about her sometimes when I’m working out — very often you’re just trying to get to the end, and you don’t enjoy the process, and as a result you don’t work out really well. 

His latest obsession:

The Ludlow suit from J.Crew. It can fit anyone, and it’s a great cut. They’ve really figured out how to do it right over there. 

What he’s totally over:
Bullies, man. Any kind. Bullies in schools. Bully pulpits. Anybody who picks on somebody else for who they are or what they stand for or what they believe in is really terrible. How could you not be totally over it?

The book on his bedside table right now:
Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. It’s just crushing, it’s so good. 

His all-time favorite city:
New York City. If you come here in your 20’s and 30’s, you waste a lot of time comparing New York and LA, then you realize: don’t do that. You learn to appreciate LA more and more. It’s just that it does not compare to New York.  

What totally relaxes him:
I have to say facials. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve only ever gotten them at a hotel when somebody else is buying. When somebody starts to touch my face, I fall asleep. I fall asleep in the dentist’s chair. It relaxes me so much. It’s like scratching the scalp for most people; I have that on the face.

His number one reason for taking care of his body:
It makes me less crazy. It used to be to make my body look better, but more and more it’s about maintaining a balance in my life. I really think working out and getting rid of that excess energy stabilizes you. The days I exercise are the days that I’m much more in the moment. What it does for you psychologically is invaluable.

Message he’d send to the world with one request (Only catch: It has to be 140 characters or less):
I wish that we could make celebrities out of the people who make a difference (not the ones that spend $10 million on televised weddings), and that there was less vitriol in the political landscape. Too long?