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Actor Kevin Anderson describes his stage, film and television career as a "world of choices and experiences."

With a casual and relaxed personality, unlike some of the intense character roles he's played, he discusses his projects with candid "what you see is what you get" honesty.

"Over the years, I've had powerful agents and I've also done without, but I've always made my own decisions," said Anderson, while taking a break from his latest project which has brought him back "home" to Chicago to star in a world premiere play opening tonight at Victory Gardens Theater.

"The role has always had to be right for me, or I'm just not interested. And right now, I'm not even working with an agent or a manager. It's just me."

Anderson, who was raised just north of Chicago in Gurnee, Ill., says while growing up, he not only worked at Marriott's Great America (now Six Flags), but his house was so close to the amusement park he could actually see the roller coasters.

So when he gets the chance to come back home at least once a year to see his mom and his sister, he's always equally eager to spend time at some of his favorite theater spaces.

Besides his work as an ensemble member at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, he's also fond of Victory Gardens Theater, the stage where he'll star in Victory Gardens playwright and ensemble member Joel Drake Johnson's new play "A Guide For the Perplexed" which runs through Aug. 15.

"I've been back in Chicago for a few weeks and it's been a quick process," said Anderson, whose last work in the Windy City was starring opposite John Mahoney in "I Never Sang for My Father" at Steppenwolf in 2004.

"But I was drawn to this play early on and agreed to be in the cast more than a year ago."

Anderson plays Doug, a newly released prison inmate who is forced to take reluctant residence with his sister's husband, their teenage son and some very comfortable yet uncomfortable surroundings. His character's transition back to society and continued rehabilitation put valuable emphasis on self-examination for his hosting family members as well. The arrival of his female pen pal from his prison stay becomes a catalyst for everyone's shared feelings of pain, guilt and anger.

Anderson is known to TV viewers for his Golden Globe nominated leading role in 1997 as a struggling Roman Catholic priest in the ABC series "Nothing Sacred."

But it's his stage work that he says makes him the proudest.

Prior to his Chicago homecoming, he was in Dublin, Ireland, also starring as an inmate, as the lead in "Shawshank Redemption."

"It's completely a coincidence," he said.

"I was actually already committed to this play for Victory Gardens even before I did 'Shawshank.'"

As for regrets, he only looks forward rather than dwelling on the past.

When asked if there's ever been a film role he's passed on, he has to think hard.

"At the same time I was up for my role opposite Bruce Willis for 'In Country' (1989), I could have had the role Keanu Reeves was cast in for 'Dangerous Liasons' (1988)," Anderson said.

"Both are great films, but 'Dangerous' is probably much more known to audiences."

Tickets for "A Guide For the Perplexed" are $40 and available at (773) 871-3000 or victorygardens.org.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or 219.852.4327.

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