INTERVIEW: “CRUDE” TALK WITH NICO TORTORELLA

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NICO TORTORELLA IS BARING IT ALL.

Nico TortorellaWhile on hiatus from his smash TV series, Younger, the hunky Italian-American actor is currently starring in Crude, a sexy, funny, topical, and original off-Broadway production. Written by Jordan Jaffe and directed by Kel Haney, Crude is now playing through May 21 at Ars Nova’s Theater 511 in New York.

In between performances, no topic was off-limits as Tortorella and I chatted about Crude, Younger, The Following, Scream 4, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Instagram, the new TV show he’s developing, and much more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: You’re making your off-Broadway debut with Crude.

NICO TORTORELLA: Woohoo!

Congrats! What about this play enticed you to want to try branching out from film and TV to focus on the stage?

Well, I grew up on stage in Chicago. I was studying at Steppenwolf and Goodman when I was younger. Over the course of five years, I played all three brothers in one show called Over The Tavern. It was a period piece, a 1950’s Polish family comedy. I was already doing 8 shows a week when I was a little kid, so doing Crude is kind of like a homecoming for me. It’s been ten years since I’ve been on stage doing a show outside of that little tap dance number I did with Sutton Foster and the Baltimore Symphony – which was incredible in and of itself, but that’s a whole other story.

I’ve been saying for years that I’m ready to get back to the stage and that I want to get back to my roots. Scheduling wise, it’s been a little bit difficult when you’re also working on film and television. And I’ve been living back and forth between New York and LA for so long, and finally I’m settled back in New York full-time. The opportunity came to itself time-wise and this show kind of just fell into my lap, and it was the perfect script. Jordan Jaffe just does such a good job of writing the way that I speak, if that makes any sense? It was a no-brainer. I read the script and was like, “Yes! Yes! Yes! When do we start?”

Tell me a little bit about your character, Jaime. How would you describe him?

He is your typical, upper-class Texas bro. He comes from a big oil family. I think that he had bigger dreams growing up of being famous and giving some big things to the world. He is a filmmaker and he was making all of these investigative documentaries when he was living in LA for a little bit, and then he moved to Texas because his dad offered him a job at the company. He tried to uphold his artistic integrity while working for the man. He’s split a little bit between what he wants to do, what he’s supposed to do, and how he’s supposed to support his family. So that’s kind of where the show opens … and it’s kind of all pretty much downhill from there.

As an actor, how do you go about getting into the proper headspaces to tackle characters as different and complex as Jamie and Younger’s Josh?

To me, people are the most interesting things in the world that we have. I’ve spent time with so many different types of people from all walks of life. I’ve spent a lot of time in Texas. I grew up with some of the richest kids in the world. I know their type, and I just kind of draw from personal experience and turn it into a version that speaks through me. There are always pieces of me in every character that I play. I think that even on a subconscious level, just in my waking life, I’m studying people all day, every day.

In its official synopsis, Crude is written up as “a dark comedy about the price you pay for selling your soul in the new millennium.” Could you please elaborate a little bit about how you interpret this description?

I mean, it’s working for the big rig oil companies, right? I think that that’s what that stems from. He and his family are just making ridiculous amounts of money, and he is balancing his personal beliefs on saving the world and dangerous chemicals with working for this big company. At the end of the day, we all have issues. It’s just that some are bigger than others.

nicoThe show warns against environmental disasters and chronicles the biggest oil spill ever – even bigger than the BP rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico six years ago. How do you think everyday citizens like you and I can help prevent something like this from happening again?

An oil spill? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The technology is so advanced. For the most part, there aren’t restrictions or guidelines or rules until something bad happens. It’s not heavily regulated until something bad happens, you know? To drill that far down, into the ocean with that type of technology, it’s kind of inevitable. At some point, something bad is going to happen.

We don’t really realize what the full potential of everything is, but we all use the product every single day of our life. It is nearly impossible to not use petroleum products in our lives. There are literally a million different things made out of petroleum. Everything. Anything made out of plastic, everything we’re using when we’re heating our homes, flying, makeup … I mean … everything. And unless you’re living in the middle of fucking nowhere, under a tree, there’s nothing we can do. We’ve just got to keep on trekking and just pretend like it doesn’t exist.

As an artist, what has the experience of being in this play taught/shown you about both your work and yourself?

Oh man. This has been the first time I’ve really felt like an actor in a long time. I spent so much time when I was getting into film and television trying to tone down my acting. Since I grew up on stage, I was used to performing for large audiences and so everything had to be bigger. You spend so much time dumbing everything down for a tiny lens that’s sometimes only inches away from your face.

Getting back to work in theater, I’ve had to retrain myself what that beast is. This has been like a conservatory program for the last several weeks. These kids are all conservatively trained at Julliard. And working so closely with directors and writers, you know, that opportunity doesn’t really lend itself to television often.

Television is very fast-paced. There are tons of people that have hands in the pot. Everyone has something to say about everything, and at the end of the day, the actors’ creative influence is only so much. Being on stage, especially in New York and as part of a brand new play where I get to create this new character, has been so collaborative. It’s re-taught me what this art is and what it means. In Hollywood, in the big picture of everything, it’s very easy to lose grasp of what you do and what your art is because everything becomes so mainstream and about celebrity in a lot of ways, depending on what level you’re at.

Being in this play has just taught me that, oh yeah, this is what it’s all about. It’s about being vulnerable and open, and sharing the stage with somebody else and trusting each other, and keeping things fresh and jumping into characters. I could just keep going on and on and on.

That’s awesome! So now that you’ve gotten a taste of off-Broadway, is more theater – including Broadway – something you’d like to continue pursuing?

Oh for sure, 100%. I definitely want to do Broadway. I definitely want to do a musical at some point. I’d love to do a new musical. I know Frozen is coming. So there’s always a chance for that.

Of course!

I don’t know, dude, I just want to keep doing good work and it’s all about the projects.

In the show, Jaime starts out as a documentarian. You recently shot a documentary yourself, NicoNicoNico, with your brother, Rocco. What is this film about? And when and where will your fans be able to check it out?

When and where, yeah. That’s the big question. So NicoNicoNico is the umbrella brand of everything. We shot this documentary last summer, and he’s still working on it. I’m already at the next step, and for me that’s a TV show called NicoNicoNico, that’s in development right now. I’m sure that the documentary will come out at some point. I don’t know when exactly it will. It will probably just be like on some random Tuesday when I decide to make it open to the public. I’ll just drop it online somewhere.

That’s very Beyoncé of you.

Yeah, totally. I’ll pull a Beyoncé! Look, I’m always shooting something. The stuff that I release is really highly curated … but also not planned at all. I almost feel like I did it too long ago for it to come out right now, but not long ago enough for it to be a throwback type of thing. You know what I mean? I want to let it breathe for a second. And the second generation of what I’m working on right now is on a whole other level, so I almost want to come out with the second gen, and then go back and release the first.

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I see. Last season of Younger ended with quite a cliffhanger. What can you tease about season 3?

I know nothing! I know absolutely nothing. I know the writer’s room is putting it together right now, and they are planning shit out, and we start in a month. That’s the mystery of TV. I have no idea the direction that it’s going.

If it were up to you, where would you like to see Josh and Liza end up?

I want Josh and Liza to have a baby. I’ve been saying it forever.

You don’t think he should try to be with someone, for lack of a better word, more mature?

You mean less mature then, right?

Well, just because she’s older than him doesn’t mean she’s more mature. She’s still lying to pretty much everyone in her life.

Oh, yeah, good call! I’ve never heard it put that way. I appreciate that. I don’t know! I think that they are really good for each other in a lot of ways. I think that as her character progresses, their relationship will move somewhere as well, but I don’t know where. She’s a troubled one, that Liza.

What’s your personal favorite Hilary Duff song?

Hmm. “Chasing The Sun.” It’s the first one that pops into my head. Maybe also the only one that I know the title of.

How many tattoos do you have in real life? What’s both your most recent and your favorite?

Too many but not nearly enough. My most recent is a tattoo for my mom. We’re both Leos. It’s a lioness picking up her cub and on the lioness’ arm, it has “Mom” tattooed, so the tattoo has a tattoo. So original! And my favorite? Probably one that’s a portrait of my grandpa.

Something that’s become almost synonymous with your name recently is your presence on Instagram. Why do you think you’ve taken off with such a massive following on that platform? And how much preparation goes into all your shots – are they ever spontaneous or do you carefully curate each post to fill a specific purpose?

Yeah! I have a good setup in my house. I have a clam light, and a couple of other lights, and a camera set up. I do everything myself, for the most part, unless I’m shooting with a friend. I think Instagram has just been a really, really great outlet for everybody – but for artists especially. It’s just a free, open space for you to do whatever the fuck you want, whenever you want, and people get to see it. If they’re into it, more people will get to see it. And somehow in all of this, I’ve created a brand. And it’s taken off! I’m all about it, dude. It’s just an outlet that seems to have worked. And until it becomes something else, I’m here.

You’ve worked with Logo a bit lately and are an outspoken fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. So I’ve gotta ask, going into the season finale, are you Team Kim Chi, Team Naomi or Team Bob The Drag Queen?

Oh, man. I think we’re all going to see Bob win, but I would love to see Naomi win. I’m just, like, Team Naomi’s body.

You were one of the central characters in Scream 4. What was it like to be part of such an iconic franchise and what’s your favorite memory from set?

It was incredible! That’s one of the greatest franchises of all time.

Traditionally, in every Scream movie they’ve shot, the actor that plays Ghostface pranked all the new actors. He would pop out or scare the shit out of you. They try to keep it a secret from all of the people that it hadn’t happened to yet. So I had no idea that this was happening! So I’m opening the door to go act inside Emma Roberts’ house, and Ghostface pops up, jumps in front of me, and everyone’s thinking that I’m going to freak out, or scream, or jump back like everybody else does. Instead, I just fucking clocked him in the face. Like, are you guys serious? I literally just punched him in the face!

When you’re not acting or working, what’s your favorite way to spend your downtime?

Just chilling out for the most part. I watch a lot of TV. I work out. I have a dope apartment in Williamsburg now. And I’m developing my own TV show. Sometimes I think that I have more hours in the day than other people do because I’m always fucking doing something. But with the little bit of downtime that I do have, I just try to not do anything.

What’s the craziest fan encounter you’ve ever had?

Honestly? Probably during The Following. Just being out with James Purefoy and seeing people think that we were actually fucking serial killers. I mean, people were genuinely afraid of us!

I bet you got a kick out of that.

Oh, totally!


Click here to purchase tickets to see Nico Tortorella in Crude, now playing off-Broadway.

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Originally published on PopBytes

REVIEW: MEGAN HILTY AT NYC’S CAFE CARLYLE

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Megan Hilty is the antithesis of Ivy Lynn.

2016_05_03_Carlyle_36Best known for her starring role in NBC’s criminally short-lived Broadway drama Smash, Hilty couldn’t be further from Ivy’s entitled diva. Last Tuesday (May 3), the same day that she received her very first (and well-deserved) Tony nomination (Best Featured Actress in a Play for Noises Off), Hilty opened her new 2-week musical residency at the Café Carlyle with nothing more than a passing acknowledgment of the career milestone.

“We closed Noises Off six weeks ago so this was the furthest thing from my mind,” the 35-year-old modestly told the intimate crowd. But from the moment Hilty walked on stage with her instantly showstopping rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” her enormous talent was on full display.

Hilty explained that her set would be a tribute to one of her idols, Rosemary Clooney. She linked her first song to this theme by telling a cute story about how Ethel Merman once spotted Clooney in the audience during a performance of Gypsy on Broadway. As she walked down the aisle of the theater during “Roses,” she let out an adlibbed, “Hey Rosie!” Clooney was so amused by this that she incorporated the song into her concerts from there on out.

Hilty’s adoration and admiration for Clooney shone as she talked about what inspired the legendary cabaret singer to record the songs she was performing. She even read aloud a couple of passages from Clooney’s “sensational” autobiography that she found particularly stirring – including one that concluded, “It would be so freeing to shed the burden of someone else’s blame.”

With this, Hilty went into Irving Berlin’s heartbreaking “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” Her melancholy and haunting take on the song showcased a vulnerability that fortified her strength as an actor. She spoke to the audience about how she believes that there are three stages of anger after a breakup – anger at the other person, anger at yourself for putting up with that person, and anger at love in general. But luckily, “I haven’t felt that way in a long time,” she added.

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Hilty’s husband of three years, singer/songwriter Brian Gallagher, was one of the musicians that made up her 4-piece band. As the guitarist, Gallagher played alongside his wife (and even sang a duet with her on the adorable “I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket”) with the same look of awe that every audience member had anytime that Hilty started to show off the extraordinary things that she can do with her voice.

Throughout the evening, Hilty divulged more snippets of her and Gallagher’s love story. She introduced songs like “I Get Along Without You Very Well” with descriptors like, “this is exactly how I felt about him” when they first started dating and Gallagher went off to be in the Jekyll & Hyde national tour.

Hilty resisted her future husband at first, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that she “didn’t know that someone like this existed and that what was happening between us was real.” She followed that declaration of love with a moving rendition of the sweet “Tenderly.”

As the audience got to know Hilty better through her charming rapport, she interwove songs as “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “I Wish You Love” and “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” She consistently delivered master class-worthy vocal performances that highlighted how much of a testament it is to her many gifts that her first Tony nomination is for a non-singing part.

Joining Hilty for a duet on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” was her music director and pianist, Matt Cusson. During a segment in which Hilty introduced and shared “fun facts” about each member of the band (i.e. “we have a baby together” about Gallagher), she showcased just how far they’ve all come over the past several years. The first time that she and Cusson sang together, for example, they were standing underneath a rollercoaster at Hershey Park and would have to pause the song every time a rollercoaster passed by. Fast forward to this past week when they launched their third residency at the iconic Café Carlyle together (along with the rest of the same band).

Hilty declared “Count Your Blessings” to be Clooney’s “anthem,” not only because she knew that the song was very important to her, but also because of all the “ups and downs” she had been through. For Hilty, the song resonated in a whole new way when she gave birth to her daughter and firstborn, Viola Philomena. Her emotional delivery made that connection immediately clear.

To transition into some Smash material, Hilty told the audience about a friend who she and Clooney had in common: composer Marc Shaiman. Shaiman played piano for Clooney in her later years, and was one of the main writers of a large portion of the music on Smash – including all of the songs she sang that evening. The crowd roared for her stunning medley of “Don’t Forget Me” and “Let Me Be Your Star,” and the Liza Minnelli-esque “They Just Keep Moving The Line.” Say what you want about Smash, but one thing that was totally undebatable was that Hilty sang the hell out of every song she had on that show. In person, it’s even better.

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“They Just Keep Moving The Line” also happens to be one of the songs featured on Hilty’s new album, Megan Hilty Live At The Café Carlyle. Recorded during her previous residency, the diverse record also features classics like “The Man That Got Away,” “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” and “Get Happy.” Ranging from standards to showtunes to Smash, the album delivers on all fronts by giving a well-rounded collection of the things Hilty is most known for.

If Megan Hilty has something in common with her Smash character Ivy Lynn, it may soon be a Tony win her first time up at bat. And with a talent as colossal as hers, you know she’ll be stepping up to the plate many, many more times.

Catch Megan Hilty at the Café Carlyle, now through May 14th. And click here to purchase her new album, Megan Hilty Live At The Café Carlyle.

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Originally published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW WITH BROADWAY’S BRIGHT STAR, CARMEN CUSACK

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Carmen Cusack’s star is on the rise.
Carmen CusackIn Bright Star, Cusack plays central character Alice Murphy, the editor of a prestigious literary journal whose haunted past may not be as behind her as she believes. Through Cusack’s passionate and moving performance, the audience gets to know Alice in both 1923 and 1945, at the ages of 16 and 38. Powered by her soaring mezzo-soprano voice, Cusack’s transformative and distinctive ways of portraying this character amount to a truly spellbinding and star-making Broadway debut. It’s no wonder, then, that she’s already nabbed Drama League Award and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations for her role.

Set in North Carolina, Bright Star is an original bluegrass musical from the creative masterminds of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. Currently playing on Broadway at the Cort Theatre, the show is a heartwarming, riveting, and charming reminder of the power of hope. I caught up with Cusack about playing the same character at vastly different stages of her life, her storied career so far, and much more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: To start off, could you describe your audition for Bright Star? How did you first hear about the show and what song did you sing?

CARMEN CUSACK: I was in LA at the time and was asked to send them a taped audition, which I of course agreed to after reading the script. I decided to sing a couple of folky-type songs and backed myself on guitar to my own little renditions of “Wayfaring Stranger” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”.

This show marks your Broadway debut, yet you’ve been a stage veteran for quite some time. What was it about Bright Star that made you decide to trade in the West End and national tours for the Great White Way? 

Well, I grew up imagining my Broadway debut but life took some interesting turns that landed me in the UK at an early age. I started auditioning there and getting work and ended up staying for 14 years. My plan was to always come back to the States when the time was right – meaning when I could afford to or get a job that would allow me to return. In 2006, the creatives from Wicked were casting in London and it was at this point that I expressed a desire to go back to the States. A few months later, I was working in Chicago as a stand by for Elphaba and then went on to play Elphie full-time on the first National Tour. The big goal has always been to originate a character so I guess you could say (corny as it may sound) that the stars finally aligned – originating a role in a brand new show and opening it on Broadway. All three wishes in one!

You’ve starred in so many renowned shows — like Les Miserables, The Secret Garden, The Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific, and Ragtime just to name a few. Artistically, what do you find are the biggest differences between playing a classic role and originating one in a new musical? 

The freedom to really experiment. When you’re originating a role, the formula is still to be decided. But I also enjoy taking risks with more renowned roles and putting my own spin on them.

Throughout Bright Star, you alternate between playing Alice as a young woman and as a mature adult. What do you find to be the greatest changes in your character caused by the 22 years in between the times we get to know her?  

Carmen CusackTwenty-two years in anyone’s life allows for some hard knocks and Alice Murphy is no exception. Without giving too much away, she suffers a huge loss at a tender age, which informs the dark, guarded woman she becomes.

As an actor, how do you so seamlessly (and frequently) transition from playing Alice at one age to playing her at another? 

Varying posture and vocal textures are some of the tricks and just changing my frame of mind from cocky and careless to confident and in control.

On your website, you describe Alice as your dream role. What is it about this character and her journey that spoke to you so loudly? What are some of your favorite things about her? 

That she gets to go from age 16 to 38 in a matter of seconds is a big sell. She is a spitfire of a character that has aspirations and goes after them even at the most trying of times. Also, I connect with her challenges, her losses and her ultimate victory.

Some of what makes Bright Star such a unique and unmissable experience are the bluegrass and folk influences in its music. Were you a fan of these genres and Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s prior to the show? 

YES and YES! I’ve always been a fan of Steve Martin’s comedy and a huge fan of Edie Brickell and New Bohemians. I grew up in the South with gospel music and the blues, bluegrass and folk. It’s in my blood.

You have so many great songs in the show, including my favorite, the climactic “At Long Last.” What’s your personal highlight to sing every night? 

I love starting off the show with “If You Knew My Story.” It’s one of the newer songs, as is “At Long Last,” which just got put into the show during our DC contract late last year. I feel it sets up the intrigue of Alice and I love how the staging incorporates the entire company, reinforcing the lyrics in the song, “Tell me I’m not alone”. Of course “At Long Last” mirrors my feelings personally that AT LAST I’m singing for a Broadway audience!

You’ve been a part of Bright Star since the very beginning. You played Alice in the show’s early workshops and out-of-town runs in San Diego and Washington, DC. How do you feel that both your character and the show have evolved since its original inception to the final, polished version?

Carmen CusackFrom the first reading, I knew there was strong content. I connected to the character from the start but also knew there was room for improvement. This was very exciting as this work was going to come from the collaborations of these incredibly smart, talented writers. I wanted to watch and learn from them and maybe through the process they might learn from us (the actors). I love being a part of collaboration and then seeing how it lands on an audience. My most treasured memories came during previews in San Diego at the Old Globe. We would meet every morning at 10 AM to discuss what had happened the night before with various scene changes. Steve and Edie were always there for these meetings and as we sipped from our Starbucks teas and lattes, we’d discuss how our experiments would land. There were lots of laughs. It felt like family time.

Do you have a pre-show ritual/tradition of any kind? If so, what is it?

Not really. Just a cup of tea and a moisture mask.

Recently, you played Annie McDougan in the Chicago premiere of First Wives Club. What can you tell me about that experience and do you plan on continuing be a part of that show if/when it transfers to Broadway? 

I think they are reworking it at the moment, which is a good thing. Writing a musical is about the hardest thing to do successfully. It takes time and dedication and you’re putting it out there for critique constantly. You have to form a hard skin, but if you don’t try, you don’t learn. First Wives Club is a great idea and it is going through its process. I LOVED working with Faith Prince and Christine Sherill. We had each other’s back and laughed also. I wish the First Wives team well.

You also played Eva Cassidy in the UK tour of Over The Rainbow. How was your creative process different when playing a real person versus a fictional character? 

Well, there unfortunately isn’t a lot of footage of Eve Cassidy out there, except for the two albums that were out at the time I was studying her. On her live blues alley album, she talks a bit and the way she spoke informed me in a way to her personality. I also read a book that was helpful. I wanted to sound exactly like her in how she sang and spoke, and I think I succeeded in that. It’s a shame that the script wasn’t very good. A fictional person allows for a bit more freedom, but I enjoy the challenges of both.

Tell me a little bit about Fountain Throes, the band you work with on the side. I hear you’re in the midst of putting together an album of original music? Any idea when that might be available?

I am half way through. I’m hoping to get the last five songs recorded soon as possible. The Fountain Throes are a handful of musicians I work with when I’m in LA in my downtime. I miss them! Thanks for asking about that.

You’re a big fan of margaritas. Where’s your favorite place to unwind after a show and what’s your margarita of choice?  

Well, I have yet to find a place here in NY. But I’m open to suggestions! I’m old school with my margaritas – tequila, lime juice and a little agave on the rocks.

Thanks so much, Carmen! Is there anything else you want to mention that we didn’t talk about?

I think you were incredibly thorough. Thanks for the opportunity!

Originally Published on PopBytes

‘HUMAN’ OF NEW YORK: AN INTERVIEW WITH SARAH STEELE

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At only 27, Sarah Steele already has decades of accomplishments under her belt.

Sarah SteeleAfter her breakout role in the film Spanglish, Steele has gone on to nab appearances on television shows like Gossip Girl, Nurse Jackie, Blue Bloods, and Girls. Her recurring part as voice-of-reason Marissa Gold on The Good Wife has made her a fan-favorite throughout the acclaimed series, and her scene-stealing turns in films like Adult Beginners, MargaretPlease Give, and the upcoming Viena and the Fantomes have made hers a true name to watch.

Currently starring on Broadway in the acclaimed The Humans (which I reviewed here), Steele spoke with me about the play, the fast-approaching series finale of The Good Wife, and much more.

NAGORSKI: What initially attracted you to The Humans?

STEELE: Well, (playwright) Stephen Karam is a great friend of mine. We’ve been friends for years. I did his first play in New York, Speech and Debate, when I was 19 and a freshman in college. He kind of wrote The Humans with me in mind, which I was aware of for a couple of years. Then I became attached and did a bunch of readings of it starting around 2013 or 2014. So I’ve just been with it since the beginning.

What is it about his writing that made you want to go back and collaborate with him again?

His writing is super naturalistic and I just really understand it. After reading his first play, there was something about it that made me just think, “I get this, I know how to do this.” More so than any other writer even. There’s just something about him that I understand. And actually, with the first play that I did of his, I sent it to a friend of mine and he read it and said, “This almost sounds like it was written for you.” Stephen and I didn’t know each other yet, but something about the cadences of some of the female characters that he writes just really come sort of naturally to me. I can feel how they’re supposed to be done. We have a lot in common and now that I know him better, I feel like it all sort of makes sense.

Before transferring to Broadway, the show played an acclaimed off-Broadway run. How, if at all, did it change when you moved into the Helen Hayes Theater?

We were lucky in that it didn’t really change much at all. The script didn’t change, but the space is way better for the show. It sort of hugs the show in a way and the acoustics are better so we don’t have to yell at all. That’s really helpful since it’s such a naturalistic play, so to not have to balance being natural and projecting our voices at the same time is great. I think if anything, it got a little bit more naturalistic and a little bit faster, but that’s about it. Other than that it’s really been very much the same.

While The Humans is laugh-out-loud funny, it also tackles some very serious and heavy topics. It’s difficult to label it as simply either a comedy or a drama. How would you describe the tone of the show?

I think I would describe it as just very life-like, you know? If you’re just watching a family, it is going to be funny. You can tell when people’s buttons are being pushed and that’s funny. But I think that the laughs are really laughs of recognition and laughs of relating to what’s going on on stage. So to me, it just seems like very life-like and accurate in that sense.

One of the things that I found so endearing and loved so much about the play was that despite the fact that there are some shocking revelations, the Blakes never seem to turn on one another in their times of need. What is it about their dynamic that you think makes them so unbreakable?

That’s interesting. In plays, we’re very used to seeing high drama. But I think that with something as realistic as this is, it’s important to see that the family really loves each other and that they really want everything to work and be okay. Any fighting is coming out of places of “let’s really solve this problem” and “how do we solve this problem and still be together and still love each other?” as opposed to flying off the handle and not trying to fix it. When the revelation happens at the end, they’re trying to fix it. They’re not just flipping out at each other and I think that’s just because they’re a family that really loves each other. Mistakes are made, but they want everything to be okay. And they’re putting that before anything else.

In the show, Brigid talks about how much she’s struggling to balance her bartending job to pay her bills with her dreams of pursuing a career as a musician. If you could give her advice on this topic, what would it be?

Well, one thing that she’s particularly struggling with at the moment of the play is getting this recommendation letter from one of her professors. She’s sent out a bunch of applications that contain this recommendation letter than she didn’t know was so bad. And I guess I would just say to her, “You can’t really worry what anybody thinks of your work. You have to just put your head down and keep doing your work and working hard.”

Despite the fact that they seem highly skeptical about Richard, Brigid’s parents are anxious for her to get married. Why do you think that is? And do you hope to/plan on get married one day yourself?

I think that the wanting her to get married has more to do with the fact that she has moved in with this man. I think they don’t necessarily want her to marry Richard, but they don’t want her to live with someone to whom she’s not engaged. So I think it comes more out of that, which is extremely frustrating. Brigid is of a different generation and she feels like she should live with someone before deciding to live with them forever. So I think that’s very frustrating for her. For myself, I think that I would like to get married someday. But I do agree with Brigid that I would never do it unless I had lived with that person and sort of knew what I was getting into in that regard.

What are Thanksgiving dinners like at your home?

Much more peaceful! Oh they’re great. There’s usually a lot of extended family at my Thanksgivings and that is sort of a whole different set of drama. You’re not just dealing with your immediate family, you’re also dealing with your extended family’s problems with their individual families too. That can always get dicey, but when it’s just me and my immediate family, it’s the tops!

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What can you tease about the upcoming final few episodes of The Good Wife?

So sad! Not much, actually. The only sort of interesting thing that I could tell you is that I have no idea how it ends.

Oh really?

Yeah! A lot of us have no idea how it ends. That information was kept very tight and many of us are going to be experiencing it just like the viewers will be.

Where do you see Marissa Gold ten years from now?

What a question! Oh gosh. Well, maybe this is a little bit of a tease. She sort of decides at the end that she wants to maybe become a lawyer. So I’d like to think that she is sort of someone like Diane eventually in her life, you know. That would be very cool.

Recently, I interviewed Alan Cumming, who plays your father on The Good Wife. I asked him what his campaign slogan would be if he were running for President in 2016. His response was, “Shut up, stupid people!” So now I ask you the same question. What would your campaign slogan be?

Oh my god, I have no idea! I think Marissa’s would just be like, “Everybody relax.” Everybody’s always flipping out around her and she’s always the one to be like, “Let’s just all relax and think rationally for a second.”

You’ve been acting for most of your life, having made your film debut in 2004’s Spanglish alongside Adam Sandler. What made you realize you wanted to be an actress?

You know, it’s funny. I was 8-years-old and I had been doing all kinds of different things. I’d been doing sports, I’d been doing ballet, and none of it really felt quite right to me. Then one day at recess, I remember this one kid said to me, “Oh I’m taking acting classes in the city.” And I remember feeling extreme jealousy and having this revelation in that moment. I was like, “That‘s what I’m supposed to do. I’ve been wasting my time with ballet and sports and other stuff. Andthat’s what I’m supposed to be doing.” It’s not like I had acted ever before, but I really just had this deep feeling. I just knew.

You made your Broadway debut in The Country House alongside Blythe Danner in 2014. Which do you find to be a more gratifying and/or a more challenging medium, the stage or the screen? Why?

That’s a good question. I prefer the stage. They’re very different challenges because acting on TV and film can for theater actors feel nerve-racking and sort of boring at the same time. There’s a lot of waiting around, but it’s a high stakes job. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really fun and I love it, but there’s something about theater that’s much more freeing and active. So I do prefer the stage – but then again it is difficult to do eight shows a week for months and months and months and keep it fresh. So they both come with different challenges, but at the end of the day, I really do prefer the stage. There is no way that I would do this for a job without theater.

Piggybacking off of the previous question, what are your dream roles both on stage and on screen?

It’s funny, someone actually asked me this recently and I had no answer. My mind just doesn’t like to think that way. I guess I’d love to do some of the Shakespearean roles where you’re pretending to be a man for a while. And I would like to do something where I legitimately played a male role, like Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar or something. I’ve always wanted to do that. There are a lot of great male roles out there. But I struggle to think of existing female roles that I’d really want to play. I do so many contemporary plays so I don’t think that I really come at in that way of thinking of pre-existing parts.

In the movie The To Do List, you sing the classic song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Any chance that your next Broadway endeavor could be a musical?

I would love that! I started off in musical theater and I’m always kind of trying to get my foot in the door there. So I hope so! I do some work with Shaina Taub, a composer who was just in Old Hats. I’ve done workshops of some of her musicals. I’m hoping that if one of those goes, maybe I could be in one of them!

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Originally Published on PopBytes

INTERVIEW: “STRAIGHT” TALK WITH JAKE EPSTEIN

UntitledWhat happens when you’re preparing to settle down with your girlfriend but can’t seem to shake off the idea that you might still want to try dating men?

That’s the central conflict for Ben, the protagonist of Straight. Now playing Off-Broadway, this intimate character drama tackles issues of sexuality, fidelity, and perhaps most importantly, identity. Directed by Andy Sandberg and written by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Dornarola,Straight is a thought-provoking meditation on love and lust.

Jake EpsteinPlaying Ben is Jake Epstein, the talented and versatile actor best known for his starring roles in Degrassi: The Next Generation and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. In Straight, Epstein must navigate his character’s complex self-discovery in a world keen on putting a strict label on all those who inhabit it. I chatted with Epstein about how Ben does this, why this play resonates so strongly with him, his career aspirations, and much more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: Although it deals with many complex issues, Straight has a surprisingly funny tone to it. How would you describe the show in just a couple of sentences?

JAKE EPSTEIN: The play is about a Boston “bro” and his relationships with his girlfriend, and a charismatic, younger guy he meets online. I always describe the tone as “something like life.” It’s funny, sad, and filled with surprises.

You have a long history with musical theater. You made your Broadway debut as the alternate for Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, created the role of Gerry Goffin in the Broadway production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical alongside Jessie Mueller, and have been part of the Spring Awakening and American Idiot national tours. What was it about Straight that made you want to act in a play versus a musical again?

After I did the Spring Awakening national tour, there were a lot of doors in the musical theater world that opened up for me. I’ve been so fortunate to have continued on that path. But the truth is, I never intended to be a musical theater actor. In fact, I went to theater school to study acting and “straight plays” (no pun intended!). When I finished my run in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway, I was craving being part of a play again. When I knew that Straight was a possibility, I jumped at the chance to get my feet wet in a real Off-Broadway play.

At first glance, Ben seems to have everything figured out. At 26, he already has a stellar job and what seems like a solid relationship with his college girlfriend. What do you believe to be the catalyst for his journey of introspection and self-discovery? 

I think Ben is in that rare window of time after college and before really settling down where you almost have one last chance to figure out who you are. On top of that, he is feeling the pressure from his best friend and long term girlfriend, Emily, to move in together and get married. Realizing he has this tiny window of time, he goes out on his “journey” as you put it, to lay to rest whether or not he has feelings for men.

How is Ben different than previous characters youve played in your career?

That’s a great question but hard to answer. Each of the characters I’ve played have been so specific and so different. Ben feels like a mix from a lot of the great parts I’ve played. He is extremely intelligent, charming, and sexually ambiguous, with both an emotional intelligence and an amazing ability to suppress his feelings. He’s manipulative and brutally honest. He has a great sense of humour and at the same time, an ability to be very serious. He has a need to control others and yet realizes what he actually wants is being out of control. He’s a lot of things and maybe a better way of saying that is that he is very human. So I suppose my answer is that I’ve never played a character who felt quite so human.

Whats the best piece of direction that Andy Sandberg gave you during the rehearsal process?

Keep emotion out of the argument. Ben is ivy-league educated and extremely good at pontificating. And it’s hard for me to not make some of his arguments emotional. Andy has encouraged me to be courageous enough to trust that the emotion is there in the story without having to rely on it during Ben’s intellectual arguments.

STRAIGHTIncluding yourself, the show only has three characters. What type of creative challenges and/or rewards does being part of such a small cast instead of a full ensemble present?

There’s huge trust that goes into performing with such a small cast. You need to have each other’s backs and keep the energy and story moving with pace, intelligence, and spontaneity. It is a different kind of trust with a larger ensemble.

The show grapples with many themes, including the struggle people face to be accepted simply for who they are. Is there a main takeaway that you hope the audience has after the curtain falls?

I mean, sure, I’d love people to be aware that society still has this nasty obsession with labeling people. But in truth, I hope people are moved by the story and entertained by the wit and dialogue.

Growing up, what was your dream role as an actor? And what is it today?

When I was kid, I wanted to play the Artful Dodger in Oliver. I was fortunate to play the part when I was twelve in Cameron MacKintosh’s tour of the musical in Toronto. That experience was life-changing. Now I want to play Fagan.

You touched on this earlier, but when you were 18, you left your role on Degrassi: The Next Generation to attend the National Theatre School of Canada. What was it about theater that made you want to leave television and pursue it full-time? 

The producers thought I was crazy! Why would anyone leave a TV show to go to theater school? I was 18-years-old and had been on the show for 5 years. I knew that if I was going to be a professional actor, I needed to study. I had it in my contract that when I was 18, I could have the choice to leave the show and go to college. Even though it was one of the hardest decisions of my life, it felt right.

Last year, a play that you co-wrote with your mother, Therefore Choose Life, premiered in Toronto. What did writing teach you about the theater that acting has not, and do you plan on continuing to write more shows?

When you’re playing a part, your entire world is your character’s point of view. Writing a play is about looking at the whole picture. It’s an important reminder that each role is a cog in a bigger machine and you help the machine the most by doing nothing except what your part is meant to do. Nothing more, nothing less. My dream is definitely to continue writing.

Originally published on PopBytes