BWW Interview: Michael Cerveris Talks FRINGE, Public Theater's FUN HOME & More!
Tony-Award winner Michael Cerveris has been described as "the most versatile leading man on Broadway," having played in everything from ASSASSINS to SWEENEY TODD, with forays into HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH and IN THE NEXT ROOM. He's also a singer, composer and guitarist, and he's now a bona fide television cult icon as well, having played September, "the Observer," on Fox's FRINGE.
A series of panels on the popular, recently-concluded science-fiction show were held at Dragon Con in Atlanta in August, and we caught up with Michael there as he prepared to go onstage with some of his co-stars to talk about their recollections of working on the show to a large number of the 57,000 science fiction and genre media fans who were at the event, where we talked about theatre, television, and the nature of success for current performers.
A recent article described you not as a Broadway veteran but as a "Broadway alum." Will you back on the boards anytime soon?
I'm in The Middle of rehearsals for FUN HOME [by Tony nominees Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori] at the Public [running 9/30-11/3]. It's a new musical Being directed by Sam Gold, and it's based on Alison Bechdel's autobiography. I always go between Broadway, Off-Broadway, and film.
What's next? What are you looking forward to working on?
Besides FUN HOME? That's it at the moment. It's been a while since I didn't know what was going on far in advance - I was scheduling my life at home around FRINGE. I'm looking forward to the adventure.
Speaking of your Broadway work - EVITA, IN THE NEXT ROOM, SWEENEY TODD, ASSASSINS - you've quite a career list already. Which parts have been most significant to you, and why?
TOMMY was, because that was my way into Broadway. I'd done New York and regional, but that was my debut. It was wonderful on so many levels, but it was great that I was so excited about the show itself.
ASSASSINS wasn't my first Sondheim show, but it was my first one on Broadway, as well as my Tony. PASSION I did at the Kennedy Center in DC, and that's where I met Steve.
HEDWIG was very significant for me. It was a big challenge. It was a role that used so much of me and my skills, and I had to harness that. I always thought of it as an ensemble show, but you're the one talking the whole time. SWEENEY TODD was significant because the original run was the first Broadway show I saw, and then I got to be in it.
Fringe is the most visibility I've had on television, certainly, and I got to create this iconic character. Part of what was so fun about this was it was such a blank canvas. At the first wardrobe fitting, I was asked by the costumer what I was wearing - I said, "I thought you were supposed to tell me." It was a good thing I picked a suit I liked because I was in it for years.
What do you look for in a television or film role? Is it any different than what you look for on stage?
No. I look for the same things in everything - something that challenges me or that scares me a little bit. Though if I've just done a dark part I might look for something lighter. But I want honesty and complexity, depth and surprise.
You're well-known on Broadway, but you've not been a major television or film lead. Is that something you want? Is it something you feel that you need?
I don't feel I need it to feel fulfilled as a performer. The work I've done, the standing I've achieved, are wonderful. But I'd like a lead in a series; I think I'm up to it. Financially, it's certainly helpful. Though John Noble tells me it's exhausting. But also, just to do something like that in such a big, public way is thrilling and exciting.
What's it like for you dealing with fans? Is there a difference between the television fans, like the ones here at Dragon Con, and Broadway fans?
I'm not an actor who's chased by fans in public, probably because I blend in with everyone else. I don't stand out like Brad Pitt. And I'm not swarmed, certainly, the way Bill Shatner is at an event like this. These fans are a bit special, though, because they've traveled, they've spent money, to be here. Theatre fans are the same way. Broadway fans who love you will stand at a stage door for hours, and they're willing to be there. And they've spent a lot of money sometimes just to do that. But Broadway really is so damn expensive, and when my television fans, the Fringe fans, who might not really have the money, go to New York or travel to something like this to see me - that's very meaningful.