BWW Interviews: Merritt David Janes Talks His Career, Playing Carl Hanratty, Touring, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
Broadway Across America-Houston is about to fly CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, the thrilling tale of Frank Abagnale, Jr., into the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Merritt David Janes is starring as Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent that tirelessly pursued Frank Abagnale, Jr .He was wanted for posing as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor, a Louisiana parish prosecutor, and check fraud, which was his primary crime. Merritt David Janes took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his career, playing Carl Hanratty, touring, and the show CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.
Me: When did you get involved with acting?
Merritt David Janes: I've always been, as my dad says, "a ham cooking in the oven." I got involved in acting, really, when I was a little kid. I loved doing theatre and everything. When I was in high school, I stayed with the musicals. When I was in college, I went off to study music at the University of Maine, and I still kept in touch with theatre and did plays in the summertime. Then, I went to the Circle in the Square Theatre after my time at University of Maine. I really devoted two years to theatre school. Then I got out and started to worry.
Me: When did you realize you wanted to act professionally?
Merritt David Janes: Well, I realized I had a passion for acting, performing, music, singing, and all of it. I always knew that's what I wanted to do. I know I won't always be acting in every job. I won't always be signing in every job. I won't always be dancing or playing an instrument in every job. But I knew I wanted to do any combination of those things. I won't always be traveling in every job, but I knew I wanted to do a combination of those things for my job since I was young. I was inspired by my mom. She is the concert master of the Vermont Philharmonic, and my grandfather. He is 88 years old, and he can still play the piano really well. They inspire me musically. My dad gave me a lot of the inspirations I need to develop a thick skin to get through all of it. And here we are.
Me: You're a graduate of Circle in the Square Theatre School. What was it like being a student there?
Merritt David Janes: Oh, I call it the Hogwarts School of Theatre. The reason I call it that is it's a mix of lots of different acting philosophies. You get a lot of [Sanford] Meisner, a lot of Stella Adler, [Constantin] Stanislavski. You know, you get a lot of Shakespeare too. It's everything. You're doing Shakespeare. You're doing Chekov. You're doing modern playwrights. You're doing everything! Everybody comes from a study of many different philosophies, and it's really helpful to get and learn from all of those philosophies. So, I really enjoyed my time there. It's helped me get all the jobs I've been able to get.
Me: How did you become involved with the first national tour of CATCH ME IF YOU CAN?
Merritt David Janes: Somebody told me, "I heard you're playing Carl Hanratty." I said, "Well, I didn't hear that. I didn't even audition for it, but I guess I better." So, I contacted the people at Clemmons who were doing casting and told them I was interested. They were very helpful in getting my information. I was currently working on SHREK at the time. It was a pretty tight squeeze. There was a very small window that I could be cast for the show, and they cast me. I was about to go off on a trip with SHREK. I was going to China and Malaysia. I was offered a second year over there. It just worked out that I was offered this role right before that trip, so I could kind of plan out everything and make it all work.
Me: You are playing Carl Hanratty, who relentlessly pursues Frank Abagnale, Jr. He is the villain of the show. What was like preparing for the role?
Merritt David Janes: This is a great role, you know. It's great for so many reasons. Many of which is the great writing and great music by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The reason why it is so great is because it's based on a real guy. This is based on a real story. There's been two fantastic performances of this character before me, and they're just unbelievable actors. Tom Hanks did it in the movie and he's just so fantastic for so many reasons. I don't think you have enough time to write about how fantastic Tom Hanks is. And then, of course, Norbert [Leo Butz]'s work as the original character in the musical. He went through every layer of the show as it was brought to life. He got to know the musical version of Carl Hanratty for the first time, and nobody else had done that. Now I'm coming along, and both of those guys played that character. I try to take their example because they really made this character have so many different layers and become interesting. I think the way they did that and the way you do that is that you don't forget yourself in the process. They're unique human beings and so am I. We have unique things we can bring to the character, and that's what makes it interesting. Norbert playing the same character that Tom Hanks played in a new, unique way as a unique human being makes it interesting for people to watch and see this story told in a musical setting. I try to do the same thing. I think of it as two parallel lines. The character's one, and I am the other. We have to figure out how to make those lines connect and try to identify what each of the circumstances that the character is feeling and is going through.
Me: Since Carl Hanratty is a real person, what type of research did you do for the role?
Merritt David Janes: I liked listening to Frank [Abangale, Jr.] talk, reading the book, seeing the movie, and seeing the show on Broadway. But I think a big part of the research is getting into the flavor of chase. My character, Carl Hanratty, is deep in the chase, and that's what he thrives on. You can see this in any chase story. From classic stories like Moby Dick to more recent stories like The Fugitive. These are chase stories, and each is a unique chase story in its own circumstances, but I try to watch movies like The Fugitive, Moby Dick, and Sweeney Todd. My experience with SWEENEY TODD was a chase story. He's chasing after the judge. You know, they're all chasing for different reasons and the thing that makes this one unique is that, yes, he's chasing this kid, but when he finally catches up to him, it's a story of redemption. He finds out that he's concerned about what happens to this person, rather than just throwing him into the slammer and throwing the key away. So, that's the great thing about this story is that it's a story of redemption. The real Frank Abangale, when he comes out and talks-he's going to be here tonight in Philadelphia. Every time he comes out, he talks about what a great country we live in because only here can it be possible for you to have a second chance after doing something like this. He turned his life around. He was wanted in all 50 states and 26 countries by the time he was caught, and a lot of the countries that wanted to have him thrown in their prisons wanted to execute him. They were able to extradite him back here. He did his time. He did about seven years in the US Prison system, came out on the other end, and is now working for the FBI. His son was an FBI agent. He got to teach his own son. He's been instrumental in catching a lot of modern day forgers like Bernie Adolph. He's been able to turn his life around. He went on Johnny Carson. He wrote his book, which became a bestseller. And his story is really interesting to a lot of people.
Me: This is not your first national tour. What are your favorite aspects of touring in a show?
Merritt David Janes: I love the fact that we get to travel, and we get to see the best parts of where we go. When you're stopping over in the middle of nowhere, I don't know, it seems like travelers' purgatory, like when there's just a McDonald's and a truck stop. That's probably not my favorite part of the tour. It's just kind of a stepping stone to get to the good stuff. My favorite part of the tour is the fact that today's theatre is center of all of the cultural parts of each city. I mean, here I am in my room, looking at out the window at the Academy of Music across the street. You know, that's the center of the culture in Philadelphia. There's so many great things going on there. That's the key, getting to learn about each place you go and being able explore. And if you're a real explorer, you know there's so many different flavors around the U.S. to take advantage of experiencing. That's my favorite part, experiencing all those flavors. I went to get a cheese steak today, and I had an opportunity here at Philadelphia Orchestra. When I was down in Memphis, I went out on Beale Street and heard amazing Blues musicians every night. In New Orleans you can hear some of the best music in the world, but tou can only hear that music in New Orleans. When we get to Los Angeles, that's going to be a fantastic, exciting experience. That's going to be like real old school Hollywood because we're going to play the Pantages Theater, where they used to have the Academy Awards. And Chicago is about as close as we get to Broadway on this tour, with its theatre district. And that's a great city with its own unique flavor. I can go on and on and on about all the different places we get to see. There's a possibility that we get to go to Tokyo at the end of this year. And the show is great. I love the show! I want to say the magic words to have people come to our show, but the thing I love is being able to have the show go to these amazing places because I get to do what I love, travel, see new places, and experience new things.
Me: Have you performed in Houston, TX before?
Merritt David Janes: Yes. I performed in Houston with THE WEDDING SINGER. We had a great time. Like I say, with all the places that we're going, I should mention Houston. You know, they've got the Space Center in Houston, which is so cool. You can see where some amazing things in the space race happened, right there in Houston.
Me: You beat to the punch, but I'll ask anyway in case there is anything you want to add. What are your favorite aspects of Houston?
Merritt David Janes: I love the Space Center. We were in Houston for, I think, a week last time. I'm looking forward to being there for two weeks. It's just a huge city. I remember I went to the Space Center. I wasn't feeling too good last time I was in Houston, so that's really the biggest thing I got to see in Houston. But I'm looking forward to seeing more of it and not being so under the weather.
Me: Good. I just discovered and highly recommend the St. Arnold Brewing Company Tour. It's a local beer that is pretty much only sold in Texas, and great opportunity for tourists to get great craft beer, a nice souvenir glass, have fun, and chill and kick back.
Merritt David Janes: That sounds like a plan to me. I know what I'm doing on my day off. [We both laugh.]
Me: Why should audiences be excited to see CATCH ME IF YOU CAN?
Merritt David Janes: I know that this is not the first tour that audiences are looking at when they see their schedule because the first question that comes to mind is, "Why would they make this a musical?" I don't know what combinations of magic words I can use to just tell people how much they should not miss this show. We have an onstage band that [Frank] Sinatra would probably fire all of his people that he played with just to have our band. It's a great story. It's a true story. It's such an interesting story to go from. We have the most talented dancers doing the show, and we tell this story in the best way we can. It's the best version of this story, you know. The people who wrote this didn't stop working on it. We worked with all of the original Broadway creative team, and they've been sharpening the show and making it even better than it has been. It's got so many different flavors of music in it and so many showstopping numbers. It's really just going to knock people's socks off because it's the perfect combination of good story telling and really entertaining performances.
Me: What advice do you offer to other young artists hoping to break into the business?
Merritt David Janes: I always like to quote Grace Potter. She was asked that and said, "I don't like giving advice to other performers because they're all trying to steal my job." [Laughs] No, I give advice happily. I studied to be a teacher and I happily give advice. I don't know that my advice will always help, but I think doing this is really something that results from each person's own path that they're on. Everyone is on their own path of adventure that leads them to different stops along the way. For me, I've learned that there's lots of reasons not to do things. There are so many reasons that people will give you and you will give yourself not to go to an audition. Reasons that you think you're not right for something or reasons other people will think you're not right for. You say, "I'm going to go audition for this," and people might laugh at you or something like that. Or you think you're not ready. Or you second guess yourself. There are so many different reasons not to do things, and all you have to do to get somewhere on this path of adventure is to find the one reason to do it. The one reason that you can find to actually get your ass out of bed, out of what you're doing, and go down and audition for whatever it is you want to do. Find what that reason is. And find the reason that propels you to be prepared for that with so much passion that people have no choice but to choose you to be involved in what they're doing.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN will play on the Sarofim stage at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts February 5-10, 2013. For tickets and more information, please visit http://houston.broadway.com or call (800) 952 - 6560.
All photos by Carol Rosegg, courtesy of Broadway Across America-Houston.
Merritt David Janes as Carl Hanratty and THE CATCH ME IF YOU CAN Tour Company.
Merritt David Janes as Carl Hanratty and THE CATCH ME IF YOU CAN Tour Company.