BWW Interviews: Sean MacLaughlin Talks Career and EVITA
Last week, while the U.S. National Tour of the Broadway Revival of EVITA was in San Antonio, I got the chance to chat with Sean MacLaughlin, who is playing Colonel Juan Perón, about the show and his career. Houston audiences will recognize him from last season's production of CAMELOT, produced by Theatre Under the Stars, where he played Lancelot.
BWW: How did you first get into acting?
Sean MacLaughlin: I started with my family. I wanted to act when I was around three or four. My parents said, "Well, if you want to act, you've got to take music lessons and dance." So, they got me into it, and I got involved in community theater out in Fort Lee, Virginia. My first production was THE KING AND I; I was one of the kids.
It was a family affair. We were on an Army base. My father was working as a civil servant at the time. He was in the Army, and my grandfather was Commanding General out there. So, it basically tied home into performing arts. I started off there, and I performed there for a good 10 or so years. I went off to college, in between doing TV and film things and commercials.
Then, after college, I moved to D.C. and learned the ropes there from some brilliant actors. I got the chance to work with some really great people like Stephen Sondheim, Eric Schaeffer, and a lot of people out in the D.C. area. Then, I went up to New York with my first show, BOMBAY DREAMS. That actually was a dream because it all happened so quickly. I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm on Broadway!" Then, a series of events led me to where I am now.
BWW: I know BROADWAY DREAMS didn't draw the largest audiences, but I'm one of the few people who can say "I love that show!"
Sean MacLaughlin: It's so good! You know what, if it came out around the time of Slumdog Millionaire or even possibly now, I bet you it would've done really well. It's a shame. [Laughs]
BWW: Yeah. I followed it that show through its London premiere and everything. When they finally did the U.S. National Tour, I was there and so excited.
BWW: With your expansive history in theatre, when did you know you wanted to do it professionally?
Sean MacLaughlin: I just always knew that I wanted to perform for a living. I just automatically assumed that's what you did. From a young age, that's what I believed in. Professionally, that's what I decided to do. Of course, my parents were warning me. They said, "You know, it's great to do that, but you always want to make sure you have something on the side to keep you afloat." That's why I majored in communications and focused on things that were close to the arts, like photojournalism, journalism, editing, TV, and things like that so I could stay involved with the arts. I always just knew I wanted to perform for a living and for the rest of my life. Hopefully, it will work and luckily it has so far. [Laughs]
BWW: How did you come to be involved in this production of EVITA?
Sean MacLaughlin: I auditioned for the Broadway show some time back, and I guess I was still on the files. I got called in to audition for the show probably January of last year, and as we were going along-it was like a good five month process there kind of mixing and matching where I'd fit in-I got asked to audition for the role of Perón because the musical director and a few other people involved knew me from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. But, Perón was quite a different flavor than Raoul, so it was great that they entrusted me at least to try and give a good audition for the role. They gave me that opportunity. Luckily, I'm performing this role, which I never thought I would play, at least not at this point in my life.
BWW: EVITA is an iconic show. What can Houston audiences expect from this production?
Sean MacLaughlin: It's unlike any EVITA you've ever seen. I think there's a lot more heart. It's more of a personal piece through Eva's eyes. Usually, in the black box piece, it was a little more Brechtian. In this production, the Che Guevara character is more of an everyday character. As our tour director put it, "He's Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap. He's leaping from person to person. He's the everyday man and speaking for the man there." The relationship between Perón and Eva Perón is a lot tighter, and there's a lot more there story wise. As it would seem, they are a real life, living and breathing couple, having their personal experiences in front of you on stage when it's just the two of them. Hal Prince's version is a classic, and it's wonderful. What Michael Grandage did with this gave it a lot more grit and heart, so that's what Houston audiences are going to be able to see. It's going to be a thoroughly enjoyable ride. Of course, as enjoyable as EVITA can be with the uplifting death at the end. [Laughs]
BWW: I'm excited to see this tour because I saw the Broadway revival, and I am curious to see what design and staging elements stayed in place for the tour.
Sean MacLaughlin: Yeah. It's basically a lot of the same stuff, except that they had to scale it down for the tour. The staircase is missing from what they had there. We've got a feature where the balcony comes out and it adds to the splendor of when Evita appears in the beautiful mist. She makes her entrance and just kind of moves forward. It's actually pretty stunning. Mostly, for everything else, like set wise and everything else like that, it's almost one hundred percent.
BWW: What was it like preparing to play Colonel Juan Perón?
Sean MacLaughlin: It was a lot of work. Going back, I don't think I've ever really performed as someone that's real, that's a piece of history. So, I tried to go back and find the essence of who Perón was and also tried to find the middle ground. There's a lot of fact and fiction out there, there's not a lot of truth. There's historical truth of what happened and how Argentina is now, but trying to find the real Perón is almost an impossibility unless you talk to his third wife and widow, who is actually still alive. There is probably no way I could find a way of talking to her. So, I found the good and the bad, and I tried making it as good of a representation as I possibly could of who I thought he was. I did a lot of researching on YouTube, a lot of going to the library to find pictures and documents that are strictly historical rather than hearsay; that was pretty hard.
BWW: Are you and Perón alike in any way?
Sean MacLaughlin: A little bit. I think we all have a little bit of Perón in us. For me, I find that he's trying to do what's right for the people while making his own mind up about the things he believes. I find that, at the end, he realizes that things aren't necessarily working. It's kind of like introducing a girlfriend who's no good to your parents. Your parents say, "No, we don't like her," and then you're trying to make that work and deal with that dynamic that comes from the rejection. It was the same kind of thing with Perón, his men, and Eva. He was trying to make it work because Eva was good to the people, but his men considered her some whore that was using him to climb her way to the top. I think, in all of us and especially me, what I share with him is the fact that there's good in every idea that you think you are doing. It's not necessarily a good idea, but you try. That's what he did.
BWW: Last season you performed in TUTS' CAMELOT as Lancelot. What are you most looking forward to the most about returning to Houston?
Sean MacLaughlin: Everybody there. I made such great friends and family there. In those few short weeks that I was at TUTS, I remember every last little detail and every wonderful person that I met along the way. My wife was pregnant at the time, and Julia Krohn was going to throw a little baby shower for my wife. It was just such a great group of people. Also, I'm lucky enough to work with a dear, old friend of mine, my dresser. This will be the third time that he he's dressing me. He dressed me in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, as Lancelot, and now I get to work with him again. It's just a big family there. I love the Houston theatre scene and respect it immensely because their scene has so much talent out there. There are so many wonderful people. I just can't wait to see them again. I'm glad we've got two weeks there.
BWW: Compared to playing Lancelot, what unique challenges and rewards does playing Perón offer?
Sean MacLaughlin: I think that Perón is not as naïve as Lancelot was. I think he's got a bit of the egotism that Lancelot might have had, but he's definitely not as naïve. I think he is more calculated and more able to take a risk without the purity holding him back, and that's what I had fun with with Perón. I mean everything goes; there's no holds barred. I mean just whatever he wants to do is how he wants to do it. Where as, with Lancelot, I found he learned certain things through the people that had already been there and done that. Yes, Lancelot was in combat, but the purity of what he held to be true and losing that along the way, in addition to his infatuation with Guinevere, swayed his character. However, with Perón, pass him another turkey leg. He's ready to eat, drink, and take the world by the hair. It's a lot of fun. [Laughs]
BWW: I like that you said that because I think the audience sees that in the way that the "The Art of the Possible" is staged with this fight choreography that lands him on the top.
Sean MacLaughlin: Yeah. He lets them all do their thing, and at the very end he just fights dirty, and is like "Yep, this is what you can expect from me for the rest of the show." [Laughs] So true.
BWW: What advice do you offer to others hoping to make a career as a performer?
Sean MacLaughlin: Always make sure that you believe in yourself and what you do. As long as you stay focused on the craft and knowing that there are always other people better than you, but, at the same time, always keep in mind that you have something special that no one else does. Also, just in case, make sure you know how to get another job or have something in the bank savings wise. Always prepare for the worst, just in case. It is a very competitive business.
The U.S. National Tour of the Broadway Revival of EVITA, presented by Theatre Under the Stars, runs in the Sarofim Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby Street, Houston 77002 from May 6 to 18, 2014. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.tuts.com or call (713) 558-TUTS (8887).
Production Photos by Richard Termine.
Headshot of Sean MacLaughlin.
Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron in the national tour of EVITA.