BWW Interview: Andrew Di Rosa Talks SHREK, Musical Inspirations, and Dream Roles
It's a big bright beautiful world for Andrew Di Rosa, the Pickering actor who played Shrek in the Lower Ossington Theater's production of SHREK THE MUSICAL this fall. Di Rosa previously starred in the companys production of ALTAR BOYZ, and will be seen in the feature film thriller Fragile Minds in 2014. The actor took some time to sit down and talk with BWW to about his love for acting, being a Shrek fanboy, and his favourite musicals.
BWW: Did you always know you wanted to perform?
DI ROSA: When I was a kid, I was very much a performative child. I always wanted to make people laugh, and to be the center of attention, and that has followed me through all of my life. This profession for me... it was always going to be this. They'd always tell me mom "you've got an actor right there." From childhood I wanted to be an actor. As a kid I wanted to be Robin Williams. I found musical theatre in high school and loved it. Being on stage was a huge thing for me, and it was the gratification I always wanted. Getting applause... that rush is like no other for me.
BWW: Do you have any actors , film, TV, or stage that you are inspired by?
DI ROSA: Brian D'arcy James is my number one theatre guy. I know everything he's done; I sing everything he's been in. Robert De Niro is a huge hero of mine, same as John Goodman and Julianne Moore. I watch all of their stuff, I follow them on twitter, I find out what they're doing, I really like those three actors. I'd like to be as diverse as those three actors.
BWW: This might be a tough one - do you have a list of top 5 favourite musicals?
DI ROSA: There absolutely is. Shows I listen to on a regular basis - for a long time it was WICKED. WICKED was one of the first shows I [ever saw]. My aunt took me in the ninth grade to see it when it was in Toronto, and I [remember thinking] yep, this is what I'd like to do, I'd like to be in theatre. WICKED would be number one, THE LAST FIVE YEARS, INTO THE WOODS, LES MIS, mostly anything Jason Robert Brown. I love SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD just because his characters are the characters I like to play, complex characters with really cool songs.
BWW: If you could play any musical theater role what would it be?
DI ROSA: There's different ones for different reasons. My tie would be The Baker in INTO THE WOODS and Jamie from THE LAST FIVE YEARS. Once again, they're both like Shrek. They're warm people who are put in bad situations, and that's what I like - complex diverse characters that have to fight for what they want. I think that's important when you're an actor; you want to play someone who's multidimensional.
BWW: How did you learn about the role of Shrek?
DI ROSA: I was listening to the soundtrack pretty heavily this summer and then I fell in love with the role. I instantly searched who was doing it and where. It was such a strange coincidence that the Lower Ossington Theater was doing it, because I worked with them last summer with ALTAR BOYZ and couldn't believe it. I messaged Shauna before she put the audition notice up, and sent her an email [saying] I have to audition for this, so please keep me in the loop.
BWW: What did you find so appealing about the role considering you went looking for it?
DI ROSA: I think when you play a character you kind of have to find yourself in the character. With Shrek, he's just such an awesome character to play because on the outside he's so rough and jaded and against the world, but on the inside he's this big beating heart looking for love and friendship. [Even though] he's been told he can't have that, he goes out and gets it and fights for what he wants and believes in. I think that's an awesome trait to have in a character.
BWW: What was the rehearsal process like?
DI ROSA: With Shrek there comes some expectation with him. If people have seen the movie they know he is Scottish, he's got an accent. The first thing I had to get down was the voice. I watched the movie a couple of times and played with the words, how he performs the syllables, and got the accent down as best I could. As soon as I got that, his sarcasm, sense of humour and relationship with characters sort of came when I discovered the voice. The mannerisms kind of followed..
BWW: How long was the the rehearsal process like? Were there scheduling issues?
Before I got [the part] i was contracted for a feature film, my scheduele for august was a nightmare. I did the final two weeks of july, then didnt do anything all of august, then came back [to shrek]. I found that an issue for me, I would've liked to step in right at the beginning.
BWW: What was it like going between the two films? Did you struggle to dive into either characters?
They were very different, the movie I did was a revenge/drama definetely not for children. It's movie called Fragile Minds, about three friends who do some dirty things and eventually one of them falls in love with a girl, and the other two are left behind feeling jaded and upset about it, and decide to do some terrible things. It's dark stuff. Very different. It's a very different process. to leave that dark sinister character and turn over and play Shrek, it was exactly what I needed at that moment.
BWW: What was your reaction to the costume
DI ROSA: I got [the headpiece] molded, and it sort of [fit] skin tight to my face because it was molded to fit my head. The eyebrow piece comes down to half way past my eyelid, [and] I've got the heavy nose on. Initially I was so excited about it, so excited to see what they were going to do. I was glad I was going to look like Shrek. I put it on, and I couldn't hear anything. It was like having to sing with two hands over your ears, so they ended up drilling two holes into the side of the ears. [I] still couldn't really hear anything, and then once we got to the theatre, four or five days before we opened, we decided to test with some inner ear pieces. I'm basically wearing iPhone headphones throughout the whole show, and the show is basically pumped through my ears. Because I can't take the headpiece off, I hear the whole show no matter what.
BWW: How long did it take to get on all the makeup and pieces?
DI ROSA: When we have both of the makeup girls there it takes roughly about 20 - 25 minutes. When it's just the one, it's about 30 - 35. It's a lot. It's getting the head on, then they spray me down with airbrush paint, and then they go in and highlight pieces around my face and stuff like that. It can take a little while but it's one of those things that you just sit there and can get into character while it's happening.
BWW: Was it uncomfortable walking around in costume and makeup?
DI ROSA: After a while you forget. It was at the beginning. I remember our first couple of runs made me really nervous because everything was affected because of the costume. I remember I was cracking on notes, my voice wasn't the same anymore, and I got really upset about it. It was just one of those barriers that I had to overcome.
BWW: Did you have a favourite song to sing in the show?
DI ROSA: I do...it's kind of a tie. It's between three of them actually. My favourite one if I had to say would be "Who I'd Be," which is the one right before intermission. There's something about that song that speaks to me. Shrek gets to say who he wants to be and who he could be if the world allowed him to be it. By the end of the show you sort of get to watch him become that hero he's talking about. That's why I love that song.
"When Words Fail" is the opposite, it's the other side of Shrek. It's the side of him that no one has seen yet. He gets to come on stage and become completely vulnerable, this big beating heart sort of expressing himself to the audience.
Then there's "Build a Wall," which is my third favourite, which is kind of the opposite. He's back to his roots and the audience is thinking, oh no, we've lost him. He was this big heart, now he's going to build this wall again. Those three songs are a different journey for Shrek all together
BWW: Did you have to do a lot of research for the role?
DI ROSA: I did. I watched the movie a ton, because some of the scenes are verbatim. There's two problems with that. You want to sound as much like him as you can, but you also don't want to be taking his choices. You want to be an actor, pretending this is an original role [and] you want to make your own choices for the show. You want to make Shrek your own. The double-edged sword of it was picking his dialect up while avoiding his choices, so that was a definite piece of homework.
BWW: Apart from watching the movie, did you turn to Brian Darcy James and how he adapted the role of Shrek for the stage as inspiration?
DI ROSA: I did actually. I listened to that soundtrack day and night. It was a problem, it became an addition to the point where my family was like, we get it, we don't want to hear Shrek anymore. There was no way I could borrow ideas or watch something he had done. It was trying to listen to his choices on the recording. Some people did recognize a similarity between our voices [but] we just sound alike, we have the same vocal quality. Now I know there is the recording they send out, they recorded the Broadway show on DVD, but I don't think I want to watch that until the show is done. I'm happy where the show is sitting for me know, so ill leave it alone I think.
BWW: So much of Shrek is his interaction with other characters. I was wondering if you had a favourite scene partner who you really found chemistry with?
DI ROSA: Michele and I went to school together actually, she was in the year above me. I remember before we graduated we sat in her living room and sang through the album together and we promised each other we would play these roles together, and then a year out of school we're playing them. Michele's so much fun to play with. She has the same training as me, she knows how to help [when you're] in a pickle. Our energy just kind of meshes together on stage. I think she was the perfect choice for this because she captures everything. She gets that princess quality, the reserved "thank you for rescuing me," as well as that brassy, "I need somewhere to camp now." Getting to fall in love with her every night is a treat.
BWW: As a kid did you have any favourite lines from SHREK that you were excited to say on stage?
DI ROSA: The whole scene with taking off the helmet, I remember laughing very hard as a child at that scene. One of my favourite lines is when donkey says, "You didn't have to crack one off like that, I had my mouth open and everything." Being on stage, and him saying that to me, and having it click that I'm playing the part that had me overjoyed with laughter as a child, those moments hit you.
BWW: Why would people love SHREK THE MUSICAL?
DI ROSA: The show is about being the underdog, it's about getting what you want, working hard, and believing in your self. It's about being confident in yourself and trusting others and in doing that there is beauty and rewards for you. That's the universal message Shrek sends out, and I think that's why people need to see that. In a world where we are all pessimistic, it's a reminder of the fairy tale ending.
BWW: As someone who has worked with the LOT on a couple of occasions, what do you think is so appealing about the LOT given the intimate nature of their usual workspace?
DI ROSA: That was kind of like my school, our theatre was in a block box. I think the LOT is very smart about the shows they do, because they pick shows that are character based and not based on being elaborate. You find your characters in there, you find people that you love rather than a big giant spectacle. Working with the space they have, they've absolutely made fantastic use of that. People come in and they get to see shows, with this at some point you are five [feet away] from an actor. That's why their space is so flexible. The sheer size alone of it, the audience has to be with you right away because you're practically on stage. I think the choice of shows have been really great so far for the style of theatre they have.