Interview: Griffin Osborne Talks DRIFT at New World Stages

By: Mar. 10, 2020
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Griffin Osborne is currently starring as Vinny in the world premiere of the Off-Broadway play Drift at New World Stages. Drift is a new American drama written by William Francis Hoffman, directed by Academy Award winner Bobby Moresco and starring Emmy Award winner Joe Pantoliano.

Set in the blue collar, urban landscape of the 1950's, Drift deals with family secrets, difficult choices and what it means to face up to consequences. The production also stars Patrick Brennan, Richard R. Henry, Mark Lotito and Alex Mickiewicz. The play is currently in previews with an official opening night set for Monday, March 16.

Osborne, who recently performed in The Ferryman on Broadway, spoke to me about building a play from the ground up, what he's learned from working on Drift, why he thinks the audience will connect to it and more!

I would love to hear about your background as an actor.

I've been acting since I was pretty young. Not necessarily in a professional capacity, but it's always been what I was drawn to. I was doing it in school, doing it growing up pretty much constantly. I came here to New York to go to NYU Tisch School of the Arts, the Experimental Theatre Wing there. And after graduating I was lucky enough to be cast in The Ferryman [On Broadway] as an understudy for some of the major roles, and I did that show for about a year! We did the whole Tony [Awards] thing and that fun stuff, and then I did a show out of town, and now I'm doing Drift! It's been a whirlwind since graduation.

Who do you play in Drift? Tell me a little bit about your character.

I play Vinny. He is a young man who finds himself at the intersection between his family's past and his family's future. He's the black sheep of the family, artistic, musically prodigious and deeply troubled. And stuck with the ramifications of having watched his mother die, having watched his brother go to jail, having watched his older brother go a bit mad, and carrying all that pressure on his shoulders as well as the pressure to change the family's hope. That's Vinny.

How did you come to be in Drift? What was the audition process like and what were your first thoughts when you read the material?

I loved the play when I first read it, and I think Billy's [William Francis Hoffman] got just a really great ear for dialogue and he kind of works in that poetic naturalist world that I like. I had a really interesting audition experience where I got the audition, worked super hard on it, I walked in and met Bobby [Moresco] and was lucky enough to get the callback that day in the room. Later I had my callback, I walked into the room and there's twenty people in there, and I have no idea who these people are. And at that point we didn't know what theater it was going to be going into, all I knew was it was quote, unquote, an "Off-Broadway Play" which can mean a few things. At the audition for Bobby, and I really felt confident about it, he kind of looks at me and he's like, "I don't believe you." He's like, "I don't buy it." And I was like, "Okay...great!" And he gives me a bit of direction that was a little emotionally difficult, but he essentially wanted me to say the words to him and really focus on the truth. I have that tendency to want to go in and try to focus on performance. Five minutes later I was crying, he was crying, and the whole room was crying. And then he said something interesting, he said, "So, if we work on this together, and I don't know if we will..." And I was just sitting there like, "Okay, great." But then a few days later I got the call. And I've been grateful and very, very happy ever since.

What does it feel like to be a part of a completely new work and to know that you're going to be the first team to put this play on stage?

That's my dream. That's the best thing ever for me. The ability to really put an eternal mark on this show... it's a huge privilege and so much fun every single day. And while I worked on The Ferryman, and it was a new work, by the time I came into it for the Broadway run, it had already been going for over a year in England. And the cast that was being brought over was a primarily English cast who had been doing it for a long time. So, to a certain extent, they were walking in with an understanding of the show that was past the developmental process. We were sort of flabbergasted by how amazing they were, but they were also working on it for so long, so it was not a normal rehearsal process. And the characters had sort of already been solidified. So there was something a little bit there that felt like not necessarily a new work process, where this is incredibly new for me, but it's super exciting. I'm a playwright and so I love being in that space of, try this monologue out, and throw these lines away, and maybe we try this, and really trying to figure out the structure of the show. And that's what we spent our first few weeks doing. I walked in and immediately Joey Pants [Joe Pantoliano] is looking for how he can spruce up his monologues. So it's been great to see older actors and actors who I respect a lot have the guts to say, "Look, maybe this is wrong." or "Maybe this can be better." or "Maybe we can get more out of this."

What has it been like working with this cast and creative team?

I think from the moment I walked into the room, I kind of locked eyes with Patrick Brennan and was like, "Who's that guy? That guy's awesome." And we just started talking and became really fast friends. Same with Alex Mickiewicz. We're playing the three brothers in the show with a really complicated family history and background and decades of relationship that is all being dealt with in the play. I think had it been a different group that was put together, it might not have been as easy to actually get to where we needed to get to. From the beginning we just had this chemistry and rapport that was really palpable. It's a huge privilege to just walk into the room every day and walk on stage for every preview and know that those two guys have my back undoubtedly. There's a huge sense of permission to try stuff out, to really go there, and know that you're going to be supported by two present, incredible actors. And same with Bobby and with Billy, Bobby's got this incredible vision, and a really good sense of emotion. That's something Bobby has said from the beginning, is that a lot of plays these days are really trying to appeal to the audience's intellect and to their mind, and not necessarily to their gut. And the goal for this play from the beginning was to kind of return to that theatrical tradition of deep emotion and large emotional expression from men, which is great. And I wouldn't have been able to go there without Bobby's leadership and the other actors on stage.

What about this play has affected you the most? What would you say you've learned from working on this material?

I've got a notebook of stuff I've gotten to learn, not just from the play or personally, but as an actor, getting to watch someone like Joe Pantoliano and for the first time in my life really being in the room to see someone like that figure stuff out, and fail and try again, and say something four times before it makes sense to him, and all of those sort of actions that as a young actor, you're not entirely sure you have permission for. You don't know if you're allowed to take up space in the room in order to explore one moment in a rehearsal process. You kind of think, "Oh, if I don't give a performance to a certain extent they're going to fire me tomorrow, they're going to think I'm terrible!" All that silliness. I think that's been the major thing for me, is learning through observation how to take up the appropriate amount of space artistically, and really know that I have that permission, which has been incredibly empowering. And on a personal level, you know, I called my brother immediately after the first read-through. It makes you think about what families do for each other. And whether it's a small act or the major ones you're not even keeping track of, the years that parents worked for us to give us the best opportunity, or not. And that's the core sort of push of this play, is how do you save a family member's life without them knowing? How do you give them the opportunity that you wish you had while not necessarily knowing how? I think that put my personal background into a lot more perspective, definitely.

What are you hoping that the audience takes away from Drift?

I think probably something similar. I hope they recognize their own family in these brothers. I hope they recognize themselves in that, and realize what it is that has been done for them, and what it is they could do for others and do for their family. That's absolutely what I'd want someone to take away.

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity