InDepth InterView: Brian D'Arcy James Talks SMASH Season Finale, THE BIG C, 54 Below Concert & More
Today we are continuing BroadwayWorld's ongoing interview series with the stars and creative team of NBC's hit musical drama series SMASH with a Broadway/Hollywood leading man who first made a major mark on the stage creating a pivotal role in the Tony Award-winning TITANIC after having appeared in BLOOD BROTHERS and CAROUSEL and who has since gone on to star in productions as diverse as SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, WHITE CHRISTMAS, NEXT TO NORMAL, SHREK and many more - the jovial and multi-talented Brian d'Arcy James. Discussing all aspects of his role on SMASH as well as cluing us in on what we can expect from Monday's highly awaited season finale, d'Arcy James and I also take a look back at his career onstage thus far and he shares fond recollections of working on TITANIC, SWEET SMELL, SHREK, NEXT TO NORMAL, TIME STANDS STILL and THE WILD PARTY Off-Broadway as well as offers his observations of his collaborators and co-stars in each endeavor. Plus, Brian also outlines his other current TV project besides SMASH: his character arc on Showtime's dramedy THE BIG C, starring his TIME STANDS STILL co-star Laura Linney and previous InDepth InterView participant John Benjamin Hickey, that begins this Sunday and continues through the rest of this month. Additionally, we also discuss some of the music that matters most to Brian and what we can expect from him in the future, near and far - especially his upcoming 54 Below concerts, June 26-30 - as well as his thoughtful and candid opinions on some of his favorite songwriters and feelings on his own songs and songwriting in general. Plus, comments on his film roles in HBO's GAME CHANGE, FRIENDS WITH KIDS, an upcoming short film and his forthcoming pilot, as well as memories of performing for both President Clinton and President Obama at the White House - and much, much more!
SMASH airs Monday nights at 10 PM on NBC. THE BIG C airs Sunday nights at 9:30 PM on Showtime. Tickets to Brian d'Arcy James: UNDER THE INFLUENCE at 54 Below are available here.
More information on Brian D'arcy James is available at his official site here.
It's Time Now To Soar
PC: In my opinion, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS possesses one of the finest scores of any show so far this century. It was a remarkable show onstage, as well, I must say.
BDJ: Thanks for saying that. I think pretty highly of it myself. It's actually funny you should mention it because I just saw ONE MAN, TWO GUV'NORS last night, which was also directed by Nicholas Hytner who, really, I think is a genius and who can do no wrong in my book.
PC: What are your feelings on the show now, looking back?
BDJ: Well, you know, just thinking about that experience brings back such great memories; all of these incredible people - John Guare and John Lithgow and Craig Carnelia and Marvin Hamlisch and Christopher Wheeldon. It was an amazing experience.
PC: Kelli O'Hara has done this column and we spoke quite a bit about the different versions of the show. It has been done once since Broadway, as well, in a version more closely resembling the original Chicago one, I believe. What do you think of revising it?
BDJ: I had heard that - I had heard that they had done that and I am very curious about that. You know, I think that that show will probably have an amazing revival at some point - and I am hoping that it will be received in the way that I think it deserves to be received, which is, you know, it having a little bit longer life than it did when we originally did it.
PC: Did the audiences find the show too difficult or too mean, perhaps, in your estimation?
BDJ: I don't know. It's hard for me to assess what 1500 people are thinking! [Laughs.]
PC: Of course.
BDJ: I think that there are lots of theories about why it wasn't embraced fully - it was, you know, post-9/11, so everyone was completely in shock about that. The appetite for something that was a little bit more sinister or more darkly-themed wasn't perhaps the tonic that people wanted at the time.
PC: It was a very dark show.
BDJ: Yeah - that's one idea that perhaps led to people's appetite or lack thereof for it; I really can't say. But, I do know that Marvin's score is, I think, such an incredible score. I was surprised that that wasn't heralded to the high heavens, actually - just because, to me, it was so amazing. Of course, I was in the show at the time, so I was biased.
PC: It's so idiosyncratic and unique. It's a true throwback to the 60s and also something new, too.
BDJ: It stands apart. It's just - like you said - it is not only an homage to the golden age musically, but, also it feels like it could have come directly from that time. So, I think it's a very interesting thing how things are received or they are not.
PC: When Marvin did this column we spoke about how the score was reworked to be a cohesive experience on disc - that score was so layered and dense and rich in relation to book/dance/music/song. Was it a complex development?
BDJ: Well, you know, I've been very lucky - and, to a certain degree, I have been mindful of trying - to participate in things that they are new. I think, for me, it is the more innervating and challenging thing; I learn so much. You used the word complex and that is what it is to create something - it's complex. In the case of SWEET SMELL, I think what Nick was aiming to do was to push the boundaries of the storytelling of musical theatre and what it can achieve - and I think he did it successfully.
PC: Unquestionably. What was it like working with him?
BDJ: It was so, so interesting to work with him because, you know, he is working at a level that is a little bit higher, I think, than what most people can conceive. [Laughs.]
PC: Was it a similar development for SHREK, which also has a layered style and structure?
BDJ: Yes. In the case of SHREK, it was very complex, too - it is always very complex when you have to find how one piece turns and makes the next one turn and so on, or not. Consequently, the decisions that are made to remove the particular piece and replace it with something else also has reverberations of its own. So, that is always like walking on eggshells - you are never sure how it is all going to play out. Usually, in the hands of great people like Jeanine Tesori, David Lindsay-Abaire and the like, it works out.
PC: It's so great that there are cast albums for both those shows - specifically SWEET SMELL. "At The Fountain" is a great Marvin Hamlisch ballad on the level of "At The Ballet" from A CHORUS LINE. Did you find that to be a privilege to have that epic song in the show?
BDJ: Oh, privileged is a perfect word! I remember so many things about that song - the first of which is: learning it in Marvin's apartment for the first audition with he and Craig.
PC: What was that process like?
BDJ: I remember Craig talking me through the lyric and I realized very quickly that this was not a song - it seemed like it was four songs!
PC: It is!
BDJ: It's a labyrinth of a song in terms of where the character goes and what he experiences. It's really like a little mini-play unto itself, that song.
PC: It really is.
BDJ: Having had just met Marvin Hamlisch - which is a pretty incredible experience in and of itself - and then to sit down and listen to this song as he is pounding out with the lyricist, Craig; that is something I will never, ever forget. And, then, having to step up to bat - to actually use a lyric from the song [Laughs.] - was nerve-wracking, but, also, thrilling. Something about it I instinctively was drawn to and I felt like, "I can do this." Musically, I was intimidated, but not to the point where I felt like I couldn't step up to the plate and do it.
PC: And hit a home-run - like you did when you sang it on THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW and elsewhere.
BDJ: [Laughs.] Yes, I remember that, too. Also, during the run of the show, it is something that stands out in my mind as being one of those moments that I was always looking forward to as a touchstone in the show - something that is kind of electrifying, not only to perform but also what it does for the character and what it does for the trajectory of the story; Sidney's journey and all of that. I always remember being constantly mindful of getting to that point in the show and how exhilarating it always was to do it.
PC: An early version originally was the 11 o'clock number, no? It was placed in that spot in workshops, I've heard - and on the demo.
BDJ: I honestly don't know, but my feeling is that maybe it wasn't, but I could be wrong. I can't remember.
PC: The Psalm scene in the church was masterfully written by John Guare, as well as the seque into song by Marvin and Craig - too bad it's not on the album.
BDJ: Yeah - that was one that didn't make the album. I actually was reminded of that the other day, too - someone mentioned it to me and I had forgotten it, really, because I hadn't heard the music in such a long time. That is definitely a sinister pact that Sidney makes in that scene and that song, though! [Laughs.]
PC: You can say that again.
BDJ: There are just so many great little blocks of time that I remember; just being onstage with John and feeling so - here comes that word again - privileged to be able to be in that position. Honored - and then owning it and feeling like, you know, "This is something that I feel comfortable and confident about doing."
PC: Did you ever get to share the stage with him again when you took over for Norbert Leo Butz in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS?
BDJ: No, I didn't - regretfully.
PC: Have you seen him in THE COLUMNIST yet?
BDJ: I am going soon and I can't wait to see it. Daniel Sullivan is another great titan of the theatre - I can't wait to see what they do together.
PC: Speaking of originating roles in new musicals, you participated in the early version of NEXT TO NORMAL, as well, Off-Broadway at Second Stage. Were you ever involved with FEELING ELECTRIC?
BDJ: My tenure with NEXT TO NORMAL began with the Second Stage production. I know there were versions of it prior to the Second Stage version. The ones before the Second Stage version were called FEELING ELECTRIC and I think I stepped in right when it had evolved beyond that, into what became NEXT TO NORMAL as we now know it.
PC: How drastically did you see the show change in your time spent in it?
BDJ: Well, certainly, there were some very significant changes that were made in the Second Stage run, and, then, when they went to Washington - which I did not do. Of course, on Broadway, it continued evolving in this incredible way, as well. Do I think they are that different? No - not to the extent where the two things are separate or are two completely different entities; I think they both share the same DNA, for sure.
PC: They definitely do.
BDJ: The Second Stage production is much like the set for the show - it's like that solid foundation that ended up giving rise to what occurred in the Broadway run.
PC: Did you ever get to go on in the show with Marin Mazzie or did you always perform with Alice Ripley?
BDJ: I didn't get a chance to do it with Marin. When I did the Broadway production, they were kind enough to ask me back for about a six-week run to culminate with the end of Alice's run.
PC: Did you enjoy the experience of doing it again, now on Broadway in its final version?
BDJ: You know, it really does stand out for me as being such a rich experience - as an actor, particularly, because of the material in terms of what was required emotionally and the story that was being told and just how fearlessly everybody was in addressing the idea of this story; not just Tom and Brian and Michael, it required everybody just to be fearless about how to go about it, too. For me, that was the real feather in the cap - what they achieved was something that was respectful and audacious; respectful in terms of how it treated the idea of someone suffering from being bipolar and the effects that it has on the people around them.
PC: Delicately so.
BDJ: Yeah - they didn't really pull any punches and it works because of that. So, all of that led to a really rich, memorable experience in my mind, looking back.
PC: And a Pulitzer Prize for edification in that it was certainly time well spent.
BDJ: Yes - exactly! And that was well-deserved.
PC: Sergio Trujillo just did this column and we spoke of the unique choreographic demands of NEXT TO NORMAL. How do you approach choreography being an actor first, as you are?
BDJ: Oh, I love being challenged by choreography. I am always up for seeing what the limits are of my ability. I like to dance, in terms of when I am asked to do it for a show - yet, clearly, I am not getting hired because of my dancing background. [Laughs.]
PC: Of course.
BDJ: When given the chance to dance, I am always eager to find out what I can get away with - just because I love it. I love doing it and it's not something that I get a chance to do all the time. In the case of working with Christopher on SWEET SMELL as well as Sergio on NEXT TO NORMAL, there were a lot of things that I really respected about how they treated me. I think that a good choreographer, much like a good director, is less concerned with your limitations and more concerned with your willingness to try - you know, they are more concerned with saying, "You can do this!" and then they throw you in the deep end and see if you can do it. So, then, they have something to work with in terms of shaping their choreography around someone who is obviously not an A.B.T. dancer or something. It gives us, as actors, a chance to have another piece of ammunition in our arsenal, so I always respect and appreciate when choreographers can reach out to people who aren't necessarily "dancers" and say, "Let's see how far you can go and I am going to treat you as if you can go the distance and then we will work from there." I always surprise myself when that happens - and it is always very rewarding.
PC: Lynne Taylor-Corbett did this column and we spoke a lot about choreographing TITANIC, which had the first role you created in a new Broadway musical. What are your memories of that experience? Did you have any dance training in your background?
BDJ: Well, I didn't do much dancing in TITANIC - there wasn't too much choreography that I had to do. But, yes, I had a little bit of dance training college - I went to Northwestern University. It's funny you should mention this, because I was just talking about this yesterday with Ana Gasteyer…
PC: Who has also done this column, incidentally. How do you two know each other?
BDJ: Ana and I are emceeing a big benefit gala for the Youth Of America Grand Prix, which is a big ballet dance competition. We both went to Northwestern and we both had the pleasure and we both shared the experience of studying with Juanita Lopez, who is the ballet instructor there - which was part of our theatre education. That's the extent of my ballet training, though. [Laughs.]
PC: Ana is so smart and so unbelievably talented - a true theatrical triple-threat.
BDJ: Oh, yes, she is! What I love about Ana is that she has a seemingly endless ability to do things that you never really knew she could do. I mean, everybody knows how funny she is and how incredibly talented she is at creating these hilarious and honest and interesting characters on SNL, but she also has this incredible voice and she is an incredible musician. Like you said, she is born of the theatre - she's not just dabbling; this is where she lives.
PC: Speaking of benefits, you recently did the Ahrens & Flaherty JOURNEY ON concert, as well.
BDJ: Oh, to use that word again - it's really one those honors and privileges. Not only honoring a team of composers I love and admire as people and as creators, but also singing their songs at Carnegie Hall? That ain't too bad! So, it was kind of a one-two punch there.
PC: What song did you do?
BDJ: "I Was Here" from THE GLORIOUS ONES.
PC: Another modern musical theatre master, Maury Yeston, spoke so favorably to me about your absolutely exquisite rendition of "Unusual Way". Could you tell me about that recording and working with him on that and TITANIC? What key is it in?
BDJ: I don't know what key it is in, but I really appreciate it that you like that "Unusual Way" so much. Of all the recordings I've done of all the great composers I've had a chance to work with, I am very, very proud of that particular recording. There is something about it that I really, really love - I love the unexpected quality of a male voice on it, and the song is just so beautiful. It really turned out to be a really beautiful arrangement - with the cello and the piano. I just have to say, I love Maury Yeston's music. Speaking for myself, I speak about it in chemical terms: you have a kind of chemical reaction where you are just able to latch onto it without even really thinking about it - I think music can do that; that's why you like some music and not other music as much, because there's just this ineffable quality that you either connect with or you don't. And, when a singer gets a chance to sing someone's music that they have a chemical reaction to, then it just fits - that's how I kind of feel about Maury's writing and the music that I've been able to sing of his; which also includes the score of TITANIC, which, of course, is gorgeous, as well.
PC: You have tried your hand at songwriting yourself - there are some fantastic original songs on your Christmas album.
BDJ: Yes, I have. In fact, I am doing a week of concerts at this new venue called 54 BELOW and I will be singing some original stuff that I have written when I do that in June. But, what you said - "tried your hand" - is the perfect way of describing it. [Big Laugh.]
PC: Obviously, no offense intentioned!
BDJ: Oh, I'm not taking umbrage - I just love the hobby of trying to write music. I love trying to capture the things that I hear in my head. You know, I work with people who are experts in this field and who have dedicated their lives to it - I like it as something to do to satisfy my own creative instincts. I would never call myself a singer-songwriter in that sense - I'm more like Alan Thicke. [Laughs.]
PC: What a way to put it!
BDJ: You know, he wrote the theme songs to a couple of shows and he is just this funny guy who is an actor - a lot of people have things that they do that end up being heard or associated with them that maybe they never intended to be. Perhaps Alan Thicke always wanted to be a musician - but, there I go again; comparing myself to Alan Thicke! [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious.
BDJ: But seriously - with songwriting, I dabble. I just love pop music, so that's where I live; that's the kind of stuff that I like to write when I do.
PC: Have you been involved with any workshops of any jukebox musicals with a pop catalog you have an affection for, perhaps?
BDJ: Well, there was talk - for about five or six seconds - about Ben Folds maybe doing something with his music a few years ago. I thought that was a brilliant idea.
PC: It is. What happened?
BDJ: You know, his songwriting is so story-driven and there are so many rich characters in his songs. But, yeah, that popped up as something that was maybe going to happen, but it never did - so, that's the closest I have come to participating in something that represented a pop composer in a theatrical context.
PC: Idina Menzel, who you worked with on THE WILD PARTY Off-Broadway, as well as Kristin Chenoweth, from THE APPLE TREE, have found considerable chart success with songs from GLEE, of course - some Broadway stars still do crossover to pop, occasionally, even now.
BDJ: Yeah, yeah - that's right. They're fabulous.
PC: What can we expect from your 54 Below show at the end of June - mostly pop material?
BDJ: Yeah - basically, I am calling it "My Evening Of Selfish Indulgence". [Laughs.] It's music that I grew up with - a lot of 70s and 80s pop stuff; Steve Winwood and Todd Rundgren and XTC and Squeeze - and all of these pop sounds and bands that had a very significant effect on my musical tastes and what I like. When given the chance to do something in New York for the first the time, I suppose that I am taking the road less taken because I won't be singing songs I am necessarily known for in terms of my theatrical career, but I am hoping that what I like is what other people will like, as well. It is going to be a lot of fun, at the very least - especially in terms of the sound that I am intending on honoring.
PC: Are you a big Todd Rundgren fan? His work producing BAT OUT OF HELL is so masterful.
BDJ: I am. You know, he wrote a theatre piece based on a play by Joe Orton - and that's just one of the many aspects of his writing and producing projects. I appreciate that about him - he can go all over the map in his musical abilities; as a writer and as a producer. That's really fascinating and inspiring to me.
PC: What about some Phil Collins?
BDJ: Oh, yeah - definitely some Phil Collins in there. Genesis is another incredible band - I just unabashedly love Phil Collins; I'll say it! [Laughs.]
PC: His catalog is filled with 80s classics.
BDJ: He is a great songwriter and he has a great voice - and, I think that the stuff he did post-Peter Gabriel Genesis had, I think, a much different sound; it's like there are two different camps, like the two Darrens in BEWITCHED. I think I like the earlier sound better - the Phil Collins era. You've opened up a can of worms here, though, Pat - I could talk about his stuff all day. [Laughs.]
PC: It will be interesting to see if any Phil Collins material is kept in the AMERICAN PSYCHO musical since it supposedly will have some source songs from the film.
BDJ: Oh, that's so interesting - I didn't know they were considering doing that.
PC: Is it true you got the chance to meet President Obama when you performed at the White House recently?
BDJ: Yes, I did, indeed. They have it set up so that you sort of go through a receiving line, so I got to meet the president and the first lady. I had this experience once before, wonderfully, with meeting President Clinton at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998. It was quite a thrill, needless to say. I have to say, I was focused, as you would be, on meeting the president - just kind of making sure that I could sort of speak properly and not get tongue-tied - but, really, I was so taken by the first lady. She is just so striking and so generous. I was very focused on the president, of course, but, then, also, I thought, "Wow - what a striking and magnetic woman she is." So, the whole experience was really great.
PC: Was performing for the president a bit nerve-wracking?
BDJ: Well, when he's sitting, you know, five feet away from the stage was a little unnerving - but, I love those experiences where the stakes are so high and the circumstances are so electric that anything can happen, you know?
PC: Decks are stacked.
BDJ: Yeah, yeah - exactly. It says something about me, perhaps - I don't know if it's a good thing or if it's a bad thing [Laughs.] - but I love walking into those things.
PC: You sang "Free" at that concert and I was curious: have you gotten a chance to work with Stephen Sondheom one-on-one at any point?
BDJ: Well, I did a reading of ASSASSINS before the Broadway production occurred and he was there, although I didn't get to work with him too, too specifically on anything. I had my first real chance to talk to him and get to know him a teeny bit when I did a show at the National at the Kennedy Center - Marvin and I did an evening of Sondheim for his birthday, actually; this was like a year and a half ago. So, he came down and saw it and it was the first time I really got to chat with him and it was really a thrill - because of all the obvious reasons; all of his legendary accomplishments. I am grateful that I got that chance to talk to him and that is the extent to which I have gotten to work with him so far in my career.
PC: Sondheim's pop homage "Water Under The Bridge", originally introduced by Liza Minnelli, would be a fabulous song for you to do some day. Do you know it?
BDJ: I do! I love that song! I remember Debbie Gravitte sang it on an album and I remember hearing it and thinking, "Wow, this isn't what I expected from Sondheim!" But, again, it shows that he, like all great artists, can just do whatever he sets his mind to do - and do it so unbelievably well. So, yes, I do love that song that it really goes back to my affinity for pop music and that sound, I think.
PC: Are you under consideration for playing The Baker in INTO THE WOODS coming up?
BDJ: Well, the scheduling for SMASH is precluding that. We just found out we are going to have a second season, as you know, which is such amazing, amazing news.
BDJ: Thank you. We're so excited about it. So, I think that's on the docket for me starting in July - we haven't gotten official word yet, but I think that's when we're starting up again.
PC: What can we look forward to on the season finale of SMASH?
BDJ: Well, as you know, there has been a huge implosion in the marriage of Frank and Julia and they are now back together and are slowly trying to figure out how function in this new reality of their world. Obviously, I am happy they are back together because it keeps me in the mix, and, any time you are swimming upstream it is interesting in terms of the inherent drama within that. All I can really say about the end of the season is that… [Laughs.] if there wasn't enough drama about the revelations made so far, there will be some more that occur at the end that will really make people say, "OK. So, what's gonna happen now?" - not just in terms of BOMBSHELL, the show-within-the-show, but also between Frank and Julia and the family.
PC: SMASH has afforded you and Debra Messing ample opportunities to really develop your dramatic relationship in some great scenes. What has that process been like for you two?
BDJ: It's a different kind of drama, for sure - obviously, there is a lot going on with the race for Marilyn and how Megan's character and Kathartine's character and Jack Davenport's character are affected; and I love that this show has its own boundaries in terms of the sandbox that they are playing in. Then, you get into the family drama; the home - which is a different kind of energy, I think. I like it because it is a bit of a different facet to the larger story being told.
PC: A respite, as well.
BDJ: It sounds like I am lobbying to keep my position now - which I guess I kind of am - but, I think it is a great and necessary thread in the quilt of the show.
PC: Is your storyline with Deb somewhat based on Theresa Rebeck's own life - particularly given some of the sub-plots for your characters?
BDJ: I can't say that - I don't think that's necessarily true. There was never any kind of sit-down where that was discussed - you know, there was never a discussion about a storyline being specifically about her or special to her; I think it is more about what the show requires in terms of the trajectory of all of these characters. Really, I think that the purpose that it all serves is the story of Julia Houston - having to balance what she does at work and what she does at home and how those two things bleed into each other sometimes. So, I don't think it is necessarily a reflection of Theresa particularly, it is just more about her ability to tell a realistic story.
PC: The adoption storyline certainly reveals some verisimilitude.
BDJ: Yes, that is true - she did adopt a child in real-life, I believe. There are some similarities in terms of them being writers and so on, but there were never any kind of rules set down for me in terms of who I am as a character and how it all relates to my life or anything - there was never anything like that with my character.
PC: Will you be singing on Season Two? "One More Kiss Upon The Brooklyn Bridge" was a beautiful snippet. What's the story with that Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman song? Did they write that for you specifically to sing in that moment of discovery?
BDJ: That was a song that Tom and Julia were writing for Marilyn, but it was something that didn't necessarily fit in terms of the show itself, story-wise. They had this beautiful song, so they ended up using it as a way into me putting two and two together about Julia's infidelity.
PC: A wonderful touch.
BDJ: Interestingly, I also know that it was Steven Spielberg's idea for that information to be revealed through song - using the conceit of music in the home world of Frank and Julia as a way of elucidating the story. So, that becomes the catalyst - the song. I think that's so brilliant - you know, it stays within the rules and the definition of what the show is, but it also has a bit of a twist because it also reveals something more personal about the relationship as opposed to just something about the show.
PC: And it is a song that takes place in the real world and arises out of reality.
BDJ: Yes - exactly. In the beginning of the year, I remember walking into the room for the pilot and talking to Michael Mayer and Theresa and saying, you know, "So, who am I?" Like, "Who exactly is Frank?" It hadn't been determined what he was, really.
PC: How did you see Frank originally?
BDJ: Well, I was assuming that perhaps he was once an actor who met Julia while he was in one of her shows and he became the stay-at-home dad when his career didn't take off like hers did - and I think they did play around with that idea for a while.
PC: How fascinating.
BDJ: Ultimately, though, it was determined - and I think smartly so - that Frank was not of this world; you know, because not everybody is!
PC: Indeed. The world is not showbiz.
BDJ: Yeah - you can't just eat a diet of apples all day, you need something else on the menu. So, I think that's how it was determined that I became something other than a performer or someone other than from the world of Broadway.
PC: A refresher course.
BDJ: I'll add one more thing about it, too, because it's something that I've kind of concluded for myself recently: there's a great liberation for me in playing this character because a lot of people talk about the idea of not singing in a show that is geared toward singing and is about singing to a large degree and my background is such that, for me, I have done that and have had success and a career in Broadway musicals, but what this show affords me is being free of the responsibility of representing that world.
PC: The singing shackles are off!
BDJ: Yeah! It's a nice feeling to not have to carry that responsibility - and Megan and Katharine do it so brilliantly, anyway. So, it's a great function of the character to be, again, a different color; a different thread, a different kind of presence on the show - I love that about Frank.
PC: You have continually done straight plays quite a bit as well as musicals - TIME STANDS STILL and NEXT TO NORMAL in the same season, even; a contemporary drama and a modern rock opera. You like to keep your feet on both sides of the line.
BDJ: Right. Right.
PC: Do you find it difficult to under-sing in the moments where you do break into song as Frank on SMASH - Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" karaoke-style, for instance?
BDJ: Yeah, I did find that to be a bit of a challenge. You know, here's a guy who is just singing a song to his wife - trying to just be a goofball with the objective to make her feel a little better, not necessarily to deliver a topnotch quality song.
BDJ: You know, in real life, when friends are trying to help each other, or, you are singing in the shower or something - that's how I looked at how I would do that particular performance. I mean, I didn't want it to be bad or anything! I certainly wanted to acquit myself to the degree where they might want to have me sing again if need-be in the future, but there was definitely an approach to it that required some thought about, you know, "How should this be delivered? How does this function within the hierarchy of the singers on the show and who these characters are?" So, it was a very interesting thing to do.
PC: Frank appeared in the glorious Bollywood number, "A Thousand And One Nights", at least.
BDJ: Yes, Frank was in that - a fantastic sequence. That's another great thing about the show: it would be more plausible if I were able to sing in a fantasy sequence rather than in reality. That Bollywood thing was so great - it looked so amazing! The song is just so much fun, too.
PC: Marc and Scott are so unbelievably talented.
BDJ: They are just brilliant, aren't they? Just brilliant.
PC: As if SMASH is not enough, you are also going to be appearing on the next few episodes of THE BIG C. Tell me about working on that - what has the experience been like working with Laura Linney and fellow InDepth InterView participant John Benjamin Hickey?
BDJ: Oh, what I love about this opportunity to be on THE BIG C - well, the first thing is getting to work with Laura Linney again. She is just an exceptional person and an exceptional actress. I am so grateful to be acting with her. Secondly - and this is what actors dream of - I am having the opportunity to kind of zig-zag; I think this character is a big departure for me and has some interesting requirements in terms of who the guy is.
PC: How would you describe your character?
BDJ: Well, basically, just to put it simply and not to give too much away: he is a psychiatrist who calls a gay sex line and befriends John Benjamin Hickey's character, Sean. Then, he manages to entice Sean into having a three-way relationship with my character and my wife. [Laughs.]
PC: How funny! Who plays your wife?
BDJ: Tammy Blanchard plays my wife. We play this married couple who have a penchant for exploring the boundaries of traditional, two-person relationships.
PC: So, you enjoyed your time working on the show?
BDJ: Oh, yeah! It's funny and it's a little audacious and it's definitely a ground I've never walked on - especially in terms of a character being this out-of-bounds. It was such a great experience.
PC: How does Laura's character become involved with you and Tammy and John?
BDJ: Well, Laura plays the sister of John Benjamin Hickey and this season is about the journey of her character, Cathy - going through this huge change of dealing with cancer and dealing with mortality - and this season they are dealing more with the idea of identity and how we define ourselves and what we do to create our own reality. So, this relationship that I am in and that Sean enters into is an exploration of that idea - you know, "What is the usual and what is the unusual of how people go about creating their own realities?" And, in this case, there is definitely a sexual identity quotient to that - you know, what people find to be common and what people find to be uncommon. So, there's a certain kind of fearlessness that's required to not only write that, but also to act it - and I was happy to meet that challenge.
PC: It certainly sounds like a challenging character.
BDJ: It is, it is - and I like it, also, because it's so different. It's going to be really fun for people to see and there's some really funny writing, too. So, not only is it unusual for me, perhaps, in terms of the characters that I usually get to play, but it's also really funny and pretty comedic in terms of how it all plays out.
PC: Did creator Darlene Hunt devise the character especially for you?
BDJ: Darlene did not write the particular episodes that I am in, I don't think - at least not to my knowledge. But, I met Jenny Bicks, the show runner, when we were doing TIME STANDS STILL - back when Laura was just getting the show off the ground. Much to Laura's credit - and just her great generosity - she had been looking for a chance to bring me in there. I actually auditioned for the role Oliver Platt is now playing.
PC: No way!
BDJ: Yeah - that was the first chance I got to meet the folks involved with THE BIG C. So, since then, she was kind of looking for places where I might be able to come in, and, thankfully, this is that chance.
PC: Will your character be on for the rest of the month?
BDJ: Yes. It's a three episode arc.
PC: Will you be a recurring character in the future, possibly?
BDJ: Well, I would love that, but I don't know if the character functions in that way - I think the story might button-up at the end. But, you know, I am always up for unbuttoning the story, as it were. [Laughs.]
PC: To turn a phrase!
BDJ: Unbuttoning - as is my character's wont! [Laughs.]
PC: You also recently appeared in the tremendous HBO film GAME CHANGE. What was your experience like working on that?
BDJ: Yeah , you know, I actually haven't seen it yet, but I know that I definitely had a couple of great scenes that were widdled down to me being in the background, but it was a really great experience to go down there and work with Jay Roach. I am kind of addicted to MSNBC - I am sort of obsessed with talking heads and people's views on politics - so, it was definitely right up my alley to do it. You know, the favorite film of my best friend and I when we were growing up, in highschool - and this is nerd alert - was ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. After he saw GAME CHANGE, he said to me, "You realize that you are in this generation's version of ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, right?" and, I thought, "Oh, that's a pretty apt description and a pretty cool way of looking at it."
PC: You could put GAME CHANGE onstage - the script is so tight.
BDJ: It is. It is.
PC: You also recently had a role in FRIENDS WITH KIDS for fellow InDepth InterView participant Jennifer Westfeldt.
BDJ: Yeah, Jennifer is great - I loved working with her.
PC: Is film something you want to move into next?
BDJ: Yes. Film is something I definitely want to do more of - I actually just shot a short film in London not too long ago; a dear friend of mine directed it. I'm not sure when it will be out, though. I am fascinated by movies - how they are created, especially. I am actually writing a movie right now with a couple of partners as well as a script for a TV project. I definitely want to keep moving down that road.
PC: The Sunday Times piece on you recently was very insightful and unique, I thought.
BDJ: Yeah - "The Sunday Routine". That was really nice. It was interesting to sort of have the mundane parts - or at least what I perceive to be the mundane parts - of life dissected so thoroughly. But, yeah, it was cool to be in that article.
PC: Do you find you are noticed more now because of SMASH's major presence - even by people who don't watch the show?
BDJ: Yes - yes. I have had moments where I realize that being on a network television show with a good amount of viewership means you definitely get people who want to talk to you about it. That's surprising to me because it's kind of a new dynamic for me to experience, but I am always interested in what people have to say. It's always funny to me - and I have heard other actors talking about it and now I can corroborate it - that people talk to you as your character! [Laughs.]
BDJ: Really. I think it's great, though, because it means they are empathizing with Frank. You know, they just get so incensed about what I am experiencing on the show - this brazen affair - it's like, you know, "I can't believe you are putting up with this!" So, it's kind of funny to have to say, "Well, thank you - but, it's not really real. You know that, right? But, I really appreciate you watching the show!" [Laughs.]
PC: Will Chase better watch out then!
BDJ: Oh, yeah! [Laughs.] Exactly!
PC: I hope you and Will get the chance to do a duet someday, perhaps. Maybe some Fleetwood Mac, given the infidelities?
BDJ: Oh, that would be so cool! I was thinking a little Hope & Crosby, though. [Big Laughs.]
PC: Marc Kudisch would be a fabulous SMASH duet partner, too - your APPLE TREE co-star.
BDJ: Oh, yes, indeed! He is just the best. I love Mark's work and I love working with him.
PC: This was so phenomenal today, Brian - I can't thank you enough. We have so many exciting events coming up - so much to look forward to between the SMASH season finale, THE BIG C character arc and your 54 below concerts at the end of June.
BDJ: I really appreciate it, Pat. I've read this column many, many times and it really is so thorough. It's so great to read and you make it an absolute pleasure to do. Thank you. Bye now.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro