Interview: 'This is the Most Meta Acting Gig Ever!' Andy Karl on Being a Clown, UK Audiences and Returning to GROUNDHOG DAY

"Repeating a performance of a repetitive makes me very excited to show up to work"

By: May. 22, 2023
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Interview: 'This is the Most Meta Acting Gig Ever!' Andy Karl on Being a Clown, UK Audiences and Returning to GROUNDHOG DAY

A comic parable of love, hope and transformation, the Oliver-award winning Groundhog Day has now returned to London's Old Vic theatre. BroadwayWorld UK recently spoke with American actor Andy Karl about what it's like to be returning to the role of Phil Connors, seven years since its original run at the same venue.

We discussed what it has been like returning to the show after its runs in London and New York, favourite moments, and what he would do in a time loop.

Andy, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. How did you first get involved in Groundhog Day?
Matthew Warchus saw me in the Roundabout Theatre's' revival of On the Twentieth Century (2015). He said he needed someone who could be a clown, and I said I'm your guy! I had no idea what he meant but I've since come to terms with the fact I am somewhat of a ham. I am grateful Matthew, the producers and the creatives asked me back for this round.

What is it like to be returning to Groundhog Day after so many years?
It's the best six year 'bit' I've ever been involved with. Repeating a performance of a repetitive performance - this is the most meta acting gig ever. It makes me very excited to show up to work.

What is it like taking on a role made iconic by Bill Murray and making it your own?

No one will ever be Bill Murray. When he came to see Groundhog Day on  Broadway, he was so welcomed by everyone and he gushed for an hour after the show. Then he came back the next night and sat in the same seat and stayed after for an hour again just so he could land the repetition joke. That said, I've had experience in filling some big shoes with other roles and what it always comes down to is the script. It's the same with the director, the composer, the set designer, everyone on the creative side goes after the words on the page and starts building from there. For that we give credit to Danny Rubin [original story/screenwriter and book for the musical] who first thought up this classic tale.

How have you found British audiences react to the show versus American audiences? Have you noticed much of a difference?

Interview: 'This is the Most Meta Acting Gig Ever!' Andy Karl on Being a Clown, UK Audiences and Returning to GROUNDHOG DAY
Andy Karl, Matthew Warchus and Lizzi Gee

In 2016 I was warned the UK audiences tend to "pay attention" and may be more subdued, which is completely false. Groundhog Day is uniquely sophisticated, funny, bawdy, philosophical, charming, simple and intricate all at once. Everyone engages with some part of this show in a visceral way. Even my dear director Matthew Warchus, who's known for his calm demeanour, laughs out loud in rehearsals. Next to making my wife laugh, his is my favourite.

What would you do if you were trapped in a time loop like Phil?

Isn't that an interesting question that a lot of us figured out during the pandemic? I had such a good reference point to associate with during lockdown. I think I'd spend the first couple of weeks sleeping and eating and walking my dogs. After that I found ways to keep creating and writing, and doing what I was put on this earth to do - entertain some people with laughter and music and story. It sounds simple, but my purpose became so clear once I was able to step back and look at it. I hope that happened for everyone.

What is your favourite quote from the show?

Interview: 'This is the Most Meta Acting Gig Ever!' Andy Karl on Being a Clown, UK Audiences and Returning to GROUNDHOG DAY
Andrew Langtree

There are so many that make me laugh or give me pause every time they are spoken. Phil's producer, Rita, has some great lines. Phil Connors has a forecast in the second act that comes straight from my heart every time I say it. I think the line that hits me in the gut each night is said by Ned Ryerson, played by Andrew Langtree: "Ya gotta love life, ya gotta love life, ya gotta love life".

What other character in the show would you want to play if you weren't Phil?

At this point I love them all like they're family. This cast is making their own nuances that make me love those characters all over again. I couldn't choose just one, but at the moment the bed and breakfast owner Mrs. Lancaster played beautifully by Annie Wensak is calling me. Something about the way she makes coffee with a smile.

Do you have a favourite song and/or scene to perform and why?

Interview: 'This is the Most Meta Acting Gig Ever!' Andy Karl on Being a Clown, UK Audiences and Returning to GROUNDHOG DAY
Tanisha Spring and Tim Minchin

I'm in love with the entire journey of Phil Connors. One scene doesn't work without the other and they are all equal parts of a grand sum. Tim Minchin's songs are so dense and playful, it's almost a game to get it right each night. I do love the repeated date scenes with Rita, played by the glorious Tanisha Spring, where Phil fails to seduce her no matter how many times he tries. The song that has my soul attached to it is "Seeing You". I've never met a song like it. It can change in its depth and understanding depending on its singer and where they are in life. I think it also has the same effect on the listener.

What do you hope audiences take away from Groundhog Day?

A smile so wide it hurts, a heart so full it sings, and maybe an appreciation for the weather.

How would you describe Groundhog Day in one word?

How would I describe two words in one word? How about a three word anagram: "Darn Goody Hug". Or the word "brimming" is a nice description. Like a good cup of Mrs. Lancaster's coffee that's always served with a smile.

Groundhog Day runs at The Old Vic until 12 August

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan