BWW Interview: The Hard Working Garrett Clayton On Friends, Giving His Heart & Doing What He Loves
Television, film and theatre triple-threat Garrett Clayton will debut his headlining cabaret show IT TAKES THREE at the Catalina Jazz Club June 18, 2019. Teaming up with his BFFs - fellow triple threats themselves - Ashley Argota and Desi Dennis-Dylan, Garrett plans to entertain and wow you with their harmonic vocals, jazz hands and lots of heart. Garrett managed to spare a little time for me on the phone Tony Awards weekend. He's been scheduled to perform at the Tony Awards afterparty being held at the Plaza Hotel. He still had to pick up his tailored pants, attend a Saturday night performance of BE MORE CHILL, do a sound check and walk the Tony Award red carpet.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Garrett!
Yes, Of course!
What inspired you in initially putting together IT TAKES THREE?
I did a music video ("I Put A Spell On You") with a couple of girl friends of mine last year during Halloween. I just loved working with them so much. So when Rich (Aronstein) reached out to me to do the show, we talked about it, and inspired us to create the show based on our friendship. Just want to travel and have fun together.
How did you originally connect with Chris Isaacson to present this evening at the Catalina Jazz Club?
Through Rich. We're been getting together, hammering out the flow and the songs. Our opening medley is eight minutes, all in three-part harmony. We're really excited about it.
I have seen you in various UMPO (Unauthorized Musical Parody Of) shows at the Rockwell. Will IT TAKES THREE be your first headlining cabaret show?
Yes, it will. First foray into that world.
When did you first work with Ashley and Desi, UMPO's CLUELESS or HOCUS POCUS?
I've done about five or six musicals with Ashley. We were on The Fosters together. We did the Romeo & Juliet episode there. We're done two or three of the UMPOs together. We did so many shows together, it's hard to keep track at this point. But every time we do it, it's like 'Here we go again!' We love working together so much. At this point, her and Desi are like my sisters. Desi, I met because of CLUELESS. Me, her and Ashley; we have the same mentality when it comes to work and wanting to have fun. But working hard, and really being focused on the goal, and creating a family element. Really investing in the people around you, trusting them and giving them your heart. Ashley, had been individually friends to the both of us for years. During CLUELESS, it was the first time Desi and I really got to get to know each other. Immediately, she and I just hit it off. Her name on my phone is 'Desi (lives in the light, Wild Bitch) Dennis-Dylan.'
Can you tell us what Catalina audiences can expect to see and hear June 18?
We have an array of things. Like I told you, we have the opening which is an eight-minute mash-up. We have everything from "Lady Marmalade," to Cheetah Girls to "I'm So Excited." We're singing "You've Got a Friend,' also in three-part harmony. I did a movie called King Cobra a few years ago. We, me and the music director Doug (Peck) - who's fantastic - put together an arrangement in which I do the entire plot in under six minutes. We open up with Madonna's "Like a Virgin," "Perky Little Porn Star" from NAKED BOYS SINGING, do a little bit of "Pour Some Sugar On Me," but we call it "Porn Star Sugar On Me." But I'm not going to give it all away...
How many UMPO productions have you done now?
I've done, I believe, five. The first one, five or six years ago, CRUEL INTENTIONS. A few years past and I hadn't done any of them just because I was traveling a lot and wasn't able to. Then Bradley Bredeweg, who's one of the creators of The Fosters, reached out and asked if I would be part of THE LAST BREAKFAST CLUB at the Rockwell, which is how I geared back into everything. After that, I came back for CLUELESS, STRANGER THINGS, 10 THINGS.
Describe a typical rehearsal with all those talented UMPO performers?
Energetic! Lots of energy in the room. The most fun part of it all, we get to work with director Nathan Moore a lot. He's so open to collaboration. His whole thing is: he only hires you, if he trusts you. 'I don't want to tell you how to be the character. If I hire you, I trust that you'll know the things he'll do. Unless it feels weird or doesn't work in the scene, I'm going to let you have a lot of creative freedom as long as it's justified for what your character would need or want.' It really does afford ownership of your talents, and learning what you can do, and what you do well. How you can manipulate it into your character, and really make it unique. That's why I love working there. They let me grow as a performer and a creator. A fair amount of the reason why Desi, Ashley and I work so well together. We understand the environment. We understand the fast pace. We can learn quickly. We'll go home and do our homework. By the time we come back to the next rehearsal, we know it.
I also did the workshop productions of it. I have been doing that production, by the time we got to Pasadena, for about two years. I got to help create my character. That was a huge fundamental building block for me in my acting ability. I was working with Robert Allan Ackerman, Al Pacino and Judith Light. Getting to absorb what they do. Someone like Al Pacino, he's such a legend. Just seeing that he works really, really hard on making sure everything's always a first thought, always fresh. He never lets anything get stale. That's really commendable. We as people like to get comfortable, and want to sit and feel safe in a comfortability level. He's always ripping off the band-aid to see what he can discover.
One of my favorite memories was sitting in a little tin can theatre in West Hollywood when we were doing one of the workshop productions. He and Robert and Judith and all of us were sitting around. Dotson Radner, who was Tennessee Williams' assistant, started talking about going over to Bette Davis' house for dinner, except that she doesn't actually cook anything. She just makes finger sandwiches, because they all got too drunk to make it to dinner. The dinner was always the appetizer, she put an olive on cheese and that's what you're eating. I love it. I'm just so jealous I couldn't be there.
You already started acting in your Crestwood High School plays. What originally drew you to the high school theatrical boards?
Opportunity. I was just looking for any reason to get my feet wet to get to learn more about this thing I started to like. I did my first movie when I was 15. There's not as much opportunity in Michigan as one would hope. Guess that's true to most states, unless you're on the coasts or Chicago. I was really trying to delve into something I felt passionate about. I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I was younger. My mom always told me to find what makes me happy and make money doing that, because there's enough people who are doing things they hate in the world. Share your time with something you love.
You majored in musical theatre at Oakland University. Was there ever a alternative career you were pursuing?
My mom and my dad divorced when I was four. My step-dad and my dad had always worked in construction. I grew up doing that with them a lot. The only rule was I had to learn how to work; that was true for my brother, too. I'd either have to go to work with my step-dad or my biological father moving cement bags or painting houses or changing out windows. Just flip a house basically. My step-dad's a tile specialist, a flooring specialist. My family can literally gut and remodel an entire house, just them alone. The only way I could get out of doing this is if I found another job. The rule was I had to have a job. I ended up getting a job at IHOP because I really didn't want to do that. So, I'm fifteen years old, booking my first movie. I'm working at IHOP, trying to join the drama club. I just wanted to know who I was. But if I had to do anything else, a) a history teacher who ran a drama club. There's an element of telling stories being a history teacher. I could funnel that into also running a drama club. Then I could still feel like I's doing something that I'm passionate about. Either that or b) go to culinary school. Those are the things I wanted to do, if I didn't do this.
How did Gary Michael Clayton get such a cool name of Garrett?
Because Gary wasn't booking work. For the first six months of living in L.A., most auditions I would get close to booking, they would call my team and say that while I was very talented, my name wasn't marketable, it sounded too old. So, about a year in, I changed it. Within that time, I started booking things. I only changed the first name. We wanted to change it to something that sounded plausible for Gary to be a nickname. I never wanted to compromise who I was, chasing this. When you're young and you're impressionable, and you're walking down the road, and you're begging people to give you a chance; you're willing to work hard and make it work. I felt like an idiot changing my name then, but if that's what I needed to do, so people will hire me, whatever.
If financial compensation were not a factor, which medium of entertainment would you prefer doing (stage, film, television) and why?
Financially now, I don't even look at that at the moment. I still get to do a bunch of fun things. I want to do it all. I don't want to have to choose now. I'm very lucky I get to be on TV, movies and theatre, simultaneously.
What else is in the near future for Garrett Clayton?
Right now, I'm performing at the afterparty for the Tonys at the Plaza Hotel in New York this weekend. Then, I go back to finish my run in 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU this month The weekend of the 20th I leave with the girls to do the show After that, I'm going to take a trip. I also do holiday shows with the Lythgoes, like PETER PAN. I don't really take vacations. A lot of people would assume if I post in other countries a lot of the time, those are vacations. But I actually do a travel show that is syndicated, so it gets bought by a lot of local stations around the nation. Last year when I posted in Italy, I was on a job. I really don't take vacations. I'm probably going to take the Fourth of July weekend and go away with my fiancé and few friends and rent a house in Palm Springs.
Where else are you planning to perform IT TAKES THREE?
When Rich and I discussed this originally, we wanted to do a soft opening to make sure we really solidified the show. We honed in and worked out whatever kinks. When you're so close to it, at some point you need the audience to know what works, and what doesn't. About three weeks out, we've already been running. We're in a really good place There's a really nice flow to it. It has a lot of heart. There's a good time. Fun things that are left turns that you're watching, that make you go, 'Oh, my God! I can't believe they're doing this!' The real inspiration for the show was 'a night around the piano, just with friends.' Originally, they asked if we wanted more of a band. I said, 'No.' I want just a piano, and I want it to be the three of us. We can sit on stage, us and the piano, and it's a good night; we know it's a damn good show. After this, we're going to be selling it around, We're already planning on the fall length of the tour on the east coast. There's already other places asking to book. It's really exciting! We're seeing where this adventure takes us.
Thank you again, Garrett! I look forward to experiencing your THREE at Catalina.