Interview: Daniel K. Isaac Has Many BRILLIANT THINGs in His Life

Currently in previews, Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe’s Every Brilliant Thing opening September 14th @ the Geffen. Colm Summers directs

By: Sep. 08, 2023
Interview: Daniel K. Isaac Has Many BRILLIANT THINGs in His Life
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Interview: Daniel K. Isaac Has Many BRILLIANT THINGs in His Life

Currently in previews, Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe’s Every Brilliant Thing opens September 14, 2023, at the Geffen. Colm Summers directs Daniel K. Isaac in this comic view on depression and suicide. Daniel keeps it in the same light vein in answering my queries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Daniel!

What cosmic forces brought you to this production of Every Brilliant Thing at the Geffen?

Director Colm Summers had seen me in The Chinese Lady by Lloyd Suh (Ma-Yi Theater Company / The Public) and You Will Get Sick by Noah Diaz (Roundabout Theatre Company). According to Colm, I was first choice on his list of offers. But I don’t know if that’s true. And with the strike, I wonder if the theatre wishes they’d gotten an A-list celebrity. I allow myself C-list. The “C” being for “cable.”

What would your three-line pitch for Every Brilliant Thing be?

A young boy learns his mother suffers from suicidal depression and starts writing a list of brilliant things for her. The list carries on through this coming-of-age story that I promise is also funny and life-affirming. Wear socks and bring a book. 

If you were to submit your character for a dating website, what qualities of his would you list?

Interview: Daniel K. Isaac Has Many BRILLIANT THINGs in His Life Great vinyl record collection. 

Avid reader. 

Loves making lists. 

Brilliant.

What flaws would you definitely omit?

Pretentious about vinyl. 

Shy. 

Needs to go to therapy. 

Thinks he’s brilliant. 

Did you ever see the British comedian Jonny Donahoe in your role?

I did not. But I am super grateful for his work and especially how it has shaped the improv moments of the play. 

Have you crossed paths with Jonny or the playwright Duncan MacMillan?

I saw Duncan MacMillan’s “People, Places and Things” at St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2017 and it’s still one of my favorite theatre experiences. 

I’ve never met them in person, but we’ve communicated via Zoom, Instagram DMs, and texts. 

I think they’re both brilliant humans and I hope to have a drink with them someday. 

Interview: Daniel K. Isaac Has Many BRILLIANT THINGs in His Life You’ve done a lot of shows in New York. Is this your first time on a Los Angeles stage?

It is! It’s a sort of homecoming for me. I grew up in Koreatown, but I joke that I was never of driving age in L.A., so I have no idea where anything is. 

What do you remember of your first appearance in the Off-Broadway production of Philip Dawkins' The Gentleman Caller in May 2018?

2018 was my year of two-handers! The Gentleman Caller and the world premiere of The Chinese Lady. I remember thinking they were very challenging. Little did I know there’d be a solo show in my future! I thought it was so brilliant that Philip and director Tony Speciale cast an Asian American actor to play William Inge

Oh, and I remember that my mom refused to attend the show after seeing a promotional photo of myself and the actor playing Tennessee Williams, Juan Francisco Villa, almost kissing. 

You made your playwriting debut with ONCE UPON A (korean) TIME last year with Ma-Yi Theater Company. Which gives you greater satisfaction: acting or writing?

Jonny Donahoe quoted Eddie Izzard in an interview so now I’m going to quote Jonny quoting Eddie. Eddie was asked, "Which do you prefer: stand-up or acting or writing?" He'd say, "It doesn't matter which one I prefer because I wouldn't live without any of them." Same answer. Squared. Cubed?

What was your mother’s reaction when you told her your career choice?

Interview: Daniel K. Isaac Has Many BRILLIANT THINGs in His Life She was pretty cool about it, but she didn’t really have a choice. My mother had been the one to introduce me to theatre in the first place, to ensure I wouldn’t have stage fright when I became a doctor or a lawyer or a pastor or or or… She also hoped I’d become a celebrity and spread the gospel through my fame. Oops.

Was she reluctant or enthusiastic to you wanting to start a hashtag #AccordingToMyMother in 2015?

The other day I was carrying a Tom of Finland tote bag and she pointed to it shaking her head and said, “When people Google you, it says you the gay. Gay. Gay. Gay. Everywhere gay.” Does that answer your question? 

Was there anything positive that came of your voluntary participation in gay conversion therapy when you were 13 through 16?

Hmm? I now know the importance of actual therapy. That’s a positive, right? Oh, and, Don’t go to conversion therapy. Full stop. For f*ck’s sake! Do. Not. Go. To. Conversion. Therapy. But Do go to therapy-therapy. 

When you started auditioning, did you get the opportunity to try out for non-Asian roles?

Not as many as I would have liked. But I’d have amazing advocates for inclusivity like Philip Dawkins and Tony Speciale with The Gentleman Caller, or director Richard Jones with Anna Nicole the Opera, or casting directors Allison Estrin and Henry Russell Bergstein with The Other Two. In The Other Two, I auditioned for a character named “Jeremy Delongpre.” Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider were just being funny slash horny with that name, right? And they let me be on their brilliant show!  

Interview: Daniel K. Isaac Has Many BRILLIANT THINGs in His Life Do you think opportunities for Asian actors are any better today?

Yes. Because I’m an optimist. But also because I see the Asian American community on all sides of the table in the industry now. And, I have found such hope and home in Asian American theatre communities like Ma-Yi Theater Company and NAATCO (National Asian American Theatre Company). 

'Isaac' means 'laughter' in Hebrew. Are all your family members loud laughers like yourself?

It was mostly just me and my mom growing up. She’s got a great laugh, but she makes fun of my laugh being too loud. She’d prefer I didn’t call attention to myself. And that I wasn’t gay. 

Many audience members I sit behind at the theatre turn around mid-show to check out who brought the emotional support donkey. I’ve been shushed before. But I don’t hear anyone on stage or on screen complaining! And when I’m onstage, I’m a whore for laughs. I wish I could hear people laughing watching the TV shows and films I’m in. Maybe someday… No, I take that back, don’t invent that, but you get the idea. 

I have a late aunt and I remember loving her laugh. 

What’s next in the near future for Daniel K. Isaac?

The short answer is, I am in a nomadic life chapter and have no idea what is next.

With the strike going on (SAG-AFTRA Strong! WGA Strong!), I am very thankful for my theatre home and playwriting. I am hoping there is more audiobook and voice-over work in my future. I would love to be dubbing all these amazing shows coming from South Korea and Asia! And I’ve never done a video game or animation. I’d love to check those off the bucket list. 

Interview: Daniel K. Isaac Has Many BRILLIANT THINGs in His Life I’ve also got some plays in the digital drawer. One called “FULLERTON” based on where I went to high school in Orange County, California. There’ve been a couple workshops and now I’m hoping someone in New York City and/or Southern California might produce it. And I’d love a west coast premiere of my play “ONCE UPON A (korean) TIME.”

And when I’m back in New York City, I’ll need to do that really fun and exciting, and did I mention Fun? and not absolutely torturous apartment hunting thang.

If anyone has any leads?

Thank you again, Daniel! I look forward to seeing you grace the Geffen stage.

For tickets to the live performances of Every Brilliant Thing through October 15, 2023; click on the button below:




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