Interview: Theatre Life with Michael Urie

The actor on his latest work Jane Anger at STC and more.

By: Dec. 20, 2022
Interview: Theatre Life with Michael Urie
Michael Urie. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Some of you might know today's subject Michael Urie from his work on the tv series Ugly Betty but his career as a stage, film and TV actor goes far beyond that one famous TV show. He can currently be seen onstage at Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) in Jane Anger playing the role of William Shakespeare. The production runs through January 8th at STC's Klein Theatre.

Michael was last seen at STC in their production of Hamlet at part of their Will on The Hill free Shakespeare program. He also performed there in Buyer and Celler for which he also performed in off-Broadway.

He made his Broadway debut in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Read on to see why that show has such a big meaning to Michael. Other Broadway credits include Chicken & Biscuits, Grand Horizons, and Torch Song.

Select off-Broadway performing credits include Angles in America, The Temperamentals, and The Cherry Orchard.

Aside from Ugly Betty, Michael's TV credits include Younger, Moden Family, The Good Wife, and Hot In Cleveland.

On the big screen you might have seen him in Slingle All The Way or He's Way More Famous Than You. The latter was also directed by Urie

He is the Co-Founder/Co-Producer of Pride Plays, an LGBTQIA theater festival.

No matter what medium you know Michael Urie's work from, you are assured of seeing a fine performance. His likable personality, strong stage presence and superb acting chops make him one of the top performers working in the arts today.

Grab some tickets to Jane Anger at STC and see for yourself how Michael Urie is living his theatre life to the fullest.

Interview: Theatre Life with Michael Urie
Michael Urie holding a signed photo of Ralph Macchio in the tour of
How to Succeed in Buisiness Without Really Trying.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

What would you say was the one show that you saw growing up that gave you that light bulb moment about wanting to become a performer?

It was the national tour of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying starring Ralph Macchio. Ralph was totally fantastic, but Roger Bart as Bud Frump blew my mind. I have always loved musicals but don't have a natural talent for singing and dancing - but when I saw Roger Bart completely steal the show as Bud Frump, I thought - maybe I could do that...!!! And I did! I made my Broadway debut playing the role opposite Nick Jonas. Full circle moment came when I worked with Ralph on Ugly Betty and he appeared in a movie I directed called He's Way More Famous Than You - the sweetest guy and a terrific performer. He even sent me an autographed photo of himself as Finch while I was playing Frump on Broadway. (attached)

Where did you go to school to receive your training?

I had fantastic drama teachers in high school and community college, and then a really amazing experience at Juilliard.

Interview: Theatre Life with Michael Urie
Deann Halper & Michael Urie in Barrington Stage Company's
2001 production of Love and Happiness.
Photo by Schuyler Photography.

What was your first professional job as a performer?

The summer after my second year at Juilliard I got cast in Love & Happiness at Barrington Stage directed by Andrew Volkoff and written by Julian Sheppard. I was the lead, and it was a delight. Doing summer theater in the Berkshires is dreamy and I have always wanted to go back!

When you were offered Jane Anger, what were your initial thoughts after your first read of the script?

Talene wrote Jane Anger early in the lockdown of 2020 as a short play that Ryan (Spahn, my other half) and I could live stream from our living room. It was about 20 minutes long and just centered on the Frankie and Will characters and Will Shakespeare's writer's block trying to churn out King Lear during their own lockdown in 1606. When she had the idea, I thought it was brilliant and when she showed us the first draft, I was so excited. After the short play was a success for MCC Theater and got a nice review in the New York Times, Talene went to work on a full-length play expanding the relationship between Frankie and Will and adding the characters of Jane Anger and Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare's wife) :)

Interview: Theatre Life with Michael Urie
Michael Urie in STC's production of Jane Anger.
Photo by DJ Corey Photography.

Can you please tell us a little something about the show and the character you play?

The play is about Jane Anger, an aspiring writer in Jacobean England who - due to her gender, race and class - needs the endorsement of the one and only William Shakespeare in order to get her work published. Meanwhile, Shakespeare needs help with his writer's block and hopes Jane is the person to unblock him. I play Will Shakespeare. As imagined by Talene in Jane Anger, he's a petulant, bombastic misogynist man-baby monster. Oh, and a genius!

You've performed in some intense plays over the years. Torch Song Trilogy being just one example. Is your process for preparing to perform in that type of show different from preparing for a lighter type of play such as Chicken and Biscuits?

It's difficult to drop the veil of a character during rehearsal, and hard work to leave the angst of any given character at the theater. So, when doing a play like Chicken and Biscuits that is hilarious and filled with love, there's less work to do to let it go at the end of the night. A play like Torch Song or Hamlet requires so much heartache and stamina, it's harder to shed when it's time to go home and live your life. Jane Anger is somewhere between - a hilarious comedy, but I play a meanie, so there's some stuff I like to leave on the stage when the night is over. Literally and emotionally haha.

Lots of people know you from the TV series Ugly Betty. When you started work on that series, did you have any idea that it would hit a s big as it did?

When we shot the pilot of Ugly Betty, I was only guaranteed that one episode, but Vanessa Williams liked me so allowed me to shine in all of the bits we had together - by the end of the pilot shoot, they included me in the cast photo! I knew watching America Ferrera work that she was a star and knew the writing was terrific, but I didn't let myself get too excited or try to guess what network execs were going to pick.

Interview: Theatre Life with Michael Urie
Micahel Urie in STC's 2018 production of Hamlet.
Photo by Scott Suchman.

You performed the lead role in Hamlet at STC. If presented with the chance to pick any Shakespeare play to perform in for your next DC area appearance, what would it be?

My dream Shakespeare role (now that I've played the melancholy Dane) is Leontes in The Winter's Tale. One of his later plays, about jealousy and mistrust, Leontes is paranoid to the point of mania. The language is gorgeous, and the structure is wild - the first half a tragedy, then upended as a comedy.

You've worked across all mediums of entertainment (Film, TV and Theatre). Do you have a particular favorite for working in or does working in each bring you equal amounts of enjoyment?

There's nothing like working in front of a live audience, and I can't imagine it not bringing me joy and inspiration. It's rare for a television show or movie to touch an audience as viscerally as a play can do. But it's hard work, and relentless. TV and Film hours can be long, and the work concentrated (hurry up and wait), so it's hard in its way - but the money's great and the reach is much bigger so stories can find a niche. And you can speak quietly!

What does 2023 hold in store for you?

After Jane Anger closes, I'll be promoting Shrinking, a new Apple + series I'm on with Jason Segel and Harrison Ford from the producers of Ted Lasso. I'm so excited for people to see it, it's about grief, mental health and people desperately trying to connect. Something I think we can all relate to.

Special thanks to STC'S incredibly awesome Associate Director of Communications Brittany Proudfoot Ginder, PH.D and Amanda Rothenberg for their assistance in coordinating this interview.

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