After seeing the brilliant The Government Inspector (see my review) I was thrilled to interview Michael Urie and catch up with him on his latest projects as well as discover how he enjoys working on this great show which has been extended and is running until 20 August. I connected with him via email during my trip to Edinburgh International Festival in Edinburgh, UK.
Michael is enjoying his run with The Government Inspector and will be seen in the fall revival of Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy with Mercedes Ruehl. The official opening night is now set for 19 October at Off-Broadway’s Tony Kiser Theatre. Moisés Kaufman directs, with performances scheduled to begin 26 September.
Michael’s hearty exuberance about his current and future projects was evident throughout the interview.
The Government Inspector is a tremendous hit. It’s like playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who adapted the play from Gogol’s Revizor, adapted and tailor-made the part with you in mind. How did you become involved with the role of Hlestakov, and how did you evolve him? Had you worked with director Jesse Berger before? What did you find interesting or fun working with him? the cast?
Thank you! I’m humbled you think the role was written for me, though Jeffrey Hatcher’s Hlestakov was originated by Hunter Foster at the Guthrie Theater, where [the adaptation] was commissioned. Jeffrey has tailored his script to our production, physically (we perform on a two-level proscenium stage), whereas the Guthrie is a thrust stage. Jesse Berger and I had worked together before and I’ve long been a fan and supporter of the Red Bull Theater. When he gave me this script, I knew it was the perfect way for us to collaborate again. Hlestakov is such a wonderfully silly character, with so much delight on the page which inspired the comic beats and physicality we are playing now.
There is an actors’ saying that drama is easy, comedy is hard. Would you agree? Why or why not? Or is it about inhabiting the character and finding ways to express his soul, not pushing for laughs?
Drama isn’t so much easy, but it can be easier to nail night to night – after all if they don’t laugh at a drama, it doesn’t mean you didn’t succeed. If you’re doing a comedy, and no one laughs – you’re sunk. That’s not to say a less-than-boisterous audience for a comedy isn’t enjoying it, it just means you have to channel your energy in a different way. I find that pushing for laughs never really works, audiences are too smart – best to stay ahead of them and not force them into enjoying themselves.
You have the talent and ability to take on a part for a lengthy period of time and make it fresh and original each night. Buyer and Cellar is one example I can think of. Is that about acting craft, or something else? How are you able to make a role appear unique each performance?
This goes back to the audience – especially in a comedy like Buyer and Cellar or The Government Inspector – they really are a character, and we have to listen and respond based on their responses. So, the show really is different every night.
You are performing Torch Song Trilogy. How did that part come to you? How will this production be different than the original? What are you particularly looking forward to with this production?
Moisés Kaufman and Ritchie Jackson (our producer/Harvey’s manager) came to me with the idea completely independently, actually. I put them together and then we did a reading of the full script for Harvey. I find reading the entirety of a script for the powers that be works way better than auditioning with a few scenes. :o) More margin for error (and success).
Have you worked with Moisés Kaufman before? Mercedes Ruehl?
Neither! Long been a fan, cannot wait to get in a room with them.
You will be in Hamlet in Washington D.C. This is very exciting. It will require that you use your Juilliard classical training. Can you tell us a bit more about the production? When do you begin rehearsals? Did you portray Hamlet at Juilliard?
I did the nunnery scene from Hamlet in Michael Kahn’s acting class back in 2002 (Jessica Chastain was my Ophelia), so to be playing the Dane for Michael all these years later really is a dream come true. I’ve heard some of Michael’s ideas and cannot wait to hear more. They don’t call him King Kahn for nothing – the guy knows his stuff.
You wear many hats as a director, actor, innovator, writer, producer. Do you have any preference for acting or directing? For film/video or theater? Any film projects you are working on?
Acting on stage is the most thrilling – and I’ve hit a lovely stretch of complex and exciting roles, so nothing else is in the works right now. Producing for the screen is a full-time job, so any future producing/directing projects are a ways off until I get a chance to breathe. I love directing for the camera and hope to do it again sometime, but for now I have too many lines to learn!
You will be able to see Second Stage’s Torch Song Trilogy with Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl beginning 26 September. Tickets will go on sale to the general public beginning July 24 at 1PM ET. For subscription and ticket information, visit 2ST.com or call the Second Stage Box Office at (212) 246-4422.