You won the 2009 Jeff Award for best actor, played Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, co-created the Mercury Theatre’s “Game Show Show and Stuff!” in addition to having a role in “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” with Neil Patrick Harris. When did you decide acting was for you?
I have four brothers. They were all jocks and my dad was a coach so watching football on Sunday was the religion. In between games we happened to pass PBS and I was like, “Dad! Wait! Go back! Go back!” and there was a production of “Swan Lake” and I was like, “Look dad, that’s what I want to do, that!” My dad looked at me and he said, “You can’t do that,” so I was forbidden my whole life to dance but acting was something I could do so I auditioned and was in “A Christmas Carol” at Village Players in Oak Park. That was my first stage performance and I kept doing shows throughout my life.
What is one of your most memorable onstage moments?
I was playing Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol” and I remember a scene that we always rehearsed, it’s the scene where I come out and tell everyone that Tiny Tim is dead. I would always get so frustrated and I could see the director in me coming out because I wanted the actors to be really upset and crying. Finally during the performance I go out there and everybody is just overcome with emotion and they were finally at that place where I thought the scene needed to be. I’m on stage and doing the best performance of my life, people are weeping and have their head in their hands and I get off stage and the stagehands are cracking up and I’m like, “What’s going on?” and they point to the ground and I look and the whole time I was onstage I had a trail of toilet paper on my foot.
You mentioned you wanted to become a dancer after seeing “Swan Lake”. Were you a fan of “Black Swan”?
I hated “Black Swan”, I thought it was terrible. Being a dancer I didn’t get that this 19 -year-old who had been in ballet her whole life living in New York City hadn’t gotten laid by then because dancers are freaks.
For those new to the Chicago theater scene, how would you describe what the industry is like here compared to other cities?
The thing that makes Chicago so unique is that the theater community is a very close knit one and it’s a great place for new and young companies to get started. You will have people that have a mission statement that is completely remote and isolated. There is a company here that does all Victorian period costumes and that’s the only thing they do. We have WildClaw Theatre and all they do is horror. My company, the Factory, mostly does over-the-top comedies. It’s such a beautiful thing to be in this city where you have just hundreds of different choices and we all know each other. Nobody in Chicago theater makes any money, so everybody is in it because they love it and they are in it for the art.
Who is one of your favorite characters that you have played?
At the Factory we did a Rat Pack parody and I got to play Sammy Davis, Jr. and that was fun because I am no Sammy Davis, Jr.! They asked if I could tap dance and was like, “Yeah!” I totally lied to them and I faked it. The dance was a joke but to be singing and taking on his persona was a huge honor.
Is there any competitive tension between actors when trying out for the same role?
In Chicago not so much, it’s always the usual the suspects and they are usually your friends. That’s the great thing about Chicago, when one of your friends gets the role you are happy for them.
Who is your favorite Chicago actor in Hollywood now?
You know what? My favorite actors from Chicago haven’t left.
What is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
I don’t know. I’ve gotten some nice things but I can tell you what I always wanted and never got, an Easy Bake Oven!
What is your favorite restaurant?
Cozy Noodles and Rice over in Wrigleyville on Sheffield. Hands down my favorite Thai place.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
[Singing] Dead or alive! Well it wouldn’t be Bon Jovi, I’ll tell you that much! It would be Sarah Vaughan. She’s a great jazz singer, her earliest recording was from 1942 before the war.
Photography by Natalie Probst
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