As the star of Broadway productions like Bonnie & Clyde, South Pacific, Anything Goes and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, Laura Osnes has been romanced by some of Broadway's most swoon-worthy leading men: Jeremy Jordan, Paolo Szot, Colin Donnell, Santino Fontana... But her heart was captured long ago—before she won the reality show competition "Grease: You're the One That I Want," before she was nominated for a Tony Award and before she became Broadway's sweetheart.
Back in 2005, when Osnes was understudying the role of Jasmine in the Minneapolis Children's Theatre Company production of Disney's Aladdin, she fell for Aladdin's understudy Nathan Johnson. In a rare twist of theatrical events, the two ended up going on together after the actors playing Aladdin and Jasmine collided on stage and had to go to the hospital. It turned out to be a very happy accident for Johnson and Osnes, who shared their first of many kisses onstage that night.
A year-and-a-half later they were married and moved to New York, where Osnes made her Broadway debut in the 2007 revival of Grease opposite her fellow "YTOTIW" winner Max Crumm. Osnes' real-life leading man moved off the stage and into the photography studio. He now shoots production stills and promotional photos for Broadway shows (including the scintillating shots for Bonnie & Clyde) as well as album covers and campaigns like Broadway for Ted Baker. Before setting off to celebrate Christmas with their families, the couple sat down with Playbill.com to talk about their holiday traditions, that fateful first kiss and how Johnson fends off Osnes' onstage leading men.
You shared your first kiss onstage, as Aladdin and Jasmine. Was this kiss different than any other on-stage kiss you'd had before?
Laura Osnes: Our sides of the story are different on this one. I'm very professional, so a kiss onstage is a kiss onstage, whether you like the guy or not. That's how I felt.
Nathan Johnson: It was different for me. It was so funny because I was totally mixing business with pleasure at that point. I really liked this girl, and she was coming down in a wedding gown, and she looked so pretty. I was like, "I'm using this, I'm really digging deep for my character right now." All the guys in the dressing room were like, "Dude!! That's amazing! You got to kiss Laura!" They knew, they were heckling me all day. When we actually started dating, I said to Laura, "How about that kiss? That was something right?" And she was like, "What?" and then goes, "Oh, that was business." I was like, "Yeah, me too Laura, it was totally business."
LO: (Laughing.) That's what I said. I'm a professional and I have to do this onstage a lot. I know how to separate myself from it. When did you have your first off-stage kiss?
LO: Our first on-stage kiss was around Christmastime, and I think our first off-stage kiss was December 23rd. My mom was having a big Christmas caroling party with all of our theatre friends and Nate came over. We were all around the piano singing carols, and that was the night that he kissed me off-stage—at my mom's house. We were such good friends, and it just molded into more after that kiss.
The holidays must be big for you then…
LO: Yes, and he proposed to me exactly one year later on the night of the 23rd, so that is our engagement anniversary as well. We definitely remember this time of year fondly for that reason. We got to surprise our families, and I was flashing the ring at Christmas parties.
NJ: We're super close to our families, so we love the holidays.
What are your holiday plans this year? Are you going home since Laura's not in a show?
NJ: We're going to visit my sister in Memphis first, and my parents and my grandparents are coming down there. I've got a new nephew, so we'll spend a few days with them and then we'll come back to Minnesota to see her family and my father and spend a lot of time with our nephews there.
LO: I have a brother who has three kids.
NJ: And then we'll head to Vegas. Laura's singing with Michael Feinstein at the Smith Center on New Year's Eve.
LO: We're doing a 10-day Christmas multi-city extravaganza trip.
You're going on a mini tour! Is it hard when Laura's in a show and you have to stay in New York for the holidays? Do people come to you?
LO: It is a little tricky, but fortunately our families understand. I think people have only come out for Christmas once or twice, just because our parents are divorced and we have four families, but our parents come out here enough to see me in shows and come hang out with me and Nate, so it's not like Christmas is the only time we can see our families. If we are in New York for the holidays, we try and make the most of it. If you can't be at home with your family, it's fun to be here with my show family and get to celebrate that way. We have a lot of great friends here.
NJ: We've had some great holidays here. It's that actor's life where you just have to kiss normal goodbye and make your own normal. I think we've done pretty well with it.
LO: Yeah, but it does make you appreciate the years that you're actually not in a show and you can go home.
Yes, that is nice! Nate, you're no longer acting, right?
NJ: We just had this conversation. We love performing together at little concerts and things like that so if the right thing came along—especially if it was to do something with Laura—I would consider it, but yeah I've kind of moved on. I love performing, but I don't love the process as much as a lot of other people do.
LO: The auditioning and the rehearsals…
NJ: Oh man, I hated the auditioning stuff.
LO: But we just sang at our church last weekend for a Christmas concert, and Nate sings and drums in the worship band at our church, so he still gets to be a musician in that way. We do enjoy singing together when we get the opportunity.
And, Nate you're a photographer now and you own a studio in New York?
NJ: Yes, I have Drift Studio on 26th Street near the Highline, and that's been running for about a year and a half. We rent it out to a lot of photographers for magazines or fashion brands and then we do events as well. I also do a lot of Broadway photography, and I work with a lot of actors so I'm still kind of in that business—from the other side. I've always got my hands in different projects. I'm kind of a schemer and a dreamer, so I've got a few other businesses that I'm working on right now.
Do you like having different careers now as opposed to both being actors?
NJ: I think it's actually ideal for us. I think we do really well the way we're set up right now, and I understand Laura's world very, very well.
LO: Right. It's nice that he has some background in it. We met doing a show together, so he definitely appreciates and understands the business.
NJ: We also make it a point to be in each other's lives. Last night we had a Great Gatsby party at the studio, and Laura came with me to that so she's around those people.
LO: And he comes with me to every opening night.
NJ: I definitely try to be a part of her cast. I build friendships with her so that I'm involved in their lives as well.
LO: It's great to see Nate find his niche in the city because in Minnesota he had a lot of things going for him, and he dropped everything to move with me to New York, which was amazing and so admirable. When we moved here I had a year-long job in Grease, and it took a year or two to kind of figure out what he was going to do. He did acting for awhile and he booked a couple small jobs and was getting final callbacks for things, but he got tired of the grind. He was doing photography on the side, and that was the thing people were calling him about. So we got him a small studio and now we have this nice big studio down in Chelsea. It's been neat to see him grow into a businessman in the last seven years.
Nate, I loved the photos of Broadway stars, including Laura, that you shot for Ted Baker. That's a great combination of your careers.
NJ: That was a great tag team. It was fun to shoot Laura in that. I think she looks so beautiful, but everyone was great. We're starting to do more of that. I'm working on a project right now that's going to be launching in the next two weeks. There will be a lot more of that stuff coming out consistently.
That's awesome. I love seeing Broadway actors looking fashionable and cool.
NJ: Just wait, we've got some fun news coming up very, very shortly. There's been a lack of really great shots bridging the gap between Broadway actors and fashion, and that's what we're trying to do.
Laura, as one of Broadway's most sought-after leading ladies, you have certainly had your share of handsome leading men. Nate, do you become friends with them? How do you deal with it when Laura has an onstage romance eight times a week?
LO: I think it's important to address the issue. Not that many people actually talk about it, so I'm glad you asked.
NJ: We look at every project that Laura does, and even business things for me, to make sure that it's going to be good for us and for our marriage and that includes taking into account who she's playing opposite. Fortunately, she's been blessed to work with really great guys and very talented leading men. Each one of them has been so cool: Paolo Szot, Jeremy Jordan, Santino [Fontana]… They are really class acts. I think the biggest thing for me is to make sure I have a presence in her life off stage, and we set clear boundaries through the rehearsal process, because you're dealing with really intimate concepts and sometimes very passionate stuff. I do demand respect from these guys and they give me respect, so it's been very fortunate. We haven't had any run ins—but I'm not afraid to have a run in.
LO: And everybody except for maybe Colin [Donnell] at the time were in relationships as well. Everybody has been extremely professional.
NJ: Laura has, too. Going back to our first stage kiss—she liked me and she still thought it was business, so that said a lot to me very quickly about Laura's work ethic and her professional mentality. We're always cautious and intentional, but I also know it's part of the job.
LO: It is true. They all know I'm married and that's that. It doesn't go any further beyond what has to happen on stage.
NJ: And we do build good friendships.
LO: Absolutely. I do think it's important to have good camaraderie with whoever you're playing opposite on stage, because if you don't get along with people, or if there's any sort of negative vibe, it's going to come off in the performance as well.
Laura, you played opposite Jeremy Jordan in Bonnie & Clyde and he is now married to your "Grease: You're the One That I Want" co-star Ashley Spencer. Did you guys introduce them?
LO: I wish I could say that I set them up, but no, I didn't at all. I got to sit in on the final three callbacks for Clyde, and Jeremy was in that group. He was fantastic. I was just like, "It has to be him. He's so great." And then I was talking to one of my friends in the business about him, and she was like, "Laura, you know Jeremy's dating Ashley, right?" I had no idea. It had been about three or four years since I'd really connected with Ashley, and I thought, "Is this going to be awkward?" because we had gone through this odd competition thing together, but it never was. I was really grateful that neither she nor Jeremy made it awkward for me or Nate.
NJ: Now we're good friends, and we hang out. We went to their wedding.
Do you go on double dates with other Broadway couples?
LO: We talk about it a lot, and we have a lot of Broadway couple friends, but between four Broadway people, it's likely that at least one of them, if not more, are in a show, so taking an evening out to double date is tricky.
NJ: The last one we did was with Corey Cott and his wife Meg. We went out and visited Stephanie J. Block and her husband Sebastian Arcelus in Maplewood, NJ. We had a lovely time. They were such gracious hosts.
LO: We see Santino and his fiancé Jess [Hershberg] all the time and Jeremy and Ashley and Kara Lindsay and Kevin Massey.
Okay, last question: Since we're in the midst of another holiday season, what traditions do you guys have as a couple?
NJ: We usually watch the claymation videos—they're the best—and then we always watch "The Muppet Christmas Carol." We watched it when we had just started dating and we almost passed out laughing. We also love to cook. I come from an Italian family, which you would never know from my last name, and we do cooking pretty big around the holidays, a lot of seafood. But I think the most important thing is trying to spend it with people that we love the most.
LO: It depends what our schedules are like, but we spent one Christmas a couple of years ago in a cabin up in the woods, which was awesome. And last year, when I was in Cinderella, we didn't get that much time off, but we stayed at the Palace hotel on Christmas Eve with our other best friend couple, and then we went and visited the tree and got hot chocolate on Christmas.
NJ: One year we actually saw Jersey Boys on Christmas Day. I was in the heat of auditioning for it, and I wanted to see it again. That was the one Christmas we spent by ourselves, and we love being together, but it just wasn't the same without family and friends, so we decided not to do that again.
LO: That was our first Christmas in New York, and now we make it a point to be with the people we love, whether it's our Minnesota family or our New York family.