"It was very exciting and scary to accept the offer when it came," says actor Jeremy Sisto about his new stage assignment. "But there was no way I could say no."
The scary job in question is Spirit Control, a new play by Farragut North author Beau Willimon currently playing at Manhattan Theatre Club. In it, Sisto plays Adam, an air traffic controller whose life is changed when the pilot of a small plane suffers a heart attack and Adam must talk a terrified passenger through an emergency landing.
"In order to do the job of bringing this lady down, he has to really calm her down," says Sisto. "He has to be there with her. They develop a really intimate bond. She's in this incredibly frightening place and she's completely alone and all she has is the voice of this man."
To get a better feel for the project, Sisto, Willimon and director Henry Wishcamper took a trip to Willimon's hometown of St. Louis, where the play's action is set. They stayed with Willimon's parents and spent a lot of time visiting various landmarks of the playwright's early life. "This play definitely feels like he put a lot of himself into it," says Sisto. Most importantly, they spent time in the St. Louis airport controllers' booth. Both Willimon and his father are pilots, and Sisto took a turn behind the wheel of a four-seater Cessna plane. The star of TV's "Six Feet Under" and "Law & Order" is aware of the challenge ahead of him. "There are a bunch of first times for me in this. Being a lead of this size is one of those things." (Sisto is almost never off-stage during the play, in which his character ages 20 years.) "Another is doing a play that's a world premiere. There's very much a feeling of trying to figure out where this came from within Beau and trying to realize his vision."
In fact, the part was so intimidating, Sisto almost didn't try out for it. "I just finished three years on "Law & Order," which is a very different job from doing this play. I knew it would be so different that I was uncertain if I should actually pursue it. I told my wife, I don’t know if I can pull it off.' It's such a difficult role, such a different experience than I've had in a while." Eventually, of course, he talked himself down.