It's almost 4 PM, and Alex Sharp is just waking up to dial in for this interview about his Tony-winning turn in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. He's exhausted. It's been exactly one year since he began previews of the acclaimed Broadway play on Sept. 10, 2014… And, a lot has changed.
He's mentally and physically drained. Spending almost every night as Christopher John Francis Boone, the socially off, mathematical savant at Curious Incident's core, is quite the challenge (and he's got the bruises, sprains and fractures to prove it). But, he says, "I had the best year of my life."
As of this phone call, he's got three days left as the leading player of Curious Incident (today is his final performance).
"Today, one year ago, was my first preview," he says, "and that was the most insane night because we'd been rehearsing, going through tech and everything, and working incredibly hard. You have no idea how people are going to respond…and I did the show. The time before I did the show was a dress rehearsal — nobody was in the audience — and overnight, we went from that to 1,000 people in the audience. It was pretty frightening because I had no idea [how audiences would respond to] what I had been working on — because you're a theatre artist, [and] it's one of those art forms, possibly the only art form, where you can't see the result because you're doing it." Almost immediately, the show had taken on a life of its own.
That night, he remembers, "We got a standing ovation, and people were screaming, and I burst into tears and was, honestly, 100 percent shocked and so relieved that the hard work had been in the right direction — that was stage one. And then reviews — I had never experienced it before, so I was like, 'I don't know what's going to happen. They can hate it. They can hate me.' And, it's easy to think back on that and think, 'You're probably worrying too much,' but at the time, I really had no point of reference. Reviews can really do damage, so… I was nervous. I was definitely nervous. But, I never, ever expected the reviews I got. My hope was like, 'I just hope that they're not horrible about me,' so when they were nice I was like, 'What the hell?! Amazing.'"
In Ben Brantley's review for the New York Times, he described Sharp's Broadway introduction as "the kind of smashing Broadway debut young actors classically dream about."
And, just like that, Sharp's newfound Broadway career skyrocketed. Only months before, he was fresh out of New York's prestigious Juilliard School and doing his first interview with me for Playbill magazine over lunch in Hell's Kitchen as he readied for the beginnings of rehearsal. He was new to the scene and knew very little about press events, photo shoots and everything else that came with headlining on Broadway. In fact, before attending Juilliard, he was renovating houses for cash.
By Oct. 8, three days after Curious opened on Broadway to raves, he had a feature in Vogue, and suddenly he was thrust into the press spotlight, hosting events and making appearances everywhere.
How did he keep up? "Actually, to give a good interview, I often found it's a bit like acting, except it's yourself, so you have to be yourself. I wanted to give honest interviews always because it's boring when people just say what they sort of are 'meant to say,' if you know what I mean. But, like acting, you just have to turn up and be present with whomever you're with. And, I actually really met some amazing people, including yourself," he says.
As the show went on — and the hype surrounding it increased exponentially — Sharp prepared for awards season…and the 2015 Tonys. For Broadway's biggest night, it was the second time in his life he wore a tuxedo (the first was at the Met Ball Gala a month prior), and he had designer Billy Reid dress him in a white jacket and burgundy bow tie.
At the ceremony, his category was "last in the night," he explains, "so I was waiting for the results of my own personal award to the end of the night, which was fine. I actually really enjoyed the show itself, and every time Curious won, a chemical reaction went off in my body because I knew that could potentially mean more people will see this play, and even after I'm gone, I want as many people to see it as possible. But… it was pretty nerve-wracking. Also, the size of that room — looking around — if I happen to win, I've got to get up and speak in front of these people, and public speaking is something I got better at, but in the beginning, it was just really, really nerve-wracking. It was just very overwhelming. I hadn't slept well the night before, and then I got there, and it goes on for a long time, and then I won, which was… It's really insane. I still, every day, have a moment where I remember that that happened, and it takes me by surprise even three months-four months later. Every single day.
"This sounds kind of hokey, but I felt like Christopher had won the award; not me. It was incredible and overwhelming because it did feel like it was answering the question at the end of the play because I was so in deep with the character as I am now. At that time, the lines were blurred between me and him, and so it felt wonderful for him. For me, it felt like, 'I hope I don't vomit or faint on my way up!' And then I had a moment of, 'Wait. Did they actually say my name?' Because I sort of bent over in shock, and then I stood up and looked around, and when I stoop up, I had this horrible moment of like, 'There's a really good chance they said [Skylight nominee] Bill Nighy, and I just stood up!' And then I just went up there, and the rest of it was sort of a blur because after you go backstage were the pressrooms. There were hundreds of people — thousands, probably — by the end of the night [who] have come up to you and congratulated you, which is so amazing but also very overwhelming."
When he got off stage, he asked his mother, sister and girlfriend, "Did I forget to thank anyone?" Although they said no, Sharp wished he had thanked his manager, Elin McManus Flack; his dresser, James Hodun; and Rachael Vowels, a woman he did theatre with when he was a child and whom he says "ignited" the theatrical flame, among others.
"I watched my speech on YouTube the next day," he admits, "and I was shocked at how short it was because it felt like I was up there rambling on and on and on. I [thought], 'I definitely could have had another 20 seconds,' but when it's happening, there's no way that you could know that."
Although he's looking forward to some time off to heal his body (he said he's severely sprained his wrist and he's fractured his elbow aside from minor pains, bumps and bruises), walking away from Christopher will be "hard because I love him so much." But even harder, he says, is leaving behind his company of actors.
Up next, he's shooting two movies. He'll be flying out of New York about 12 days after his final performance in Curious Incident. Although he couldn't reveal too many details, one will film in London, and the other will shoot in Los Angeles.
But, he says, "I'll be back because New York is definitely my home."
(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)