A theatre actor should know he's in good company working with the same television producer who has brought Broadway luminaries like Audra McDonald (Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill), Viola Davis (Fences), Norm Lewis (The Phantom of the Opera), Taye Diggs (Rent), Sara Ramirez (Spamalot), Bellamy Young (The Life) and Kerry Washington (Race) to the mainstream masses via highly addictive ABC dramas such as "Private Practice," "Grey's Anatomy" AND "Scandal."N
For Conrad Ricamora, who's at the center of a steamy story arc on ABC's hot new hit show "How To Get Away With Murder," he's blessed for the opportunity, humbled by the experience and even embarrassed by some of the attention his controversial character and his "gay sex" storyline is drawing. "I don't know what [it] all means but it feels nice to be working," he told Playbill.com during a recent break in performances at The Public Theater, where he stars in the immersive musical Here Lies Love.
"The attention is a little disconcerting I guess," Ricamora further pondered. "My first reaction when I leave the theatre and people tell me they love 'How To Get Away with Murder' is to immediately cover myself."
On the Rhimes-run drama series, Ricamora portrays a studious tech whiz who falls in love with a cunning law school student (played by Jack Falahee) after a whirlwind of intense sexual trysts. The sexy scenes and the role itself have caused some scuttlebutt within the Internet zeitgeist; Oct. 19, the social media-savvy Rhimes lambasted a Twitter user after they complained that the shows' "gay sex scenes" were too much. "It's so funny to me," the St. Clara, CA native shared about the controversy. "To me it's just a sex scene... when I'm having sex with my boyfriend or with whomever I'm dating, I'm not having 'gay sex.'
"I'm happy and I'm proud that [the show] is pushing the boundaries, but I guess I'm just doing [the role] in a way of me just kind of living my life," he added. "And there are going to be some people who like it and there are going to be some people who are not going to like it... The world is changing so fast and the amount of progression that is starting to happen is so broad that I think it's going to become less of a big deal and more of this is just what's happening.
"It's not for shock value or anything like that; it just exists, and it's just now we're just catching up to representing something that actually exists in our everyday lives. And it doesn't seem so much of a conscious effort as it is of course it should be on TV because this is real life."
Another "controversy" about his character on "How To Get Away with Murder" is the notion that it stereotypes Asians.
"I've read that there's been some backlash against the show for having an Asian guy play the IT guy and how it's stereotypical, but I have to say that when I went in to audition the guy who went in before me was white, the guy who went in after me was black," Ricamora said. "They were not looking for a specific race... In the breakdown, it's not like Shonda was saying, 'We need a nerdy Asian IT guy.' They are picking the best people for the part regardless of color."
For Here Lies Love, conceived and produced by Talking Heads mastermind David Byrne along with Fatboy Slim, Ricamora plays another controversial role: Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, the former Filipino Senator and Governor who became a formidable political adversary of the government of embattled President Ferdinand Marcos. He's been with the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway musical since 2012, which he booked while finishing up his Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Tennessee. "Just on a whim I was reading The New York Times, and I saw that they were doing a show based on Imelda Marcos and the People Power Revolution in the Philippines," he explained. "And with my intuition I thought, 'I think I should be in the show' because my father is from the Philippines and I can sing rock and pop music pretty well. So I just flew up and auditioned and they liked me."
Ricamora, who previously appeared in the 2007 Will Ferrell NASCAR-based comedy "Talladega Nights" (another booked gig from an open casting call) grew up as a military brat in Niceville, FL, — a town he likens to "southern Alabama" — after living in Iceland and Denver.
"I was always singing and dancing and flipping around on my lawn and being really physical when I was little," he shared of his upbringing. "And then I started playing tennis when I was in elementary school and I started doing that competitively really off the bat. To be honest, culturally, there were no guys singing and acting and dancing so it never occurred to me that that is something I was supposed to do."
Attending Queens University of Charlotte (studying psychology) opened him up to a whole new world: "Charlotte was great because Niceville was such in a tiny, tiny town and Charlotte was a good medium-to-large sized city that was also fairly safe and I could spread my wings and not be overwhelmed."
Ricamora won a 2013 Theatre World Award for his portrayal as Aquino and still gets a rush when he performs the acrobatic role where he incorporates hip-hop cadence and boy band-like dance moves to actual biographical facts about and words from the late politician and freedom fighter.
"The most fun part is being that close to the audience members and also it's so different than having the fourth wall up and being in a proscenium space and at a certain point there's a cut off of energy to some extent between you and the audience, but in this space, everybody's vibe is just feeding into everybody else's vibe and you can feel it. It's like palpable," he said. "When I'm looking at someone in the audience there is no hiding; I can't hide and they can't hide. And just seeing the amount of their joy and delight and terror come up immediately makes them more invested in the story that we are telling."
Speaking of telling, he's very tight-lipped about what's coming up on "How To Get Away with Murder" albeit not by choice. "Well, I'm not allowed to say anything, but keep watching... I have some big stuff coming up that I'm not allowed to talk about yet, but it's coming."