Playing the confident, gay heartthrob Connor Walsh on the ABC smash legal hit How to Get Away with Murder, Jack Falahee has attracted a following of millions who are drawn to his good looks, charisma, and strong take on the character.
But Falahee never had designs on a TV career. In fact, he came out of NYU hoping to land in the theatre, though you’d never know it based on his first-ever stage role. You see, when he was in the fourth grade, Falahee was cast as the lead in his church’s Christmas pageant and the show opened with him running through the pews on to the altar to sing the first song, but when he got up there and looked at the audience, he froze and started crying.
The next night, a heavy snowfall cancelled the second production, though to this day he’s unsure if they really cancelled it due to the weather or if they were just afraid their leading man would run off crying again.
“I didn’t perform after that for a while. When I got into high school, a friend of mine committed suicide and my grief counselor encouraged me to partake in the fall musical (Singin’ in the Rain), which he was going to be a part of,” Falahee says. “I did that and I was able to walk onstage and forget about the grim reality of being this 16-year-old who just lost a friend of his tragically, and just pretend to be someone else. That sort of inspired me to audition and get into NYU.”
But after college, he found it hard to even get an audition. So, he moved to Los Angeles and landed parts on the TV shows Mercy Street and HTGAWM.
Before the latter gets underway for its sixth season, Falahee uses the hiatus to return to his theatre roots in Byhalia, Mississippi at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the theater’s first self-produced, full-length, non-musical play in almost a decade. It plays the Kennedy Center through July 7; click here for tickets.
Winner of Chicago’s prestigious Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work in 2016, Evan Linder’s heartfelt comedy explores race, infidelity, and family through the eyes of the habitants of the town that gives the play its name.
Directed by Kimberly Senior, the story follows Jim (Falahee) and Laurel (Caroline Neff), a young white couple who are broke, deeply in love and about to become parents for the first time.
“The main story is a marriage that is put to the test, which I think a lot of people will be able to relate to,” Falahee says. “It’s this heightened scenario where the child is born and it’s biracial. Evan decided to do that because he was trying to think of what would be the most obvious speedbump in a marriage, and in this southern town, it brings up a lot of questions and conflict.”
The character of Jim is quite the departure from HTGAWM’s Connor and the outlandish circumstances that often surround him and his law school friends as they circumvent the law in a series of murders that has happened over the course of the five seasons.
The extreme differences, Falahee shares, is one of the reasons he wanted to do this play.
“They couldn’t be more different,” he says. “That was a challenge I wanted to take on. One of the things that drew me in, and what I think audiences will like, is these characters are very down to earth and real people. The folks from Byhalia speak fast and don’t really apologize. They have great taste in music and will make fun of themselves before anyone else can. So often going to the theatre we see high-concept, high-brow theatre, which has its place, but this show is extremely accessible and I hope we get a wide variety of people, even those who maybe haven’t been to the theatre before.”
He knows that having his name involved will probably assist. “The more people we can get into theatre spaces the better, especially a piece like this that will stimulate a lot of dialogue,” he says. “And if my involvement on HTGAWM is going to bring people to the theatre, it’s worth doing the television show.”
Although he would love to do a musical at some point and dreams of putting his tap shoes back on, the one role he would love to do on Broadway is Stanley in Streetcar Named Desire. Though we will get a taste of his musical side when he releases his first EP later this year.
“For me, it’s just about being stimulated and challenged as an artist. That was the genesis of this music project,” he said. “I was doing the show and five seasons in, I still find aspects very challenging and being a scene partner with Viola Davis is always stimulating, but after five years of playing the same character, that’s when you start to feel that itch a little bit so I sat down with my friend and said let’s make an album. And this play was also something that I felt challenged me and I was excited to do.”
For tickets and information about Byhalia, Mississippi, currently playing now through July 7, visit Kennedy-Center.org.