Most New York theatregoers became aware of actor Jonny Orsini with his Broadway turn in Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance as the object of Nathan Lane’s affection. The following season, he went on to play Malcolm in Macbeth at Lincoln Center. Those who missed him in those productions will have plenty of chances to make up for that oversight this season. He is currently starring in Walter Anderson’s military drama Almost Home at the Acorn Theatre through Oct. 12. Next year, he will be a member of the cast of Fish in the Dark, a new play by television eminence Larry David (“Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm”).
Orsini talked to Playbill.com about his busy season.
How did you get this assignment? Did they call you or did you audition?
JO: I auditioned for this. I was in San Diago doing Othello at the Old Globe and I was actually planning on going on a road trip with my girlfriend after. But a couple things came up in the last week in San Diego which made me have to fly back immediately. I got an offer for an indie film. And I got a reading for Larry David’s play, which turned out to be an opportunity to do the play. Then, in that same week, as I was home, I got an audition for this [Almost Home] as well. So, yeah, good old-fashioned auditioning. The material — anytime I see a military story, I feel like if I can help to tell that story I have an obligation to do so, because I deeply respect people who make that sacrifice.
That’s an interesting perspective on doing the play.
JO: And the fact that Walter [Anderson] is a Marine, and served in Vietnam — it’s great when you work with playwrights who are brilliant playwrights, but to have someone who actually lived what he wrote and to be in the room with him as a person, it goes beyond being an actor telling stories. To spend time with someone who actually lived that, it means that much more. He’s just a remarkable human being across the board and I’m just grateful for spending time with him. Did you do some research into the 1960s time period for the play?
JO: Yes. But, again, Walter being the real deal, sitting right in the room, that was exceptionally helpful. That’s gold. I also read his memoir. He wrote a gorgeous memoir called “Meant to Be.” The play is not autobiographical for him, but it takes a lot of pieces from his life, so reading his memoir was very helpful. Also, I read a few other books that he recommended.
The Larry David play is a big opportunity for you. Did that job come as a surprise?
JO: It did. I was in San Diego and I got this email: Do you want to come back to New York and do this reading of this Larry David play? Of course I do! Also, Anna D. Shapiro was directing, who’s always been one of my favorite theatre directors. I’ve always wanted the chance to work with her. And then [producer] Scott Rudin, he saw The Nance. He’s been supportive, which I’m so grateful for. His career speaks for himself. He’s a genius. It was just a great surprise. I got to do the reading and I didn’t know that that was, in a way, my audition, and the play was going into production this year. I had no idea.
Were you a fan of “Curb Your Enthusiasm?”
JO: Absolutely. I love his stuff. And there was also an NPR interview he did years ago, when I was in college and first started acting. He was the first person in an interview who I heard say something to the effect of, “You’re not a real comedian until you bomb.” I wasn’t a comedian. I was acting. But hearing someone like Larry David say that was reassuring, because if you don’t fail you’re not taking chances. And if you’re not taking chances, then you’ve failed.
I don’t think any of us know what a Larry David play might be like. Is the writing very much in keeping with his television work?
JO: I’m not going to say too much, except that it’s absolutely hilarious. I was in that reading with a great group of people. When you’re doing a reading, you’re allowed to check in and out. When you’re doing your scenes, you’re in your character, but when you’re not, you can just sit there listening. And I was laughing. It’s very funny.
Would you say that opportunities expanded after you appeared in The Nance?
JO: Yes. In a sense, that was the first opportunity I had to be known in a wider sense. I had just done a couple Off-Broadway plays before that and they weren’t even lead roles. I think it’s like with a lot of things — you put in your time preparing and doing things. In some ways, people thought I came out of nowhere. But if you’re an actor you spend every minute of every day trying to become a better actor, which to me is trying to become a better human being, like trying to understand the human condition from every angle you can.
You know that quote, “An actor’s job is to know everything about everything?” Ever since I started acting in college, I’ve spent my life just trying to cultivate myself. I was excited to be working with such talented people, but it didn’t feel like some crazy change in my life. I felt like, “Right. This is my job. This is what I do.” It was just another opportunity to express myself.