Hunter Parrish was recently anointed one of Hollywood’s Bright Young Things by Vanity Fair, but unlike the hard-partying juveniles who populate the pages of the celebrity glossies, the 21-year-old actor is more preoccupied with playing parts that stretch his range as an actor than turning heads with tabloid-worthy shenanigans.
Parrish also has a knack for choosing roles that subvert the expectations for a boyish blonde actor with Abercrombie-ready good looks. On the hit, suburb-skewering Showtime comedy "Weeds," he plays the defiant, smart-alecky Silas, oldest son of dope-dealing soccer mom Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker). Silas' exploits include impregnating his high school girlfriend, stealing Mom's marijuana and landing in bed with an older woman. In the coming year, Parrish will push his acting talent further, playing a nasty schoolyard bully in "Seventeen Again" opposite "High School Musical" heartthrob Zac Efron. But right now, all eyes are trained on Parrish's Broadway debut as angst-ridden, rebel-heartthrob Melchior in the landmark rock-musical Spring Awakening.
"I’ve always been fascinated by coming-of-age stories," Parrish says during a recent phone interview. "With Melchior, I was drawn to his vulnerability and his struggle to reconcile society's rules with his own individuality. What's the right way? And is there a right way? I just found that inner conflict so interesting."
While Parrish relishes the challenges of these parts, all of his roles, including that of rising showbiz talent, seem a far cry from his own level-headed, affable and genuinely sweet personality. Of course, that's why he became an actor in the first place — to go places he never would himself. "There’s a certain excitement in playing someone who's totally not you. At first, I was petrified of that because I [thought], 'How am I going to make people believe me?' But there's this whole new world that opens up when you play someone [whose life] you don't live, and your creative world just totally opens up," he says. "Part of why I'm an actor is finding that escapism. You get to be someone else for a little while and step out of who you are." Parrish, who has worked in professional theatre since the age of six, was in part prodded back to the stage by his on-screen mom — New York theatre veteran-turned-TV sex symbol Mary-Louise Parker. He credits the Emmy and Tony Award winner for being a mentor and encouraging him to flex his stage muscles during the hiatus from "Weeds."
"She lets you catch your own wind. And she gave me the freedom to grow as an actor," he says. "In return, I watched her do her thing. I've learned so much from her not only as an actor, but also as a person. And it's an incredible honor to work side by side with her every day, even after four years."