If anyone has come to represent the Generation X Everyman onstage, it's Josh Hamilton. In fact, in the last few years it seems as if his roles have been maturing along with his generation. He's played a frustrated lawyer struggling with commitment (this summer's Music From a Sparkling Planet); a concerned relative dealing with his grandmother's declining health (The Waverly Gallery); a trusting aspiring author duped by a seasoned con artist (As Bees in Honey Drown); and a pothead slacker (This Is Our Youth). Location is something else those roles had in common— they were all Off-Broadway. But Sept. 11, Hamilton will finally make his Broadway bow in Proof, this year's much-ballyhooed Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Succeeding Ben Shenkman as the math scholar with an eye for his ex-professor's daughter, Hamilton is part of a stellar replacement cast that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, last seen on Broadway in Cabaret, taking over for Tony winner Mary-Louise Parker, and Seana Kofoed, who recently wrapped up Warren Leight's Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine, following Johanna Day. Patrick Tovatt took over for Larry Bryggman in June. Hamilton appreciates the significance of the occasion, which he characterizes as "eating at the grownup table."
PLAYBILL ON-LINE: You've usually originated roles you've played onstage. What's it like going into a play that's already been running for more than a year?
Josh Hamilton: It is really strange. I saw Proof a while ago, and was so blown away by everyone in it. At first I wondered whether I was going to try to watch it again. [The cast] all talked about it and decided that since we had enough time — three weeks or so — to try to make it our own, and since the whole cast is pretty much changing over and we didn't have to fit into the timings of other people, that we should not see it and just make our own thing. But as we get closer I'm more and more tempted to go sneak in. I want to steal things. I think, "How does he make that line work? I bet he gets a laugh on that one."
PBOL: Had you ever worked with any of your co-stars before? What's that experience been like?
JH: I knew Jennifer a little bit socially. I first met her during Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. I did a little thing in that, but it was cut out. Seana I had done readings with, but I've always wanted to work on a full play with her. It's been great. They're so good. I find myself just trying to keep up.
PBOL: How is it working with [director] Dan Sullivan?
JH: He's been incredibly smart about not making us feel like we have to do what's already been done, or making us feel like we're being forced into a choice that wasn't ours originally. I think it's actually probably fun for him to see it played a new way and see things he didn't see before. I think it's going to be very different, but I'm not sure exactly how.
PBOL: Do you share any of your character's fascination with math?
JH: [Laughs] I'm having sort of a second chance at it. I actually failed algebra in ninth grade. But reading different books and books about different mathematicians is sort of nice. It's like I'm getting a second pass at what really is a much more fascinating subject than I realized when I was 14. PBOL: You're among a handful of young actors in their 30s — people like Robert Sean Leonard and Mary-Louise Parker, for example — who could probably be making a lot more money and achieving greater notoriety doing film and TV work in Hollywood. Why have you chosen this route and to stay in New York?
JH: Well, I think people basically end up doing what they kind of want to be doing. I grew up here and I just always wanted to stay here. It's not as simple as I love theatre more than film, because it really depends on the material. You can have good and bad experiences in any medium, but I suppose that I am generally happier living in New York doing a play. I like the rhythm of those days; it's a nice lifestyle. It's when you're doing other things away from home it makes you crazy. And I don't need much. I can stay here and just work with people I respect and admire and work with friends. It just seems a little saner to me in some ways.
PBOL: A while ago you were part of the star-studded Malaparte Theatre Company. Are those guys still around?
JH: No, they're not. It was basically something that we had talked about for a few years — Ethan Hawke and Jonathan Marc Sherman and Robert Leonard and Frank Whaley. We just all wanted to have a little bit more control over what we were doing. We had a great time for a couple of years, but the problem was there was no one that we had who really wanted to do the day-to-day-ness of it — all the politics and the daily grind of running a theatre company. I really admire the ones that stick around.
PBOL: You have a couple of movies on the horizon, "The Escape Artist" and "West of Here."
JH: "West of Here" is the film I did most recently, in the spring, with Mary Stuart Masterson and Tate Donovan and Norbert Butz. We shot that mostly in Boston and in Boulder, Colorado. It's actually based on a true story about this guy who was a singer and just as he was getting some notoriety he accidentally drove his car off the road and died. "The Escape Artist" is a really interesting film. It's not finished yet, but it's a film I shot with some friends last fall and then did some reshoots this summer. It's based on some real characters and some fictional characters who are sort of street performers, in the whole underground scene of magic and illusion in New York. I played a straightjacket artist, so I had to do a lot of straightjacket escapes.
PBOL: Did you have a trainer for that?
JH: Yeah, I did. I had to do things like hanging upside down from a meat hook in the meatpacking district and getting out from that. That was very challenging. And sometimes you just go out on the street and do it with real people and get real reactions and stuff.
PBOL: Did people have any idea who you were?
JH: I don't think so. I had this white-face makeup and eyeliner and was very much in character.
PBOL: You've worked on a couple of plays by both Douglas Carter Beane and Kenneth Lonergan. How do they compare as playwrights?
JH: They could not be more different in style.They're such incredible, totally different writers. Kenny's writing is the kind that the more you work on it, the more perfect it seems as an actor. He deals with subjects in a really smart, deep, considerate way. Douglas Carter Beane, his plays are just wonderfully sentimental, but not in a bad way. He's not afraid to be uncool, and his plays can be so much fun to do in that he's very good at plot and knows how to spin a yarn. Getting to just be in love unabashedly with J. Smith-Cameron in Music From a Sparkling Planet and just being able to worship her — which is sort of what I do in real life, anyway — was a joy.
PBOL: Which roles and theatre experiences do you have the fondest memories of?
JH: There's so many different factors. There's the people you work with, the actual roles themselves. Working on both of Kenneth Lonergan's plays [The Waverly Gallery and This Is Our Youth] were very special experiences. Working with Eileen Heckart [on Waverly Gallery] was something I'll always remember, obviously. And doing Cider House Rules was a big part of my life. I did that in L.A. for almost eight months. Doing both parts was a real challenge. That was a story that I really cared about.
PBOL: No plans to bring part two, to New York, right?
JH: The idea was that we were going to do part one, and it was going to be a big hit and we were going to move it to Broadway and do both parts. But it didn't quite work out that way. Never had there been a show that some people I know liked so much and the critics — a lot of them had such trouble with the story-theatre concept. It was fun for me in a lot of ways. For the most part I usually do pretty naturalistic stuff, and that was just full-out make-believe: no props and tearing down houses and all that kind of stuff people did in drama school that I never really did. This was my chance.
PBOL: Do you have any aspirations to direct or write for theatre or film?
JH: I would like to direct. I can't really see myself writing plays or movies. I like to write, but just for myself and just fiction stuff. But I've directed short plays, and I've also shot some documentary stuff that I'm still putting together. In terms of making films, I actually see myself leaning more toward making documentaries. I have one that I shot that I'm still in the process of editing. I followed the Flying Karamazov Brothers around on tour in Europe and just shot a lot of footage and interviews.