PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Bobby Cannavale

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Bobby Cannavale
 
We chat with two-time Tony Award nominee Bobby Cannavale of Broadway's The Motherf**ker With the Hat.

Bobby Cannavale at the Tony Awards nominee reception.
Bobby Cannavale at the Tony Awards nominee reception. Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

*

Bobby Cannavale, a strong presence in all of the films, plays and TV shows in which he's appeared, earned his first Best Actor Tony Award nomination on May 3 for his fevered 2011 performance as the recovering alcoholic Jackie in Broadway's The Motherf**ker With the Hat. A member of the LAByrinth Theater Company, he made his Broadway debut in 2007 in Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius, for which he was Tony nommed in the Featured Actor category. He was acclaimed for his work in the 2005 Off-Broadway revival of Hurlyburly. In summer 2011, he co-starred with Sutton Foster in Trust at Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre; they are now a couple (and both are Tony nominees this year — she for Best Actress for Anything Goes). TV viewers know Cannavale for his television appearances as Will's boyfriend in "Will & Grace" (for which he won an Emmy Award), on "Six Feet Under" and as the star of "Cupid." His film credits include "The Station Agent" (Audience Award, Sundance Film Festival; SAG Award nomination), "Shall We Dance," "Happy Endings" and more, including the Sundance Film Festival hit "Win Win," which reunited him "The Station Agent" writer-director Tom McCarthy. We got a few minutes with Cannavale on May 3 — his birthday, in fact — shortly after he learned of his nomination.

How did you find out about the Tony nomination?
Bobby Cannavale: My girlfriend [Sutton Foster] woke me up and said, "Congratulations."

What was your reaction when she told you?
BC: I said, "Is it congratulations for both of us?," and she said, "Yes." And then we were just all excited, and we jumped on the bed a little bit, and then we had a cup of coffee and raised a glass — raised our coffees to each other. It was great, and then I went right to the ENT because I had no voice for the last two days, so I had to get that taken care of. I had a 10 AM appointment because I lost my voice on Sunday night, and my concern was to get a good night sleep last night [Monday] so I can feel O.K. for the show tonight. It's an amazing day — it's my birthday today, so it's an amazing day.

Cannavale in The Motherf**ker with the Hat
photo by Joan Marcus

What would you say has been the most challenging part of this role?
BC: Honestly, I don't want to sound pat, but I have the greatest ensemble — we've been from day one in February, we were solid; there was a connection there. We all believed in this play. We all believed that maybe this is the best play we'd ever read, and we get together every single night at five minutes [before curtain], and we hold on to each other, and we have a big group hug, and we say little things to each other, and we go out there fully connected, and I don't feel like it's a challenge at all when I am in it. I feel like it's the fastest hour-and-a-half of my life, and it's the most urgent, heightened hour-and-a-half of my life, and I feel totally connected to those people... The challenge may have been in rehearsal, but I don't feel it at all at night. And then we have a great audience, to boot, that just comes in not knowing what to expect, and they are just with us from the jump. It's a really exciting thing to be a part of a new play, particularly written by a good friend of mine [Stephen Adly Guirgis] , who deserves to be on Broadway, who's paid his dues, who's now getting the recognition he deserves. How do you find the eight-show-a-week schedule?
BC: Yeah, I mean, it's ice cream — all I ever wanted to do was have a career in the theatre. I grew up right across the river, in Jersey, and all I ever wanted was to live in New York City and work in the theatre, and I've managed to stay my whole career here, and it's very, very important to me. I've been going to the theatre since I was ten years old here in New York, and it's important to me to have a long career in the theatre. I want to be somebody who can work all the time in the theatre regardless of what my film and television career holds for me. This means more to me than anything.

Cannavale and Chris Rock on opening night.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Do you remember what productions had the biggest impact on you?
BC: Yeah, when I was 14 or 15, I saw Danny and the Deep Blue Sea down at Circle Rep — that was the first straight play I ever saw in New York. John Turturro blew my mind, scared the shit out of me — exactly the kind of feeling I wanted to have in the theatre, and it was exactly the thing that I wanted to do. To be in something that scared people, that made them not sure if what was happening was real or not because I had no idea if he was going to jump off the stage and kill all of us, and it was very exciting to me. And, totally on the other end of the spectrum — Evita. Evita killed me. I wanted to see Evita so bad because you know back then they used to run commercials a lot more for plays — they don't do that anymore — but I remember that commercial being like, "Oh my God. I want to see that." Plus I grew up in an ethnic neighborhood. I'm half-Cuban, half-Italian, and grew up in a very Latin household — in my mom's house, and my mom's Cuban — and I remember those commercials and being like, "Holy crap. That guy playing Che is Latino. A Latino guy starring on…" I thought Mandy Patinkin was Puerto Rican for the longest time when I was a kid. So, that was one of the early ones that I went and saw that I loved. Ain't Misbehavin'Jelly's Last Jam destroyed me. I've seen a lot… I remember going to see Stephen Rea in Someone Who'll Watch Over Me the night he was nominated for an Oscar, so there's a lot of things. Angels in America was the first time I ever sat in the orchestra. I went with Lanford Wilson — I had just become a member at Circle Rep — and he brought me to see Angels in America. It was the first time I sat in the orchestra, and that blew my mind. That went down as like the best new play of my generation. I felt like I was watching the new Death of a Salesman or something. It felt eventful for me. A lot of the big, big, memorable moments in my life that I will never forget were in a theatre watching a performance or watching a play that really stuck with me and made me reaffirm more and more what I wanted to do with my life.

Cannavale and girlfriend Sutton Foster
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Are there any classic roles that you would like to do or are you just interested in doing new work?
BC: I don't have any expectations in this world and in this business. I just don't. When I was a younger actor, I remember going to see things and saying, "Shit, I wish I could play that." Then I ended up having the kind of career where I feel like I became that actor that other actors were like, "I wish I was in that production of Hurlyburly," "I wish I had that role in Mauritius," or "God, I wish I could be in Motherf**ker With the Hat." So, I don't expect too much and yet I've been very, very fortunate to be given these plays, and they've been new plays and I'm thrilled about that. I mean… I would love to play Stanley Kowalski, I'd love to play Pale in Burn This, I'd love to do The Big Knife by Clifford Odets, I'd love to do a classical play at some point in my career. So there are things I want to do, but I don't hold out for them. The universe takes care of itself, and I've been very, very fortunate, and I don't question it too much. Do you think dating Sutton might want to make you do a musical?
BC: Oh, yeah. I wanted to do a musical even since before I met Sutton. I'd like to do a musical, but I'd have to work hard to be able to manage to do eight shows a week — I think that's a whole other ball game. I think it's a whole other way to train your instrument that I'm not quite ready for. I could do it like once, but I don't think I could do eight shows. I would like to do that someday, yes.

(Andrew Gans is senior editor of Playbill.com.)

View highlights from the show:

Today’s Most Popular News: