PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jeremy Shamos

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Jeremy Shamos' New York stage career began in earnest when he appeared in Terrence McNally's controversial retelling of the Jesus story, Corpus Christi.
Jeremy Shamos
Jeremy Shamos

Now Shamos is back playing another disciple of Christ. In Kate Fodor's 100 Saints You Should Know, he is Matthew, a Catholic priest forced on sabbatical by his superiors. Retreating to his religious mother's home, he mulls over the future, while trying to attend to the spiritual needs of a woman who cleans his rectory; her wayward daughter complicates matters. Shamos, whose other credits include Gutenberg! The Musical!, Miss Witherspoon and The Rivals, talked to Playbill.com about his new experiences with fatherhood and Fatherhood.

Playbill.com: How did you get the role in 100 Saints You Should Know?
Jeremy Shamos: I auditioned, and I actually went to the callback one day after my new child was born.

Playbill.com: The day after?!
JS: Yes. I hadn't slept in, like, 54 hours. It made my audition great. I landed it.

Playbill.com: When they offered you the role did you think, "Well, maybe I shouldn't take it because I have this baby at home"?
JS: I discussed it with my girlfriend and we figured that the timing was such — she was six weeks or something when I started rehearsal. We decided we should go for it. She's been a trouper in how much time she's spent with the baby. I've got night duty.

Playbill.com: 100 Saints You Should Know delves in religious themes. Are you a religious person?
JS: I'm not, actually. Playbill.com: Most people in the theatre aren't.
JS: I was thinking that. Somebody was saying, "The reviews are coming out. What if the reviewer is very Catholic?" I don't picture that happening. I can't imagine a theatre reviewer being incredibly religious, but maybe.

Playbill.com: It's always interesting when a religious play comes along. It's as if the theatre community is reacting to a play about aliens.
JS: Well, I was in the original production of [Terrence McNally's] Corpus Christi. That was a fervor. But, no, I'm not religious. But in a weird way, working on the play has made me more spiritual. I've met a lot of people who are associated with the church and spoken with them. It's a whole community that I'm just not in touch with. It's been nice. The particular people I've spoken to are so supportive of the theatre. I spoke to a guy named James Martin. He's a Jesuit priest. He's the guy who helped out the LAByrinth Theatre when they did The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. He wrote a book called "A Jesuit Off-Broadway." So I called him and had a couple talks and had lunch with him. And then he invited a bunch of Catholic friends to an early preview and we went out and ate with them.

Playbill.com: Did they like the play?
JS: They really liked it. It's funny, because I'm Jewish, but two of them said, "I know a Jesuit priest who looks like you, who acts like the way you're acting on stage." It was eerie.

Playbill.com: I guess you're doing something right, then.
JS: I guess so. They kind of said it as if they didn't really like the guy. (Laughs) At least it's accurate.

Playbill.com: What do you think of your character? Do you think he's a guy who went into the priesthood, but never should have?
JS: I think that he probably is a guy who is a good priest, because he's thoughtful and intelligent. I think it was a situation where someone's mother really wants something for the child, and you want to please your mother so much that you end up doing something that you haven't fully thought out. Maybe he would have found his way to the Church eventually, but he sort of forced into it slightly by parental pressure. It's an incredibly isolating life. I walked home one night in my collar.

Playbill.com: Did you? What was that like?
JS: Other people just accepted that I was a priest. I expected to get either dirty looks or looks of reverence. There was a lot of indifference. I think after blocks or blocks of indifference, I think I started to feel how people treat you like you're in a bubble. No one really wants to approach you. Either people don't trust you or in awe of you and don't want to bother you. But the main feeling I had, was every time I walked by a bar or restaurant, my eyes immediately went to couples and people who were together and having fun, and I felt very isolated. To think "I'm never going to have that feeling. I'll never hug someone like that or kiss someone on the street." Those are the issues that the character I'm playing is dealing with. And New York's really a place for people to connect. Father Jim talked about how he felt his vow of celibacy allows him to actually connect with a lot of people. He said, while were having lunch, he wasn't thinking about his wife at home or whatever. He was just there with me 100 percent, and I felt that. It was a great feeling. But I don't know if everyone can pull that off.

Playbill.com: Do you know what you're going to be doing after this production?
JS: I'm not going to be a deadbeat dad anymore. I'm going to spend some time with my kid.

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