He has starred in two A.R. Gurney New York premieres, Big Bill at Lincoln Center Theater and Crazy Mary at Playwrights Horizons. And earlier this year, he played one of the two twins named Otto in Edward Albee's latest, My, Myself and I, at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ. At present, he is one of the two leads in Itamar Moses' deceptively-titled new play, The Four of Us, at Manhattan Theatre Club. An acting career was perhaps predestined for the New York City-born Esper; his parents are William and Suzanne Esper, of the William Esper Studio acting school. The younger Esper spoke to Playbill.com about professional rivalries, professional legacies and other challenges of an acting life.
Playbill.com: The Four of Us concerns two friends in the arts, one of which is doing much better than the other, and the strain it puts on their friendship. Have you ever had to contend with a similar conflict, where a friend's career was going better than yours, or yours was going better than a friend's?
Michael Esper: I think that probably everybody has. I had a friend in college who started doing very well right off the bat. There're all kinds of feeling to navigate with that. I don't know if it put a strain on our relationship, but it certainly changed the nature of it. There were a lot of things to suddenly navigate. It was incredibly exciting, but at the same time it kind of preys on all or your insecurities and fears about "Is that ever going to happen to me?"
Playbill.com: Did you spend time talking with playwright Itamar Moses about whether the play was drawn from his own experiences?
ME: I hate to speak for him, but I do think that the play is personal and I'm sure he's drawing on experiences he's had.
Playbill.com: There's a twist at the end of The Four of Us where the world in which the two characters exist shifts dramatically. Did you try to play a different version of your character in that scene?
|photo by Joan Marcus|
ME: I actually didn't think about it that way. I did think about him in that scene a little differently, but not because now it's real and before it wasn't, but because he's in a different place and he has a bit more confidence and is proud of what he's achieved. Playbill.com: You played Edmund in Long Day's Journey Into Night in a production in Dublin directed by Garry Hynes. How did that come about?
ME: Garry Hynes was looking around in Ireland and London and New York for someone to play Edmund. I got called in to audition and read for Garry. They flew me over to Dublin to meet with some of the artistic staff and read with Marie Mullen and Aidan Kelly [who played Mary and Jamie]. And they offered me the job. Garry came at the play with a deep commitment of trying to understand what the play is first and foremost, as opposed to imposing some directorial inventions on top of it. She really wanted to tell the truth of the story. It paid enormous dividends for all of us, I think. Playbill.com: You've just done the new Edward Albee play, My, Myself and I at the McCarter. You played one of the identical twins named Otto. How are the twins employed in the plot?
ME: It's a little tricky to talk about it. Mr. Albee said we had to be very careful about how we spoke about the play, because he didn't want to give anything away. But there's a question that's raised in the play about whether or not my twin exists. I am upper-case OTTO, and he is lower-case otto; sort of "loud Otto" and "soft Otto."
Playbill.com: There has been talk that the show is coming to Broadway.
ME: There's been talk about it. I can't really say anything more about it, except that I would be thrilled if it happened.
Playbill.com: You were born in New York City, right?
ME: Yes. We moved out to the suburbs with my family when I was little. My mother and father are both acting teachers, William and Suzanne Esper. I grew up in Jersey for a while. I came back and went to high school in Brooklyn Heights, and went to college at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, where my father was chair.
Playbill.com: Do you feel pressure when your parents come to see your performances?
ME: I did when I was starting out. Certainly when I was at school my father would catch me in a play and I would feel an enormous pressure to deliver. There are all kinds of things I struggled with in terms of trying to find my own identity as an artist and trying to find a way to grow without using my father's success as some sort of measuring stick. But my parents are phenomenal and enormously supportive. Over time, they've done a great deal to help me overcome that. And I look forward to them coming to see plays now because they're wonderful audience members and love me very much.