Going from the Disney Channel to playing a murderous sociopath is a big change for an actor, but Ryan McCartan is demonstrating his versatility in the role of JD, the rebellious high school teenager and love interest to heroine Veronica in the new musical Heathers.
The musical, which features book, music and lyrics by Tony Award nominee Laurence O'Keefe (Legally Blonde, Bat Boy) and Emmy Award winner Kevin Murphy ("Reefer Madness," "Desperate Housewives"), began previews March 15 prior to its official opening March 31 at New World Stages.
McCartan, who was discovered when co-creators O'Keefe and Murphy saw a YouTube video of him singing at the 2011 Jimmy Awards, has also appeared on screen in "The Middle," "Monday Mornings" and "Last Man Standing."
He chatted with Playbill.com about donning JD's iconic black trench coat and Heathers' messages of hope and empowerment. Tell me about coming into this musical and taking on the role of JD. He's a very well-known character.
Ryan McCartan: It's a very iconic role, and that's really important. We dance a very fine line. Kevin and Larry are both very brilliant writers, and we've encapsulated the heart and soul of Dan Waters' "Heathers" movie, brought it onto the stage and sort of kept all those things we needed to keep. But as far as our production is concerned, a lot is very new. And so while JD is a very iconic role and Veronica is a very iconic role, we are working very hard on making this very new, so that audiences aren't coming to this and just seeing the movie with some songs.
Christian Slater said he was inspired by Jack Nicholson when he played JD in the movie. Are there are any villainous actors that you're trying to emulate?
RM: When I first started doing research, I came across that very same fact, and so I made it my mission to not mimic anyone and to try to make this the newest, most different JD I possibly could, while still keeping the character alive that we know from the movie.
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
What is it about the movie that you think is translating into this musical so well?
RM: The really cool thing about Heathers is that it is so dark. Before there was "Mean Girls," "Jawbreaker" and "Clueless," there was "Heathers." This was the first thing that sort of made a startling, real impression of high school. And so while this is taken to an absolute extreme, Heathers does give a very realistic take on what kids go through. But at the end of our show, you don't walk out feeling dark or dismal or depressed. You walk out with this tone of inclusion and self-love. I think that's one of the greatest things about this particular project.
Where does this inclusion and self-love come from? How are you hoping to inspire the audience at the show?
RM: There are a lot of really great songs in our musical, some that are going to have you rolling around in the aisles, some that have you crying, some that are going to have you clapping [your] hands. There's one particular song at the end that is very anthemic and very inspirational, and you go on this whole journey with these characters. And by the end of it, we're all on common ground, and that common ground is that inclusion and self-love.
Did you have a Heather in your high school?
RM: There were certainly some Heathers in my high school. Boys and girls. That's the sad thing. Bullying is talked about, it's being talked about and will be talked about. It's not going to go away. Bullies will always be bullies; it's how you respond to it. Murder is not the answer. But what we discover in Heathers is there are other options. Self-love will always beat hate.
Now that you're revisiting high school with this role, if you could go back in time and talk to yourself as a teenager, what would you say?
RM: There will always be bullies. There will always be people who have bad things to say. It's up to you if you listen or not. And, I would have told myself not to listen, because the only thing that matters is that I love what I do. I love what I'm putting out.
(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)