The last time we saw T.R. Knight on Broadway, in 2003, he was appearing in Roundabout Theatre Company's Tartuffe following his run in the 2001 Broadway revival of Noises Off. It appeared back then that an appealing young actor was rising on Broadway. And then Hollywood swept him up. The sweet-faced, boy-next-door-type became an international star playing Dr. George O'Malley on the hit TV series "Grey's Anatomy." Did we lose another stage actor to TV and film? As it turns out, no. In 2009, after George met his journey's end on "Grey's," Knight starred in the Los Angeles production of the Donmar Warehouse's revision of the musical Parade. This fall, he's back on Broadway as the young actor who learns from an elder statesman (in this case, no less than Sir Patrick Stewart) in David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre.
Have you ever played an actor before?
T.R. Knight: I don't know the answer to that question. [Laughs.] What a bad way [for me] to start an interview. Have I ever played an actor? I don't think I have, besides in, maybe, a reading of a play. I don't think I have. 'Cause [in] Noises Off, I was a stage manager, so there were a lot of actors around me. But yeah, I don't think so.
Is there a special challenge to being an actor playing an actor?
TRK: I think it's more just about the relationship that these two guys have, these two co-workers kind of thrown together [with] very different experiences at very different times in their lives. But having that element of the romance, the history, most importantly, of working in the theatre — the kind of something that exists only for a short time and then it's gone. Normally, there's not much recorded history of it — I guess that's kind of changing now with YouTube and everything and people filming with their phones, but generally, it's something that's around for just a very short amount of time and then it's gone, so there's a certain kind of — I don't know. I think we'll figure that out.
What's fascinating about it is…David Mamet has also been part of the process, which is normally, in my experience, not very common once the play's already been written, and it was written, what, 30-odd years ago? So to have him be here and changing the script and adding things and making some cuts and to be sitting at the table with him and Patrick and with [director] Neil [Pepe] — who I've known for a while and never had the chance to work with and always wanted to — it's kind of mind-blowing, 'cause, you know, every time we stop and read through a scene and talk about it, it always leads to a story and another story. And to be sitting there and watching it and absorbing it all, it's pretty profound. What kind of changes has Mamet made?
TRK: He's adding a fair amount and, I think, minorly cutting some things. We're still working on it, so it's still changing, but he's got an amazing sense of humor, and it's been just an incredible experience to sit and just listen and watch. And the history of who's worked with both him and Patrick and Neil, too — it's been great because every scene leads to another and leads to another story that has maybe something to do with the scene that we just read and maybe not. And, it's just been such a joy because sometimes when you read around the table — 'cause the first week, generally, you're sitting down and going through it, and sometimes for my kind of ADD self — it gets kind of boring and you hope you have a big cast because you can pass notes and you're instantaneously back to, like, fifth grade. That's generally what I do, even though I'm far from that age. But to be just listening to them and the names and the stories that they're retelling — it's like an actor's candy store.
Are you telling some stories, too?
TRK: I've got a lot to offer. [Laughs.] No, you shut up if you're me. If your name is T.R., you shut up and you listen, if you're smart, and most times I'm trying to be smart.
That's kind of a lesson from the play.
TRK: Yeah, very much so. There'll be a lot, I think, more and more as we go on. It is gonna be very much life imitating art. Hopefully, the better parts of the play and not the parts where there's a lot of clashing.
Is the play comedy or tragedy?
TRK: I think it's both. I mean, I know it's listed as a comedy, but I see both elements in it, and those are always the most exciting pieces to work on.
How do you describe play the play to someone who doesn't know it?
TRK: It just tells the story about these two guys kind of at the beginning of when they first meet, and it takes a series of vignettes of both backstage and on stage and in the dressing room, and it just tells the story of their relationship and their clashes and when they gel and when they definitely are not seeing the same thing at all. And it just kind of tells the story in little flashes through the course of maybe a couple years of their lives, and how they both change… It starts off as a mentor relationship, and things change from there.
Are you glad to be living a life in the theatre again?
TRK: I'm still kind of in awe of who I'm sitting at the table with and very lucky to be here, and it's a great feeling — and being back in New York, too, which I've missed greatly.
T.R. Knight discusses rehearsals for A Life in the Theatre: