Skylar Astin was always a theatre kid at heart. Years before he was part of the megahit musical Spring Awakening, he was partaking in "riff-offs" of his own at Stagedoor Manor, the famed theatre camp that inspired the 2003 cult film "Camp" (and also enlisted the talent of his Spring Awakening co-star Lea Michele, among many others). He made a splash in Spring — as did the rest of the cast, many of whom went onto take television by storm with "Glee" (Michele, Jonathan Groff, Phoebe Strole and Astin, himself) — and skyrocketed to stardom after the success of "Pitch Perfect."
Astin is back for more with the "Pitch Perfect" sequel, and before the film hits theatres May 15, he chats with Playbill.com about his time at Stagedoor Manor, his theatrical ties and what projects he's got on deck. Plus, he shares his own pop-song playlist with Playbill.com — which he said he listens to while driving through the streets of sunny Los Angeles.
You went to Stagedoor Manor, yes? Tell me how theatrical life at Stagedoor Manor has compared to the world of "Pitch Perfect" that we get to see on screen.
Skylar Astin: That is a great comparison because, especially in the first film, it felt like we were in a summer theatre camp. We had choreography rehearsal and vocal rehearsal, and then we would go to "Drama," they called it, which was just teamwork. It was funny having things like that referred to in that way that a theatre camp or some sort of conservatory would use.
What fellow actors did you go to Stagedoor Manor with?
SA: I wasn't there with Lea [Michele] or Zach Braff or anyone, although we've talked about it at length. Erich Bergen, who was in the "Jersey Boys" movie — he was my year — and a lot of people who have gone on to work on Broadway, like Etai BenShlomo [who] is my best friend. I just did a show in Atlanta called "Halt and Catch Fire," and there's a guy there who went to Stagedoor, so it always follows me everywhere in the best way. Do you have a favorite memory from theatre camp?
SA: [Laughs.] Yeah, I mean, this isn't actually as fun as you would think, but it was very moving and influential on my life. I did an acting class there, and the teacher made us sit in a circle, and one person at a time would go in the center of the circle, and everyone would tell them five wonderful things about them and five things they could work on. Not even really as an actor, just as a human being, it was intense to have your peers do that. But, I remember it changed my life. I was weeping, and it was so sad, but beautiful, but there was so much care in the exercise. It changed me as a person and as an actor. I'll never forget it.
You have been keeping such great ties to the theatre world, too. You sang on Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's James and the Giant Peach recording, which I loved. What keeps you coming back to theatre projects? And, what would actually get you back to Broadway and the theatre scene?
SA: Anything! Anything. People don't realize — when you get to become an actor that people watch, people think that you sometimes make these decisions… Like, "Oh, that's what he's doing now," but the truth is that the opportunities present themselves. I am privy to anything, and theatre is a huge priority to me. There's nothing that I'm doing purposefully to stay out of theatre, that's why the easiest thing and the warmest thing for me is to give back to any sort of young arts education or come back to Broadway. An audition is enough to get me back, for the right thing at the right time, then the opportunity to play the role, so if you have any ideas, I'm wide open.
Speaking of, are you back and forth from L.A. to New York? What is your living situation like? Do you come back to the East Coast often?
SA: Yes. I mean, my whole family is in New York. My girlfriend [Anna Camp] just did a play at Lincoln Center that was amazing, and she was incredible in it. She did Verité with LCT3, and I was with her for three months, and while I was there, I was very interested in coming back myself and putting out some feelers. Some things almost came together, [but] timing and financing — things like that — didn't come together, But I'm willing and ready and able to come back and do something significant. Maybe even a play where I get to show a different side of me, or a comedy. I'm never opposed to a musical, obviously — it's what got me there in the first place, but I hope that my career will be as long as I am intending it to be and theatre will be a huge part of that.
Tell me about being a part of these phenomenon projects. Spring Awakening was such a mega hit on Broadway, and "Pitch Perfect" is huge. What is it like for you to be a part of these projects?
SA: Well, what's great is I've been a part of these little engines that could, and all of a sudden they are beloved, and the timing works. I've been a part of other things, where you thought it was going to be this lightning in a bottle, and it all doesn't come together in the right way, so it's always kind of a little surprising. And, it can keep you humble because the whole time, we have no expectations, and it just feels very exciting. The thing about Broadway is, even when we were in the height of our popularity [with Spring Awakening], and winning all of the awards that we won, we still had to do the show every night. We had such a great responsibility now. People were coming in with high expectations, and we never lost sight of that, which is so important and humbling and grounding. And, the same thing with "Pitch Perfect," even though you do it once on film, and it's immortalized forever — coming back for the sequel, we're aware that we needed to deliver. And, it was a little bit easier of a process because we got to evolve in the characters, but you didn't have to do that [with] the same material — you actually had a new movie to play with. I'm very fortunate. I'm very blessed, and I can't wait to see where it takes me. I want several movies and theatre projects that help me grow as an actor and as a person.
So, who is the craziest on set?! Tell me about the juicy on-set stories!
SA: I don't know! Let me think. Rebel [Wilson] is always good for a laugh because she is unpredictable. She kind of keeps her ideas close to the chest and then lets them all out at once on set, which is exciting to see what she's going to do. But, the truth of the matter is that we're all pretty tight. I'm trying to think… I feel like [with] the first movie, I could tell you more. The second movie, we all came in and put on a sweater that fit perfectly and just had fun with it. There was a little bit less spontaneity as far as learning who we were in the character and what the tone of the movie was. I did the majority [of filming] with Ben Platt. We're two musical theatre-based actors, and whenever we're together, it's just so fun. It hits so close to home. He's become such a dear friend of mine, and everyone else has become such a friend, too, so I can't even think of one instance in particular that stands out.
Are you going to see Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen?
SA: Yes, 100 percent! Yes, it's very exciting. He is so excited about it. I've already heard the song that they released, and it's beautiful. It's just a perfect recipe. It sounds so amazing. I'm so excited to see it.
Also, tell me about working with Anna Kendrick. You must share an affinity for musical theatre.
SA: Yeah, she's a consummate professional, and we get along just fine. Like, whenever we're together, there's always an unspoken professionalism that's there. We don't even talk about the scene, necessarily, like I would with other actors. I just kind of show up, and then once the cameras are rolling, that Jesse and Beca thing lives. And, when the cameras are cut, she's just my colleague who I get along with. It's a really nice, very respectable relationship.
"Pitch Perfect" fuses theatricality with pop music, so I'm wondering: what songs are on your iPod?
SA: What's on my iPod? I have, right now… "[My] Silver Lining." What is the band? Hold on, I'm going to cheat. I'm going to look at my phone. I love Conor Oberst. I've been listening to a lot of Florence and the Machine. I love this band called Tossing Copper — they're really good, in beautiful two-part harmonies. I like every kind of music, though. I love pop. I love country, even. Rock 'n' roll… Jeff Buckley, I have on here. Local Natives. I'm scrolling… First Aid Kid [is the band that sings "My Silver Lining"]. Jesus! That took me too long. First Aid Kid's really great. Besides filming, what are you doing for fun outside of work?
SA: Outside of work, God… I'm such a homebody these days. I just love my girlfriend, I love my dog. We flew out to Santa Barbara, the three of us, and had a nice time and swam. I like to get in good shape. It hasn't been the best couple of months for me, but I generally like to train a little bit [with] Muay Thai boxing. I don't actually spar, but just kind of work with the trainer. It's a great workout and a great stress release. Hiking is great in this guaranteed L.A. weather. Yeah, I'm a pretty low-key guy, like you won't see me hopping around the club scene these days.
I'm so jealous of the L.A. weather! We had a pretty crazy winter here in New York.
SA: I was there for three months, man. January-March. It was brutal. I had to walk my dog in that — night walks and morning walks — it was brutal. But I will say, being from New York, it's always going to be home to a big extent. I think my first four years here [in L.A.], I played the part of the bitter New York guy, who always complained about traffic, and there was never a good slice of pizza or anything like that, [but] the truth of the matter is that it's beautiful out here. The weather is perfect, and there is a great quality of life that I've learned to really enjoy and be unembarrassed to admit.
What's up next for you? There's talk of a "Pitch Perfect 3"?
SA: I could make you a bet that you will hear about "Pitch Perfect 3" before I do. But, as far as what's next for me, I have a pilot that is in contention, and I should find out next week, and if it happens I would love to talk to you further about it.
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)