Finn Wittrock has appeared on Broadway twice. Both were classic plays, and on both occasions, he was working alongside theatre heavyweights. In 2012 he made his Broadway debut in Mike Nichols’ Tony-winning revival of Death of a Salesman starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and earlier this year, the actor returned to the Broadway as the Gentleman Caller in Sam Gold’s staging of The Glass Menagerie. In the acclaimed revival, he shares the stage with two-time Oscar winner Sally Field, two-time Tony winner Joe Mantello, and Madison Ferris.
Wittrock says that when it comes to theatre, he prefers to be a little picky. “I feel like I probably am more selective about theatre because it’s such a demanding job and it’s so exclusive—there’s no doing something on the side—it’s such a thorough commitment both time-wise and energetically,” says the actor. While much of it comes down to timing and schedules, he also believes that the right job will come around when it’s supposed to.
“More and more I feel like the work chooses you as much as you choose it,” says Wittrock. “I feel very blessed to have done both [Death of a Salesman and The Glass Menagerie] and worked with those iconic people.”
Wittrock, who is usually L.A.-based, balances his time between stage and screen. In between his Broadway appearances, he starred alongside Diane Lane in the Goodman Theatre’s Sweet Bird of Youth and at the Kennedy Center in The Guardsman. He recently played a small but pivotal role as Emma Stone’s boyfriend in La La Land, was featured in Masters of Sex, and is an Emmy nominee for American Horror Story. Stage acting however, is what really allows him to grow in his craft, says Wittrock.
“It’s a very specific kind of tenacity that you need,” he explains. “In acting terms, it’s like you’re working out every day...I feel like once Glass Menagerie is over, and I step away from it, I will definitely be a stronger actor.”
It could also be the fact that Wittrock will have done back-to-back theatre for the better part of a year once the play wraps up on Broadway July 2. Last fall, he starred as Cassio in Gold’s downtown staging of Othello, yet another production with a star-studded cast, led by Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo. The two shows’ schedules overlapped, which meant both Gold and Wittrock ran from daytime rehearsals for Glass Menagerie to New York Theatre Workshop performances in the evenings.
Wittrock first met Gold when he was a student at Juilliard ten years ago. The Tony-winning director, who was then just up-and-coming, directed the young talent in his senior showcase. Since then, Wittrock has been tracking Gold’s “meteoric rise,” and—despite not working together again until recently—the two have stayed in touch. Wittrock says that even a decade ago, he had a sense of Gold’s singular approach to directing theatre—a way of making classics “feel very contemporary and relevant,” with an emphasis on clarity. “In a way a lot of [his] productions are stripped down to the bare essentials. You focus more on the words and the language is created anew,” he says.
Gold’s revival of The Glass Menagerie is certainly “stripped down.” The Belasco’s stage has been completely gutted for the production, and Andrew Lieberman’s minimal set brings a stark, modern feel to Williams’ mid-century drama. There’s another thing that sets the show apart, quite significantly: Ferris, who stars as Laura, is the first actor in a wheelchair in a leading role on Broadway. Ferris has muscular dystrophy, which imbues the play and her character—described in the original text as having a “hardly noticeable” defect—with entirely new meaning.
For Wittrock, Ferris’ casting in the role of Laura is an important moment in “expanding the conversation of disability in the arts,” he says. “Of course it’s going to be a controversial thing to do that to a classic, such a precious play, but in some ways that was the point. This play can withstand that and I actually think it benefits from it in a unique way.” Yet another reason that he couldn’t pass up The Glass Menagerie.
Wittrock says that working with Ferris and the talented cast has been a total joy, “with lots of laughter.” As the show continues its limited engagement on Broadway, he’s enjoying having his days free again, and making the most of New York City in the spring. As for what he’s up to next? Still to be determined. “I’m starting to put my feelers out into the world now that I’m coming out of my cocoon,” he says. In true Wittrock fashion, the next project will most likely be picking him.
The Glass Menagerie continues to play at the Belasco Theatre through July 2. For tickets and more information click here.