Tony nominee Steven Boyer is now part of the cast of NBC’S Trial & Error, a tongue-in-cheek true crime comedy. Boyer plays Dwayne Reed, the goofy but kindhearted lead investigator tasked with helping lawyer Josh Segal, played by Nicholas D’Agosto, prove that poetry professor Larry Henderson, played by Tony winner John Lithgow, did not kill his wife. But Boyer started out in theatre and gained critical acclaim, a Lucille Lortel Award and a Tony nomination for his performance as painfully shy Jason and his potty-mouthed puppet Tyrone in 2015’s Hand to God. Now, as the actor brings new hijinks to the fictional Southern town of East Peck on television, he talked with Playbill to prove his theatre bonafides.
What was your first professional job?
Steven Boyer: I was a kid in Columbus, Ohio, and I did a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I played one of the “no-neck monsters.”
What was the stage show that has most influenced you?
There was this production of Ionesco’s The Chairs that was mind-melting. It totally ripped me out of my seat, which is a weird thing to say about an Ionesco play being revived on Broadway. It really grabbed me and made me see that you can do something that isn’t just plot point, plot point, plot point, but that actually resonates on a deeper level.
What’s been the biggest challenge in your career?
It’s weird because it has nothing to do with work onstage. It has to do with maintaining your sanity when you’re not working and knowing that, even though you might be unemployed for long stretches of time, you have to have this belief that you actually have something worth sharing.
What’s been the most rewarding experience onstage for you?
No doubt being in Hand to God, going to the Tony Awards, having so many people whose opinions I respect and admire come see the show and come back afterwards and tell me the nicest, most glowing things. You dream of an opportunity like that and think it may never come along. I got to meet so many performers and artists whose work I admire and they got to see my work. I can’t emphasize how much that meant to me.
Who is a collaborator from theatre that made you better?
Some of my closest working relationships are with playwrights. People like Rob Askins and Nick Jones have called upon me to throw myself into situations that I never thought anyone would ask me to and they have put faith in me. [Hand to God director] Moritz von Stuelpnagel is someone who I feel like I owe so much to because he cast me when no one else would. I feel like we speak the same language. He understands comedy and takes it seriously in a way that I really, really appreciate.
Now that you’ve broken into TV, how do you balance stage and screen? Do you want to?
I absolutely want to balance the two. There’s been this long-running joke between me and actor friends of mine that’s like, “What you need to do is get on a TV show and then you can do whatever Broadway you want!” There’s always been this thing in the back of my mind where if I’m ever lucky enough to actually get on a television show for some reason that can be a ticket to getting to do the roles I’ve always wanted to do in theatre. Trial & Error shoots in Los Angeles, but I live in Brooklyn. Part of the reason New York is my home is because the theatre is my home. I’m never going to stop doing theatre. That’s what it’s all about.
What has been your favorite part of working on a TV show?
They feed you really well. [Laughs] So many theatre actors are like, “You know me, I’m a starving actor,” but in television you don’t need to spend your salary on food. It’s the weirdest thing. It’s like, “And you’re giving me food? I’m not used to this. This is too much! Let me throw in a few bucks.”
How has it been to work with fellow Broadway alums John Lithgow and Krysta Rodriguez, who plays his character’s daughter?
It’s great! I knew John before because we worked together on King Lear in Shakespeare in the Park. John loves to talk about theatre. He has this wealth of knowledge about plays, writers, issues, politics, and art. When there’s downtime, John likes to talk to me about theatre and I feel honored that I get to be in that position. Krysta is my fellow New York theatre actor that found herself in L.A. working on an NBC sitcom, so we’re kind of in the same boat…It really makes me so much more comfortable. I haven’t done television for two decades. I’ve done theatre. To have other New York theatre veterans on this television set was like, “Ah, great! Now I can relax.”
Trial & Error airs Tuesdays at 9PM ET/8PM C on NBC. For more information, visit NBC.com.
Joe Gambino is a writer, designer, performer and Broadway lottery loser who lives in New York. Follow him on Twitter @_joegambino_.