On the night of Nov. 27, 2015, Justin Packard was preparing to go on as the understudy for Miss Trunchbull on the first national tour of Roald Dahl's Matilda The Musical when his phone lit up.
It was his twin brother, Geoff: "Double Trunch tonight," read the text.
While Justin rides the Matilda tour bus — usually performing as the Escape Artist — Geoff hops the subway to the Shubert Theatre every night to perform as the Doctor in the Broadway production of the same show. That post-Thanksgiving night, Justin had been scheduled to cover the role since the tour's Trunch was on vacation. Over in New York, Christopher Sieber — the usual Broadway Trunchbull — called out and (surprise!) Geoff would go on as the vengeful headmistress. Two twins, two productions, two Trunchbulls. No matter where in the U.S. you caught a performance of Matilda that night, you'd see a Packard boy in the lead.
The two grew up at each others' sides, but after divergent paths in their early careers, it feels like home to be twinning again.
Growing up in Brockport, NY, the twins were more jock than Gene Kelly. The first show they did was the Brockport State College production of The Wizard of Oz, where the 11-year-olds were still short enough to play munchkins. "We only auditioned for it because my sister was auditioning for it," Justin says of their older sister Lindsay. "I think we were super stoked because it was the chance to be in front of an audience. We were certainly interested in it; we were just naïve about what it was." Geoff adds, "She is definitely the reason why we are in musical theatre. Justin and I were much more into sports when we were kids. It's sort of a flukey thing that we chose to go into this."
Years later, they followed their sister's lead again — this time on the path towards BFA's. "My sister knew she wanted to get a BFA," says Geoff. "So Justin and I, three years later, were like, 'Well, we'll just audition at those colleges and if we're meant to be actors we'll get in.'" Pause. "Which is super naïve."
Still, raw talent can't be denied and Geoff started at CCM while Justin moved slightly south to Ithaca College. "College was the first time we kind of developed our own identities," says Geoff. "We're not identical twins, but we always did the same things together. It was always the Packard boys, at least that's how I felt. I just remember going to Ithaca for the first time and meeting [Justin's] friends. I was like, 'Oh my God, these people know him and they don't know me?'"
Justin jokes, "The truth is, I'm sure he took it harder than I did." "Shut up," Geoff retorts half-heartedly.
Their separate training further distinguished the pair — creating different sounds and different types. When they reunited in New York City post-graduation, the two didn't even audition for the same roles. Geoff earned turns in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera and then moved over to Rock of Ages, while Justin worked Off-Broadway and in regional theatres before deciding to pursue his MFA at A.R.T.
Then, Geoff saw Matilda. "Matilda was one of those shows I was like, 'Ahhh! That's such a great show! I don't know think I'll ever be in that show,'" says Geoff, "Certainly never as the villain." Yet in spring 2014, Geoff joined the cast as the Escape Artist (understudying the Doctor, Sergei and Miss Trunchbull). Unlike Geoff, when Justin saw his brother in the show, he felt there were parts right for him, including ones that his twin was playing. "I said, 'If [any of these roles] open up, please give me the heads up,'" says Justin. "Then we found out the tour was casting, and you passed along my contact information to the powers that be, and that put my foot in the door for the audition process."
Geoff wasn't only helpful in passing along contact info. "He gave me insight … various opinions that had been expressed about where these characters live, where on the scale of realism they exist, and how best to attack or sit back in certain moments, what their taste is to certain things," says Justin. "To have someone who was in the show at the time who could say, 'No, this is what they're looking for, a character who's like this on the scale'" was invaluable.
Still, Geoff knows his brother well enough to have been careful about the tips he offered. "I've learned through many years of experimentation," he inflects "— which is a line from the show — it's not best to give twin brothers unsolicited advice."
Geoff seems the more cautious and direct of the duo. He is confident, solid in himself and set in the realities of playing eight shows a week in the same show for nearly two years. Still, you can tell he adores his younger (by a minute) brother by the way he checks in — and in his laughter. And there's much to laugh about. Justin is a touch the wise-guy; he's the one to poke fun. His exuberance flashes as he tells his stories — long-winded in his brother's opinion.
It's hard to know if those differences shine through in their portrayals of the same character, but they are certainly apparent in what the boys enjoy about the role. "The thing I enjoy the most is to play the villain. To be the mean one," says Geoff. It makes complete sense that a guy who is so kind enjoys the excuse to relish in the faux world of evil. "My favorite part is really getting to experiment with the line that straddles comedy and danger," says Justin. He likes a little risk.
Working on the same show, Geoff and Justin have found a deeper level of communication than ever before. "Every time we see each other we talk about the show," says Geoff. "It's weird. It's unique. Not many people can talk about that at their family dinner like, 'Oh how's your shoulder feeling after that ribbon dance?'" Or, "Where are you strategically placing your fake mole?" jokes Justin.
The two have even more to talk about as their lives overlap offstage. Geoff got married a month-and-a-half before Justin. He and his wife, Chelsea, welcomed their first child, a son Grady, on July 26, 2015. Geoff may be the older twin, but Justin is dad to the older cousin; he and his wife, Sara, had their first, Audrey, on July 10, 2015.
When asked about leading such parallel lives, Geoff yields to his brother, "Just?" "Here's what is the greatest thing about it," Justin says, cueing Geoff's eye-roll: "Good Lord, it's the Justin Packard novel." "You shirked responsibility by throwing the answer to me first," Justin lobs back. It's true.
"I have the person in my life, other than my wife and child, who is closest to me and is having a similar experience to me. There are so many things that we can relate on," says Justin. "I don't know what that would like to sit down at Thanksgiving dinner with my twin and be like 'So how's the law firm?'" "It's another level of understanding," continues Geoff. "It feels good to be twinny again."
Ruthie Fierberg is the Features Editor at Playbill.com. She has also written for Backstage, Parents and American Baby, including dozens of interviews with celeb moms and dads for parents.com. Follow her on Twitter at @RuthiesATrain.